May 2003 archives

May 14, 2003

Countdown begins

Filed under: General

I will cut to the chase and leave specifics for later: on Friday I will start to make the transition to powerlifting Westside-style. This blog is here to chronicle my progress. Although I hope someone out there will find this an interesting read, I am doing this as much for myself. I’m new to blogging, but I have this stubborn idea that this is an effective way of self-reflection, more so than simply scribbling in the training diary. Training under public review should also give an extra boost.

I am a complete novice in the powerlifting arena, but not when it comes to bodybuilding style lifting. A quick glance down at the line of folders holding my training diaries tells me that I first touched a barbell on 27 December 1990 at an age of 15; forearms at home with a newly-bought barbell, with a vision to improve my forearm strength and stability for the martial arts I was doing then. I have been training since, with the exception of part of 1998 and 1999-2001, i.e. when I was living in China. A couple of slight injuries this last year have made sure that I haven’t yet attained the strength I had back in 1998.

That’s all I have time for today; more specifics on exactly what I will be up to and what my baseline is next time.

May 16, 2003

The Westside protocol

Filed under: General

What is Westside?

Westside is the name of a small private powerlifting club located in Columbus, Ohio in the US. Given that this roughly 70 square meter club had by 2001 produced at least 20 lifters with a total score of at least 2000 pounds (907.5 kg), with at least nine of them capable of at least 600-pound (272.5 kg) benches, people have started to take notice. The leading figure is Louie Simmons, who named his club after the Westside barbell club originally located in Culver City, California (where one of the main exercises of the modern Westside protocol, box squats, was practiced long before Simmons came up with the idea himself). Simmons’s Westside protocol owes much to East Bloc strength research, which it has combined with novel ideas and equipment (such as the reverse hyperextension machine patented in 1993) to form a very unique approach to powerlifting. It is this protocol that I will follow in making my transition to powerlifting from a more bodybuilding oriented training-style.

Think squat muscles, not squats

I had the impression that powerlifting training consisted of training the three competition lifts (squat, deadlift, and bench) without much variation in lifting form, with assistance exercises thrown in to strengthen weak points. Why on earth would I think that? Well, as many of you no doubt know, strength is very movement specific. Change the width of your bench press or the hip angle in the squat just a little and your strength will decrease significantly. It seems then that a powerlifter can not afford playing around with his main lifts: nail the perfect form and then try to replicate it in every lift whether in training or competition. The deduction is clear: powerlifting training must be pretty boring!

If this is indeed so, then Westside must be a powerlifting funny farm. Instead of thinking in terms of the three big lifts, they focus their training on working the squat, deadlift and bench muscle groups. Don’t think squat day, think squat muscle day. Here bodybuilders need to shake the association: squat muscle day does not mean pumping the quads and hams, it means getting optimum leverage with as much muscle involvement as possible to get as much iron as possible on the bar. By focusing on key muscle groups instead of key lifts in training, Westside dictates that variation should not only occur in the assistance exercises, but also in the three big. In fact, they go as far as claiming that training the main lifts using the same form as in competition is not the best way to get good results.

Consider this: nearly all squatting at Westside is done off boxes, with the competition form saved for meets. Why? Because box squats overload the target muscles more efficiently than the competition form ever could, and because box squats make sure you get into the habit of breaking parallel on every lift. When that has sunk in, consider this: some 60 to 70% of all max effort squat training is done through different variations of the good morning, because good mornings are more efficient at strengthening the posterior chain (calves, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, upper back, abs, and obliques) than squats. And that’s also why you don’t need to do much deadlifting to get a really big deadlift.

Periodization Westside-style

Another impression of mine: powerlifters like training cycles as much as roidheads like injection cycles. Powerlifters like to split their training into different phases often based on some esoteric percentage calculations named after some East Bloc researcher for extra potency. At Westside, they call their periodization conjugated periodization …and they go through a full cycle every single week! So much for “easier months”: training at Westside follows the same format year round, with only minor modifications just before a meet.

The Westside training week consists of two main parts: Max Effort days (ME) and Dynamic Effort days (DE). On ME days the muscles are overloaded with weights in the range of 90-100% of the max (I don’t think I will ever quite think of good mornings in the same way again). On DE days the lifter works on speed and power generation (explosiveness), generally with 50-60% of the single rep max for sets of two reps with short rest periods (about 45 to 60 seconds). A two-way split is used: Since the muscles used in the squat and deadlift heavily overlap, they are trained on the same day, with the bench getting its own day. The basic scheme thus calls for four training days a week:

  • Monday: Max effort Squat/Deadlift
  • Wednesday: Max effort Bench
  • Friday: Dynamic effort Squat/Deadlift
  • Sunday: Dynamic effort Bench

One of the main ideas behind periodization in general is to avoid the dreaded overtraining: the body can’t handle loads above 90% for more than three to five weeks at a time before bad things will start to happen. The Westside solution is to cycle the ME lifts every to every third week. Of course, this is not done just to avoid overtraining, as variation is also the key to continual progress and is an essential part of injury prevention (not a good idea to keep grinding those joint from the same angle day after day).

In addition to main movements, the assistance exercises are also cycled. What exercises are picked and what the volume and resistance is depend on what weak points the lifter needs to work on. Exercises could be anything from Seated Cable Rows to Bicep curls.

Intensity boosters

Many methods used in bodybuilding to overload a muscle for better growth response are never used in powerlifting. Forced reps (where a partner eases the load to help you crank out more reps) deteriorate form and explosiveness, drop sets are simply not effective for building strength. Westsiders are more into overloading specific parts of a movement, which is accomplished mainly by the use of chains and rubber bands fastened to the bar. For example, attaching rubber bands from the base of the rack to the bar means that the movement gets progressively heavier the higher up the lifter gets, thus negating the better leverage at the top of the lift. Much the same effect is achieved with chains: heavy chains are fastened to the bar, which makes the load heavier the more chain leaves the ground. Another option is the use of weight releasers, which add weight to only the negative (eccentric) part of the lift on which more weight can be handled than in the positive (concentric) phase.

The use of chains and rubber bands is not restricted only to ME days, but can also be used on DE days. Three types of rubber bands are used at Westside: the strongest ones add up to 100 kg (220 pounds) at the top of the lift depending on how the bands are attached and how tall the lifter is (i.e. how long the range of motion is).

