Built by SOUTH

As virtually any lifter who’s lived in the internet era knows… There’s only one side: Westside! The training split, the max effort and speed work, the bands and chains, Chucks. Louie Simmons has created an internet following of Biblical proportions.  His lifters have conquered record after record in federation after federation.  And via the internet, all of his teachings  are readily available to be read, absorbed, implemented in your training and brought to heathens! And it doesn’t matter if you’re in gear or not, or if you’re on gear or not…Westside methods work — Louie has said so. And with his gift to us all, we can all train to become champions.

But at the risk of blasphemy, allow me to ask: If you are a raw powerlifter and you’ve dedicated a significant amount of time to increasing your lifts by following a conjugated training program based on the tenets of Westside’s Max Effort, Dynamic Effort and Repetition Effort methods, are you content with your gains? Or are you tempted to wonder if there is something better out there?  Something that, for the raw lifter, will work better than Westside? Something that will make the fruits of your labor a little sweeter?

You see, I had also trained using board presses, floor presses, box squats, heavy good mornings, speed work against bands and done so with the classic Westside split. I got better at a lot of these exercises but I  was only progressing modestly in the real lifts and in meets. One side of me said I’ve got to examine the conjugate training method more closely—I must be missing something. But another side of me started to wonder if the wool wasn’t being pulled over my eyes. I was starting to see problems with the split and the exercises and the methods — and despite the side of me that then felt like doubting Westside was like choosing to be evil, I was tempted. And so for the last three years, I’ve kept my eyes open and paid attention to what I observed in others that was good, that which was freakishly good, and also what lesser lifters consistently did poorly.  The list that follows is pretty much a list of commonly preached Westside philosophy which—if removed from your training—will open up massive new potential for gaudy and continued gains.

Check out Dan breaking the World Record in the 242s class Raw w/ Wraps with a MONSTER 2160 Total!!!

Now this is not an attempt to bash Westside for what it is—an all encompassing training style that has reigned over the geared lifting world for decades. This is a challenge or a smack upside the head to those who unquestioningly follow and rejoice in the dogma that is Westside. And an argument against the idea that the Westside training methodology can be readily applied to the training of a raw powerlifter.


When I’d followed the Westside template I used to hammer board presses and I would do all things triceps. I could rep 500 off a 3 board but only lock out 430 off of my chest. I had tons of triceps strength. When it came to pushdowns, extensions and JM presses I could smoke my training partners. But they had big pecs and I couldn’t beat their benches.  I saw other lifters using wider grips and benching much more. I also wondered: were there any 600 pound raw benchers who were all triceps with a mediocre set of pecs. Pretty much no. And if Westside methods were so revolutionalry, why were there still so many bench records held by the men who’d set them back in the 70s? A lot of these men didn’t even arch or have tight setups. How did WR benchers like Mike McDonald lay absolutely flat on the bench and put up huge numbers despite not really even staying tight? Oh yeah… they used their chest to bench!

2. Dynamic Effort

Another of the training tenets I’d followed and always believed worked was the speed work. I liked that it gave me a chance to repeatedly setting up my bench arch and getting tight, but eventually I realized that getting “tight” and arching is only going to barely affect your bench relative to the gains any reasonable lifter endeavors to make. Getting tight wasn’t going to take my 405 bench to 500. And I damn sure wasn’t going to arch my way to a 600 bench. I realized that the speed bench wasn’t doing shit for my strength and technique was pretty worthless if I didn’t get A LOT stronger.

3. Max Effort vs. SAID principle

I was fortunate enough to sort of piggy back on my training partners bench program, which was based on an extremely high volume of heavy benching—paused, touch and go, wide grip, close, whatever but all for rep ranges from 1-6. And it followed a linear progression—the weights increased every week and the volume was manipulated to ensure adaptation. Unlike Westside, where you are doing a different exercise every week or two and only cycling back to them once every several weeks, I was doing a few basic bench variations every week, and I was doing a lot of them. My body was adapting to the workload, and not just by gaining mass—but by becoming more and more efficient in the technique. This was a huge epiphany—Westside wants you to be just strong and by throwing different bars and loading parameters in the mix it’s said that you can power through lifts where you get out of the groove. But in my new training I wasn’t fighting to find and stay in the groove. Instead I was grooving it! Hitting the same motion so many times just made my body very efficient at executing it. This is where the SAID acronym comes in. SAID stands for Specific Adaption to Imposed Demands. So by bench pressing week in and week out with a pause on every rep, my body adapted and became very good at benching with a pause. That’s what I’d practiced every week and now I was not only stronger, but stronger in the actual lift I’d be performing in every competition I’d enter. And that’s the difference. I was stronger and  better technically. My body had found and gravitated toward the groove that maximized my strength, which brings me to my next no-no.

