The Westside System for the Drug Free Athlete

The Westside System for the Drug Free Athlete

by Chris Young

Westside Barbell is a private Powerlifting gym owned and operated by Louie Simmons in Columbus Ohio. It’s not the sort of gym that you can just walk into off the street. You have to be invited or, if you’re really brave, ask if you can train there.

After my first week Louie told me that if the guys hadn’t liked me I would have been kicked out; I guess I was one of the lucky ones as I’ve been back 4 times now, and I hope to go back for many more visits yet.

At this point I’d like to say that Louie is the most generous and kind person I have ever met, not to mention the most intelligent coach and lifter I’ve ever met; therefore if anything here is of any use then it is Louie who should be thanked.

The Westside System –Briefly

The Westside system of training has many contributing factors but the basic tenants are:

  • A max effort (ME) session for the lower body
  • A max effort session for the upper body
  • A dynamic effort (DE) session for the lower body
  • A dynamic effort session for the upper body
  • Performance of special exercises
  • Use of repetition effort (RE) to increase muscle mass
  • Use of accommodating resistance

In the sport of Powerlifting the lower body exercises are Squat and Deadlift based, and the upper body is Bench Press based but this can change depending on the sport.

The max and dynamic effort exercises are based around the Squat, Bench and Deadlift but these lifts are rarely performed outside of competition. The phrase “The same but different” sums up the selection of exercises quite nicely. With training the Squat, Louie has all his lifters perform Box Squats to various heights, often using accommodating resistance techniques such as use of bands, chains, and weight releasers.

With training the Bench Press, Louie’s athletes will use variations such as Close Grip Benches, various Board Presses, Floor Presses, as well as using bands and chains.

In the Deadlift, rack pulls are used from various heights sometimes bands are also used both in a resisted and lightened way; this means you can either lift against the bands or with them for assistance.

When using the Westside method there are a couple of things for the drug free lifter to take into account. The main consideration is overall training volume; when we look at the amount of work performed by some of these lifters it would cripple a drug free athlete. To protect against this be sure to deload every 4 weeks. On lower body ME day I would usually perform a Squat variation to a max single followed by a Deadlift variation, usually Rack Pulls for several triples, followed by hamstrings, lower back, and ab work. On a deload week I would only do the Squat variation and abs, this would cut the overall volume by around 50%, possibly more; the same would hold true for DE day.

One point to take into account here is the natural deload phenomenon; this being that many folk never actually get to do 3 weeks of a particular programme due to various reasons, usually laziness! Only deload if your training is very consistent.

Another variable to take into account is that all of the Westside lifters compete equipped so if you’re an unequipped lifter then many of the exercises would change. For example, when training the Bench Press at Westside, most of what they do is designed to work the lock out because bench shirts don’t help that position; if you’re an unequipped lifter then you’d need to select exercises which build strength off the chest or wherever you’re weak.

Adjustments for my own Training

Maybe the best way I can show you how this system would work for you is to tell you what I’ve done in the past.

Max Effort –Lower Body -To a 1RM

  • Week 1 – Paused (1-2 Secs) Low Box Squat
  • Week 2 – Rocking Low Box Squat
  • Week 3 – Squat + Weight Releasers
  • Week 4 – Squat
  • Week 5 – Paused (1-2 Secs) Low Box Squat
  • Week 6– Rocking Low Box Squat
  • Week 7– Squat + Weight Releasers
  • Week 8 – Squat

To a 3RM -3-5 Work Sets (>80% top weight)

  • Week 1 – Rack Pulls @3
  • Week 2 – Rack Pulls @1
  • Week 3 – Floor
  • Week 4 – None
  • Week 5– Rack Pulls @3
  • Week 6– Rack Pulls @1
  • Week 7– Floor
  • Week 8 – None

Bulgarian Split Squats 2-5 sets of 5-10 reps (none on week 4) Abs 2-5 sets of 5-12 reps

