Westside For Raw Lifters
If you’ve been involved with powerlifting within the last few years, you’ve most likely heard of the “Westside Barbell” method developed by Louie Simmons. Having founded his own private gym (aptly named Westside Barbell) in Ohio, Louie’s coaching and unique training system has produced dozens of world record holders and influenced countless others in their training methodology. The use of bands and chains onto a barbell as “accommodating resistance” was popularized by Westside, along with various methods that make up his conjugate system of training. Louie is also responsible for the creation of the “Reverse Hyper” machine and holds numerous patents to inventions he has come up with through his decades of experience as both a lifter and coach. There is no doubt that Westside has revolutionized the training aspects of powerlifting, and is without question extremely effective in developing strength for the 3 competition lifts.
With all accolades and dues being said, it is very important for readers to know that the Westside Method is primarily suited towards “geared” lifters. Powerlifters who compete using special suits and shirts designed to provide stopping power at the bottom of the lift are designated as lifting geared. As such, much of the programming done using Westside is specific towards developing proficiency with powerlifting gear, along with developing strength necessary to handle the overload of weight when finishing a lift (such as the use of 3-4 boards in bench training). It is entirely possible to become strong as a raw lifter using Westside’s “typical” methodology — I personally achieved a Wilks score of 407 after four years of training under the popularized methodology of Westside. That being said, I also experienced the following:
- Occasional small injuries, or “tweaks”
- Lack of progress on a given lift for 5-6 months at a time. Constantly plateauing
- My bench took 3 years to progress from 315 to 369 lbs
- I looked like shit and didn’t have a whole lot of muscle mass (I still look like shit but I have a little more muscle mass now)
While following the method worked and I was making steady progress, I could see that the gains were coming slow past a certain point and my lifts were stalling out. I had also taken note that by 2013, most of the top raw lifters in the U.S didn’t utilize Westside as their training methodology – most lifters were using programs that required much more specificity with the Big 3 along with a simpler approach to getting stronger. The top raw lifters weren’t squatting using a cambered bar with big blue bands + 200 lbs of chain onto a 17″ box. That shit isn’t going to make your raw squat get stronger! Why would you overload the top portion of the squat when your sticking point as a raw lifter is towards the bottom portion of the lift? Anyone who is reading this will likely understand exactly what I’m saying, but I have trained with lifters who did exactly this and wondered why they couldn’t squat 405 raw at 242. It’s the way you train, stupid!
Fast forward to now – I have been working with Jesse Burdick as my coach for the past 18 months and have made incredible progress. In March 2016, I totaled 1,466 lbs @ 220 at his meet. At Reebok Record Breakers 2 in November of the same year, I ended up totaling 1,686 @ 242. That’s 220 lbs. on my total in only 8 months! And let me tell you, it is hell of a lot harder to take a 1,466 total to 1,686 than it is from 1,020 to 1,220 in 8 months (which would still be impressive regardless). While a lot of things came into play with the big increase onto my total (such as the jump up in weight class), the programming that Jesse has set forth made all the difference. Jesse is also a powerlifter who was trained using the Westside method over the period of several years, and earned success as having competed in several different weight classes at an elite level. As a coach, he has heavily modified the approach to the method’s programming for raw lifters. I am going to share with you several key guidelines that we employ in making Westside operate better for raw lifters. I’m not saying that you have to follow exactly what I’m writing or that my word is the gospel, but here are some ideas you could consider incorporating.
- We emphasize working on sticking points that are more related to a raw lifter’s weaknesses. You can get very strong at pressing off of 3 boards if you constantly do it, but chances are your raw bench won’t improve at all if you’re always getting stuck off your chest. You have to be logical with your movement selections and accessory work. Instead of doing 3 board versus mini bands for your Max Effort movement, try benching using the Duffalo/Buffalo bar for a 5 rep max if you need to be stronger at the bottom of the lift. While it is completely appropriate (and necessary) to use overload methods in your training, try to utilize more movements that specifically key your weak point(s).