4. Bench in a Straight Line

5. Tuck the Elbows in

This is a fun one, and I’m not the first person who’s understood this, but it’s clear that everyone doesn’t understand why the straight line isn’t the most ideal way to bench. Let’s start with Louie’s point: If the bar starts just below the chest and the lifter presses the weight directly upward, then this is the strongest technique because it minimizes ROM. Minimizing ROM is so key to powerlifting, but Louie’s thinking is based on the assumption that minimal ROM is always stronger. It seems logical enough that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and therefore pressing the weight straight above the sternum makes you strongest.

I, however, would contend that the only distance that matters in a bench is the vertical  distance you press the bar. Gravity is only acting on the weight vertically, so any motion that you generate horizontally is unaffected. And based on what I’d experienced from consistently benching every workout was that the sweet spot was not over the lower sternum but in fact over the upper chest. If the bar touched my chest at the base of the sternum and drifted back over the upper chest into this sweet spot then my chest and shoulders would gain the leverage they need to grind through heavy weights set after set. And by consciously driving the weight back over my shoulders I was utilizing that… I also noticed from all the paused work that when I let the weight settle on the chest that I could generate more speed off the chest. This goes directly against the ROM minimizing argument. The more weight that sank into my chest the more my chest could accelerate the weight and the more my legs could initiate the initial drive.

When my bench really took off was when I learned how to use my legs to drive along the bench to create a horizontal drive. Instead of popping the hips up to help move the bar upward, I was driving back and getting the weight moving back—back toward the sweet spot! This meant the bar was moving back toward the rack as I pressed it up. I could flare my elbows earlier to engage the delts and pecs because my leg drive was kicking in. Before I tried to barely touch my chest, and driving the weight up in a straight line meant using all triceps. Not exactly the bodies biggest muscle group. And if the weight drifted away from you then you’d really need to grind to keep it moving.

So with Westside the elbows stay tucked, the weight moves vertically in the minimal ROM and the triceps dominate the bench. But what I’d say the raw lifter can really benefit from is a slightly longer bar path that involves flaring the elbows to use the bigger chest and delts and forcing the bar back over the shoulders.

6. Box Squats

Moving along, I’ll readily admit that I spent the better part of 2 years focused on squatting off a box. Both for maximal lifting and for speed days. But what began to become quite painful was the fact that despite watching my box squat go up, my real squat seldom benefitted.  Before my first ever meet I could squat 500. I trained the box squat for 6 months and could squat 565 off a low box with a wide stance. At my first meet I grinded out an ugly, ugly 500 and that was it. Of course that was just the first point in time where it became evident that although a box teaches you to drive with the hips to accelerate upward, in the real world there is no box, only your own ass and thighs to stop a weight in the hole! When I realized that I needed to squat without the box my squat steadily rose to 600 but then again was plateaued.

7. Good Mornings…

The reason my squats would always top out around 600–for no less than 18 months—was that every time the weight got heavy enough, my butt would shoot up and I’d find myself doing good mornings! There was a simple fix: do more good mornings. I’d read Louie’s articles. In several instances he says that as many as 7 out of 10 Max Effort workouts would be good morning variations. All I had to do was start doing more good mornings! Where I’d gone wrong was identifying my back as the weak link. I’d assumed that my back wasn’t strong enough to squat heavier. I pretty much kept thinking that was the problem for the next 18 months!

8. Squatting is based on Posterior Chain Strength…Quads are just Ornaments!

I kept on training good mornings and I kept doing all the glute ham raises and posterior chain work that I could. But then something happened: I was fortunate enough in December 2010 to be invited to compete in Moscow. I squatted a respectable 617 in knee wraps, but then watched as Konstantin Pozdeev squatted 815…easily. I asked myself what it was that he had that I didn’t. He was a lighter 220 than me and outsquatted me by 200 pounds! But the difference was pretty obvious. He had nothing short of the most freakish quad development I’d ever seen!

