The Complete Guide to the Westside Barbell Program

The Complete Guide to the Westside Barbell Program

The Westside Barbell Program has become one of the most influential strength and conditioning programs in the world. Louie Simmons created Westside after years of research. It has set 140+ world records and helped lifters lift over 3000 lbs.

Originally for powerlifters, Westside principles are now used in various strength sports and mainstream athletics with success. The system helps athletes improve their strength and power by following a structured weekly plan. It is suitable for anyone who wants to enhance their force and speed abilities.

In this comprehensive guide, we will break down all the key components of Westside programming. By the end, you will understand how to implement this innovative training in your own regimen.

Topics covered include:

  • The conjugate training method
  • Max effort and dynamic effort lifts
  • Utilizing accommodating resistance
  • Weekly split and exercise variations
  • Accessory lifts for addressing weaknesses
  • Jumping and plyometrics
  • Sled drags for lower body conditioning
  • Considerations for periodization and customization

Here is a quick overview of the Westside weekly split:

Day 1Lower Body Max Effort
Day 2Upper Body Max Effort
Day 3Lower Body Dynamic Effort
Day 4Upper Body Dynamic Effort

The max effort days focus on building absolute strength. They use heavy loads in the 90-100% 1RM range. The dynamic effort days develop power and speed using lighter loads moved as fast as possible. This sequential approach of training heavy and training fast avoids stagnation and drives continual strength gains.

As you progress through this guide, you will gain an in-depth understanding of how to leverage Westside principles to:

  • Break through plateaus
  • Target specific weaknesses
  • Peak strength for competitions
  • Remain injury-free

The Westside system can help you improve your squat, sprint speed, and athletic performance. It can also help you reach your full strength potential. Let’s get started!

The Legendary Westside Barbell Gym

Let’s first appreciate the original Westside Barbell gym before discussing the main part of the Westside system. The original gym holds significance and deserves our attention. This place is the stuff of powerlifting legend.

Tucked away in Columbus, Ohio, Westside Barbell is an invite-only warehouse gym shrouded in mystery. Only the most elite, record-breaking lifters get to train here under the watchful eye of founder Louie Simmons.

So what happens behind those steel walls? Glad you asked! Here’s a peek inside the madness:

  • Lifters regularly hoist inhuman weights like it’s their 9-5 job. We’re talking squats over 1000 lbs and deadlifts approaching 900 lbs. 😱
  • You won’t find custom powerlifting gear like this anywhere else! It has monolifts, squat suits, benches, boxes, specialty bars, bands, chains, you name it.
  • On any given day you might see multiple lifters going for all-time world records. PRs of 500-700 lbs are common on the big three lifts! 💪
  • Simmons presides over it all, constantly innovating and pushing the boundaries of human strength potential.

Westside has produced over 40 lifters with powerlifting totals exceeding the mythical 3000 lb barrier. Let that sink in…3000+ lbs across three lifts!! 🤯

Scot Mendelson1025 lb715 lb903 lb3010 lb
Ryan Kennelly1075 lb749 lb832 lb3030 lb
Stan Efferding865 lb680 lb920 lb3050 lb

The success of Westside athletes proves this system works. Now let’s break down exactly how it works so you can apply it in your own training!

The Core Principles of The Westside Barbell Program

Alright, now that Westside inspiration has pumped you up, let’s break down the key principles that make this system so effective. There’s some seriously ingenious methodology at work here.

The Conjugate Training Method

Louie Simmons calls the conjugate training method the foundation of the Westside system. Conjugate sequential training or nonlinear periodization is another term for this.

Instead of separating training into different sections for specific fitness traits, conjugate training improves multiple abilities at the same time.

Specifically, Westside conjugate training targets:

  • Maximal strength
  • Explosive power

It achieves this by alternating between heavy strength days and lighter, faster speed days.

This stands in contrast to traditional Western periodization models that segregate different training phases. The Westside philosophy is that separating max strength from explosive power is inefficient and suboptimal.

