Westside Primer/FAQ by Kethnaab
this is an article written by Kethnaab... Kethnaab is from bb.com and i think these two artciles of his will be very helpful... and they'll add to our resources
Well, the Westside for Bodybuilders (WS4BB) that I wrote up has, judging
by my "inbox", brought about the need for a basic Westside primer, so I can stop answering so many questions via PM.
So here's the FAQ, it is meant to be a basic "starting point" for bodybuilders to understand what is going on when someone starts discussing "Westside". It is not all-encompassing, it is basic. I try to use terms that a newb/intermediate bodybuilder might understand, but this is, in NO WAY,
SHAPE OR FORM, a newb/intermediate training program. Unless you have a very experienced strength coach who understands Westside, or unless
you have been lifting weights for a LOOOOOOONG time, you would do best to steer clear of this due to the volume of near-limit training it involves.
Why discuss a powerlifting program on a bodybuilder website? Because this is a program that can help you get strong, and any non-chemically
assisted trainee who thinks he can get big without getting strong is smoking crack. You can't do it. Guys on steroids don't NEED to be strong to be
big. Guys not on steroids MUST get strong in order to get big. Please do not debate this issue with me here. Debate it (and lose) elsewhere.
Note - Westside does not have a "separate" workout for deadlifting or squatting, but rather, they consider training one to be training both. Once you get the technique of both exercises down, training the muscles involved in one means you are training the muscles involved in both. So if I say "you
train the squat", I am also saying intrinsically that "you train the deadlift" as well.
So here it is. "Just the basics, ma'am." This should tide you over until IA posts his "bigger 'n' better" version. These are the questions I've had most asked of me.
What is Westside training?
"Westside training" is, in its basic format, a powerlifting program "designed" by Louie Simmons and evolved by Louie, Dave Tate, Jim Wendler and a
bunch of the fellows at Westside Barbell in Ohio. It is designed around the Conjugate method and has proven itself to be incredibly effective for the
What is the Conjugate method?
The Conjugate method is not actually a single method of training, but rather, the integration of 3 methods. It is based on the Russian Conjugate Sequence System, and the "Westside guys" admit readily to how heavily influenced (i.e. bastardized) the program is from the former Eastern bloc training methods. The Conjugate method employs 3 "styles" of training in a 1-"week" period:
The Max Effort method (heretofore referred to as "ME")
The Dynamic Effort method (heretofore referred to as "DE")
The Repetition (or Repeated) Effort method (heretofore referred to as "RE")
What is ME training?
ME training is "Max Effort" training and is truly the core of the Westside program. As the name implies, you will perform a maximum effort for an exercise that has a direct influence on your squatting, benching and deadlifting ability. Notice the term DIRECT. This means that you can be
100% certain that, if your <exercise> lift goes up, your bench or your squat/deadlift will go up. Triceps kickbacks, DB flyes or leg extensions would
poor choices. Rack pulls, box squats, and close grip barbell presses would be better choices.
Why do ME training? How can it help a bodybuilder or powerlifter?
The purpose of ME training is to increase intermuscular (i.e. the quads work together with the glutes working together with the hammies) and intramuscular (i.e. more motor units firing within each involved muscle). The obvious benefits of ME work is not just that it makes you "stronger", but
WHY it makes you stronger. It makes you a more efficient lifter in that you are able to "focus" on the exercise and perform it correctly. I'm sure we all can agree that a properly performed squat will do the body good, and an improperly performed squat will most certainly NOT do the body much good at all.
It also allows you to recruit more of the possible muscle fibers. We all know about the "Weider Mind-Muscle principle". Well, max effort training is the BEST way to improve this for a late intermediate/advanced trainee.
You cannot hide weaknesses in ME training, they will jump out at you. Are you a bit asymmetrical, strengthwise, i.e. left a bit stronger than right, or
vice-versa? This will become glaringly obvious. Do your triceps need some work? This will become glaringly obvious. Is your core musculature "pretty", but weak (i.e. do you have a 6-pack that is somewhat flimsy)? You'll learn this immediately during ME training. This is why you need an experienced eye. Westside is far better done with an experienced partner. Even the most experienced lifter can't watch himself train.
How do I employ ME training in Westside?
You will perform ME training on 2 separate days per "week" in the Westside program. 1 ME training day will be dedicated to the bench press, 1 to the
squat/deadlift. These are to be done on separate days (this is an absolute within the WSB system) and you should maximize the amount of rest
you get after a ME day.
