Westside Barbell For Sports Performance | The GOOD & BAD
With the rise of various, different sports performance coaches emerge. A lot of coaches out there have been influenced by Louie Simmons, Phil Daru, Matt Wenning and Dave Tate to name a few.
As we break down Westside Barbell, we are going to try to make it specific to Louie/Westside. We acknowledge that Daru, Wenning and Tate implement variations around Louie’s system. Louie did a tremendous job of creating a system around his ideas, taking ideas from various different countries and sports. And what he did an even better job of was writing and publishing ad nauseum in Powerlifting USA. Louie also did a great job early on promoting himself, bragging and being an excellent business man. Let’s face it, a guy like Jim Schmitz who worked with Bruce Wilhelm, Mario Martinez and Al Foyerbach, to name a few, created animals, absolute specimens of powerful freaks. The level of power output is unrivaled. So why didn’t Schmitz have the same rise as Louie? Well he didn’t do as good of a job in marketing, advertising and sharing information, which in turn helped promote business and team, but increased awareness within the sport and knowledge of the sport.
Simply put, Louie did a great job.
But what about Westside and sport performance? Let’s take a look.
Max Effort, Dynamic Effort
Think of a four day split of lifts. Monday upper, Wednesday lower, Friday upper and Sunday lower. On Monday and Wednesday apply max effort. On Friday and Sunday apply dynamic effort. Let’s think of the max effort days as slow and the dynamic effort days as fast. By fast and slow, this is how the weight is going to be moved. This should go without saying, but fast and slow is relative. We always want to be moving the weight as fast as possible, but sometimes the weight is heavy, like on max effort days, and a little bit of shifting into low gear to move that weight is needed. On dynamic effort days the goal is to move the weights used as fast as possible.
Like all workouts, make sure to start with a warm up to get the blood flowing. After that warm up we want to get into the max effort exercise. So on an upper body day the max effort exercise may be a bench press with chains and the lower body day may be a box squat with bands. Then maybe on the dynamic, upper day we can do a close grip bench as fast as possible and then do ten doubles on the lower body dynamic day.
After that movement, supplemental lifts/movements follow and then accessory movements finish off the session. That’s a general template of Westside training. And we acknowledge that the intricacies of the programming are going to be missing using this generalization of what is Westside.
But is it good? Is it bad? And more importantly, what can we take out of all of the decades of research Louie put into the sport of powerlifting and the realm of sports performance.
Good: Culture/Group Setting
The culture Louie established at Westside is magic. Here at Garage Strength we get phone calls from well meaning parents asking, “Well is it individualized training? Is it private training sessions?”
It’s not a private training session. No one wants to train with one trainer by themselves. That is a horrible situation. A group setting creates an environment that elevates everybody involved. It creates a culture of people who are like minded. People who are trying to achieve a goal, lift one another up and drag one another along to excel.
A like minded culture helps create a very powerful setting that helps to improve performance in general. Westside is notorious for creating such an environment.
This is the biggest thing. Culture goes a long way with sports performance. And when a culture is established, it can help a lot with getting an athlete to the top.
Good: Absolute Strength
We have to recognize that absolute strength does indeed improve sports performance. Functional movements are great, but we know that our high school athlete who can clean 315 lbs going up against an opponent that doesn’t train with us and who can only clean 225 lbs is going to get rolled.
Our guy is going to dominate because they have a much higher level of coordination. Absolute strength improves coordination and power output. It also does a lot for the mind. Absolute strength toughens athletes up. It gives them a mindset of how to grind and push through. Absolute strength teaches athletes how to overcome.
Good: Understanding Exercise Impact
Another thing that Louie is phenomenal at is his understanding of accessory movements and supplementary movements. He grasps how accessory and supplementary exercises impact various parts of the body.
For instance, an athlete whose lower back acts up doing box squats needs reverse hypers and hanging leg raises to distract the area of potential discomfort as well as wake up the needed area. Reverse hypers also strengthen hamstrings and lessen lower back pain. Louie understands this, implements it and has taught us all a lot.
Bad: Too Much Variation
We’ve heard stories of athletes training at Westside going six or seven months and only having done the same exercise once in that time frame. This leads to way too much variation. If we vary movements too frequently, the athlete is going to get sore every single time they step into the weightroom.