9. Knees out and back while squatting

Where I’d always squatted with a wide stance with my butt back, he stood more upright with a close stance and allowed his knees to travel way out in front of his feet. His knees would press inward as he reversed out of the hole—a major red flag for anybody who’d modeled their technique around the Westside technique. But again I was tempted. His quads draped themselves generously down over his kneecaps. Mine tapered off embarrassingly into the knee even though the upper portion was well developed. He had huge tear drop quads and I just had tears of sadness! His technique and quad development may have been freakish, but his astronomical squat world record spoke for itself! I had to make a change. If I kept squatting with my knees out and back and sitting my hips way back I was only going to scratch away and make modest PRs but I would never add 200 pounds if I didn’t overhaul my squat. I kept hearing Louie preach that quads were for bodybuilders. But then I couldn’t block the thought that: nope, Louie, quads were for world record squats!

No more than two months later I competed for the first time at the Raw Unity Meet and met some truly phenomenal raw lifters: Sam Byrd, Jeremy Hamilton and Jay Nera. What I was able to learn from these guys only went on to reinforce what I was starting to learn. And both Nera and Byrd had great squats, trained lots of front squats and seldom trained with maximal weights. They both had their own training styles, but both involved a lot of squatting!

10. Linear periodization

One thing that they also both had in common was that both trained with a linear progression. Instead of the Westside ideology where you were supposed to always train maximally and be strong all year round, it was becoming apparent that if you started at a lower weight and simply trained hard and consistently progressed a little heavier whenever you trained, you could plan out a peak that would allow you to PR whenever a competition was trained for. Setting myself up with a linear progression also allowed me to build my technique around a more quad-dominant squat style without regressing to good mornings every time the weight was too heavy for my legs to stay under the weight. I could build my technique while training my quads directly after the squats. This way they’d always have a chance to be the prime mover.

Since steering away from the Westside principles, my squat has risen from a competition best of 617 up to 826—I knew that 200 pound jump was possible, just not if it was going to all come from my back and hips. My competition bench has gone from 413 to 518. And rising…

Next time around I’ll get into deadlifting and periodization. But for now…go west. West of Westside!

Dan Green is one of the top names in powerlifting today. The Raw Total World Record Holder with 2030 (belt and sleeves), Dan is the dominant force in the 220 weight class. Dan is the founder of Boss Barbell Club in Mountain View, CA where he trains team sport and strength athletes.
  • Noren Livingston


    • Lenard Lieber

      Yeah, I second that…Thanks.

    • Lenard Lieber

      Ok, so help me out here, I pretty much do good mornings every week, what best to get that quad dominance? I just recently started adding volume, one day is 4 sets of 7-8 squats, then 3 sets of GMs for 7-8, then 3 sets of of say step-ups or lunges and another assistance exercise, followed by ab work. Day 2 is 3 sets of 3-5, another squat exercise of 3 sets like pauses or front squats or zerchers, then deads, following up with some ham work and abs. I would appreciate any critique here.

      As for benching, I’ve been doing 2 bench exercises, then 2 lat exercises, military presses, then tris and bis. Is this a good template?

  • hendo

    I’ve found pretty much the same thing Dan. My bench has been stuck for a while at 150kg and I followed the principle of more tricep work. Any chance of giving us a glimpse into your training cycles? I’d be interested to see how much volume you use and how often you train with maximal weights. I also followed your advice regarding the absolute max and training max and my squat has skyrocketed, thanks alot!

  • Ken kufall

    Great read, and great info. Thanks Dan

  • Pingback: Dan Green – West of Westside (JTS Strength) | Stand on the shoulders of giants()

  • Jim

    This article comes at a great time for me. I have been following a Westside template for about 4 months now and my big 3 lifts haven’t moved much, if at all as I have been doing too many variations. I recently substituted pause squats for the box squat on DE day and have been adding in more regular squats all the while thinking, I am going against the Westside way! But the pause squats make more sense for a raw lifter like myself and they are improving my squat technique and power out of the hole. Thanks for the article !

  • Joe Broadbent

    Great article Daniel,
    It goes against a lot of what I was taught, but you make great sense. Your articles and videos have changed my way of thinking and training. You are an inspiration to raw lifters, and one of the reasons I have decided to start competing again after over 10 years away from the sport. Keep up the great work!

  • Marcus Wehr

    The simple message from Daniel is “measure enough performance indicators and “listen” to your biofeedback”. If you have implemented something and it is not giving you reasonable results in a realistic time period, look into making science/feedback based changes, rinse and repeat.

    The shame with many using “any system” is they ignore their measurable body feedback/indicators, in deference to the “experts”, when every indicator says, “without change, you’re going nowhere”.

  • Pingback: NomZ Competin' Nationally - Page 21 - LeanBulk Forums | Fitness Discussion Group | Fitness Forums()

  • Jeremy

    I think this article reinforces the fact everyone is different and what works for some does not work for others.