You will develop a "pool" of several exercises that have a direct bearing on your bench press and squat. You will select 1 exercise from each of
those and perform approximately 3 sets of 1-3 repetitions as the first exercise for your workout. This work must be HEAVY, i.e. >90% 1RM. So if
you are doing the close grip bench press (CGBP) as your ME exercise this week for the bench, and you can CGBP 300 lbs, then your ME work would
be sets with 270 or more pounds. You can warmup to prepare for this work, but ensure you don't begin your ME work in a "fatigued" state. i.e. don't
do a bunch of sets and reps prior to your ME work. Do the least amount of warming up necessary to ensure your joints and muscles are prepared to
As a "newb" to the Westside system, you will probably find that you can use the same ME exercise for consecutive weeks. However, this exercise
should (and will) be rotated at least every 3rd week. Experts with the Westside system (who probably would not be reading this unless they are
making sure I didn't muck it up! ) will generally rotate ME work each week. This week might be floor presses, next week CGBP, the week after 2-board presses, etc.
Why do you "max out" every week? Isn't that dangerous? Why rotate exercises so often?
Research suggests that if you don't train heavy, you lose the ability to train heavy. i.e. you get "worse" at it if you don't do it frequently. As such, ME
work is done weekly to prevent any reduction in CNS capabilities. Remember, this is a powerlifting program designed for ADVANCED powerlifters.
Technique is assumed to be ideal, and the basic support system for any exercise has already been developed. If you are one of those guys who has
an ass that swims around in the bottom of the squat, you need to correct that BEFORE doing ME work. If you're one of those guys who begins his
bench press and by the midpoint, your left hand is 3" higher than your right hand and your right side spends the entire repetition trying to "catch up",
then you need to correct that BEFORE doing ME work.
Exercise rotation prevents CNS burnout and keeps the lifter from getting stale. It also rotates where and when the muscles are stressed during the
ROM, as well as rotating when and where the joints take strain. Frequent (and intelligent) application of ME exercise rotation is one of the most
important keys to success in a Westside program. yet another reason to have an experienced eye watching you during your training.
Understand that ME work is more than just "maxing out" each week. Without getting into too many specifics, you can read Methods of Max Effort Part I and Methods of Max Effort Part II, both by Dave Tate, to see how ME work can vary dramatically and allow one to train heavy every week without destroying the body.
What are some good ME exercises?
These will vary drastically, depending upon what type of powerlifting apparel you wear. If you wear a double-ply bench press shirt and a multi-ply
Metal squat suit of some such, you will have much different training needs than if you lift semi-raw (weight belt and knee wraps) or completely raw (Chuck Taylor's and yo' skivvees )
Some good ME bench press exercises - board presses (2, 3, 4 board), JM presses, close grip presses at various angles, floor presses, medium grip bench presses, low incline/decline bench presses, reverse grip bench presses, reverse grip inclines, high incline/seated overhead presses and,
of course, the bench press itself. Much of WSB generally does NOT perform the basic flat bench press during ME day often, if at all. For further
variation, the use of chains or bands is employed either "with" or in "reverse" (i.e. to weigh down the bar or to assist in lifting the bar early and allowing
the bar to "get heavier" later in the ROM)
Some good ME squat/DL exercises - all forms and variations of the Good morning (note - perform 3 RM for these, not 1 RM), box squats of varying
heights, pin (Rack) pulls, platform pulls, squats with buffalo bar or safety squat bar, trap bar deadlifts, Manta Ray squats, good morning squats, zercher squats and pulls, front squats and any of the above with a combination of chains or bands.
WSB employs the use of an extremely wide stance for squatting, so they do very little direct quad work (i.e. front squats) and tons of posterior chain work (i.e. good mornings - frequently the ME exercise du jour for ME squat day) Again, most of WSB does not perform the actual "competition squat" during ME days. They will frequently perform a variation of the competition squat using a low box, however. If you are an intermediate-"early advanced" lifter, you will probably need to incorporate the competition bench press and squat a lot more frequently than what WSB does. Remember, WSB doesn't take average lifters and make them great, they take great lifters and make them the best. So what YOU do using a WSB template might need to be different.
What is DE? How is it used? What is this "compensatory acceleration" stuff?
DE is Dynamic Effort, aka "speed work". 2 days per week are dedicated to DE work, one day for squat and one day for bench. The idea is to perform 8 sets of 3 reps (bench press) or 8-12 sets of 2 reps (box squat) with minimal rest between sets (45-90 seconds, generally), at the start of the workout (1st exercise of DE day for squat or bench) using "compensatory acceleration" and between 50-70% (generally 50-60%) of your 1RM.
