Westside Barbell has been established for decades as the world’s strongest gym.
This is where the strongest lifters in the world train and their main goal is world records.
Plain and simple, if you aren’t training for a record, Westside Barbell might not be the place for you.
Luckily, founder Louie Simmons has made his information readily available for people through a variety of ways including articles, videos, personal invites to Westside, and even taking personal phone calls.
Over the years, what Westside means as a training program has become foggier as more and more misinformation is thrown around.
The Truth About Westside Training
For the last 18 months, I have been fortunate enough to learn from Louie and train at Westside Barbell. In that time, Louie cleared up a lot of confusion about training and even removed some of my own reservations about Westside.
Prior to Westside, I had used a linear progression, which had worked to a point. But all three of my lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift) had almost come to a complete stop and I knew I was nowhere near my max potential. When I sat down to write this, I decided to do a Google search of what Westside Barbell is and how they train.
I read a ton of articles from people I’ve never heard of, either as a lifter, coach, or as someone who has trained at Westside Barbell. With the number of different articles and templates available online, it’s obvious to see why there’s so much confusion about Westside training.
What was truly entertaining was reading what the anti-Westside lifters had to say about how we train. Needless to say, neither group was right.
Building a Westside Program
To begin to dive into this topic, we will introduce some terms that will make the Westside template a lot easier to understand.
- Maximal Effort Method: lifting a maximal load against a maximal resistance.
- Repetition Method: lifting a non-maximal load to failure; during the final repetitions, the muscles develop the maximum force possible in a fatigued state.
- Dynamic Effort: lifting a non-maximal load with maximal speed.
- Intensity: great energy, strength, concentration, vehemence, etc., as of activity, thought, or feeling.
- Volume: amount; total
- Supplemental Lifts: Movements that closely mimic the three competition lifts (squat, bench, deadlift)
- Accessory Lifts: Movements that are performed with the goal of building muscle for hypertrophy. These don’t mimic the competition lifts.
These seven definitions will help you create your Westside template. The thing people often neglect is that a Westside Barbell template is individualized to what each specific lifter needs.
If you have weak abs holding you back from squatting a new personal record, then doing lat pulldowns might not help you. But your training partner might need stronger lats to stay tight during the squat.
Now, lets take a look at the three types of training that makes up Westside Barbell.
1. Maximal Effort Method
This is where you will lift a maximal load against a maximal resistance. In a Westside program, this is very rarely done with competition lifts. It is usually done with either a partial range of motion, accommodating resistance, or both. This is a maximum effort rep, not a 3- or 5-rep max.
People are sometimes scared of attempting a one-rep max because the increased load could lead to injury, but I heard Joe Kenn (Carolina Panthers Head Strength & Conditioning Coach) say it best. “(With) a one-rep max, you have one opportunity for something to go wrong. With a 5-rep max, you have 5 chances.”
If you are in a fatigued state, the load will target the weak area and that will increase the risk of injury because an already weaker area is taking more of the load. When training max effort, the goal is to hit a pr on the lift for the day every time you use that exercise. Limit the number of lifts over 90% of your one-rep max to no more than four reps.
2. Repetition Method
This is when the goal is to develop max force in a fatigued state. This will not be done with main competition lifts, but will be done with accessory lifts which are implemented to build muscle and endurance.
The repetition method is good to use on special exercises like reverse hypers, belt squat, dumbbell bench variations, and hamstring work. Again, this isn’t something to try to PR on, but just volume work to help build weak areas.
3. Dynamic Effort Method
Dynamic effort is done by using non-maximal load for maximal speed. This is in place to help with a faster rate of force development. This is where using accommodating resistance such as bands and chains can help teach lifters to accelerate through their lifts.
At Westside, they will run dynamic effort exercise in 3-week waves of 50, 55, and 60 percent, in addition to 25 percent of accommodating resistance (bands or chains). These workouts are performed very fast and very explosively. If the bar speed begins to slow down then you will need to drop weight.
Those are three main ways to train using a Westside Barbell template, but now the question is how do we monitor the training to ensure there isn’t overtraining/undertraining? This reminds me of one the best things Lou has told me since joining Westside Barbell: “Don’t train minimally, that’s for *******. Don’t train maximally, that’s how I got hurt. Train optimally.”
There is a lot to be said in that quote. If you don’t train hard enough, you won’t elicit a response to get stronger. But if you're always maxing out on everything, you will get hurt and burn out quickly. The key to this is by monitoring volume and intensity.
Think of it this way: each workout you have a cup (your body), but you can only put so much in that cup before it will spill over and there will be a mess (training).
1. Volume- amount; total. We will look at the total poundage between a max effort squat session and a dynamic effort squat session. We will use an 850-lb squatter for the example:
Max Effort Squat Workout
Total Pounds Moved= 6,525lbs
Dynamic Effort Squat
12 sets x 2 reps x 425lbs+200lbs band tension
24 reps x 625-lbs= 15,000lbs
As you can see the total squat poundage is over twice as much on a dynamic effort squat workout, but your intensity will not be as high as when you take a max effort squat.
