Written by Brandon Lilly
I’ve felt like I’ve needed to write this article for a long time.
One thing is for certain: the Westside Method has been under fire since it’s inception. But during the last few years, with the pendulum swinging back toward raw powerlifting, it seems like the heat has intensified. This heat hasn’t abated because the method’s creator makes no apologies for his beliefs or his methods (among other reasons).
And he shouldn’t.
The internet is merciless, no matter what the facts are. Louie Simmons created the Westside Method with one goal in mind: to create a method based around scientific principles that would lead to continuous progress, no matter the athlete involved. Love it or hate it, Westside the gym, and the Westside Method are here to stay. This is my story about using the Method, and an attempt to explain why it works, and why so many others fail when they try to use it.
I began powerlifting at 18 years old, and I began competing raw very soon thereafter. I found my way into some NASA competitions, as they were close by, well run, and fun. After competing there a few times, I met some guys at a gym in town that were using the Westside Method, and at 20 years old, I was extremely intrigued by all the new bars, chains, and bands that they used. I began training with them, using Multi Ply Gear, and very early on one thing became clear: this method brought out the competition within me and the people I trained with. Every week, day in and day out, we competed head to head, clawing, and scratching for “the win” – it took our training environment from “hardcore” to a “pressure cooker.” Needless to say, I was hooked.
Within a year I had added over 100 lbs. to my platform total, and even more to my gym strength. I was very, very strong, and I was making gains at every turn. This continued for a number of years, and I will never forget totaling 2000 lbs at 242 in Multi Ply at a small meet in Kentucky in March of 2009 via 750/550/700.
It was a breakthrough meet for me, even though I went 5 for 9. It was a meet that gave me a total to be proud of. I remember just after this meet, I got the guts to call Louie, and he gave me some very sound advice and direction in moving forward into my next cycle. He explained that some of the things that we thought were “Westside” were not (a point I will come back to in a bit) and he clarified some things for me. He even invited me to come visit the gym itself. For me, it felt like I was on top of the world, talking training with one of the greatest strength training minds in the world. Not only was he helpful, but he all but laid out a complete 10 week training cycle over the phone.
Working with Louie
The weeks passed, the phone calls kept happening, and I had my eyes squarely focused on the Powerstation Pro-AM in August of 2009. This would be the biggest Multi-Ply meet of the year, and I had poured my heart and soul into it. I showed up weighing 265 lbs. – up a full 20 lbs from my previous meet. My squat went up to 900, my bench was 600, and I dropped 705 lbs in the deadlift just as I got the down command, but was good with 650.
So, in 5 months under Lou’s guidance, I went from 2000 to 2150 (almost 2205). I spoke to Lou at the meet, who explained to me that at my height I needed to be bigger to fill out my frame, and that I should wait until December to compete again, coming it at a full 275 lbs. or more.
The Move to Westside
What people don’t realize was that for those few months in between our invite and our move to Columbus, we would leave Berea, KY at 2:30 am, drive 3 hours to meet Louie by 6 am at Bob Evans, eat breakfast, talk shop, and then go train at 8 am. We’d train our asses off and be done by 10:30 am, eat again, and head back home so we could be back to work by 3 pm.
I cannot tell you the countless numbers of classes I missed, days of work I called in for, etc. to fulfill my dream of training at Westside and being the best powerlifter I could be. I was so single-minded and focused that it consumed me, but for people that achieve greatness this is what is necessary… An undying commitment to your craft.
Once I got to Westside I was on a roller coaster outside the gym, and that most definitely had an affect on my training, but within a year I still managed to take my total from 2,325 lbs, to 2500 lbs. My best lifts went to 1,005 lbs. squat, 810 bench, and 755 lbs. deadlift. So in 24 months I literally added 500 lbs. to my total.
I trained Westside for 24 months, the way Lou would have me train it, and I made tremendous gains.