By training heavy and fast in tandem, your body adapts to handle any strength-speed demands. You wind up stronger, more powerful, and more resilient against plateaus.

The Max Effort Method

The Westside system alternates between two core training methods on a weekly basis:

  • Max effort
  • Dynamic effort

Let’s break down the max effort method first.

Max effort training entails working up to a 1-3 rep max (90-100% 1RM) on a major compound lift or variation. This includes exercises like:

  • Box squats
  • Board presses
  • Rack pulls
  • Floor presses
  • Good mornings

The goal is to develop absolute strength – your capability of producing as much force as possible against external resistance.

Rather than test maxes on the competition lifts every week, Westside cycles between 8-12 different max effort lifts. This allows you to target specific weaknesses with variety while avoiding overuse injuries.

Some key max effort programming notes:

  • Build up to your max incrementally over 4-6 ramp-up sets
  • Use 3 reps until you can no longer hit 3, then drop to 2 and 1 reps
  • Variate grips, stances, and ranges of motion
  • Only take 1 true 1RM set at the end
  • Rotate exercises every 1-3 weeks to prevent accommodation

Most weeks should include a max effort lower body day and a max effort upper body day.

Going all-out on a new max lift each week induces tremendous strength adaptations over time.

The Dynamic Effort Method

On the flip side of max effort days are dynamic effort days.

The goal here is to move moderate loads as explosively as possible to develop power and bar speed. In Westside lingo, people refer to this as “speed work.” It increases your ability to engage muscles at full strength quickly, also known as speed strength.

Typical dynamic effort programming looks like:

  • Loading of 40-60% 1RM
  • 8-12 sets of 1-3 reps
  • Rest 60-90 seconds between sets
  • Focus on accelerating the bar as fast as possible
chains in gym

The key is adding accommodating resistance – bands or chains attached to the bar. These provide increased resistance toward the top of the lift, forcing you to overcome eccentric load and accelerate harder.

So even though the external weight stays light, the accommodating resistance makes each rep maximally challenging. Your muscles never get complacent.

Not only does this build explosive power, it allows you to ingrain perfect technique since the weights are submaximal. Speed + precision = efficiency.

Similar to the max effort days, we cycle dynamic effort exercises weekly to target different weaknesses and avoid accommodation.

Good luck on dynamic effort squat days!

Exercise Variation

Varying exercises is a core principle of the Westside methodology. Changing the lift attacked each session provides several key benefits:

  • Prevents overuse injuries
  • Provides new stimuli to avoid accommodation
  • Allows focus on specific weak points
  • Keeps training fresh and engaging

Westside exercises emphasize compound multi-joint movements that translate well to athletic performance. Squats, presses, pulls, and their numerous variations make up the bulk of the “big exercises.”

In addition, a wide variety of supplementary and assistance exercises target smaller muscle groups. These build overall strength, joint integrity, muscle size, and address individual weaknesses.

Proper exercise selection and rotation will amplify the returns of your Westside training.

Accommodating Resistance

The use of accommodating resistance – bands and/or chains – is central to the efficacy of Westside training.

Bands and chains make it harder to move by increasing resistance as you go through the range of motion.

This means you have to exert maximal force at all joint angles, rather than just the weakest positions.

Accommodating resistance provides several key benefits:

  • Overcomes eccentric loading forces
  • Increases bar speed
  • Builds explosive strength through entire ROM
  • Prevents deceleration
  • Enhances strength at weak points

Proper implementation of band and chain resistance can mean the difference between stagnation and new PRs!

Avoiding Accommodation

Ever feel like you’re busting your butt in the gym but not getting any stronger? Your body adapts to training loads and stops responding, a phenomenon known as accommodation.

Westside programming constantly provides new challenges and stimuli to specifically avoid accommodation. This includes:

  • Exercise variation
  • Weekly max effort 1RM attempts
  • Accommodating resistance
  • The interplay between max strength and explosive speed

Even elite lifters fall victim to accommodation after 3 weeks or less on the same program. The Westside methodology hunts down and destroys stale training adaptions.

