Louie Simmons is owner of Westside Barbell Club. Over the years he has coached some of the best powerlifters of all time.
Louie’s methods have become known and used around the world, not just in powerlifting, but in track and field and a multitude of sports. He has a wealth of knowledge that he seeks to pass on along with his training philosophies. Through his articles and seminars he educates and assists coaches and competitors. I recently held an interview with him, here’s what he had to say...
What makes the Westside system work for you?
What makes the Westside system is science and applying science to training. Physics and the laws of motion and kinetic energy play a great role in lifting weights.
As a strength coach, what is your experience of training athletes?
I’ve trained two Olympic gold medal sprinters, a UFC heavy weight champion; I took three tenths of a second off an indoor sprint champ in the 100 metres- in nine weeks after the high school track coach said he couldn’t run any faster. Running faster is all force production-it’s ninety percent hamstrings as is squatting. It is also essential to know how to build up hamstrings for force production. I’ve trained a guy who can jump on top of a sixty one inch box, the only people I know who who can jump higher than that are downhill skiers.
When you box squat you teach to sit back into the hamstrings and then to relax the hip flexors and hip extensors, why don’t you do a powerlifting squat onto a box like they do in competitions?
When you sit back on a box beyond the point where your shins are perpendicular to your ankles, you will have a platform behind you to sit on; the force of getting up then comes from the heels. This being the case you need to overload the hamstrings. If you sit that far back on a regular squat you will fall on your butt. You have to learn to leg curl yourself off the box. The first eight hundred pound squatter was Pat Casey at the old Westside Barbell club. He was a box squatter before we have the assistance gear we do today. I’ve got eight people who squat over eleven hundred pounds in my gym and they are all box squatters. I have seventeen who squat over a thousand pounds, all box squatters. I also have a female who weighs 165Ib, she squats 745lb and she is a box squatter too.
In days gone by the Bulgarian weight lifters maxed out every day, why didn’t they reach accommodation?
Every workout they did they selected a different exercise. It could be a squat and a pull then it could be a snatch then a jerk. They believed it was better to do a 400lb step up than it was to squat 800lbs. I believe they were selected especially. Not only did they have a physical test, height and weight, they also had a psychological and mental test to pass. When Naim Suleymanoglu was competing, there were other world champion weightlifters that used to train with him, much older. They couldn’t do the training, they had to quit. They couldn’t cope with it emotionally and mentally.
When soccer players and sprinters and boxers reach a certain age they tend to slow down, usually in their thirties or later career. Is there any way to slow that problem down or prevent it?
I believe that if their training was better they would have fewer injuries. I believe it is the injuries that they get that are what slows them down, the scar tissue and so forth. It short circuits the body and that’s why maybe they couldn’t run as fast. Boxers get slow because they get hit. So that could be part of it. And just maybe the routines aren’t changed enough. We’ve had people come here who haven’t made progress in 2 years then they come here and put 300lbs on their total. We’ve brought in people that can’t run any faster, a defensive end for example. In 2 months he ran faster. I quit doing everything he’d done, he never ran one time. The coach said when are you going to have my player run? I said I’m not. He’s run the same times for years, what’s 2 months without running going to do? Running is not going to do it, you need force production. If you’re biomechanically sound the only way to go faster is force production. That’s why I make people do jumping you see. Jumping displays explosive power.
Does that also mean increasing strength in proportion to body weight?
That helps yes. You have to raise absolute strength. But at the same time you have to have a second workout for the development of explosive and speed strength.
If someone doesn’t have bands or chains and they were using the squat to build speed-strength, what percentage would they use?
They would train around 75-85%. In the squat, use doubles. If there’s no accommodating resistance I would go 12 doubles or ten doubles that will keep calculations and volume correct.
So the different methods combined give a better result than one method alone?
Just remember the system combines 3 methods. First is the dynamic method. 3 days later it is the max effort, then also the repetition method comes into play with smaller exercises. The repetition method is for special exercises, triceps, lats, abs, hips, glutes and so forth. But those are the proven methods and that’s the bundle we push.
Suppose a lifter in a lighter weight category wants to keep his weight down, what advantage would he have doing 6-10 reps in a say a triceps extension over maxing out on that exercise?
Your body will wear out more. In a single joint movement it’s not going to work. I’ve had other people ask me that. It won’t work. I want tell you how we train our triceps to get big and strong. I’ve got strong guys here. Nick winters is a 700lb raw bencher here and there’s only 2 other people I think who can do that much raw. We do a heavy set of 8 in an extension, and then we do a light set of 15 in the pushdown. So you do a heavy set of 8, light set of 15, heavy set of 8, light 15. We build endurance into the muscle while were getting stronger and it really works. The average person in this gym does 400-500 leg curls per week with 10 or 20 lb ankle weights and it builds thickness in the ligaments and tendons. That’s where the stretch reflex is. That’s why we do these ultra high reps with very light weight on top of super heavy weights.
Do you structure weekly jump training the same way you structure max effort and dynamic effort, for example using 3 week waves with a different max jump per week?
We don’t do that much. Top athletes do a series of 4 sets of 10, and lesser athletes 4 sets of 8. We don’t do extreme depth jumps. We jump up with resistance. We use a lot of ankle weights, weight vests, and dumbbells. We have a max effort jump once a month. On the other days we use percentages basing them on Prilepin’s chart. I have a guy who can jump from his knees onto a 31inch box, and that comes from raising explosive strength and max effort strength. We do jump every week, just a moderate amount. When you jump higher, you run faster.