Max Effort Upper Body; To a 1RM using the Axle or a bar

  • Week 1 – Very Close Grip Bench Press (10”)
  • Week 2 – Semi Close Grip Bench Press (15”)
  • Week 3 – Close Grip Bench Press (20”)
  • Week 4 – Bench
  • Week 5 – Very Close Grip Bench Press (10”)
  • Week 6 – Semi Close Grip Bench Press (15”)
  • Week 7 – Close Grip Bench Press (20”)
  • Week 8 – Bench

All supersetted with Pushdowns/Tricep Ext for 10-15 reps

Superset Face Pulls for sets of 8-12 reps with BB, DB, or KB Overhead Press 2-5 sets of 3-12 reps

High rep Bench variation supersetted with high rep pull variation 2 sets x AMAP

Dynamic Effort Lower Body

  • Week 1 – Low Box Squat 12 sets x 2 reps 60% + Purple Band
  • Week 2 – Low Box Squat 10 sets x 2 reps 55% + Green Band
  • Week 3 – Low Box Squat 8 sets x 2 reps 50% + Blue Band
  • Week 4 – Low Box Squat 8 sets x 2 reps 60%
  • Week 5 –Squat 12 sets x 2 reps 60% + 1x Chain
  • Week 6 – Squat 10 sets x 2 reps 55% + 2x Chain
  • Week 7 – Squat 8 sets x 2 reps 50% + 4x Chain
  • Week 8 –Squat 8 sets x 2 reps 60%
  • Week 1 – Deads on JSP 12 sets of 3 reps + Band
  • Week 2 – Deads on JSP 10 sets of 3 reps + Band + 1x Chain
  • Week 3 – Deads on JSP 8 sets of 3 reps + Band + 2x Chain
  • Week 4 – None
  • Week 5 – Deads on JSP 12 sets of 3 reps + Band
  • Week 6 – Deads on JSP 10 sets of 3 reps + Band + 1x Chain
  • Week 7 – Deads on JSP 8 sets of 3 reps + Band + 2x Chain
  • Week 8 – None

Note: JSP = Jump Stretch Platform – A means of attaching bands to a bar for a Deadlift; you can mimic this by standing on a band draped over the bar

Bulgarian Split Squats 2-5 sets of 5-10 reps (none on week 4)

Abs 2-5 sets of 5-12 reps

Dynamic Effort Upper Body

  • Week 1 – 1-2 Board Press Vs Mini Bands 8-12 sets x 3 reps Ascending Weight (with shirt)
  • Week 2 –1-2 Board Press Vs Mini Bands 8 sets x 3 reps Constant Weight (with shirt)
  • Week 3 – 1-2 Board Press V’s Chains 8-12 sets x 2 reps Ascending Weight (with Shirt)
  • Week 4 – 1-2 Board Press V’s Chains 8-12 sets x 2 reps Constant Weight (with Shirt)
  • Week 5 – Various Grip Bench Press Vs 1x Chain 12 sets x 3 reps 50%
  • Week 6 – Various Grip Bench Press Vs 2x Chain 9 sets x 3 reps 50%
  • Week 7 – Various Grip Bench Press Vs 3x Chain 6 sets x 3 reps 50%
  • Week 8 – Various Grip Bench Press Vs 4x Chain 6 sets x 3 reps 50%

All supersetted with Pushdowns/Tricep Ext for 10-15 reps

Superset Face Pulls for 2-5sets of 8-12 reps with BB, DB, or KB Overhead Press 2-5 sets of 3-12 reps

High rep Bench variation supersetted with high rep pull variation 2 sets x AMAP

Explanation

The selection of exercises is specific to my weaknesses. In the Squat, as with most unequipped lifters I’m weak in the hole so my ME exercises reflect that.