Intensity boosters won’t be an issue for me at this stage of the training, but I expect to have a lot to say about them later when I’m experienced enough to try them.

The workouts

Monday: Max effort Squat/Deadlift

1. ME exercise working the muscles used in the squat and deadlift: generally some type of good morning, could also be box squats with different bars or some kind of deadlifts.

2. Supplemental exercises for the trunk (such as abs, obliques or lower back)

Wednesday: Max effort Bench

1. ME exercise working the muscles used in the bench: benches with different grip widths, partials, board presses, floor presses, benches with rubber bands or chains…

2. Supplemental exercises as needed for the lats, triceps, and shoulders

Friday: Dynamic effort Squat/Deadlift

1. Box squats off low, parallel or high boxes as needed: always 8 sets of 2 reps.

2. Supplementary exercises as needed for the trunk

Sunday: Dynamic effort Bench

1. Bench press, often with different grip widths: usually 8 sets of 3 reps each.

2. Supplementary exercises as needed for the lats, triceps and shoulders

Closing the nutshell

The above should be a decent bare-bones introduction to the system. More meat will be added as I progress through the system and attain a deeper understanding of how things work. After all, that is the point of this blog.

Recommended reads:

Westside Barbell: Homepage of the club, where bios, equipment and articles can be found.

Westside Barbell style: Good introduction to the Westside protocol by Westsider Dave Tate (for those of you who missed the link on Wednesday).

Powerlifting Westside Style: Another introductory article to Westside training by Adam Mackinnon.

Getting Schooled Westside Style: A first-hand account of a squat day at Westside. Highly recommended.

My training history and current weights

Filed under: General

Training history

I’m 27 years old, 184 cm/6 feet tall and weigh in at a morning weight of 92 kg/203 pounds, not all of which is muscle (my beer belly seems too soft to be part of my abs). I started training in 1990 by selectively training just a few body parts (forearms, shoulders and arms) at home with a barbell. Somewhat later I got myself a Weider Cobra bench (a pretty good bench in the puny home bench department) and a better assortment of weights, which made it possible to train the whole body in style. I followed the excellent Health for Life training manuals, which advocate fast intensive workouts with a lot of supersets. During those early years I mainly viewed lifting as a supplement to my martial arts training, my main interest in life back then. I also did a lot of running, especially liking hard interval training (i.e., sprinting alternated with running). Although stretching several times a week, it was only in 1994 that I finally managed to go past the final stubborn inches and drop into full front and side splits without a warm-up (for that I thank Thomas Kurz’s approach to PNF stretching - if you want to get flexible fast this is where to go, although this one by Pavel Tsatsouline is also good covering a lot of the same material although in less detail).

Receiving my black belt in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu after my 18th birthday in 1993 became a turning point. My interest started dwindling and two years later I was completely out of the dojo, now focusing all my energy on the gym instead. I also dropped the running, since I felt it was too detrimental for leg strength. By this time I had been training for a couple of years at a proper gym with my training partner Måns, although my home gym still saw the occasional workout. As is typical of hard training teenagers who follow sound training protocols (we never fell for the “Let’s follow this article in Flex” trap) we made good gains. When our local gym changed owners and suddenly turned into a machine gym, I started frequenting the gyms at the University of Helsinki, where I was studying anthropology and sinology.

As is to be expected, the ideals of anthropology (getting to know another culture through extensive fieldwork) and sinology (the study of China) do not mix particularly well with my training. My first stay in China during the summer of 1998 signaled the start of a long training break. The rigors of intensive Chinese classes combined with an extremely crowded and hot campus gym (around 35′C/95′F inside) made me want to concentrate on Taiji at 6 am instead. When I got back from China I gradually started training at the really nice and hardcore Gold’s Gym in Helsinki with my training partner, but a year later I was again on my way to Tibet in order to deepen my knowledge of the region. During the two years I was there I completely dropped training, since it would have been next to impossible in those conditions. Living in a high-altitude area on the grasslands with yak herders as your neighbors is not very conducive to training. Quite frankly, I didn’t see how push-ups and bodyweight squats would do much to keep my strength up. And there were no showers around either.

After returning from China in the autumn of 2001 I resumed training at Gold’s in September. After not touching a weight for two years, and eating whatever was available (mainly tsampa and yak meat during my second year), my results were initially not that encouraging. I only managed 6 reps with 40 kg/88 pounds on the incline bench and 8 reps with 70 kg/155 pounds in the seated cable row to give a couple of examples. But after grinding out set after set I was a lot stronger a year later (easily repping with 100 kg/220 pounds on seated cable rows to give a comparison). Then one injury at the end of 2002 was followed by another in the beginning of 2003, which kept me out of commission until March.

My baseline weights

My training history is one of bodybuilding training aimed at increasing the amount of weight lifted or reps done with the same weight, and it is in these terms that I have mainly gauged my progress. I have always welcomed the extra muscle mass that has come as a result, but that has never been my sole purpose for lifting. This realization is one of my major arguments for turning to powerlifting. After all, trying to get stronger on the type of training geared towards maximal muscle hypertrophy is like trying to lose weight by eating two carrots less a day. Sure it works, but slowly. In saying this I’m not criticizing bodybuilding in any way, I’m just saying that it is not optimal for strength gains. About a year down the line I hope to be able to put some figures behind that statement by comparing my strength gains as a bodybuilder to those as a powerlifter. Still, I wonder how many people are just like that wanting to get a big squat or a big bench by doing sets of 6-12 reps topped with flyes and cable work.

The difference in training methodology and the fact that I haven’t done any of the big three powerlifts (bench, squat and deadlift) continuously makes it somewhat hard to say what my current strength level is if I were to perform the lifts in powerlifting fashion. I’ve been a rock-bottom narrow squatter at least since 1995; I have been into deadlifts only occasionally, although stiff-legged deadlifts have been a constant favorite; and I didn’t really do much flat benching before a few months ago preferring incline dumbell presses instead. As far as max lifts go I haven’t been doing much of those either, although I have never been afraid of doing low reps in order to increase my weights.

