Some thoughts on Louie and Westside

Over the last several weeks, it has been very fun to see the recent revamping of Westside Barbell’s online presence.  It’s very appealing to the powerlifting voyeur in me to see the monsters go big and make it look easy.

Over the years, I’ve often suggested that my experience in powerlifting and listening unabated as a student that all he wants is to lift as much as the big boys has helped me understand other seemingly dichotomous approaches like FMS and DNS and even some of the things Mike Boyle talks about.  Bill Crawford, my mentor in powerlifting, can tell me no wrong.  That doesn’t mean I take back every single thing he says and do it, particularly when it’s off the platform.
Just like I don’t do every single thing that Coach Boyle or Gray Cook or Pavel does.  But I do know when you strip it back, we all agree on the exact same foundations of trainings.

Honestly, I think what Louie is usually talking about is a lot more synonymous with what other great coaches are doing when you can peel back some of the layers of the onion.  I know it can be hard to look past the crank or the gear or the bad form or some of the silly messages, but that isn’t as hard for me as I am emotionally connected to powerlifting, and I’m actually more interested in make Frankenstein using methods from everyone and everything I come across, rather than just one method.
When you can put stuff together, programming and choices all become secondary.  These are methods.
When you honor principles or a system, all the methods you can choose from don’t matter as much.
From Louie, the principles in the System live in the 2nd block of the Functional Performance Pyramid, and it’s just get strong fast and get strong slow.  To do that over a longer period of time, you need to bring up your weak links.  The weak links are in the lifts and/or in your work capacity.  As usual, it ain’t that complicated.
Is that how Louie or more of a Westside student would coin it?  I’m not sure.  But that’s how I see it, and that’s how and why I credit my grasp on seemingly unrelated facets of rehab and training.  Look at the commonalities of a lot of the great ones, and I swear you’ll see more the same than different.  And yet, the application may look like Mars and Venus.
Who thought I was going to link Gray Cook and Louie Simmons when you started reading this article AND using a sorry Crossfit video?

[youtube_sc url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qk4njCpEmiE”]

One of the more special moments in my career was meeting Louie Simmons for the first time in November 2006 at arguably the greatest powerlifting meet of all time, the WPC Worlds / WPO Semi-Finals in Lake George, NY.  We had spoken on the phone a few times before, but I had never met him in person.

When Adirdondack Barbell was still over @ Fort William Henry, the big big meets were held over in the conference center.
Bill’s gym itself was all the way on the other side of the resort, which used to be an actual Fort in the Revolutionary War.  The gym was in the Church that was on the Fort.
So Louie and I were talking, and at the time @ Ironsport where I trained in Philly, every so often some yahoo would be like you are supposed to round your back and arch your back at the ends of the reverse hyper.  Obviously this is horseshit, but every once in a while, you may across a dumb person that has some credibility to sound smart.

Anyway, we got it right from the horse’s mouth.  Louie and I got into the Avalanche and drove over to the gym where every Elite and Westside monster not competing was getting work in.  Louie flat out said, and I’m sure you can hear his voice and diction in the statement, “If your back is rounding during the reverse hyper, you’re doing it wrong.”
During the next what seemed like 5 hours, everyone was huddled around Louie just listening.
2 interesting things that I remember most about this foray aside from being like 5′ from Andy Bolton when he pulled 1003……
1.  When someone wants to talk to you, you do everything you can to accomodate.  You never know how you amazingly can affect someone.
2.  That dude that questioned me on the reverse hyper still didn’t believe me.  The same shit still happens regularly today on the Internet.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

So I remember some time ago where a great friend, a PhD and Director of an ExPhys undergrad program, wrote me an e-mail asking and questioning a lot of the things he has seen and heard attributed to Louie and Westside.

I won’t recount verbatim the questions Doc had because some of it got inflammatory in a private conversation, and it’s my website, and I can do whatever I want.  His topical questions are in italics.

 

This is not bash Louie day but I do have several issues with his interpretations and I wanted to run it by someone who has an open mind to performance training.

From a lot of things that are public on the Internet and videos, I think it’s fair that Louie is best described sometimes as someone that can be somewhat dangerous with a little bit of knowledge.  Much of what he says should be taken with a grain of salt when it has an odd odor of foolishness to it.
That being said, when you talk to him in person, and it’s more of a back and forth, it’s a much different voice than these videos, etc. This is my experience.
There is so much to learn from Louie Simmons on a number of different levels.  If I wasn’t married or driven by a career, I would live in Columbus and try to train at Westside and do whatever Louie told me.

 

[Louie] proposes that one should abduct the humerus and push the elbows back and “you won’t have a shoulder or pec injury”. He has had hip, back, and major shoulder injuries. This does not make sense to me from a biomechanical perspective. This will put greater pressure especially under heavy loads on the SC, AC, and GH joints.

First off, this is completely accurate in terms of loading the shoulders, but I’m not even sure this is accurately attributed to Louie.  Below is a video where I believe he says the opposite.
That being said, there are multiple ways to bench press and some patterns complement strength, weaknesses, and morphology. I can say that I 100% agree that approaching 90 degrees of HABD during the bench press bodybuilding style is straight jackassery. But I don’t believe this is what Louie preaches or how I have learned from Bill Crawford and Sebastian Burns, who I believe have influenced/directed Westside’s bench style.
There is a point during the finish of the lift where I am taught to flare my elbows. For me, it’s about 3-3.5 Board height. It is pull bar down through the groove, and then on the way up, you stay tucked under a little past half way and then flare out the elbows to finish. The shoulder is approaching full horizontal ADDuction by that point, and the shoulder is not in such a precarious position. The is almost necessary when you have pinkies on the ring or wider. It is not much of an option when you are inside the rings, but this is a training grip, not a competitive one. If you are inside the rings, you would stay more tucked the entire lift.
Training with boards is a whole another story and depends on how/why you are using the boards in the first place. That too will offer guidance in why/if you would flare out at some point in the lift.