The flip is doing the same training sessions every single day for weeks on end, like a power clean, an ab exercise, a back strengthening movement, bench press and plyos. That may be the workout for six or seven straight weeks, every single day. We’re not saying this is ideal either, but we are trying to communicate that there’s a lot of value in sports performance to not varying movements too much.
If we can keep movements consistent within a program, we now have athletes involved in other sports able to learn exercises in the weightroom as effectively as possible. From there the athletes can transfer the exercise or variation over to their athletic realm.
In sports performance the priority is always the sport being participated in. Having a negative impact on the specific sport is a big no, no. If the athlete gets sore or banged up from too much variation we have a problem.
Bad: Absolute Strength
Yeah, we know, we said Westside’s prioritizing of absolute strength is a good thing. It is.
Louie prioritizes absolute strength to a crazy degree. It’s documented. It’s well documented.
There is a point of diminishing return.
Fortunately we have a work around for this: establish benchmark numbers. By establishing benchmark numbers, we know where the absolute strength numbers need to be. As athletes hit benchmark numbers in the weightroom, we then need to tap into other modalities of training to help them make strides in their selective sport.
Bad: Lack of Technical Coordination
We like to think of technical coordination as having a static start. That static contraction is followed by a dynamic contraction, followed by muscle slack that leads into serious force absorption, into strength coordination. That’s our definition.
So what would this look like?
Think of a power clean with a static start from the floor, into a dynamic contraction off the hip, then muscle slack to get into the catch and then force absorption and recruiting absolute strength to be dynamic.
Think of a full clean at 440 lbs. There’s a very powerful static contraction right off the floor, followed by a very powerful dynamic contraction off the hip. That is followed by serious muscle slack that leads to a fast drop into force absorption and recruitment of absolute strength.
That requires a technical chain of coordination. The technical chain of coordination requires a series of technical contractions. That is a key component behind sports performance. Many sports have static starts, dynamic contractions, muscle slack periods throughout various parts of movements and consistently have to use absolute strength. Using these forms of contraction synergistically is the whole point of technical coordination--it doesn’t exist in Louie’s system.
When athletes are trained to have technical coordination, coaches can see a better transfer of training. Technical coordination leads to chains of contraction which leads to higher levels of sports performance.
Bad: Technical Understanding
“Any doofus can go out and run,” says Louie Simmons.
We have to learn proper foot strike. We have to learn how our hips and postures are being held during the run. We have to understand how to utilize the arms when running. Running well, with grace and speed, requires technical literacy, study and understanding. A 5k runner can get a lot faster by improving their technique.
Most improvements in a 40 yard dash are based around technical precision of the sprinter.
And that is one thing we believe Westside lacks: the advanced concept of technical coordination, chain of contraction and don’t understand the finer points of technical precision. A lack of technical understanding will hinder the ability to utilize and pick the right movements specific to the trained for sport.
Learn from the best in their field. Don’t be arrogant. Be a learn it all, not a know it all.
Bad: System Built Around Gear
Louie’s system is built around gear. The IPA is a joke now. Raw lifting is where it is at. Let’s not dwell on coming to 90 degrees, let alone 100 degrees in a squat.
People hear “world record” and they think of a huge, huge stage. And powerlifting is littered with federations. There are a lot of small ponds.
On top of that, sports performance athletes can’t wear gear when competing. There is no 10 ply suit that is going to assist the defensive lineman with shedding that blocker to make the tackle.
Not to throw salt on a slug, but Westside is notorious and open about its athletes using anabolics. We respect the openness and commend it. We actually think it is very important. But when we are talking about athletes who are getting drug tested, like Garage Strength athletes, who have been tested over three dozen times over the last year and a half spread across four different sports, we call foul.
Someone can be trained well in sports performance using Westside methodology. We believe the group setting alone at Westside carries its weight in gold. The focus on absolute strength is great (as long as it isn’t having a negative impact on their sport).
When it comes down to other systems, there is a lot of stuff that works really well. Like not utilizing too much variation and understanding the necessity of absolute strength within reasonable relation to the sport. Also, understanding technical coordination and the chain of contraction is paramount, especially knowing how to take the chains of contraction in the weightroom and make them usable within the sport. Finally, be hyper aware of the technique involved in every single movement in the sport’s world (and if it isn’t known, go learn from someone who does!).
Oh yea, steroids aren’t necessary to compete on an elite stage.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.