That being said, I did do a powerlifting bout of training in the summer of 1996 between mid-May and the start of August following a typical three-day routine. During that time I stayed at our family’s summer cottage training at my own forest gym. The routine looked like this:

  • Monday:
    Full squats 5x5, 1x8
    Incline Bench 3x5, 3x4
    Flyes 2x20
    Close-grip bench 2x20
  • Wednesday:
    Deadlifts 3x5, 3x3
    Push-presses 5x5
    One-leg standing freeweight leg curls 2x20
    Side delt flyes 2x20
    Rear delt flyes 2x20
  • Friday:
    Full squats (light, not to failure) 5x5
    75 degree Reverse-grip barbell rows 5x5
    Ballistic shrugs 5x5
    Pull-ups 4xmax
    One-handed preacher curls

As a result of this training I managed to get 2 rock-bottom reps on the full squat with 100 kg/220 pounds, and a single with 150 kg/332 pounds in the deadlift. One workout I tried deadlift partials from knee-height and got 5 reps with 160 kg/354 pounds. After having returned to a more typical routine I later did partials with 180 kg/398 pounds for five reps at the end of the year. On the incline bench I didn’t manage more than 5 reps with 70 kg/155 pounds (I think my best is a few reps with 77.5 kg/171 pounds). The narrow deadlift should be pretty representative, but the squat was a double and way below parallel. After this powerlifting routine I went over to a cyclical ketogenic diet on which I ended up staying well over a year, with only a few carb weeks spaced in between. At first I did it just to shed some weight (I dropped 15 kg/33 pounds, naturally also lost some muscle in the process), then I decided to continue at higher calories because I felt really great on it (if you read Swedish I have an article about the diet here). Quite probably, I was at my strongest ever before starting my diet.

As a comparison and gauge to where I am now, I offer my most recent training. After a six-week stint on the ketogenic diet, I started a basic powerlifting scheme in October using a two-way split. I slightly tore a muscle at the scapula in mid-November, probably something caused by deadlifts the day before. As a result I took one month off, but then I almost immediately injured something on my left side by very stupidly going too deep in the leg press (ironically, the reason I did this was because I had a very light weight on the machine, 130kg/287 pounds I think, and thought I would go really slow and strict to compensate? good thought, but going too deep is just plain stupid!). My last two sessions looked like this before the injuries (all with constant weight, attempting 5x5 on all exercises, except rope crunches and calf raises, which were for 2/3x10):

6 November 2002

Bench: 5,5,5,5,5 @ 72.5 kg/160 pounds
Seated Rows: 5,5,5,5,5 @ 105 kg/232 pounds
Deadlift: 5,5 @ 115 kg/254 pounds
Standing Bicep Curl: 5,5 @ 47.5 kg/105 pounds
Rope Crunches in Lat machine: 13,10 @ 45 kg/99 pounds

10 November 2002

Full front squats: 5,5,5,5,5 @ 65 kg/144 pounds
Standing Military Press: 5,4,5,3,3 @ 55 kg/122 pounds
Weighted dips: 5,5,5,5,3 @ 10 kg/22 pounds
Seated Calf Raises: 10,10,10 @ 200 kg + 15 kg extra plate (442 + 33 pounds)

I started doing deadlifts in conjunction with this program and had not progressed much beyond working on getting my groove back. I started doing flat benches in mid-August, and had found a nice groove by this time (pressing without an arch and towards the head though rather than powerlifting style). I did incline dumbell presses for the pecs before this, getting up to 6x30 kg/66.3 pounds.

Getting back to lifting in mid-April I started a similar training schedule, essentially working up to the same weights as in the examples from November above (67.5 kg/149 pounds in front squats though). Also added stiff-legged deadlifts, in my last session on 7 May I did 10x90 kg/199 pounds (my best ever is 3x130kg/287 pounds touching the bar to the toes).


In light of my training weights, it should come as no big surprise that I am a 100% natural trainer who has never contemplated the use of anabolic steroids, and will never do so (this might have some implications for how closely I follow the Westside protocol, but more on that later). At the moment I don’t count my calories, but eat very healthy (no sugar or sweeteners, very little high-GI carbs and adequate amounts of protein in the form of eggs, meat and the obligatory tuna). I also take multiminerals, and post-workout I grab a shake with about 40-50g of protein and about 100g of carbs. I make most of the food I eat myself, eating very few pre-packaged meals. I don’t drink alcohol, except for perhaps a beer a month, and no coffee either. I take no medications whatsoever. At some point after getting into serious Westside style training I might have to consider looking into my diet more closely (familiar territory for me), but for now I think I have my needs covered.

Baselines are made to be broken

There you have it. Consider my weights puny if you want, but at least I have a lot of room for progress. In about a months time I will know what my starting weights for the powerlifts are. As recommended by Sakari Selkäinaho in his excellent Westside training manual (unfortunately only available in Finnish) I will take it easy for 4-6 weeks while working on proper form. After that I plan to make a chart available here at, which will make it easy to monitor my progress at a glance. I could probably write a few nice scripts to make it possible to view the data in different ways. We’ll see.

May 17, 2003

Mine is 13 inches

Filed under: Workouts, Handiwork

My plan of starting technique training on Friday was foiled by never-ending rain and hard wind. Why rain matters is that I’m currently at the family summer cottage on an island, where I have a nice gym at the edge of a forest. Although I have in the past trained in the rain, even once in the middle of the winter, I figured this wouldn’t be the best environment for learning box squatting. Rain curls and super-slow winter squats are one thing, sitting back on a box with the shins less than vertical quite another; something I noticed first hand when I did the workout today in a partially wet squat rack. With the weight so far back, box squats put higher demands on the surface, even with the very light weights I used to train technique.

Sakari Selkäinaho sums up the basic box squat form as follows (my translation):

1. Sit back far enough to put the shins at least perpendicular to the floor, preferably past.
2. Stop on the box and relax the muscles of the hip region.
3. Keep the trunk muscles tensed at all times.
4. Explode off the box as powerfully as possible.
5. Use an overly wide stance and keep the feet pointed as straight forward as possible.
6. The bar should at all times be in line with the heels.