So you 300-lb benchers will be doing your sets with a whopping 150-180 lbs.
Compensatory acceleration is a fancy-schmancy way of saying you move the damn bar fast. HOWEVER, for the non-advanced lifter, this means your technique will suck. Technique MUST MUST MUST be PERFECT during speed work, or you are reinforcing poor technique. Bar speed is PARAMOUNT. If you are not able to accelerate the bar throughout the lift, you are using too much weight, period.
The general idea is to perform your 3 reps in the bench press (2 for the box squat) in the space of time it takes for you to perform a 1RM repetition. You alter your hand spacing, generally using 3 different grip widths during the bench training. Your foot spacing for the box squat will be as wide as you can get it, which, in WSB terminology, means "how you squat in competition". WSB do not advocate "quad squatting", they advocate "posterior chain squatting". During the box squat training, you "deload" completely on the box for each of your reps.
Using bands and/or chains is a great (and advanced) way to teach acceleration throughout the ROM. The entire purpose of DE day is to reinforce technique and develop the ability to accelerate the bar. It is NOT to use heavy weight, that cannot be emphasized enough. You are not performing rapid "bounce" presses or "boingo" squats. You are controlling the motion. However, your focus is on accelerating the weight throughout the
Did I mention you should try to accelerate the weight?
The exercise of choice for DE will frequently remain the same during a training preparation for a meet. Unlike the ME exercise, this is not going to be rotated nearly as often. 6-8 weeks is a basic guideline, which can be adjusted as needed.
What is RE? How is it used?
RE is repeated (repetition) effort, aka "bodybuilding". The idea is to perform between 5 and 12 repetitions with all supplementary and accessory
work, with some exceptions (prehabilitation generally is upwards of 15 reps per set, to be discussed later). EVERY work set that is not ME or DE is RE. So your ME days start off with the ME exercise, then the rest of your training is spent using RE. Typically, the first "supplementary" exercise will be heavy RE work (low rep range, ~ 5 reps per set). This is going to be an exercise that could easily find it's way into a ME program. General rule of thumb - if it is good for ME work, it is good for supplementary RE work. If it is not suitable for ME work, then it isn't really a supplementary RE exercise, it should be "relegated" to accessory work. Accessory work will be, typically, 8-12 reps per set, the idea being general SPP conditioning and strengthening.
Hypertrophy, while not the specific goal (usually, aside from SHW), is a generally accepted "side affect" of RE work. Dave Tate and Dave Gulledge
have "recently" dropped a ton of bodyfat, and, surprise surprise, with the bodyfat stripped off, they look huge. Why does a Westside primer belong
on a bodybuilding website? Because Westside is a program that makes the lifter HUGE. The combination of limit strength developed by ME training
coupled with the speed-strength developed via DE training makes for some pretty darn good RE training and has the tendency to elicit tremendous
size gains in addition to strength increases.
Rotation of these exercises is going to be weekly, with few exceptions. Strength and conditioning are the goals, with the adjunct that you can't go straining your elbows, knees and shoulders with excessive RE work and expect to get stronger over the long term.
So how does a typical WSB training week look?
The WSB "week" of training includes 4 workouts:
- ME bench
- ME squat
- DE bench
- DE squat
Due to the frequent, heavy training as well as the grueling exercises performed, you probably need to start off with a "beginner's Westside" type
template until you are considered "in shape", meaning your work capacity has increased and you are able to recover from the workouts. Typically you
will start with a M-W-F system, and "float" the 4th workout to next week's Monday. So it would look something like:
Monday - workout 1
Tuesday - off
Wednesday - workout 2
Thursday - off
Friday - workout 3
Saturday/Sunday - off
Monday - workout 4
Tuesday - off
Wednesday - workout 1
Thursday - off
Friday - workout 2
Saturday/Sunday - off
This allows for the most recovery, as well as providing some variety in that you will bench 2x per week sometimes and squat 2x per week other times. You will hit everything twice every 9 days.
As your work capacity increases, you might want to try an every-other-day type system, hitting everything twice every 8 days, so that it would look something like:
Monday - workout 1
Tuesday - off
Wednesday - workout 2
Thursday - off
Friday - workout 3
Saturday - off
Sunday - workout 4
Monday - off
Tuesday - workout 1
Wednesday - off
Thursday - workout 2
Friday - off
Once you are "in shape", you will possibly find that you can do all 4 workouts on a weekly basis, i.e. every M-W-F-Sa or Su-M-W-F or whatever. The
exact days are you up to, with a few general rules/guidelines:
1) Get as much rest as possible around ME days. They are the hardest on recovery.