By keeping your muscles guessing, you’ll continue making optimal progress week after week and year after year. Outsmart accommodation and don’t let your hard work go to waste!

Bringing It All Together

The Westside system represents a scientifically validated approach to getting maximally strong and powerfully explosive.

At first, the conjugation of max effort, dynamic effort, variation, and accommodation may seem complex. But by starting with the core lifts and progressing sensibly, you’ll soon find yourself executing advanced Westside techniques seamlessly.

In the following sections we’ll break down exactly how to perform and program the key Westside lifts, accessories, conditioning and more.

Stick with us, embrace the principles, and your strength potential is limitless!

Grinding Out Monstrous Weight on Max Effort Days

Alright friends, time to get serious. Let’s talk max effort training – aka going all-out HAM on a huge 1 rep max.

As you know, max effort days are when you test your absolute strength limits. They do this by working up to a 1-3 rep max on a major compound lift or variation.

The point is to develop total body power and muscle coordination by handling insanely heavy loads. We’re talking 90, 95, even 100% of your 1RM here people. 💪

This requires supreme focus and intensity. Psych yourself up and embrace your inner beast on max effort day!

Here’s how to structure your max effort training:

Choose Your Exercise

Don’t max out on the same lift every session. That’s a recipe for burnout and injury.

Instead, Westside cycles between 8-12 different max effort exercises like:

  • Box squats
  • Board presses
  • Rack pulls
  • Floor presses
  • Good mornings

Pick a movement that targets your individual weak points.

Are your quads weak out of the hole on squats? Try box squats. Can’t lock out heavy benches? Floor presses are your new best friend.

Warm Up Thoroughly

Don’t just jump straight to near-maximal weights. Build up progressive intensity with mobility work and incremental warm-up sets.

For example, you might do:

  • Foam rolling
  • Dynamic stretches
  • Joint rotations
  • Bodyweight squats
  • Then warm-up sets of 30%, 50%, 70%, 80% of working 1RM

Get your muscles fired up and practiced with the movement pattern before going heavy.

Progress To Your True 1RM

Now it’s time for the real fun to begin. You’ll be doing 4-6 ramp-up sets working up to your 1RM in small load increases.

  • Perform sets of 3 reps until you can no longer get 3 full reps
  • Drop down to sets of 2 reps, then 1 rep as loads get maximal
  • Take 3-5 mins rest between heavy sets
  • Only take 1 true 1RM set at the very end

Keep adding weight each set, embracing the grind. Don’t overshoot your abilities, but challenge yourself to display that max strength!

Know When To Call It Quits

As the great Jim Wendler says, leave 1-2 reps “in the tank” on your top max effort sets. Don’t turn every session into a high-risk ego lift.

If you ever reach true failure on a 1RM, or feel compromised technique, call it. Your max for the day is on your last solid rep.

Max effort training walks a fine line between optimal loading and injury risk. Have a wise eye for your limits.

Rotate Exercises Frequently

Vary your max effort lift every 1-3 weeks to prevent overuse issues and accommodation. Don’t just squat or bench maxes month after month.

Shock your body with new challenges and keep those strength adaptations coming.

Max effort training is a challenging beast, but provides the heavy overload needed to push your boundaries. Give it your all, be smart, and get strong AF!

Light Weight, Lightning Speed on Dynamic Effort Days

Alright folks, time to switch gears from straining under monstrous 1RMs to moving lighter loads with greased lightning speed!

Dynamic effort training, aka “speed work,” is all about developing power and explosive strength.

The goal is to move moderate loads as quickly and forcefully as possible. This provides an essential counterbalance to the heavy max effort training.

By training your muscles to generate speed and power together, you become stronger and more athletic in everyday activities.

Here are the key elements of dynamic effort training:

Use Submax Loads

Dynamic effort sets use loads ranging from 40-60% of your 1RM.

The weights are much lighter compared to max effort days. You won’t be grinding out ugly singles.

The purpose here is quality speed and technical prowess above all else. Keep loads moderate.

