Written by: Kevin Cann
The documentary “Westside vs the World” was released last week. I thought this was a very well-done documentary and I would highly recommend it. The culture of Westside is absolutely fascinating.
The last few weeks I have gone back and listened to some of the Westside podcasts and read a bunch of the articles. I like going back and revisiting old information once I have learned more myself.
Sometimes this change in perspective helps me understand better why the methods may or may not have worked. I was doing this so that my coach and I could be more on the same page as well.
I like to know his thinking for exercises in my program. I think in a few cases I had a different idea on why an exercise was in the program. This alters the way I go into it and whether I agree or not with it, also increases my buy in.
I have safety squat bar tempo squats and front squats in this block. These are two exercises I do not use unless an injury requires it. Knowing my coach’s thinking helps with me doing these exercises.
I will always work hard no matter what and this is more important than the exercise, but it still helps. Ironically, the SSB gave me good feedback on the squat. I realized I was just leaning back hard with my torso out of the hole. I could tell because the loss of stability with the exercise.
I focused on flexing my quads out of the hole and this really helped that issue. It helped it so much that I was able to take an extra set 20lbs more than my top set and it was still pretty easy. My coach told me this exercise was good for me to build my upper back.
I was really focusing on that part of the lift. Focusing on that and then adjusting with driving through my legs, might have some nice carryover into my competition lift. We shall see in a couple weeks. In hindsight, I wasn’t using my upper back in the squat, but my lower back. This is the breakdown seen in my deadlift as well. I found this interesting.
I always had a sour taste of Westside in my mouth. I watched it get bastardized for years where I worked. Basically a group of Westside, multiply, wannabes screaming and yelling and lifting weights that Dave reps out raw.
I saw high box squats, floor press with all chains and barely any bar weight, swiss bar bands and chains bench press, bendy bar exercises, and many others. This was not Westside, but nothing more than a bastardized version using random variations.
Louie Simmons is brilliant. He seems to be a hair off his rocker, but he is pretty smart. He was not picking exercises randomly. He was picking them based off of what he saw to strengthen weaknesses. This is exactly what I do. The only difference is he has been doing this longer than I have been alive.
Simmons would identify weak areas in the lift, but he would use the reasoning that a certain muscle or muscle group was weak. He may have picked the right exercise for the lifter, but it was for the wrong reasons.
I do not believe these exercises were strengthening weak muscles, but instead weakening a poor skill. Louie was putting these variations that the lifter struggled with in the program for 3 weeks. This is not enough time to strengthen a muscle, but definitely enough practice to improve a skill.
This would also explain why when other lifters and coaches use these methods, they do not get the same results they would get if they trained at Westside. If it was as simple as identifying weak muscles and selecting an exercise, anyone could do it.
Louie’s intuition is Westside. The other coaches and lifters do not have that. They have methods to follow that are incorrect in their explanation. Once one of these exercises does not work, they will most likely bring in another to attack that same weak muscle group.
This can become a very frustrating and futile endeavor. This can lead to a lack of success in running the program and the lifter moving on to something else. This was not because Westside was inefficient, but the coach or lifter’s understanding of the philosophy is poor.
A coach needs to use a framework that is open ended and understands the human is an open, complex, nonlinear, organism. We are much more than a bag of muscles. Perhaps those “weak” muscles get strengthened from the exercises, but this is a byproduct of the training.
Some other aspects of Westside that fits into the dynamic systems theory framework are, they get breakfast each day together to discuss training. Each lifter is responsible for identifying weaknesses and choosing accessories.
The lifters are included in the training process and forced to develop self-efficacy. The accessories make up about 80% of their volume and they are the ones choosing the exercises. I thought this was pretty cool.
The environment at Westside was competitive and intense. The lifters pushed each other. You either fell in line or you did not last. This social group dynamic is an environmental constraint.
They worked through pain. They weren’t scared of pain. They understood that sometimes shit would hurt. Don’t get me wrong, I think they went too far with this at times. Perhaps a few moderate weight sets would have been more appropriate at times than competing with world record holders, but I feel a lot of the current day lifters could use more of this attitude.
Drugs and gear aside, these guys got strong as shit because of Louie’s innovation with variability and his identifying weaknesses (even though he believes it is certain muscle groups and I do not. We could still come up with the same exercises for different reasons. The framework is important for future decisions so that you do not get stuck banging your head against a wall looking for answers), the environment, and the lifter buy-in and respect for Louie as a coach.
This sounds a lot like what John Kiely talks about in his editorials. All the way from the importance of variability, self-efficacy, and lifter buy-in. They also, trained hard when they felt like shit at times. Kiely mentions this as well.
He said something along the lines of, if you have an Olympic event on a day you feel like shit what are you going to do? Come back tomorrow? You are going to suck it up and go hard. Training can be a place to practice this.
I do think they could have been smarter at Westside with those decisions. Getting injured in training for making a bad decision on a day is what I would consider low training skill. This responsibility falls on the relationship between coach and lifter and the communication that they have.
All in all, I agree a lot more with Louie Simmons and Westside than I used to. A major part is my newly acquired perspective on training as a skill. I think another part was putting aside what I saw being mimicked as Westside and went right to the source.