The benefits (summed up from the links at the bottom of this post):

1. More stress on the squatting muscles (hips, glutes, lower back and hamstrings) than in the normal squat; as a result the size of the quads might shrink some doing only box squats, but the hams will most likely grow.
2. Faster recuperation than normal squatting (sounds promising)
3. Teaches good form and to always go below parallel
4. Increases flexibility if performed off low boxes

Naturally, the ideal box height depends on how tall the lifter is. The normal recommendation is to use a box 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) below parallel (i.e. below the point where the crease of the hip is in line with the top of the knee), but sessions are also done on boxes lower than that, at parallel or above parallel. The one I put together on Friday is exactly 13 inches (33 cm), which puts me roughly 2-3 inches below parallel (rough estimate, I need someone else to do a visual for me). I figured I’d make it low enough, then I can easily raise it by putting a plate under it if needed. Being used to squatting rock-bottom I figured I might just as well learn to box squat fairly deep, so I decided to stick with the 13 inches for now. This way it will feel like a vacation when I squat off higher boxes.

But to the workout:

DE Squat/Deadlift, 17 May 2003

Speed Box Squat, 13 inch box: 10 sets x 2 reps @ 30 kg/66 pounds
Speed Deadlifts: 6 sets x 1 rep @ 60 kg / 133 pounds

Total training time: 25 minutes

Did the workout with extremely light weights in order to concentrate on technique and make sure that I wouldn’t cause any soreness that might interfere with my ME (max effort) Squat/Deadlift session on Monday (after all, I do have one day less to recuperate due to the rain?). As dictated by the Westside protocol, I did the reps as explosively as possible on both the box squat and the deadlift (after all, the whole point is to train explosiveness on Dynamic Effort days). And oh boy, was it nice indeed! Made me feel like putting some real iron on the bar and keep going, but of course this was not the time. Especially the deadlift felt great, but then again, I’m a Finn. I though the grip with one hand reversed would feel strange, but actually it didn’t. It’s going to be interesting to see how much weight my forearms can handle? rowing with 115 kg and pull-downs with 105 kg I can handle, but only barely. Needless to say, my 150 kg deadlift I mentioned in my previous post was using straps, and strictly speaking does not count as a proper result in this regard (in which case I believe I’ll be breaking my deadlift PR pretty soon).

The box squats felt good. The box needs to be placed fairly far back since the idea is to sit back (put it just behind you and you’ll probably tip it backwards). The forward lean is quite extreme, but then that’s the point in order to overload the key muscles. If you don’t lean you won’t get back up with shins at that angle. I also like the box for the same reason I like rock-bottom squats: both tell you precisely were you should go. When I used to do some parallel squatting many moons ago I always felt like my depth was all over the place, especially when I would up the weight. Rock-bottoms solved that; always go down all the way, no matter what the weight. Same with box squats, they teach you to go nicely below parallel like a nice boy without having to think about where that is. Perhaps I won’t like the boxes as much when I up the weight, but I have a feeling I will. I’ll probably do some heavier squats on Monday, although still not anywhere close to max lifts since I’m strictly speaking practicing my technique (must? resist? the? temptation?).

Up next, DE Bench day tomorrow. The weather gods have promised more rain.

Readings on the box squat:

Squatting from Head to Toe by Dave Tate
Why you should box squat by Louie Simmons
Some box squat pictures

May 18, 2003

Think speed days, not light days - but what about recuperation?

Filed under: General

As I already hinted at in my walk-through of the Westside protocol on Friday, light days do not really exist as such in Westside style training. DE (Dynamic Effort) days are not light days geared towards enhancing recovery or practicing technique; they are explosiveness training, where the bar loaded with 50-60% of max is exploded as if holding max weights. Of course, this might give some benefits of technique training, but that is not the main point.

In addition to the main exercises (usually box squats on Squat DE and benches at varying grip widths on Bench DE) the Westside protocol also includes assistance work on DE days, in addition to the assistance work done on Max Effort days. In practice this seems to mean a big increase in training frequency for lifters, such as myself, who are used to training every muscle area once every seven to ten days. When this is combined with the observation that it is next to impossible to be in world powerlifting elite drug-free, it is easy to draw the conclusion that the Westside protocol is another example of a drug-assisted training protocol which is hardly suitable for natural lifters. I claimed earlier that I never fell for the common mistake of following steroid enhanced pro routines from Flex; the question is, am I now doing that mistake as a novice powerlifter instead? Caught in by the Westside hype?

Perhaps. At this point I believe a line has to be drawn between specific instances of the Westside protocol and the Westside protocol itself. Of course I don’t think I could handle the same program someone like Dave Tate does, even with the weights adjusted to my feather division. But I do believe that the idea of ME and DE days, the box squat and other ideas advocated by Louie Simmons are not some crazy concoction that only work in combination with Winstrol or liniments usually used for horses. As long as the total workload is adjusted to reflect the lack of anabolics and the personal attributes of the lifter, the general principles should work fine. I might be wrong, this blog will tell.

Quite frankly, I don’t see the Westside protocol as being a very high volume protocol. In its minimum form, it calls for a total of two exercises a week worked up to a max single (i.e. one for the squat & deadlift muscles, one for the bench muscles) as well as 8 submaximal sets of 2-3 reps on the bench and box squat with 50-60% of max. Although there are guidelines for assistance exercises, the amount of reps and sets done is everywhere said to be highly dependant on the weak areas and capacity of the individual lifter. Furthermore, the assistance exercises are not taken to failure, which lessens the muscle trauma somewhat. As Tate puts it:

[..] all sets should be stopped with the breakdown of technique and there should always be a rep or two left in you. Remember this principle is applied to all supplemental and accessory movements. These movements are designed to be exactly what they are: supplemental and accessory. The main goals of these movements are to complement the overall training program, not take away. By training to failure on every set you’d be taking away from the general purpose of the movements, which is to increase work capacity.

Personally, I’m not all that worried about not being able to handle working the same muscle areas twice a week given that the speed lifts on DE days are not likely to induce major muscle trauma as long as the weights are kept in the 50-60% zone. What I’m a little concerned about is doing accessory work for the same muscle groups twice a week. But even then, I don’t think it is all crazy and high-volume as long as the set range is kept between 2 and 4 for all exercises and the exercise selection is rotated. As an example, would it seem totally overkill to do 3 sets of lat pulldowns on Wednesday and 3 sets of dumbell rows on Sunday? Compared to a single 12 set back workout once a week?

That being said, I’m not sure that I can handle it being one of these guys that can have sore legs even a week after a heavy leg workout. I might or I might not. My point is simply this: if I don’t then I will simply adjust the volume down and/or increase the amount of rest days in between (like split the whole system up on ten days instead of seven). Someone on anabolics would probably do the opposite: add chains, sled workouts and occasionally do max lifts even on DE days. Plus add at least 250 kg/550 pounds extra to the bar… for the warm-up.