Add Accommodating Resistance

Now this is where things get fun! To provide optimal power and acceleration stimulus, add bands and/or chains to the bar.

The increased load at the top forces you to overcome eccentric forces and drives your acceleration.

Even with lighter absolute weights, the reps feel brutally explosive from beginning to end.

Perform Explosive Sets

Do 8-12 fast, low rep sets like:

  • 3 x 3
  • 8 x 2
  • 10 x 1

The goal is constantly moving the bar with max speed and power. Accelerate through the whole ROM!

Don’t slowly grind reps. Be relentless and rip the bar off the chest or out of the hole with violence!

Rest 1-2 Minutes Between Sets

Take just enough rest to maintain power output, but not so much that you lose your edge.

60-90 seconds is ideal for remaining revved up and ready for explosive efforts.

Cycle Exercises Frequently

Rotate between 8-10 different dynamic effort lifts every 1-3 weeks just like the max effort days.

Squat and pull fast one week, push fast the next. Target different muscles and angles.

The variation prevents stagnation so you can keep driving those power PRs up!

Obsess Over Technique

Since weights are submax, really focus on nailing perfect technical execution.

Practice accelerating out of the bottom position and moving efficiently through space.

Quality of movement is the priority here. Speed + precision = results!

Bring energy and intention to your dynamic days. Stay fast and powerful from the first rep to the last. It’s time to get dynamic!

Accessory Lifts – The Secret Sauce of Strength

Alright friends, time to discuss the unsung heroes of Westside training – accessory lifts!

Accessory exercises are important for overall strength, even though they may not be as popular as squats and bench presses.

Accessories target smaller muscle groups, individual weak points, work capacity, joint integrity, and muscle size.

They provide the essential well-roundedness to keep you progressing. Accessories are the secret sauce – don’t neglect them!

Here’s a primer on optimizing accessory training:

Pick Exercises That Target Weaknesses

Accessories should complement the big lifts you’re performing that day.

For example:

  • On bench day, choose triceps, shoulders, upper back exercises.
  • On squat day, hit hamstrings, glutes, quads accessories.

Look at your strength imbalances and pick movements that directly address them. Laser focus!

Use the Repetition Method

Perform accessories for higher reps after the core lifts.

Westside uses a simple methodology called the repetition method:

  • 3-5 exercises per workout
  • 2-4 sets per exercise
  • 6-20 reps per set

Nothing crazy high volume, but enough to get some metabolic stress and muscle damage.

Increase Volume Periodically

Every 3rd or 4th week, bump up thereps into the 20-30 range, or take endurance sets to failure.

The higher volume boosts work capacity, restores the body, and spurs new size gains.

Some Top Accessories:

  • Dumbbell pressing
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Band pull-aparts
  • Back raises
  • Row variations
  • Reverse hypers
  • Triceps pushdowns

Get creative and select exercises you enjoy that deliver results. Accessorize your strength!

Target Common Problem Areas

Here are some typical weak points that deserve accessory attention:

  • Upper back – rows, face pulls
  • Lats – pulldowns, chinups
  • Rear delts – band pull-aparts
  • Triceps – pushdowns, extensions
  • Glutes/hamstrings – back raises, leg curls
  • Quads – belt squats, lunges

Bring up your laggers!

Accessory training provides incredible bang for your buck by confronting weaknesses and enhancing overall development. Don’t just focus on the big lifts – be sure to accessorize!

Looking for a simpler program? Try Stronglifts!

Fly Higher Through Jumps and Plyometrics

Jumping and plyometric training is a crucial piece of the Westside methodology for building explosive power.

While weights develop baseline strength, plyos teach your muscles to rapidly apply force. The result? You become springier and more athletic.

When programmed properly, jumping builds tremendous reactive ability and fast-twitch dominance. Here’s how to incorporate it into your training:

Use Jumps to Warm Up

Jumps are great as movement prep before training. Start every session with:

  • Bodyweight squat jumps
  • Vertical hops
  • Standing long jumps
  • Ankle hops

Do just 1-2 sets of 5-10 low-impact jumps to activate your powerhouse muscles. Get bouncy!