2) Alternate workout emphasis, i.e. do squat-bench-squat-bench, rather than squat-squat-bench-bench
3) ME days include ONE (1) ME exercise. Don't get feisty and try to do multiple ME exercises. Do your sets of 1-3 for your first exercise and stick to
RE for the rest of the workout.
4) Try to train DE days 72 hours (or longer) after ME days. This comes into play on the "advanced" template which includes 4 workouts per week,
which necessitates training on back-to-back days during the week sometime.
2 possible ways to organize the week:
M- ME squat
W- DE bench
Su - off
M - ME bench
W - DE squat
Fri - DE bench
Sa - ME squat
Su - off
Generally choice # 1 would be preferable, as the most difficult day, ME squat, is surrounded by days off. Again, the exact days you train are up to
you and get worked into your schedule.
What would you do on each of the workout days?
You do 1 ME exercise on each ME day. ME requires heavy weight, > 90% 1RM. Generally, 3 sets of 1 repetition apiece is the goal, with each set
using a weight that is > 90% 1RM. In other words, if your 1RM is 300 lbs, the 3 sets will be with weights at or greater than 270 lbs. You follow the ME
exercise up with approximately 3-5 sets of heavier RE work on a main supplemental exercise for approximately 5 repetitions per set. Those 2
exercises are the "meat and potatoes" of your day. They are 2 exercises which have DIRECT influence on your bench or squat. In other words,
when you increase the weight on these exercises, you can be quite sure you have increased the weight on your bench or squat. Afterward, you can
perform accessory exercises, as needed, to bring up weak points and to ensure balance in the appropriate muscles, in this case, the pecs, delts, tris
and lats or the posterior chain and abs. You typically finish off with some form of higher rep prehabilitation work for the shoulder, elbow and/or knee
On DE days, the template is similar, except that you do 8 sets of 3 repetitions on the bench press, 8-12 sets of 2 on the low box squat. You will use 3 grips, all inside the outer ring for the bench, and the squat stance will be as wide as possible. Speed is the key, of course, weights are 50-60%
(sometimes as high as 70%) of 1RM. So the 300-lb bencher will be using 150-180 lbs, possibly more, but ONLY if bar speed remains high. For a 500-lb squatter, box squats at 250-300 lbs would be prescribed. Each rep is paused on the box to remove all "spring" energy. You explode out of the hole from a dead stop. Supplemental and accessory work follows, as described for ME squat day.
For the squat days, an ME squat exercise is performed for (generally) 3 sets of 1 rep using > 90% 1RM, just like ME bench day. If good mornings are the ME exercise du jour, then 3-rep sets and 3RM are used. The main supplementary exercise is going to be a heavy posterior chain exercise,
and then appropriate accessory work is done for glutes, hammies, and lower back as needed. Heavy abdominal work is also sometimes prescribed for this day.
A ME bench day might look like:
- ME exercise (a press) - 3 sets, 1 rep per set w/>90% 1RM weight
- main supp. exercise (another press, usually targetting triceps) - 3-5 sets, 5 reps per set
- accessory exercise for triceps (frequently an extension of some sort) -
- accessory exercise for lats/rear delts (rows)
- accessory exercise for delts (a raise of some sort - deltoid presses are generally considered ME or main supplement exercises)\
- prehab for shoulders (L-raises/rotator work) and/or prehab for elbows (high rep pressdowns or DB extensions)
A ME squat day might look like:
- ME exercise - 3 sets, 1 rep per set w/>90% 1RM weight (if good mornings are used here, 3RM is used in place of 1RM and 3-rep sets are performed)
- main supp. exercise (a heavy posterior chain exercise, usually) - 3 sets, 5 reps per set
- accessory exercise for glutes
- accessory exercise for hammies
- accessory exercise for lower back
- heavy abdominal work
Frequently, training can overlap. An example includes using 3-board presses or CGBP as the "main supplementary exercise" on ME bench day. As a result, you would not need an additional specific accessory exercise for triceps, other than prehab (i.e. high rep triceps pressdowns or some such).
If your ME or main supp. is an overhead press, you wouldn't need to do accessory deltoid work. As a result, you generally won't do nearly that many exercises, generally only 4 or 5 rather than the 7 or 8 that are listed.