The other 8 years I trained with “Westside Influence.” We didn’t utilize the information made available to us, we just thought if we were using a box, bands, chains, and specialty bars that we were using the “Westside Method.” This was about as accurate as throwing a basketball into a soccer net and saying it was a basketball game. We misunderstood the method, therefore misapplied the method, and therefore failed to realize the progress that could have been made with proper direction. That is ultimately why I walked away from it. I had a string of bomb outs because I was training recklessly, I was trying to manipulate a system that had worked very well for me, so I rebelled against it completely. While I found success doing something else, I DID make tremendous progress on Westside when I was using it properly.
If you are committed to a using Westside template I am here to lay out some things that will help.
PR Over Everything
As I have spoken about often, it is the American way to want more and to be the best at all cost. “Kill or be killed” as Lou has famously said. When you’re at Westside, Lou or one of your teammates coaches every single rep. It is the only way to ensure proper form for the lift.
I was lucky to train with Dave Hoff, who I believe is one of the greatest thinking powerlifters alive today. He taught me how to think like a champion, and he pushed me every day. That being said, Dave was adamant that I have good form… I remember days hitting PRs in the gym and he would look at me and tell me it was awful, so it didn’t count.
That is one of the pitfalls of lifters on a PR-driven program is that they lose sight of what will get them to the top. Technique. I read on Youtube videos constantly “a little high, but it was a PR!!” or, “looked like shit, but it was a PR!!”
My question to you then is, “how do you expect to get to the next PR with proper form? And the next, and the next?” Stop rewarding ugly broken down technique just because you added five pounds to the bar. There were many times when I would have been better served to stay at a lighter weight and hit maybe a double, or triple with good form, than to chase the maximum PR and have a technical breakdown.
You know why the best in the world make it look easy? Because their form is dead on. Think about technique in another sport, say archery… We are aiming at a bullseye, and it takes precision focus and form to hit it. Occasionally goofing off, with bad form you may hit it, but the best archers repeatedly hit it because their technique is flawless. The same should apply to lifting, I will argue that you will not be able to reach a true maximum without PERFECT form. So the next time your ego comes calling to go to a new level, step back and realize that a PR is great, but not at the expense of form.
The oft-argued box squat. What is the best to use it?
I believe that box squats CAN have tremendous carryover to the squat, and can serve a role in training younger lifters to squat, as well as rehabbing injured lifters. The main problem that I experienced, and the main issue I see when I travel to gyms using box squats, is that people bastardize the movement. They flop on the box, they rock back to increase momentum, they set the depth of the box too high, and… the list could go on forever.
One thing I have found that has helped numerous lifters is to do their prescribed box squat, and then after that, as a secondary movement, to do some lightened free squats to reinforce the movement of a competition squat after the stimulus of the box. I became a really good box squatter, but failed to transfer that strength to my free squat form at times. I tended to sit too far back and use momentum to get myself off the box.
The number one rule for any lifter should be to prioritize sport-specific movement, so if you are going to box squat, you need to make sure that it is not an ego lift. Ensure that your form is not only perfect, but also that it is transferring to your free squat.
Overloads (Bands and Chains)
This is where I see the most mistakes made by people claiming to use the Westside Method. They believe, much like we did at times, that adding bands or chains to a bar makes it “Westside.” However, Louie has a very detailed description of the amount of overload that should be added relative to bar weight, with accurate percentages and carryovers.
Many lifters that I see have no rhyme or reason as to the amount of overload they add – they just add any old amount of band tension or chain weight to the bar. This is totally inaccurate, and a great way to mess up your training or to get hurt. I always stress that if you are going to follow a methodology, you must understand the method, otherwise it becomes something entirely different. This can also be a dangerous tool. I see many trainers throwing caution to the wind, just randomly adding overloads to novice lifters, and throwing unneeded variables into their training when really they should still be covering the basics.
There are a wide variety of specialty bars on the market, and some are very useful. That being said, too many lifters that train the Westside Method become specialists on the specialty bars, and lose sight of the competition lift. This again is not a flaw of the method, but rather a flaw (or sometimes the ego) of the lifter who’s focusing his or her emphasis on the non-competition lifts rather than the competition lifts.
Nothing is more important than sport-specific training.