Build Volume Over Time

Plyos put significant stress on the nervous system. Build volume gradually over weeks and months.

Start with simple standing jumps at low volumes. Over time work up to more high-impact variations and greater volume.

Here’s a safe progression model:

Phase 1

  • 2 x 5 box jumps
  • 2 x 5 horizontal jumps

Phase 2

  • 3 x 5 box jumps
  • 3 x 10 meter bounds

Phase 3

  • 4 x 10 jump squats
  • 3 x 10 broad jumps

Phase 4

  • 4 x 10 depth drops
  • 5 x 10 meter bounds

Rest and Recovery is Crucial

Given the intense neural demands, don’t perform plyos more than 2-3 times per week.

Always take at least one day of rest between sessions. Two days is even better.

Dial in your sleep and nutrition to manage fatigue. Don’t overdo it!

Sample Plyometric Exercises:

  • Box jumps
  • Standing jumps
  • Broad jumps
  • Hurdle hops
  • Depth drops
  • Barrier hops
  • Bounding

Jumps develop athletic pop and reactivity. Program them strategically as a regular part of your regimen for new levels of explosiveness!

Sled Drags – Brutal Conditioning for Unstoppable Legs

Alright friends, time to embrace the grind and get savage with some sled drags!

There’s nothing fancy about sled training – just raw, primal lower body conditioning to build Herculean strength.

Dragging heavy loads strengthens your posterior chain, tires you out, and sparks new muscle growth. It’s old-school training at its finest!

Here’s your complete guide to dominating the sled:

Embrace The Burn

Strap in tight because sled drags are no joke. Be prepared to get lactic acid flooding those legs in a hurry.

Focus on driving hard with your heels and maintaining powerful posture from head to toe. This ain’t no leisurely stroll!

Expect some wicked soreness the next day. That’s just your fitness rapidly improving. No pain, no gain!

Go Heavy or Go Home

The sled don’t lie – you gotta load it up properly to get results. Lightweights need not apply!

Aim for the heaviest challenging weight that maintains good form for the prescribed distance.

Westside athletes often use over 400 pounds on the sled for sets. Now that’s brute strength!

Crank Up The Volume

Traditionally, Westside uses 20-40 yard drags for 10-40 foot contacts per session.

That’s some serious volume! But your conditioning will be next level.

Build up gradually if you’re new to sled work. Your legs will let you know when they’re ready for more.

Walk Forward, Backward, and Laterally

Don’t just drag straight ahead. Vary your angle of traction.

Lateral drags develop serious adductor and abductor strength. Walking backward hammers the hamstrings.

Forward drags blast the quads. Mix it up!

Lower Body Focus

The sled should strengthen your legs, not tax your back. Maintain a neutral spine and avoid rounding over.

Rowing the sled improperly can lead to injury. Keep it in the legs!

Precede Plyos and Sprints

Westside uses sled drags to build an endurance base before explosive plyos and sprints.

Condition your muscles first, then develop speed and power. Solid progression!

Strap In And Dominate!

Sled training beats up your legs in the best possible way. Embrace the challenge and get ready for dense muscle growth and supreme conditioning!

Customizing Your Training for Maximum Gains

Alright friends, let’s chat about how to customize your Westside training program throughout the year for maximum progress. There’s no one-size-fits-all template – you’ve gotta get strategic with your periodization!

Here are some key programming considerations:

Off-Season vs In-Season

When you’re out of competition season, take advantage with more aggressive Westside loading:

  • Higher volume accessory work
  • Focus on max effort strength
  • Greater intensity on dynamic days

In-season, back off slightly on ME days and intensity to manage fatigue. But keep enough dynamic work and accessories to maintain strength levels.

Athlete Training Age

Newer athletes should use:

  • Lower ME volumes/intensities
  • Higher rep accessory work
  • Conservative plyometric progressions

Advanced athletes can push the boundaries more on ME days and heavier plyos. Program to your specific work capacity.