I have a Forza Bench, and I used to have a bigger total than Laura Phelps.

 

I will say I’m not a flat bench advocate anyway. It is a must for powerlifting but I don’t think the strength transfers to standup work since it does not link the lower body to the upper body from a ground reaction perspective. 

If you are benching without a full body contribution, then that is a technique error in my opinion.
That being said, there are 3 points of contact, so it is hard to argue with someone that suggests carryover is not appropriate.

 

In one of Louie’s articles on the conjugate system he speaks of “accommodation” and talks about how one must use different lifts acutely to prevent accommodation. He talks about switching exercises but I think the general movement pattern is the same. I don’t know enough about his facility and their absence or prevalence of injuries. It does not make sense to me about switching the exercises for the major lifts and my thought process is the motor unit recruitment patterns. Is it not better to master the movements and allow the CNS to refine the recruitment pattern in turn releasing inhibition so the system can apply greater force due to the muscles and joint structural components (tendons, ligaments, etc.) making structural changes that can support heavier loads. It is “desensitization” like downregulation and upregulation in the endocrine system. Overriding autogenic inhibition is the ultimate goal is it not? When a person rips off a car door or flips a car to get their children out the explanation is the brain overrides AI and allows us to do more even though it will damage the system. It is true “fight or flight”! Some coaches and athletes believe this is what happens when a superhuman performance occurs (Bob Beamon long jump, etc.). 

The changing of lifts more accounts for the Max Effort Day. The Dynamic Effort day should be 40-60% of the competitive or indicator lift using compensatory acceleration.

When you use ME and DE, the goal of ME is to learn how to strain. The suggestion is simply as you have identified that in a lay way, the movement is close enough to the indicator lift, but changing the bars and type(s) of resistance, the body is supposed to have enough variability to come back each week with maximal effort of strain. The cybernetic approach to maximal effort allows for different bars or resistance(s) to keep the body recovered from the different stresses. Changing the lift every week is really only expected for the most experienced lifters, but there is no reason why anyone shouldn’t do it.
Also keep in mind that when you don’t “feel it,” going for triples or using the Method of Repeated Maximal Efforts is also a way to get through a useful workout without maxing.  You found out you were not recovered, and you decreased the nervous system challenge.
With more than a novice lifter, if you keep going max effort with the exact same lift week after week, you will get overtrained quickly.

Keep in mind that the ME lower body lifts are squats with the different bars, many of which are VERY different. For instance, I can rep high 5’s with the Spider Bar, but I’ll be damned if I can do low 5s with the Buffalo Bar. You are also going to rotate in Good Mornings, Rack Pulls, Belt Squats, and really anything else you really want except the straight bar free squat. I also would not use straight bar box squat for the same reason. DE day is for that.  But I don’t interpret anything as ultimately wrong to choose for ME.

The periodization is very simplistic, and it is hard to argue against the more detailed periodized plans of folks that follow Russian method.  But when you have a long body of work of lifting behind you, and you are more than 10-20% off your record(s) in that lift, you know you are ready for a deload. And quite frankly, when you are an athlete using this system, there should be deloads already built into the block.
You would certainly master the movement and have requisite strength (whatever that means) before really embracing Louie’s version of Conjugate.  I think Bill Starr’s 5×5 is a better place to start for a beginner than Westside anyway, and you don’t have to worry about changing bars.
There are some other points to the ME such as never getting amped up for a lift or failing too often. This potentially prevents crossing into the red too often in terms of the autonomic response you suggest. The ME is just a hard training.  Maximal is not superhuman efforts every time; it’s the maximum you can do that day.

 

The reason they can recover as he says is because of “THE DRUGS”! He has pushed his own personal system to the limit and the reason why he has worked on his aerobic foundation is to improve his recovery process so his system can handle more work. The drugs have peaked for him and now he needs to [aerobic training].

No question that drugs cloud the messages and applicability for clean lifter or non-powerlifters, but I think the program is solid and has solid trends to follow.
Aerobic training is the #1 thing I was wrong about in recent months.  If Louie had this figured out before the masses, then good for him.
Drugs will continue to cast aspersions, but the cybernetic approach graces the trends for others to try. It’s just different semantics for the same stuff.  Drugs just let you do it all on a different platform.

  • January 14, 2012

Leave a Reply 3 comments

Keats Snideman Reply

Great post Charlie. I’ve always been a fan of Louie and its great to see your intrepretation of his work and how you’ve “mined” it. I also agree that despite seemingly great differences in various approaches (Westside vs. FMS vs. DNS vs. RKC, etc..), its helpful to look for the common thread and the similarities that run throught them.

Jay Reply

Wow Charlie, this is a killer article. So true about building up the aerobic energy system, have started doing tempo runs. I have never really arched and flexed by back during reverse hypers, never thought about it like that, but now you have mentioned it, should one try and keep the back arched or in neutral while performing the rep?

Roy Pumphrey Reply

Great article. The “sorry CrossFit” video was actually good, at least for me, because Louie make the point that physics rules everything in the weight room…I have to explain that to my clients that all the time….again, really great article..

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