By Chris Manrodt
just getting started in Powerlifting? Have you heard about lifting but
aren't sure what it really is? Are you interested in playing a sport, but
need to get bigger, stronger, or both to crack the starting line-up? This
section of the Strength On-line Page is devoted to helping the beginner.
A lot of the lifting information out there is written for folks who compete
regularly in Powerlifting meets, or who have a several years of lifting
experience. I will attempt to make this column humorous and interesting
as I try to shed light on the basics of successful, injury free lifting.
before proceeding. I won’t go into that much detail here about the nuts and bolts of the program. I’ll explain why later….
A side note before I begin: This article is intended to lend a bit of contrast to what is already out there, and are not intended to be any kind of definitive statement about the Westside system or its authors, proponents or practitioners. I would also like to thank Bob Youngs, Dave Tate, and Jason Burnell for answering my many questions over the last several months training on the Westside method.
I like to think of most training routines as cookbook recipes. If you add all the ingredients, in the right order, and follow the one page set of instructions, you can cook up a bigger total. Some routines have a small number of ingredients, but a lot of steps (like Korte’s 3x3 method.) Others have tons of ingredients, but they are easily put together 1-2-3.
With Westside, the best analogy I can come up with is to a Kung Fu style. It has its own temple in Ohio, where the method was created, then honed and perfected. It has its tomes and teachings, contained on this site, in MILO and PLUSA, among other places. It has its practitioners all over the countryside.
In its core, the Westisde system is based in some very solid research. It has been tested and perfected with years and years of experience. The results are unquestioned, and its masters are honored champions of the iron world. However, like a martial art, Westside cannot be explained in a simple list of steps, and it cannot be learned in a single training session. In fact, I spent a lot of time debating with myself about even writing this article, because after 6 months, I am still not sure that I have been doing the workouts correctly enough to give it a fair assesment.
But, I will share with you what I have learned, and please feel free to write me if you disagree or have other questions.
The Nuts and Bolts
The Westside method calls for a lifter to train four days a week. The squat and the bench and trained twice per week, and the deadlift is trained (for the most part indirectly) as part of the squat workouts. One day per week, the bench is trained for speed with weights about 50-60% of one’s max competition lift, for 8-10 sets of 3 reps. The goal on these reps is to move the weight as fast as possible, thus developing speed-strength, and recruiting a high number of fast twitch muscle fibers. On a second day, 72 hours later, the bench is trained by using “Special Exercises” which mimic the bench press. On this day, these special exercises are trained for Maximum Effort, either for a one rep max (1RM) or for a rep max.
The same principle is used for squating. One day per week, the lifter trains squats with 50-60% of contest max for 12 sets of 2. Squats are done on a box to help develop starting strength as well as speed strength. On a second day, 72 hours later, the squat and deadlift are trained by a variety of special exercises, primarily Goodmornings, variations of the squat, and variations of the deadlift.
After training the core lift for each day, assistance work is performed to address specific weaknesses the lifter may have. On bench days, most attention is given to developing triceps, using a variety of presses and tricep extensions, with different angles and implements. For both squat days, emphasis is given to developing abs, lower back, glutes and hamstrings. Upper back and lat work can be added as appropriate on any of these training days.
Like I said, I wasn’t going to write out how to do the Westside method. Go to the archives to find out from the source.
First the Good News
Westside training had a strong effect on my whole body. Within two weeks, I went from a 7-hour-a-day sleeper to a 9-hour-a-day sleeper. When the alarm did not go off, I didn’t get up. When it did go off, I hit the snooze. The training methods were so intense that my body had trouble recovering. Even though I had just gone through three consecutive contest prep routines, and had added over 75 pounds to my total in the last several months, I was not prepared for these workouts. After about four weeks and a new hamstring injury, I had to cut way back on the volume. Then I switched to a three day per week schedule, instead of trying to get all four lifts in every week. I followed the same order, workout-to-workout, but I just added more rest days in between. I later switched back to 4 training sessions when I added more exercise on off-days to help recovery.
I got a lot more out of the assistance work when I trained quickly. I kept myself on a watch, and never rested more than a minute between sets. When I slowed down, the training effect was reduced, and I could tell that I had not progressed as much on the next workout.
I noticed a significant increase in the size of my legs and my triceps. The box squats made my quads, glutes, and hams very sore, and it didn’t take long to see a visible change. The high-rep tricep work for hypertrophy paid dividends for my arms. Also, because I wasn’t doing nearly as much heavy squatting and deadlifting for reps, I found that my knees were less likely to get stiff.