Athletic Demands

Are you training for:

  • Maximum strength?
  • Explosive power?
  • Muscle growth?

Emphasize the elements of Westside that align with your goals. Be smart about how you prioritize.

Individual Weak Points

Analyze your personal weak areas and select variations targeting them.

For example:

  • If you have a weak chest, do more bench variations.
  • If you have slow squats, prioritize box squats.
  • If you have a weak lockout, do rack pulls.

Cater the program to your needs!

Manage Fatigue

Balance stress and recovery through smart programming adjustments:

  • Reduce volume
  • Add rest days
  • Periodize intensity

Don’t run yourself ragged. Only push as hard as recovery allows.

Nutrition and Lifestyle Factors

Dial in your sleep, nutrition, and stress management to support the demands of Westside lifting. Consider supplements like protein and creatine to help manage recovery.

You are the sum of all factors. Optimize them all for maximum progress.

There are no shortcuts – put in the work and the results will come!

FAQ – All Your Westside Questions Answered

Alright friends, let’s knock out these frequently asked Westside questions once and for all!

What are the main principles of Westside training?

The core principles are:

  • Conjugate training – developing max strength and explosive power simultaneously
  • Training heavy (max effort) and fast (dynamic effort)
  • Using accommodating resistance like bands and chains
  • Weekly training split between upper and lower body
  • Exercise variations to prevent accommodation

That’s the essence of Westside programming in a nutshell!

How should I structure my weekly Westside split?

Here is the traditional 4-day Westside split:

  • Day 1: Lower body max effort
  • Day 2: Upper body max effort
  • Day 3: Lower body dynamic effort
  • Day 4: Upper body dynamic effort

Make sure to alternate max and dynamic sessions every 72 hours for the same body parts.

What are some good max effort lifts?

Great options include:

  • Box squats
  • Floor presses
  • Board presses
  • Rack pulls
  • Good mornings

Rotate between 4-8 different lifts every 1-3 weeks.

What’s the best way to use bands and chains?

Use accommodating resistance on the dynamic days to provide 20-30% increased load at the top.

For example:

  • Back squat – 50% 1RM + 20% band tension
  • Bench press – 60% 1RM + 30% chain weight

This allows maximal power output through the whole ROM.

How should I select accessory exercises?

Pick movements that target your individual weaknesses and align with that day’s focus.

If benching that day, hit triceps, lats, and rear delts. Squatting? Target hamstrings, glutes, quads.

Isolate your weak links and bring them up!

Why are jumps and plyos important?

Explosive jumps develop reactive and elastic strength to make you more athletic.

They teach your muscles to rapidly apply force – the key to gains!

How heavy should I go on sled drags?

Load up the sled with as much weight as you can maintain good form dragging. Westside athletes often use over 400 lbs!

Build gradual density and strength over time. Embrace the grind!

How should I customize my program?

Analyze your individual weaknesses and select variations and accessories that target them. Monitor progress over time.

Periodize training volumes and intensities based on athletic demands, training age, and fatigue management.

The more strategic you are, the better your results!

You might also like Smolov Jr!

Let me know if you have any other Westside questions!

Get Stronger Today with The Westside Barbell Program

We’ve covered a ton of ground exploring the innovative Westside Barbell methodology. You have a complete plan to improve your strength and power, including principles and tactics for programming.

The key lessons to remember are:

  • Train heavy and fast in a structured weekly split
  • Rotate exercises and use accommodating resistance
  • Push your boundaries on max effort days
  • Get explosive on dynamic effort days
  • Use targeted accessory lifts to confront weaknesses
  • Build athleticism through plyometrics
  • Forge a rock-solid posterior chain with sled drags
  • Customize your training wisely through periodization

Westside’s conjugate training system provides a scientifically validated template for making consistent gains over time. If you stick to the principles, the records will come.

Now get to the gym and start training Westside style! I can’t wait to hear about all your new PRs. You’ve got this!!

Not quite what you’re looking for? Try the Texas Method!

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