I have been to the mountaintop and there are a couple of bald guys up there who know how to lift some serious weight – like the kind of numbers that need commas.
Yes, I am talking about the legendary Louie Simmons and Shane Sweatt of Westside Barbell. A month ago I had never heard of Westside Barbell but I drank the Kool-Aid the at CrossFit Powerlifting Cert at our box a couple of weeks ago and now I am a groupie.
In fact, I just spent a glorious Sunday afternoon here in South Florida watching Louie Simmons videos on YouTube and reading articles about the Westside method instead of going to the beach.
Let’s just say that Westside Barbell is to powerlifting what Graceland is to Elvis fans. More world records have come from athletes that trained at Westside than any other gym in the world.
Which puts Louie Simmons right up there with Elvis, except Louie’s fan base is a little smaller and he doesn’t wear a white bell-bottomed jumpsuit.
Louie didn’t actually teach the Powerlifting Cert. That was done by Shane Sweatt, who has trained at Westside along with his wife Laura Phillips Sweatt, who has broken more than 40 powerlifting world records.
After watching hours of Louie Simmons videos, it’s fair to say that Shane is Louie’s interpreter. Louie, now 60+ years old, has spent more than 30 years studying weightlifting training techniques, especially those of the Russians and Bulgarians.
He’s also a whiz at physics, math and biomechanics. He’s one of those geniuses who sounds like he’s speaking English but you don’t understand half of what he’s saying. And unlike most geniuses of that caliber, Louis has tattoos, a bald head, a chest the size of a wine cask and looks like he could scare the crap out of a pit bull.
He is the only lifter over 50 to squat 920 pounds, bench 600 pounds and dead lift 722 pounds which totals 2,100 pounds. He has broken his back twice, ruptured his left patella tendon, and detached his right biceps from the bone, which must have hurt like hell.
Louie developed the Westside Conjugate Method. I have not found a simple definition of the method but it is based on the premise that when lifters repeatedly use the same method of training to increase strength, they will eventually stall and hit a plateau.
It’s called the Law of Accomodation: Once you adapt to something, you will hit a barrier preventing you from further improving your performance. In the Westside method, when you hit that barrier and the effectiveness of an exercise decreases, you switch to another exercise.
According to Louie, if you train a lift at 90% or more for more than 3 weeks, your central nervous system is negatively and your progress will go backward.
The Westside method uses an upper/lower split: deadlifts and squats (lower) and bench press (upper). Within those two categories are two regimens: Maximum effort and dynamic effort. This gives you four different types of training days: Upper body max effort; upper body dynamic effort; lower body max effort; lower body dynamic effort.
Any kind of deadlift will do: Sumo deadlift; deficit deadlifts; deadlifts with chains or bands. Squats are done on boxes. Bench press variations are endless: Floor press; wide grip; narrow grip; with chains/bands and different bars. Use your imagination.
Then you add accessory exercises that compliment the primary exercise you are doing that day, like glute-ham raises or reverse hypers. Throw in a high rep exercise (100 Good Mornings with a band), abs and sled pulls. But the special sauce is the accessory exercise and there is a science behind the number of sets, reps and rest between sets.
I am really dumbing down the Westside Method. But you can see how varied it is. I’m in my 4th week and already I am much stronger and faster.
I expected I would be the only CrossFitter of a Certain Age at the cert. I was not. One guy was over 70-years-old and several more were in their 50s and 60s. Shane explained that he has a stable of masters athletes who are extremely skilled and high-performing.
Shane also used the “L” word repeatedly: Longevity. Over and over he hammered home the belief that Westside is as much about power and strength as longevity. Louie had studied the careers of Bulgarian weighlifters and found they burned out after a few years. The constantly varied exercises that train both large and small muscles mean fewer injuries and longer careers.
“You like CrossFit, right? You want to be able to do CrossFit in two years, ten years, twenty years from now, right?” Shane asked.
Of course I want to be doing CrossFit in 20 years. That would make me 74-years-old – plenty of time to get that muscle-up!