2. Intensity- great energy, strength, concentration, vehemence, etc., as of activity, thought, or feeling:
The intensity of your training session can be greatly impacted by the group you train with, whether it be good or bad, so pick a good training group. Finding the right intensity is different for each lifter. Some lifters need to be almost completely relaxed, while others need music, yelling, and other external factors.
Having too much or not enough intensity will affect your lifting during that session. What this helps us understand is you can have one or the other, but you can’t have high volume and high intensity. Your body won’t cooperate and it will break down. The easiest way to organize this is the following:
Max Effort Days: Intensity=High, Volume=Low
Dynamic Effort Days: Intensity=Low, Volume=High
Supplemental Lifts vs Accessory Lifts
Now, we move to what I believe most people mess up when putting together a Westside program. When it comes to picking supplemental lifts and accessory lifts, some people just choose the wrong exercises. These exercises are to help build weaknesses to help push the main lifts. They are not always the exercises that you want to do, but they are the ones you need to do.
Movements that closely mimic the three competition lifts (squat, bench, deadlift). Here are 3 supplemental exercises for each lift. These can be recorded and done heavier than accessory exercises. These are good exercises to know where your 1-3 rep max is.
For example, I noticed when my JM Press went up 60lbs, my competition bench in a meet also went up 60lbs. These exercise are good markers for how your program is going.
Squat: 10-inch box Close Stance Squat, Super Wide 10-inch box Squat, Cambered bar Good Morning
Bench: JM Press, Board Presses, Incline Bench
Deadlift: Super Wide Deadlift, Round Back Good Morning, Pin Pulls
Movements that are performed with the goal of building muscle for hypertrophy. These don’t mimic the competition lifts and are what some lifters will call blood work. This is just for getting bigger muscles to protect joints from heavy training.
These movements won’t be tracked for maxes like main lifts or supplemental lifts, but volume should be a consideration because you can quickly over train. For these, think of bodybuilding movements like band pushdown, hammer curls, etc. Here are three accessory exercises for each main lift:
Squat: Band Leg Curl, Belt Squat, Band Good Morning
Bench: Push Ups, DB Bench, DB Military Press
Deadlift: RDL, Reverse Hypers, Ankle-weight Leg Curl
These are the pieces that will set you up to run a successful Westside Barbell template and will alleviate much of the confusion around the famous training program. I know how confusing the program can be, because I have personally used it incorrectly several times before Josh Gutirdge and Joe Bayles helped me figure it out.
Here is a chart to show you how organize the program for every day of the week, with a breakdown of how it should be incorporated.
*LV and HV stand for low volume and high volume on every day ab training.
This always seems to be a big topic when people look into powerlifting programs. Westside Barbell might scare people off because the thought of maxing out twice a week might lead to injuries, but the rotation of exercises usually removes most injury from repetitive movements.
Now, don’t misread that and think it means no one ever gets injured. Once you’re at a high level of competitive powerlifting, injuries become part of the sport. When you start pushing weights that most people can’t understand, the margin for error on each lift gets smaller and smaller.
Here are a few things that have helped me stay clear of injuries since being at Westside:
1. Attack weak areas- This is something Lou preaches to us every day. If you have a weak muscle, eventually your body will create dysfunction and begin to shift the loads to areas that can’t handle the stress you’re trying to impose. This is where injuries happen.
2. Switching exercise- Our max effort exercises change on a weekly basis. This prevents acclimation and using the same weight and intensity week after week.
3. Sled Drags- I know a lot of people think sled dragging is a waste of time. When Lou talked me into doing different sled drags on off days, my numbers jumped. I believe this to be due to the muscles getting fresh oxygen and it can serve as recovery tool to help decrease muscle soreness.
4. Conditioning- I do believe in low-intensity conditioning to build up a lifters work capacity. This can be done through sled drags, farmers walk, battle ropes, etc. This is just an extra way to stay in shape for hard training. This will also help a lifter during meet day because they won’t get as tired during their lifts.
This is the easiest way for lifters to set up a Westside Barbell template to begin on their own. This is a brief overview of what we do at Westside Barbell and will clear up some grey areas for beginner lifters. This method has helped lifters and athletes across the world perform at a higher level for decades.
This isn’t a program that has hit the scene and was hot for a year. It has been tested and proven to help athletes reach their goals. The best advice is to get a notebook and track every lift that is performed and keep track of maxes and accessory work.
Year after year, this will help lifters realize what exercises helped and which ones didn’t. Constant progress is the most important thing in this program, but that will only happen with hard work and correct programing. Set your goals and lay out your plan to smash PRs at your next meet!