Written by: Kevin Cann
I used to say that Westside sucks too. Well, maybe not that Westside sucks, but that it wasn’t for raw powerlifters. I would use the argument that the strength curve of a raw lift was different than that in equipment. You know, because of course the squat is easier in the bottom of an equipped squat. It took the perma bruises on my thighs and my yearly tan from popped blood vessels in my face to realize that that statement is inherently false.
The only perspective that I had for the sport was that that I gained from working with Boris Sheiko. The program was higher volume and higher frequency and focused on technique first. I was, and am, so grateful that I got to learn from such a legend and an icon in the sport of powerlifting.
I quickly found out though that I could not run things like he did with the lifters that I was coaching. I have been coaching this sport for 7 years now. I have coached hundreds of powerlifters at this point. Not lifting heavy enough led to lifters developing anxiety before testing lifts in a gym and increased nerves at competitions that not only hindered performance, but also decreased the enjoyment of the experience.
So, we started lifting heavier. This worked. Lifters felt more confident at tests and at competitions. So naturally, we lifted heavier more often because America. Then we got slower, and a bit more banged up. See where this is going?
We found that heavy singles got the job done with less volume and would beat us up less and the negative consequences of lifting heavy were offset if we had lighter rep work in there. Over time the amount of emphasis we have given the lifts and their variations has decreased in favor of special exercises that target weaknesses.
This is starting to sound a lot like Westside isn’t it? Now, we still do some things a bit differently, but the ideas are very similar. I saw this direction and actually went out to Columbus in the fall of 2020 to lift with Louie and hangout. This is where I really began to understand GPP work within the programs.
Louie didn’t give lifting cues, but instead spoke in special exercises. After seeing my box squat he told me a lot of wide stance sumo deadlifts to strengthen my hips. He didn’t tell me to push out my knees more or arch my back more. Gave me an exercise and we moved on and trained hard. I had been lifting for 5 years, a cue ain’t doing shit at that point.
The last couple of years I have started back over and reread Science and Practices, Supertraining, and Louie’s Book of Methods. With newfound perspective these texts mean something different. You will understand them in totally different ways as you gain more and more experience by trying different things.
Lifting at 85% of 1RM is not effective. We would do 4 doubles at that intensity. A single there isn’t doing shit. It doesn’t bring out the questions that each lifter faces about their abilities. There is no consequences to that weight, and training needs to have consequences. The coordination required to lift 85% is very different than it is to lift 95+% and we need to develop that coordination.
You need to train to be fast and strong. This is true of every sport, and powerlifting is a sport. This means that much lighter weights are appropriate at times. Bands and boxes will make you fast. I just did a Boston’s Strongcast on the math and physics of bands, chains, and boxes so give that a listen. I know the popular answer is that you can get strong without them, but I disagree with that. I do think they are necessary.
The amount of volume that you can perform on the comp lifts is limited and it will not help to strengthen weaker areas. At some point, the work capacity of that weaker area will become a limiting factor. The lifts display your strength, special exercises build it.