I will have to see what happens, but I think I should go easy on the assistance work in the beginning. Perhaps avoid it altogether on DE days, especially if I feel sore. One possibility would also be to split it up so that different muscle groups are hit on the ME and DE days (say, work for lats on Wednesday, biceps on Sunday) to avoid too much overlap. Or the body parts could be rotated (train lats with supplementary exercises only every other week). Although some might see such changes as being a step away from the one and only Westside protocol, I guess I will just go the extra step of calling it a modified Westside routine like so many before me.

Further readings:

Westside Barbell Club: Debunking the myths by Dave Tate. In this context Tate’s take on drug-free Westside as one of adjusting workload is especially interesting, although being a very general statement.

Body Type and Training Strategy by Charles Staley. Staley argues, among other things, that “Simmons has found a methodology that works for the majority rather than the minority” in terms of body structure.

Westside Training- Bony Style. An example of a modified 10-day Westside routine.

The Basics of the Louis Simmons Workouts. A discussion list excerpt from 1997, which touches on issues such as the evolving of the system and adapting the system for RAW lifters.

May 19, 2003

First Sunday DE Bench day

Filed under: Workouts

The idea on DE Bench day is usually to work the bench with varying grip widths, usually closer than what is used in competition. The grip can be changed every set or after 2-3 sets. Usually 3-4 different widths are used. Three reps are done a set with maximum explosiveness, although of course the bar should be paused on the chest between reps (as in competition, no bouncing). The resistance is 50-60% of current max (or more if the speed can be upheld).

As on Saturday DE Squat/Deadlift, I took a conservative approach and selected low weights. Also decided on doing some low-volume assistance exercises for the triceps, back, delts and biceps with sub-maximal weights. I rotated the bench grip on every set from close via medium to wide (3 sets each for a total of nine sets).

DE Bench, 18 May 2003

Speed Bench; close, medium, wide: 9 sets x 3 reps @ 35 kg/77 pounds
EZ French Press, behind head: 2 sets x 12 reps @ 25 kg/55 pounds
Lying Reverse-grip Barbell Rows: 2 sets x 8 reps @ 60 kg/133 pounds
Standing Side-delt flyes (laterals): 2 sets x 12 reps @ 12 kg/27 pounds
Standing Alternate Dumbell Curls: 2 sets x 8 reps @ 19.5 kg/43 pounds

Total training time: 39 min

Lying Reverse-grip Barbell Rows are done lying flat on a raised board and pulling the bar with a reverse-grip to the lower stomach. Not standard Westside fare I think (then again Westside calls for any kind of rowing), but in my opinion one of the best row variants that spare the back for more direct work. Also nice with dumbells.

Not much to add. Depending on how I feel after ME Bench next Wednesday I may or may not do assistance exercises next week. Nice to get going with the lifting again after a little over a week layoff awaiting the beginning of my Westside journey.

Good Morning!

Filed under: Workouts

Evening actually, but as most of you familiar with Westside probably guessed, it refers to my first encounter with Good Mornings on ME Squat/Deadlift day today. I have done Good Mornings back at the beginning of my training, and didn’t really expect to be doing them again. Good Mornings seem to be getting a lot of bad press, many calling them outright dangerous. Then, what do you call a squat which has lost momentum? Well, a Good Morning squat of course. Point made. Wouldn’t it be more dangerous to end up in this position without having done Good Mornings in the first place? Should you strengthen the weakest link in the chain or avoid it like the plague hoping the chain will never be stretched far enough? If you did enough Good Mornings you wouldn’t end up in this position too often either. Plus it is simply the best exercise for working the posterior chain (as Tate puts it, “everything between your traps to your calves”). As a result the Westside protocols pushes varieties of the Good Morning for 70% of all ME Squat/deadlift max exercise selection, with low-box squatting getting 20% and deadlifting the remaining 10%.

The Good Mornings felt good, but did not venture to go for a true single. Could have added at least 10 kg/22 pounds or more for that. Worked up to slightly heavier weights and then switched to singles to get accustomed to the format. And I loved them. Sure is more pleasant than front-squatting if you know what I mean. Eagerly awaiting the muscle soreness that is sure to follow…

Also did some sub-maximal assistance work, stiff-legged deadlifts without straps for the first time. I had to abandon the last set for fear of dropping the bar on my toes (really worn-out smooth bar and sweaty fingers don’t like each other - should perhaps look into chalk).

Also decided on doing back work on this day. Seems, at least according to the previously mentioned Westside Barbell manual in Finnish by Sakari Selkäinaho, that back could go either on Squat/Deadlift or Bench day. As deadlifts and such stress the back, plus many rowing exercises stress the lower back, I prefer to lump them all together to give the erectors some rest on Bench day. I will have to look closer at my schedule, plus work out a list of rotating exercises which could be selected for each slot. Will most likely put up a separate page with that, complete with links to pictures of all the lifts.

But to the workout:

ME Squat day, 19 May 2003

Wide-leg Good Morning: 7x3, 2x1 working up to 70 kg/155 pounds
Stiff-legged Deadlifts (bar to toes): 2x5, 1x3 @ 100 kg/220 pounds
One-handed Seated Cable Rows: 2x5 @ 55 kg/122 pounds
Standing Cable Crunch: 3x6 @ 70 kg/155 pounds

Further reading

The Heavyweight Lifting Match: Romanian vs. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts by John Paul Catanzaro. Nice discussion of different forms of Romanian and Stiff-legged deadlifts plus related exercises and issues.

May 20, 2003

Soreness report

Filed under: General

Some 28 hours after yesterday’s workout I am indeed very sore in the posterior chain, notably the erectors and hamstrings, but also the traps and back. Although it is hard to say how much of that is due to the stiff-legged deadlifts, one thing is certain: a lot of good mornings soreness is to be expected ahead. Hardly news. Upper abs also sore from the cable crunches. Strange feeling; I worked the squat muscles but no quads. ME Bench day tomorrow, might go for a max to establish a baseline.