- To parlay what I just said about benching, we don’t always lift to a 1 rep max on Max Effort days. Program ME days that call for lifting to a 3-5 rep max. Yes, this directly contradicts Louie’s notion about Max Effort – he’ll tell you that Max Effort is exclusively pertaining to max singles. That being said, myself and others have found that the occurrence of injury is reduced when you’re not lifting to a 1 rep max every week, and it is also easier to recover when you’re not trying to blow your brains to the wall every single session. If I am not mistaken, Brandon Lilly’s premise for the Cube Method was that lifting to max singles wasn’t always necessary every week and it was for the same reasons mentioned. Also, if you look at most of the top raw lifters of this era, they tend to mix in 3-5 RM work on their heavy days.
- We use a LOT more volume on our Dynamic Effort days. When I first joined Jesse’s gym, I thought he was nuts when I saw on the board that he typically programs sets of 12-20 for DE bench. And don’t get me started on DE lower — we’re often doing 15-20 sets of squats AND 8-10 sets of deadlifting on the same day. After four years of doing the typical 8 sets of bench and 8 sets of squat for “speed work”, this took a lot of adjusting to and I still have a tough time completing all the work even up to now. All that said, one of the main criticisms of using Westside as a raw lifter is that there isn’t enough volume for significant strength (or size) gains to be made. This is completely true if you’re thinking that squatting 225 for 8 sets of 2 for DE every week will make you a 600 lb squatter….chances are it won’t. As a starting guideline, I’d recommend doubling your current volume for DE movements along with squatting AND deadlifting on the same day for DE every week.
- Another criticism of Westside for raw lifters is that there is not enough specificity in the barbell movements to properly prepare (or “peak”) a powerlifter for meet day. I agree with this, on the notion that the use of contrast (bands, chains, etc.) throws off the natural groove of a barbell movement and the dynamics of how the weight is moved change as opposed to just lifting a regular barbell with “straight weight” (no contrast). While we still do plenty of specialized movements for the lifts throughout a training cycle, we switch back to doing the classical lifts 6-7 weeks out from a meet. You need to be technically skilled at the lifts, and being prepared on competition day means having practiced the 3 lifts enough to not give any error to a big technique/form flaw during your meet.
- We do not squat to a box on every DE lower day.
- We don’t always use contrast on DE day for any of the lifts. More often than not we actually bench & squat with straight weight.
- We don’t skimp out on accessory work. Along with getting volume in with the compound movements, we also regularly perform 3-5 accessory movements on each day. Not only are you addressing weak points with accessories, but you are also trying to build the muscle mass necessary to progress as a lifter. Muscle moves weight, people! When was the last time you saw a 150 lb kid bench 405 raw? Unless you’re in the presence of a genetic freak, it just doesn’t happen and you need to look like you lift weights if you want to move bigger weights.
- There always seems to be free Oreos/donuts/brownies/cookies by one of our monolifts at the gym, without fail. As someone who didn’t know that red velvet Oreos existed, I don’t think the inclusion of sweets in the gym hurts. Just say that it helps spike your insulin to help get your intra-workout shake absorbed sooner.
Those are just some of the things we do differently that I can think of. I’m probably leaving out a few things, and I’m definitely not as smart as Jesse when it comes to making athletes stronger. I just hope that someone out there who is reading this & has had their progress stall out while using the Westside method can benefit from what I’ve learned throughout the years of trial and error. Again, this wasn’t written to outline how you NEED to train and I’m definitely not some training guru. I’m just some random awkward guy who doesn’t want to see others plateau doing the same mistakes I made in my initial years of powerlifting. If you have any questions about adapting what I’ve outlined to your training program, or if you need help with your lifting, feel free to contact me directly. At this time, I do NOT have any ambitions of providing paid coaching services or making any money off knowledge that should be openly shared. This isn’t a giant infomercial to sell you my shitty e-book or to add the 20th black lifting shirt into your closet. I’ll keep writing in hopes that it helps lifters advance towards the next point in their career and help me stay motivated towards becoming a better lifter. Until then, EAT LIKE A MUSCLEBEAR, TRAIN LIKE A MUSCLEBEAR, AND GET FUCKING JACKED & STRONG LIKE A MUSCLEBEAR!