Workout Systems: Westside Barbell Program

Workout Systems: Westside Barbell Program

In the Iron Game, the popularity of a workout program is often influenced by the charisma of its creator. Workouts such as Heavy Duty, The Nautilus System, and Sweating to the Oldies became popular not necessarily because they produced superior results quickly, but because their creators Mike Mentzer, Arthur Jones, and Richard Simmons marketed them effectively. Likewise, the popularity of the Westside Barbell program should be credited to the efforts its creator.

The Westside Barbell program in its current form was developed by Louie Simmons, a veteran powerlifter who achieved elite status in five bodyweight classes. Simmon’s best lifts include a 920-pound squat, 600 bench press, and a 722 deadlift. Simmons has worked with collegiate and professional athletes and has written extensively about his training system. Further, Simmons’s invitation-only Westside Barbell Gym in Columbus, Ohio, is home to many of the world’s strongest powerlifters.

The original Westside Barbell Gym was located in Culver City, California. Their training methods, especially with exercises such as the box squat, influenced Simmons’s training such that he named his gym the Westside Barbell Club. Other methods that influenced Simmons were those promoted by Russian and Bulgarian coaches and sport scientists. For example, Simmons beliefs on the optimal sets and reps to perform are based upon a table developed by Russian sports scientist A.S. Prilepin.

Simmons has always been active in giving seminars and interviews about his training system. His ability to recite sports science literature in rapid-fire fashion, along with the successes of Iron Game and other athletes who used his system, can be quite imitating. The bottom line is that if you dare to get into an argument with Simmons, you’d better be prepared as Simmons has been doing this for a long time and has a good answer for every hard question.

Simmons calls his method of training the conjugate sequence system, such that it is not a single workout program but a combination of three workout systems that rotate. For this reason it could be considered a periodization model, which is defined by sports scientist Dr. Mike Stone as a form of fatigue-management that contains periods that repeat.

The core of Westside program is three workout systems: the maximal effort method, the repeated effort method, and the dynamic method.

The maximal effort method is used to create high levels of muscle tension. It accomplishes this by using a large number of sets for low reps. A typical set-rep sequence might be to perform 8 sets of 1-3 reps, with the last 3 sets using up to 95 percent of an individuals 1-repetition maximum for the exercise. Typically, two maximal effort workouts are performed each week, one for the upper body and one for the lower body.

The dynamic effort method uses sub-maximal weights taken to failure to create a high level of fatigue. As with the maximal effort method, a high number of sets and a low number of reps are performed. The resistance is usually around 40-60% of the single repetition maximum for a lift. Bands and chains are often used to increase the resistance at the end of the movement, where the athlete is strongest in lifts such as the bench press, squat, and deadlift. An emphasis on moving the weight as quickly as possible is the focus of this workout. A sample workout might consist of 8 sets of 1-3 reps with 60 percent of the 1RM and an additional 20 percent resistance with bands. As with the maximal effort method, two dynamic effort method workouts are performed each week, one for the upper body and one for the lower body.

The repetition method uses considerably less than maximal resistance with sets taken to failure. This method is used after the core lifts performed on the dynamic effort and maximum effort days. Less sets and more reps are performed. As such, 3-4 sets of 10 reps to failure could be used. All four workouts use repetition training after the primary exercise is performed with one of the other two training methods.

Although the intensity level is high during these workouts, Simmons believes that using a variety of training methods and exercises helps avoid overtraining. However, as a method of unloading for recovery, on the fourth week of a cycle the maximum effort work can be substituted with repetition work as it is less stressful on the nervous system.

Putting it all together, here is what a Westside-inspired workout performed four days per week could look like in outline form:

Day 1: Dynamic Effort Bench
Bench Press
Auxiliary lifts for shoulders, triceps, lats, upper back
Day 2: Max Effort Squat or Deadlift
Squat or Deadlift
Auxiliary lifts for hamstrings, lower back, abs
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Max Effort Bench Press
Bench Press
Auxiliary lifts for shoulders, triceps, lats, upper back
Day 5: Rest
Day 6: Dynamic Squat or Deadlift
Squat or Deadlift
Auxiliary lifts for shoulders, triceps, lats, upper back
Day 7: Rest

Breaking it down even further, here is how a Westside-inspired program could look for a single week:

Box Squat: 8 x 1-3 (Max Effort)
Reverse Hyper: 4 x 10
Standing Crunch with Cables: 4 x 15
Bench Press, 8 x 1-3 (Max Effort)
Dips: 4 x 10
Barbell Triceps Extension: 4 x10
Dumbbell Row: 4 x 10
Dumbbell Shoulder Shrug: 4 x 10
Deadlift with Bands: 10 x 2-3 (Dynamic Effort)
Leg Curl: 4 x 10
Weighed Incline Sit-ups: 4 x 10

Bench Press with Bands: 8 x 1-3 (Dynamic Effort)

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: 4 x 10

Seated Cable Row: 4 x 10

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 4 x 10

Reverse Curl: 4 x 10

The Westside Barbell program should be looked at more as a set of training principles than a single workout program, a perspective that allows for considerable flexibility in program design. Simmons is a prolific writer and has written numerous articles, available free online, about the details of his system. Before trying this program, you should spend a considerable amount of time studying his ideas to ensure you are performing his training system correctly.

The Westside Barbell program is a proven workout system that is considered a “go-to” program for powerlifting. Other Iron Game athletes, and athletes in other sports, have also enjoyed success with it. For these reasons, the Westside Barbell program is here to stay!


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