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The Evolution of Westside Barbell Training - Part II

December 22, 2006 12:48 PM

A Sample Routine

Let's look at the squat/ deadlift and how this might work. Say you are built for the DL with a shorter back and longer legs and arms and can tolerate round back movements but need to work your arching ability to bring up the squat. Let's also say that your weak point is the lockout as is the case with many built to dl. So you are strong off the floor but a tough lockout. WSB always trains max effort days for the squat/deadlift together as the same musculature is involved. This is for a conventional deadlifter.

It is VERY important to know, and keep track of your CURRENT personal bests for the exercises you use. Beating pr's on a regular basis, even by just a few pounds is the key. PR's baby!

Max Effort Day

Week One:
Zercher squats off the rack: pyramid singles up to 95-100% effort (start with bar below knee)
Weighted Back extensions 3-5 sets of 5-8 increase weight each set
One arm db row 3-5x8-5
Two-hand KB swings 3-5 sets of 8-10 done explosively
Weighted decline sit-ups 3-5 x 8-5 (increase weight each set)
Db side bends: 3-5 sets of 8-5 reps

Week Two:
Close stance barbell good mornings: work up to a heavy triple. Bend over until the weight wants to shift you towards your toes. Distance traveled will vary.
Assistance work the same

Week Three:
Deadlift off 3" block: pyramid up to 3-5 singles close to 100% for this exercise
Assistance the same

Week Four:
Good morning squats: work up to a heavy triple. (Use your squat stance and start by doing an arch back good morning. When you get to parallel with the floor, sit back into a squat and stand back up. This is a GREAT special exercise for squats and deads.
Assistance is the same.

Week Five:
Rack Deadlift below knee: work up to a max single
Assistance the same
This is "no man's land" in the dl, especially for those with a tough lockout. Don't be surprised if you can pull more off the floor than you can here.

Week Six:
Contest; test your max in the gym or recycle. Remember your special exercise pr's and attempt to break them the next cycle. Choose the assistance exercise by what muscles are weak. As Louie loves the say "muscles make the groove" and if you have trouble arching in your squat make sure you train the erectors to arch and the glutes to extend! Assistance exercises don't have to go to failure and are used for hypertrophy as much as anything. You can change them up as you feel the need.

Another Louie quote: "Everything works but nothing works forever." If you find you've run the course of an exercise's usefulness change it! Find the ones that you KNOW carryover to your main lifts and get them seriously stronger by training for PR's.

The above exercise selections are just an example. They are very hard movements, especially when done for max efforts. But this teaches you to go into that same zone you have to when the bar is on the floor and its platform time. Talk about specific sports skill training! When you are used to training for maxes each and every week it's no big deal when you step onto the platform, just business as usual.

A sample bench press routine

The basic percentage template worked very well for the squat and deadlift with only one day of training for each, because they complimented each other. This did not, however, work as well for us in the bench press. We ended up doing db benches, dips and other movements on the second day. Only when we adopted the conjugate method for the bench did it take off for us. Below is an example of how to train both dynamic effort and max effort for the bench press.

Dynamic Effort Bench
  • Use 45-50% of your current contest max in a shirt, 50-60% if you compete without one.
  • Remember that bar speed is the KEY here. If the bar slows down, you are using too much weight.
  • Change your grip EVERY set. The widest grip is pinky on the rings. The closest is index finger on the smooth.
  • As Louie says, "muscle makes the groove" and for bench press, especially shirted bench, that means triceps, hence all of the close grip work.
  • You may take 3 singles after your work sets but do not use more than 80% of your max and always take the weight with your weakest grip. Do NOT max out and grind. Even these heavier weights MUST move fast.
  • Chains draped from the bar, or mini bands attached to it make this work much more productive as you can really work on maximum acceleration without worrying about having to slow down at the lockout. THIS is what this day is for- maximum acceleration.
  • NO PAUSES, you are trying to develop max speed. Let the stretch reflex help you.
  • As with speed squats, keep the rest periods low. When you are using lighter weight keeping the rest down allows you to maintain muscle tension, which is key for strength and hypertrophy.

The Template: Speed bench day

8-10 sets of 3 reps with 50% of max.
Change grip on each set
Use PERFECT form. This is a form day.
Accelerate the bar as fast as possible with perfect form
1-3 singles up to 80% after your 30 reps
30-45 seconds rest/sets.
Use chains and bands when you are getting TOO fast at the top- not before.
Don't press the weight- SHOVE it to lockout in one motion.
All three reps should only take as long as one max effort rep-3-4 seconds total.
Assistance exercises for Dynamic effort bench day

Triceps first:
DB or BB extensions: 7 sets of 8 with 15 second rest/set: again, speed is critical on this day. THROW the weights to lockout (with perfect form of course) and short rest really fries the tri's! You can do these many ways but it's important to work the long head of the triceps with extension moves not just the lateral head with pushdowns.