The competition lifts are crucial, but if a specialty bar can be utilized to increase the competition lift then by all means do so. I also think that many people get sucked into the idea that the Westside Method is all about “maxing out.”
Think about this for a moment. If we expose a weakness in a lift, for example rounding the back in the squat, what good is it to use a specialty bar like the SS Bar to then max out again? To me, it makes more sense to use that specialty bar as a secondary exercise in the 6-12 rep range to induce hypertrophy that will build and strengthen the weakness, so the lifter will then be more able to apply the strength they built to the main lift.
I became very focused on specialty bar PRs for maximum weight, and this did not carry over well for me. It was only when I lightened the weight and used proper technique for reps to build myself up that I realized how great the specialty bars and exercises could be.
This is one of the most abused principles of the Westside Method.
I remember training with Dave Hoff on Sundays when we would speed bench, and when visitors would come they would routinely use more weight than we would. This was interesting (to put it nicely) because at the time Dave had benched 860 lbs in a shirt, and I had benched 810 lbs in a shirt, and these lifters were commonly in the 600 lbs range.
We were truly dedicated to moving the barbell as quickly as we possibly could, while many times their speed days looked more like “repeated effort,” or in some other cases just became another max effort workout. The point being, that if the emphasis of the day is to go heavy, then by all means do it, but if the emphasis of the day is to move the bar as fast as possible using lightened percentages of the max, then that is not open to interpretation.
Actually, the main movements of the Westside Method are based around Louie’s researched percentages, and in my mind are not to be messed with. Use your accessory work as the experiment, but keep the main lifts as laid out. People really abuse the method, especially dynamic effort, and then claim it doesn’t work.
In my opinion, accessory work is what will make you a champion. Understanding your body, and applying a well thought-out plan to eliminate weaknesses is what one must do to improve.
Too many guys make the mistake of doing the main lift all-out, and will then shut it down for the day if they see improvement there. But what is most important is to keep pushing when things are going well. If hard accessory work got you there, keep adjusting and improving. As I mentioned above, to improve a weak area you need to strengthen specific muscles, and you do that with hypertrophy. While a 700 lbs good morning may be beneficial for some, I would argue that a 400 lbs good morning for sets of 8, that becomes a 500 lbs good morning for sets of 8 will do more good on the platform than spending your time trying to increase a 700 lbs maximum to 705.
Again, these are just my observations.
As far as the reverse hyper and GHR go, they are very good tools for athletes, but again, too often people either swing the hyper and get no real flexion from it, or they cheat GHRs. The reality of any method is that technique is paramount, and merely going through the motions is pointless. You must have dedicated purpose and attention to detail to have any hope of being one of the best in the world.
Also, at times I know Lou has made statements about not needing to train the quads or biceps to be a great powerlifter, but in all reality I believe it just pays to build every muscle to be as big and as strong as possible. If you are a wide stance squatter, the quads will be minimized, but I feel that there is still a need to have significant musculature there. Remember the old saying: “a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.”
I’d prefer to have no weak links.
I think if any lifter wants to try the Westside Method, or any method, they should first read as much about it as possible.
Get a grasp of what the method is truly about.
It must also be understood that Louie wrote the method for geared lifting, and geared lifters, so if you are a raw lifter there will need to be some adaptation. I believe that this is dependent upon the individual, but I recommend most adjust the overloads down just a bit, and if using a box to squat, to remove it the last month prior to a meet. These are not Lou’s words, these are mine, but I do know people that have successfully used the Westside Method as raw lifters, and I’m sharing what they have told me.
Lastly, looking back upon my decade on the Method, any failure I incurred was when I broke away from the method, or underworked. The method itself is extremely simple and effective. It can take some time to master the bands and chains, but if you apply yourself to the method, and give your all in the gym, there is absolutely no reason this method can’t work for you.
Without my time on the Westside Method, my time training at Westside, and Louie’s help, I would never have realized my potential.
Louie always told me I’d be great if I worked hard, and he believed in me enough to give me a chance to train at his gym. Sometimes all we need to believe in ourselves is for someone to do it first.
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