  • Lenard Lieber

    Um, the question above was directed at Dan, not Noren, that was inadvertent.

  • Pingback: Dan Green article - Ausbb - Australian BodyBuilding()

  • http://www.bestconcealedcarrygun101.com Dustin

    I agree with this article. However, I still believe that the Westside style of squatting (or “western” style) is much better than the eastern bloc Olympic high bar style of squatting. In my own training I train the box squat, just without the box. Even in your video I can see that you still squat wide leg and sit back into the hole with your shins vertical, instead of actually squatting into the hole. Whereas Konstantine has his legs close together and the bar very high on his back and he doesn’t “sit back” into the hole. All of those eastern bloc squatters don’t really sit back with the weight, they kind of crumple inwards on themselves. Would you agre that our style, or the Westside style of squatting makes better use of the body’s natural leverage? Just looking at your squats on this video I’m still not convinced that you are a quad dominant squatter. Just sitting back the way you do takes tremendous hamstring and lower back power.

    • Greg

      The camera angle doesn’t really show it, but Dan does get a decent amount of forward knee travel (leading to more quad usage). Mark Bell has said he back squats similar to how he front squats.

  • Miro Bandalo

    I’d say go east, a tremendous amount of athletic development/physical preparedness of the former Communist countries is misunderstood, or misapplied (as in the case of Westside, great for gear, but maybe should not be applied to other things). Great article Dan.

  • Sterling

    Phenomenal article. Thank you Dan and JTS for publishing this. I have been battling with the wide, knees out butt out squat and wondering why I had plateaued so hard. We can’t all be Dan Green, but one day I would like to be at that level.

  • Zenon

    Great Article by one of the strongest ever!

  • Pingback: I call it, The Joe | Lift Strong()

  • Joel Alain

    Is a template or a set of guidelines forthcoming???? This is quite interesting.

  • Pingback: Two of the best articles I’ve ever read | Greg's Life()

  • Pingback: 2013-05-31 training log | Stuff From Hsoi()

  • Josh Bryant

    Great stuff Dan! One of the best articles I have ever read

  • Matibussi

    I think this article is another miscomception of the westside methods. If you truly want to know the westside method go to westside and speak to Louie, reading articles or watching dvds is only going to help you to a certain points.
    The westside system is bases on training your weakneses, the tríceps are the prime mover in the bench, but ir your weaknes is your pecs you should train your pecs to build that weakness into a strenght. The same goes for the quads, at westside they use a lot of front squat variations and squating with a narrow stance summed up with a lot of belt squatting, sled pulling (backwards) and wheelbarrow work.
    I think the main confusion here is that the system calls on training your weaknesess, YOUR INDIVIDUAL WEAKNESSES, and those weaknesess not only can be muscular they also can also be technical issues (so that calls for more volume on a main lift). The system calls for using special exercises to build individual weaknesses and that not everything works for everyone so you should find what works for you, THATS THE KEY OF THE SYSTEM…FINDING WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. Westside is not a set of unbreakable rules rather a set of principles that can a should be modifyded based on what works best for you
    On a side note: Louie works with geared lifters, so he writes for geared lifters the raw lifters should use their brain to understand the method and make ti work for them.
    I think we should all respect Louie and stop bashing him to try to get people to read articles, its a cheap shot, the guy its the best at what he does…training geared lifters.

    • MD

      Dan isn’t bashing the Westside method – he’s bashing dogmatic thinking. He tried training using Westside principals and questioned his results. He observed what others were doing, made changes, and his lifting benefited.

      Perhaps the author was ‘doing it wrong’, or that he ‘didn’t understand’. If that was the case he still did the correct thing by changing his training. There could be legions of lifters who aren’t box squatting correctly and thus struggling with their results. If they can’t find anyone to coach their technique it’s far better for them to switch their approach, than continue to follow a routine that isn’t working.

      As for you point: “If you truly want to know the westside method go to westside and speak to Louie, reading articles or watching dvds is only going to help you to a certain points.”

      If the only way to truly benefit from the Westside method is to work directly with Louie, then the Westside method isn’t the best method, as most of us will never work with Louie.

      Westside works. No argument. But if a lifter cannot employ the Westside principals to their benefit then they ought to use something that does, and I believe that is the spirit of this article.

  • Matibussi

    Spray of I hace a lot of spelling erros, english is not my native language

  • http://uqpwc.org Al

    Excellent article and what a lot of members of my old PL club already preach.

  • Pingback: Top 7 Articles of August » BiggerBeast.com()

  • Pingback: A Terrible War II | SUMOMAN()