What might surprise some is my use of accommodating resistance on DE day. The reason for this is that when rising out of a Squat you try to “outrun” the bands or chains. The theory goes that if you can shift your sticking point up a few inches then you might be able to power through it. Box Squats are also a great way of training your depth, but as much as I think they’re a great exercise, I like using Squat variations for ME day; unequipped lifters need to make use of the stretch reflex when coming out of the hole.

For the Bench Press I’m a little different to many lifters; Louie says that I’m all leverage and no strength, so with the close grip variations I’m taking that leverage away. In case you’re wondering, the shirted work is to protect the shoulder while trying to get some heavy weight in my hands.

As regards the Deadlift my major weakness is grip so I do sets of 3 as fast as I can (bouncing) on DE day, usually a lifter would perform singles with a pause at the bottom.

With the assistance work I am unusual in that my Quads are weak and I have Hamstrings from hell which is why I do the Bulgarian Split Squats. Most lifters would do Glute Ham Raises and Reverse Hypers if they had those pieces of equipment available to them, or Pull Throughs, Kettlebell Swings or a Deadlift/Good Morning variation otherwise. Pretty much everyone needs greater Ab and Lower/Upper Back strength.

You might have noticed that every 4 weeks I test the 3 lifts (sometimes every 8 or 12 weeks when performing other programmes); obviously I want to know how well the programme is working.

Do bear in mind that the selection of ME and DE exercises is specific to you. You have to figure out where you’re weak in a certain lift and address that area. If you’re weak off the chest when you Bench then don’t do board presses all the time.

Again, your assistance exercises should be selected around your weak areas as well. Are you the guy doing curls when you should be doing some extra Ab or Lower Back work?

Extra Work

As I get older I appreciate the need to keep healthy so I can perform these types of workouts. On “off” days I perform various exercises which are going to help my weaknesses without draining me. Below are the options I use:

  • Grip Work –Sled Tug of War, Rope Pull Ups, Fat man Rope Pull Ups, Rolling Thunder, Hub Holds, Gripper.
  • Lower body recovery sled pulls.
  • Mobility Drills – Prying Squat and Warrior Lunge on the Powerplate, Leg Swings (A-P), Leg Swings (Lateral), Face the Wall Squat + prying, Warrior Lunge, Shoulder dislocates x2, dislocates alt.
  • Press Ups on blast straps –multiple sets of 20ish.
  • Various External Shoulder Rotations –sets of 25reps.
  • Shoulder Complexes –Front, 45 Degrees, Side -15+reps on each complex.
  • Foam Rolling –Adductors, Hamstrings, Calves, IT Band.

Please understand that I don’t do all these all the time; those drills at the top of the list are usually done 2-3 times a week, and those at the bottom are rarely done. I find those high rep shoulder movements so dull; and I admit that with the sled drills I can get a bit of a meathead mood on and put too much weight on the sled so it’s important to remember why you’re doing this extra stuff.

In Conclusion

Finally I would like to say that the reason I like the Westside system so much is that it makes perfect sense to me, scientifically. I tend to scratch my head when I see Powerlifting programmes where the lifter is told to Squat for multiple sets and reps with a static weight and, until he lifts in competition he never feels what a max weight is like and often get squashed! That sounds slightly crazy to me; there’s a big difference between a predicted max when performing a heavy set of 5 and a competition max.

The trick is to adapt it to you; you have to figure out your weaknesses and incorporate them into the programme. You have to figure out where you are strong and keep it strong. And you have to figure out what your work capacity is and work within that.

Good luck with your efforts.

Myself and Louie Simmons in front of the famous records board at Westside Barbell in March 2007`

Chris is a British and World Champion Drug Free Powerlifter who has worked in the fitness industry since 1985, he currently runs the gym at the very prestigious Spa at Pennyhill Park (http://www.thespa.uk.com). Along with Powerlifting, Chris has competed nationally in Martial Arts, and has dabbled in Drug Free Bodybuilding. Chris can be contacted through www.getmightynow.com.