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.
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.
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.
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.
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.