May 21, 2003

First ME Bench day and first single

Filed under: Workouts

This first ME Bench day marks the first full week on the Westside protocol. Thought I would try to go for a max single in the bench press to get a benchmark for the powerlifting style bench. Set up the whole thing in the rack and started light with 40 kg/88 pounds to get an opportunity to practice the groove. Proceeded in roughly 5 kg/11 pound increments up to 65 kg/144 pounds, then switched to singles. After 75 kg/166 pounds went up with a little straining I upped the weight to 80 kg/177 pounds, but that one refused to go anywhere. Dropped down to 77.5 kg/171 pounds with much the same effect.

Frankly, I had expected to blast the 80 kg/177 pounds up in light of the fact that I had in my last pre-Westside training done a fairly easy 5 sets x 5 reps with 70 kg/154 pounds. That was using bodybuilding benching style, where the bar is moved towards the eyes (rather than straight up) and with the whole back on the bench (rather than with an arch), all of which contribute to making the lift harder. On the other hand, an unfamiliar line of motion, the specificity of strength and pausing the bar for a full stop before pressing probably pretty much offset the leverage gained from switching technique. Be that as it may, 75 kg/166 pounds is my current max poundage to be bettered. I will accordingly use 45 kg/99 pounds for the DE bench until I get a better max, i.e. 60% of my current max (which is what is recommended for shirtless benchers and beginners).

I will cycle my training so that I test for a max on the bench, box squat and deadlift perhaps every six weeks or so. As I don’t compete (with these weights?) I don’t see much point in testing normal squats before I have the box squat technique pat down. Although the guys at Westside nowadays determine the DE box squat load directly from the competition result (50-60%), they apparently used to calculate it from the box max (65-85%), something which I could do at this early stage. After starting to train with higher weights off boxes, I will also start to cycle the sets and reps in accordance with the training load. More on these issues later.

One of the main principles in Westside is to always work on removing weak points, not just blindly follow a certain rotation of assistance exercises. Although the latter is something I will be engaged in to some degree when learning the exercises, it seems that I should focus on exploding the bar off my chest in the bench. I’m not used to pausing, and my sticking point appears to be at about 1/3 of the press. I will have to look into that, but at least floor presses appear to be good candidates as the starting position is quite exactly where I get stuck. Pin presses might also be good to get my body used to feeling heavier weights. DE Bench day takes care of the explosiveness part, but I definitively have to get used to blasting ME benches up with force as well (as opposed to bodybuilding style repping). Naturally, my technique needs a lot of improvement (pulling the bar apart is total news to me).

The standard procedure is to train the triceps after the bench, followed by some shoulder/lat work, and capped off with another triceps exercise. For the first triceps exercise I selected the JM Press, named after mega bencher John-Mark Blakley. It involves moving the bar towards the head before benching up, which targets the triceps. It sure does just that, making you feel very weak on the pressing part. I liked them, but will need to continue practicing the technique before piling on more weight.

Will need to look into how to spread apart the side- and rear delt work more closely (perhaps do one on ME Bench and the other on DE Bench, or both?). Since I did side delt flyes on Sunday I decided to go with rear delt flyes this time around. I usually also do some rotator cuff work, usually some form of L-flyes, which I will include next week.

In the spirit of wonder and learning new movements I selected the Tate Press as my second triceps movement sitting on a very steep incline bench. Interesting movement, and not too hard to grasp. I expect this one to become another long-term acquaintance.

ME Bench, 21 May 2003

Bench, wide:
1x3 @ 40 kg / 88 pounds
1x3 @ 50 kg / 110 pounds
2x3 @ 55 kg / 122 pounds
1x3 @ 60 kg / 133 pounds
1x3 @ 65 kg / 144 pounds
1x1 @ 70 kg / 155 pounds
1x1 @ 75 kg / 166 pounds
0x1 @ 80 kg / 177 pounds
0x1 @ 77.5 kg / 171 pounds

JM Press: 3 sets x 10 reps @ 30 kg
Standing Rear Delt Cable Flye: 2 sets x 10 reps @ 20 kg
Tate Press: 3 sets x 6 reps @ 14 kg

Total time: 56 min (slow given the low amount of sets)

Further readings on Westside benching:

How to Bench Press 500 Easy by Louie Simmons. Great introductory article to benching Westside style from 1998.

More Big Benches by Louie Simmons. How benching was done at Westside in 2000 using the routine of Jimmy Ritchie as an example.

Bench Press 600 Pounds: A 12 Step Program by Dave Tate. Not quite in that league yet, but the advice is applicable to every bencher.

The Road to 600
by Dave Tate. Follow-up to the article above. Tate goes through the stages of his career that finally led him to break the 600 pound/272 kg barrier.

Big Bad Bench: A Complete Program for Testosterone Readers by Dave Tate. General discussion, sample program and exercise descriptions.

Training The Bench Press by Jim Wendler. A look at the theory behind Westside benching, including Prilepin’s table.

Training the lock-out
by Louie Simmons. Describes how to train the bench lock-out (i.e. triceps). Contains a description of the JM Press.

Pressing Power: Five reasons your bench gets stuck at the bottom and what you can do about it by Dave Tate.

WestsideBar exercise videos by Olli-Pekka Tervo. Mpeg files of an assortment of common Westside exercises, such as the JM Press and Tate Press. The author states, in Finnish, that he is self-taught, and that he thus cannot vouch for perfect form. Nevertheless, an informative introduction.

J.M. Blakley’s Top Tips For The Bench Press.

The specialist by Kenny Patterson. An overview of how the routine Patterson uses to specialize in the bench.

The Dynamic Duo by Louie Simmons. Describes how George Halbert and Kenny Patterson train together.

May 23, 2003

Second DE Squat/Deadlift

Filed under: Workouts

Soreness report

After Wednesday’s ME Bench workout I have only one thing to say: my triceps are really sore close to the elbow. The rest of the muscle does not seem sore at all even when squeezing it hard. If the triceps region around the elbow is indeed where big benches come from, then the JM Press and Tate Press (aka Elbows Out Extensions) sure seem to be right on target (not really surprising considering where these exercises got their name from, is it now?).

The Workout

Upped the weights with 10 kg/22 pounds on the box squat. Not anywhere close to heavy yet; my feeling is that I will be able to handle more weight off the box than I did in rock-bottom front squats. Think I will do box squats as my ME movement on Monday for triples to get some idea of what kind of weight I should be blasting up on DE day.