Now, for the bad news
After training for four months following a Westside protocol, I entered a meet and went 3-for-9, and totaled 85 pounds less than my last meet. In hindsite, I made a number of mistakes that I want to share here so that others can avoid what I did, and actually see the kinds of gains that most westsiders report.
What went wrong?
Confusion. First of all, I have to say this program is really complicated. The four different workouts each require a prior analysis of a lifter’s weaknesses, and then one must choose exercises to address them. When I started training this way, I read every article I could find on this website and elsewhere just to get a handle on the basics. Then, I spent countless hours reading the posts by Bob Youngs, a Westside Barbell Club member, on Goheavy.com’s training forum. After I started my Westside program, I then found myself posting to this forum on a regular basis, trying to figure out how to select exercises, and how to set up each workout. After several months of selecting Special Exercises and assistance work, I think I was just starting to get the hang of it.
Training progressive overload, the basic core lifts
are done each week, but then I could constantly try different assistance
exercises. The Westside system is a great system for tinkering, but it
doesn’t have nearly the exercise core that a progressive system does. In
fact, other than speed benches and box squats, everything else is subject
to change. Each ME lift changes every other week, and assistance exercises
are all rotated every 2-3 weeks also. One of the big parts of exercise
selection is knowing which exercises work different
Missed Workouts. The system also requires a high level of dedication and doesn’t lend itself to a flexible schedule. Because everything gets trained twice a week, and every lift is maximum effort, the trainer needs to space out the workouts, and allow for sufficient recovery. This is in addition to the sled dragging work. As Bob Youngs noted when he looked at my training record, I missed a bunch of workouts. As a married homeowner with a corporate job, I sometimes found it hard to fit in the extra work. Also, getting enough sleep became an issue as the regular trials of life popped up.
Here’s an illustration. When I trained using an Ed Coan-type periodization scheme, the last three weeks before the meet where definitely the toughest. The weights were the heaviest, the assistance was also heavier, and mentally I was peaking for the meet. I always ate and slept more those two weeks, and then felt the need for that rest period the last week before the meet. The Westside method is set up so that this kind of intensity can be maintained every week year round.
Training Partners: About half my workouts on this system I trained alone. The other half I trained with partners who were new to Powerlifting. None of my workouts were done in front of a more experienced lifter or coach who could critique my form or identify my weaknesses. This meant that I was limited to anecdotes about sticking points, like Louie’s comment: “Most lifters have weak triceps.” For example, I was thinking that my bench press was weakest in the lockout, which would indicate a tricep problem. Well, for ME bench I did DB bench, floor press, and press off of pins, as all three of these seemed to focus on the bench press several inches up off the chest. Well, the floor press and pin press are actually good for starting strength, more so than triceps. I had also chosen to do extension movements to the exclusion of any heavy presses like JM Presses. As it turned out, I had a ton of power off the chest, and totally stalled about two inches off my chest. I think I need more strength in my pecs and shoulders, which never got very sore from training, but got very sore the first time I went back to a standard heavy set of 8 reps in the bench.
Form Problems: The recommendations from Simmons are not to spend time doing full movements of the big 3 with heavy weight. While this is actually an advantage for a seasoned lifter, it may result in form problems for the beginner when they move to big weights. I found that I had to relearn how to squat when the box went away. I now understand that my problem was in part from squatting too narrow. I couldn’t take advantage of all the increased hamstring and hip strength I had developed. Plus, my quads did not get any specific attention, so my quad squat went backwards. Without a coach to correct my form, it didn’t become obvious to me until I got off the platform with three reds for a weight I had used as an opener earlier in the year.
In the past, I would use progressively heavier weights tweek my form each week, by trial and error. I could figure out how to move the heavier weights by actually moving them with different form, and then picking my spot. With Westside, this isn’t as clear-cut. I realize now that the speed days must be done with the same form as at the meet. I have to keep myself focused on those days to ensure that I am making the proper connections between mind and muscle.
Lack of Hypertrophy: My nature, I have a relatively slow metabolism, and I have trouble maintaining muscle. The most effective part of training for me in the past came from doing high rep squats. I would always add weight, get leaner and grow stronger. Of course, I have found that high rep bench press actually hurts my 1RM, even as I grow. I realized that I didn’t add nearly enough rep max lifts on ME day, like rep-max Good Mornings and DB bench presses.
In conclusion, I would definitely like to make
it clear that I blame myself for my poor meet, and not the Westside system.
I am aware that many out there like to bash one system or another, but
I will certainly stand up and say that the Westside system is not somehow
flawed or poorly conceived. I do believe that Louie and Company should
continue to offer those seminars and videos to all comers. This is not
the kind of training you can just
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