Lats next:
Rows, rows and more rows. Lats are the foundation upon which your bench laid. DB rows, chest supported rows, band rows, cable rows, etc, etc, etc. This is for muscular size; so don't try to kill yourself with max weights. 4-5 sets of 8-15 work great. Pulldowns help a bit but focus on the rows. Hit the bar for your rows exactly where you put the bar for your bench press. You must ROW the bar down when you bench and this helps solidify the groove.

Rear Delts:
Same as above. Pump'em up.

Rotator work
Classic band and cable work for rotators help keep the external rotators healthy to handle all the load the bench puts on them.

Max Effort day

* 72 hours after bench speed day you should have a max effort day.

* Pick a pressing exercise that is similar to the bench but not the classical bench press. Work up to a 90-100 % effort with your WEAKEST grip, usually the close grip. Follow Prilepin's table and do 1-6 reps in that rep range. I found when I could do 6 reps in that 90-100% zone I was ready for three good bench attempts AFTER contest squats. Max benching after squatting heavy weights is a whole other story. You have to be in shape for it.

Great Max effort movements:

2,3,4 board presses, raw
Floor press
Decline press (with or without boards)
Incline press
Presses off pin (vary height- not too low though this is a lockout move)
Overhead lockouts from a pin in the power rack (vary starting height)

The above should be done for singles only. In the beginning you might stay on a movement 2-4 weeks, gradually working up to a true max. After you adapt to the system you might find you can only do 1-2 workouts in that movement before you adapt and can't make a new pr. Go with the flow and change movements often. Learn which movements really help your competition bench and cycle those through more often.

Every forth week do a repetition max effort day. This is great for saving the joints, building muscle and mental toughness. Some favorites:

Max effort rep exercises

Flat and incline db bench (shoot for 20-30 reps)
Pushups on a power bar place in the power rack with a weight on your back
Dips (watch the shoulders though)

Usually we would do only 2 top sets as once you go to failure on reps there is little left for subsequent sets. We would drop the weight and go as far as we could.

Training Max efforts Vs. Competition Max efforts

Kelii, one of the women Rif trained from the start to multiple bronze medals in the IPF World Championships. She is also the 2000 IPF Pan AM Gold Medalist and Best Lifter.

A critical thing to understand with this system is that you can NOT get psyched up for ANY of these attempts. NO adrenaline, no increase in blood pressure, no screaming. Going to 90-100% regularly will really teach you how to handle heavy loads but if you treat each Max effort day as a meet you will quickly burn out. A competition max lift is usually from 10-20% more than a training force max. Do not forget this. Learning how to grind is critical for making contest PRs and this is the focus on this day.

Know your PRs on each of the lifts and make sure you attempt to exceed them, if only by a few pounds, every time or at least every second time. PRs are PRs and the more often you make them, the more you expect to do so. This is good. It also teaches you to make big jumps in order to get to your new PR. Taking big jumps and NOT losing form is a skill which must be practiced. Max effort day is where you do that.

Remember also that you should be using your weak grip for these PR's and that makes a difference as well. You will NOT be burning out your contest groove.

As far as your contest groove, make sure you compete often. There is no substitute for getting on the platform and doing the real thing in the real way. With the new bench shirts more practice is needed so 4 weeks out from the meet make sure you include a few singles with the shirt to know what it takes to touch. This can be done as a separate max effort day OR at the end of the workout instead of the close grip singles.

I do believe that beginning powerlifters should start out VERY simple by focusing on perfecting the main lifts done for medium reps and gradually upping the loads. Power to the People! is a great method for this. WSB has always been an intermediate to advanced training protocol in my opinion. Louie's constantly evolving methods make it even more complicated. And yet the early Westside programs are extremely user friendly and can be adopted by those truly interested in looking more deeply at their weaknesses and wanting to change them into strengths. Training partners help this process considerably but are not absolutely necessary for success. A deep desire to lift heavier and heavier weights and a willingness to analyze and be brutally honest about your weak points is, however.

This system was designed by Louie to help the average lifter, not just the superstar. Just like Pavel, Louie uses reverse engineering to deconstruct what the Elites do and make it work for the average lifter. The absolute key point is to work what is weak FIRST and foremost and MAKE it stronger. Nothing is more important other than the absolute NEED to squat, bench or deadlift a certain weight.

Goals and Deadlines

Without both of these components being tested regularly nothing good will happen. It is the difference between someone who is really training and someone is just exercising. And remember, gym lifts DO NOT COUNT. Get on a platform. Often.

Mark Reifkind, Sr. RKC has been a competitive athlete, coach and student of physical culture for the last 35 years. A former national level gymnast, Mark spent 15 years training,competing in powerlifting,achieving a Masters Rating and a Top 100 ranked bench press.Mark was also Head Coach for Team USA at the IPF World Championship in 1995 as well as the 2000 IPF Pan Am Championships.

A writer for Milo, Ironman, Muscle Mag International as well as a published book author, Mark now owns Girya Kettlebell Training in Palo Alto, Ca. Girya was one of the first studios in the country devoted solely to kettlebell training. Mark works one on one with clients at Girya as well as online; offering instruction for powerlifters,mixed martial artists and kettlebell enthusiasts of all ages. Visit