In his book, Selkäinaho gives 4-6 sets of deadlift singles at 60-75% of max as one alternative for the supplementary hamstring exercise following box squats. Did deads this week as well, this time raising the weight to 100 kg/221 pounds. Fairly light (same as for stiff-legged deadlifts on Monday), but should be in the right neighborhood given a max deadlift somewhere between 130 kg/287 pounds and 150 kg/332 pounds. As usual, did the deads with a pronated-supinated grip (knuckles forward-knuckles back), but this time I alternated between supinating the right and the left hand (my favorite is a supinated left-pronated right). Figured this would be good to develop the forearms evenly. Don’t know if this is in anyway related, but after last Monday’s workout only my right forearm developed any soreness, i.e. the arm that was pronated on stiff-legs).

Except for some weight increases, the only significant thing is that I added six sets of abs to this workout (finally drew up a routine template that I’m now following… will be outlined shortly).

DE Squat/Deadlift 23 May 2003

Speed Box Squat, 13″: 8x2 @ 40 kg/88 pounds
Speed Deadlift: 4x1 @ 100 kg/221 pounds
Hanging Leg Raises: 3x10
Weighted Crunches: 3x10 @ 15 kg/33 pounds

Total training time: 31 min

May 25, 2003

New routine and DE Bench

Filed under: Workouts

New routine

After testing the waters for a week I am now plunging right in with my first Westside training routine. Quite a conventional concoction based on the squat/deadlift template and bench template at Elite Fitness Systems, plus the Westside training manual by Sakari Selkäinaho. Conventional is what I want to begin with; I expect to refine the routine as I find out what my weaknesses are and how my recuperation abilities cope.

Below is the general outline. I have also devoted a separate page for my training routines, where some more detail can be obtained.

Squat/Deadlift ME exercise: work up to single or triple max
Hamstrings: 3-6x5-8
Abs: 3-4x6-15
Lower back: 3-4x8
Calves: 4-6x6-12

Bench ME exercise: work up to single or triple max
Triceps: 4-6x5-10
Lats (rows): 4x6-10
Side delts: 2x10-15
Triceps: 2x5-10

Speed Box squat: 8x2 @ 65-85% of box max
Hamstrings: 4-6x5-8 or deadlift singles @ 60-75% of max
Abs: 3-4x6-15
Abs: 3-4x6-15

Speed Bench, three grips: 9x3 @ 60% of max
Triceps: 3-4x8-12
Lats (pulldowns): 4x6-10
Rear delts: 2x10-15
Rotator cuffs: 2-3x10-15
Biceps: 3-4x5-10

After some initial confusion about when to train lats, I have now decided to fall into the line and train them on bench days.

Second DE Bench workout

In reading the More Big Benches article by Simmons I referenced on Wednesday the following caught my attention:

Jimmy will lower the bar very fast, almost dropping it, and he catches it 1-3 inches off his chest. This is ballistic bench pressing. He will press it up as fast as possible, keeping the motionless period as short as possible. The time to complete 3 reps is roughly 3 seconds, the same amount of time as max of 650 pounds.

Although mentioned in Selkäinaho’s manual, this idea of dropping the bar as fast as possible somehow eluded me until now. Last workout I lowered the bar slowly and then attempted to explode the bar up as fast as possible from a complete rest. This workout I paid heed to Simmons’s advice nearly letting the bar free fall to my chest before catching it and then immediately blasting it back up. What comes down must go up.

I still had slightly sore pecs, but most of the triceps soreness close to the elbows was now gone. The general trend so far seems to be that I get less sore than from standard bodybuilding training. Perhaps not surprising in light of the higher volume and beyond failure model typical of that training, but I was still somehow expecting the combination of heavier iron and more frequent training to cause more muscle soreness. I was especially concerned that my lower back would not cope with the added demands, but so far I am positively amazed how quickly it has recuperated. It is still early days, but so far this routine looks very promising.

Since I’m training at my forest gym without the luxury of pulleys, I substituted pull-ups for pulldowns despite the fact that my 92 kg/203 pounds make them less than gracious to behold. Otherwise I followed my new routine to the letter. Did not find my groove in close-grip benches, probably owing to the fact that I did them with the same arch as regular benches, whereas I used to do them with no arch at all and without pulling the shoulder blades in under the body. I wish arching would be prohibited in powerlifting, as I have trained myself to detest it during my earlier training. So far the new plane of motion has only made me feel weaker, but I expect to get used to it in a few weeks …at least physically.

DE Bench, 25 May 2003

Speed Bench; close, medium, wide: 9x3 @ 45 kg/99 pounds
Close-grip Bench: 3x8 @ 65 kg/144 pounds
Close-grip Pull-ups: 3x5
Lying Rear-delt flyes: 2x12 @ 11 kg/24 pounds
Lying L-flyes: 2x12 @ 7 kg/15 pounds
Standing Alternate Dumbell Curls: 3x9 reps @ 19.5 kg/43 pounds

Total training time: 56 min

ME Squat/Deadlift tomorrow. Stay tuned.

May 26, 2003

First box single

Filed under: Workouts

So much for taking it easy. Popped Rammstein’s Mutter into my MiniDisc and started going for triples according to plan. The form felt good. I had no idea were I was going, but after a very easy triple at 70 kg/155 pounds my appetite got whetted from more. Switched to singles. 95 kg/210 pounds went up slowly but surely. I felt fairly confident that the big 100 kg/221 pounds would too, but that jammed. Happy thing I was doing this in my squat rack. Of course, it is much more enjoyable sitting on a box with the barbell than at the bottom of a squat while waiting for help, but still. Guess this means I’m in business as far as the box squat goes.

This new baseline means that I need to go heavier on the DE box squat. 65-85% of my box squat max amounts to 62 kg/137 pounds to 81 kg/179 pounds. A big change from the 40 kg/88 pounds I had on it last workout.

Tried Romanian deads for the first time. Since I love stiff-legged deads, it was very easy liking these too. The Romanian variety felt a little heavier, but the shorter range of motion compensated for that. 3x5 at 100 kg/221 pounds was pretty easy going. No problem with the grip either.

After crunches I did poor man’s reverse-hypers off a board I placed between the support beams in my squat rack. First time for these too. Went for easy for three sets of 15 reps without any extra weight. One-legged dumbell calf raises followed by a swim in the sea topped off a pretty nice outdoor workout.

ME Squat/Deadlift 26 May 2003

Box Squats, 13″:
3 @ 40 kg / 88 pounds
3 @ 50 kg / 111 pounds
3 @ 60 kg / 133 pounds
3 @ 65 kg / 144 pounds
3 @ 70 kg / 155 pounds
1 @ 80 kg / 177 pounds
1 @ 90 kg/ 199 pounds
1 @ 95 kg/ 210 pounds
0 @ 100 kg/ 221 pounds

Romanian Deadlift: 3x5 @ 100 kg/221 pounds
Weighted Crunches: 3x12 @ 15 kg/ 33 pounds
Reverse-hyper: 3x15
One-legged Dumbell Calf Raises: 4x10 @ 27 kg/ 60 pounds

Total training time: 61 min

May 28, 2003

Flooring it

Filed under: Workouts

I was a little hungry today, a feeling which wasn’t alleviated by the somewhat cumbersome procedure of setting up the floor press in the rack. The base of the rack turned out to be too high catching the bar well before my elbows hit the ground. Luckily, there were some hard pads around that were ideal for raising the floor. Slid the bar holders down as low as they would go. Voilà! Perfect setup.

Started pyramiding up the weights as usual, switching from triples to singles when I hit 65 kg/144 pounds. The 80 kg/177 pounds came up easily enough to convince me that 90 kg/199 pounds would too. It was a looong struggle, but in the end it did come up. The result: 15 kg/33 pounds more than what I got for a single on the bench last week. Quite the opposite of what should happen.

Usually, the lifter is much weaker off the floor than the bench, basically because the floor puts the weight squarely on the arms and cancels out the drive generated by the chest, legs, and back. In the Westside FAQ, Tate gives an 82% average, meaning a 90 kg/199 pound floor press should translate into a 110 kg/243 pound bench. Why then a tiny 75 kg/166 pound single? According to Tate,

When you can do more on the floor than the average it means you have strong delts and triceps. By being on the floor you are flat, so you
take your legs out of the movement, it is also very hard to keep your shoulder blades pulled together because you don’t have your legs to use as a brace. Now when you go to the bench you don’t get the same carry over. This means you are still only using the same floor press muscles and patterns.
Learn to drive your shoulder blades into the bench by driving your heels into the floor.

Strong delts and triceps is definitively me. When I was doing eight reps on the incline dumbell press with 32 kg/71 pounds I was also doing at least eight reps on the seated shoulder press with the same weight. I have said before that I have avoided the bench in my previous training, the reason being that I felt my shoulder were taking over all the work. In fact, I have usually been much stronger on the close-grip bench than the normal bench having done close to 90 kg/199 pounds.

But then again, I also need technique and speed badly. Typical of a former bodybuilding style trainer, I am used to muscling the weight up without any leg drive whatsoever (i.e., “using the same pattern of benching off the bench as off the floor”). Contrary to what I wrote earlier, my sticking point is definitively lower than the starting position for the floor press. This means that I will change the supplementary exercise to target this weakness instead of the lockout (i.e. triceps).

Tate’s article Five reasons your bench gets stuck at the bottom and what you can do about it suggests concentrating on dumbell work, floor presses, cambered bar presses and ultra-wide benches in addition to the normal speed work on DE day. Many people lifting without bench shirts (raw lifters) have also suggested that one should add some more chest work to compensate for the lack of drive the shirt gives off the bottom.

Less triceps, more dumbell, decline and incline work plus a big focus on technique and speed and we’ll see if my bench doesn’t start to climb.

ME Bench 28 May 2003

Floor Press:
3 @ 40 kg/88 pounds
3 @ 50 kg/111 pounds
3 @ 55 kg/122 pounds
3 @ 60 kg/133 pounds
1 @ 65 kg/144 pounds
1 @ 70 kg/155 pounds
1 @ 75 kg/166 pounds
1 @ 80 kg/177 pounds
1 @ 90 kg/199 pounds

JM Press: 4x10 @ 40 kg/88 pounds
One-handed Seated Cable Rows: 4x10 @ 50 kg/111 pounds
Standing Side Delt Flyes: 2x15 @ 12 kg/27 pounds
Tate Press, steep incline: 2x5 @ 16 kg/35 pounds

Total training time: 59 min

May 30, 2003

Kneeling for a big squat

Filed under: Workouts

This will be the last workout of the week and also the last workout at Norrvalla Rehab Center in Vörå. After living a year in this little peaceful rural town in Finnish Ostrobothnia, we are now heading back to the capital Helsinki. The actual move will take place on Sunday, and I will thus skip DE Bench. Besides, seems like I could use an extra rest day or two, at least in light of today’s workout.

Did the box squats off hard pads piled on top of each other. Although not as nice as my own box at Toffe’s gym it worked pretty well. Not quite sure that the height was precisely my standard 13 inches (33 cm), but close enough. Even though I decided to squat at the lighter end of the spectrum (65-85% of my 95 kg/210 pound max being 62 kg/137 pounds to 81 kg/179 pounds) my reps where sluggish and slow. Apparently my body was still pondering the cosmic significance of Monday’s max box squats. At least they felt that way.

For my supplementary exercise I decided to try kneeling squats. This is an exercise which doesn’t leave much room for incorrect form: sit down on the knees in a rack with a pad under the knees, get the bar on the back, sit down until the butt touches the calves and come back up pushing the hips forward. Found an old archived thread on the kneeling squat which suggests that one can usually handle about 20% more on the kneeling squat than in the normal squat. Indeed, the lure of heavy weights is very strong in this one as is suggested by very easy eights with 70 kg/155 pounds. When combined with the inevitable knee strain, it is no surprise that this one should only be done for higher reps and never as a ME exercise. Another example of a really beneficial exercise that is potentially hazardous.

After doing standing cable crunches I got the idea to try really steep incline sit-ups on a board raised to an angle of about 70 degrees (90 being vertical) just to see how many I would get. I haven’t done sit-ups in years since they are mainly a psoas movement, so this proved to be an interesting experiment.

DE Squat/Deadlift 30 May 2003

Speed Box Squat, 13″: 8x2 @ 65 kg/144 pounds
Kneeling Squat:
1x8 @ 55 kg/122 pounds
3x8 @ 70 kg/155 pounds
Standing Cable Crunch: 3x10 @ 70 kg/155 pounds
Steep Incline Sit-up: 3x5

Total training time: 41 min