For ME squat days, you usually won't need a separate exercise each for glutes, hammies and low back, as it is almost impossible to nail one of those "heavy" without nailing all 3. RDLs might be "mostly" hamstring and good mornings might be "mostly" glutes and lower back, but obviously, each hits the glutes, hammies and lower back quite hard and heavy. Since various pulling exercises and GMs are the most popular ME exercises and main support exercises, accessory work frequently is limited to reverse hypers and/or GHR, both of which hit the glutes and hamstrings without being
overly taxing on the body. Sometimes pull-throughs and/or heel plate drags are used instead. The heavy pulls and GMs generally tax the body enough.
What are some good exercises to use for ME squat and bench? What are some good main supplementary exercises for each?
Any exercise that has a DIRECT influence on your bench press weight or squat (or deadlift) would be useful. That means a press of some sort for
the bench, and a heavy pull, good morning, or squat of some sort for ME squat day. Examples for the squat include:
- good mornings of ALL forms and kinds
- box squats on boxes of various heights
- platform pulls, RDLs, pin pulls, deadlifts (Rarely performed)
Examples for the bench include:
- board presses (especially useful for shirted benchers)
- floor presses
- low incline bench presses
- overhead presses (main supplementary exercise only, generally not prescribed for ME work)
Note - WSB RARELY ever, if ever, prescribes the *Exact* lift for ME work. They also rarely perform the deadlift, sticking instead with concentric good
mornings, usually performed with the bar hanging in chains. Chains and/or bands can be added to almost any of the exercises to assist in maintaining
tension and ensuring proper bar acceleration, even with the heavier weights. Also, cambered bar for the bench press or buffalo/Safety Squat bar for the squat and/or good mornings can be used.
What would an exact 4-day rotation look like, including exercises, weights and reps?
The following sample is for a fellow who can CGBP 400 lbs, regular bench press 450 lbs, 3-board press 550 lbs, box squat 600 lbs on 10" box and
good morning 400 lbs (numbers chosen for ease of math, not for reality's sake)
Day 1 - ME squat
ME exercise - Box squats - 540 lbs x 1 rep (90%), 600 lbs x 1 rep (100%), 570 lbs x 1 rep (95%)
main supp. - Good mornings - 315 lbs x 5, 5, 5, 5 reps
accessory - lower back - reverse hyperextensions - 3 x 10 reps, 180 lbs
accessory - glutes/ham - GHR - bodyweight + 45 lb plate, 3 x 10 reps
weighted slant board situps - 3 x 8 reps, 45-lb plate
Day 2 - off
Day 3 - DE bench
DE exercise - bench press - 225 x 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3
main supp. - CGBP - 335 x 5, 5, 5 reps
accessory - delts - plate raises - 45 x 12, 12, 12, 12
accessory - lats - rows - 200 x 8, 8, 8, 8
shoulder prehab - L-flyes - 3 sets, 20 reps, 20 lbs
Day 4 - off
Day 5 - DE squat
DE exercise - 10" box squat - 300 x 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2
concentric suspended good mornings - 365 x 5, 5, 5, 5, 5
accessory - reverse hyperextensions - 3 x 10 reps, 180 lbs
accessory - GHR - bodyweight + 45 lb plate, 3 x 10 reps
1-leg heel plate drags - 45 lbs x 20, 20, 20
Day 6 - ME bench
ME exercise - 3-board press - 495 x 1 (90%), 550 x 1 (100%), 525 x 1 (95%)
main accessory - floor press - 385 x 5, 5, 5, 5
accessory - lats - rows - 200 x 8, 8, 8, 8
accessory - delts - plate raises - 45 x 10, 10, 10, 10
elbow prehab - triceps pressdowns, 3 sets, 25 reps, 100 lbs
Day 7 - off
Hey, I don't see too many chest exercises in there, why not?
WSB competes in organizations that allow the use of powerlifting apparel, such as bench press shirts. Hence the heavy emphasis on triceps lockout work. If you are a raw lifter, you can cut WAY back on the triceps emphasis and need to include more pectoral emphasis. 2:1 or 3:1 is the general recommendation for pec/delt : triceps exercises, taking ME and main supplemental lift into consideration. In other words, your DE lift will be the conventional bench press, leaving 3 exercises. The ME lift and the 2 main supplemental lifts. Out of those 3, for a raw lifter, generally only 1 needs to be triceps-emphasis, and the other 2 should be pec/delt emphasis. Low incline work, decline work, "illegal" (extra wide) grip benches and DB presses all fall into this category. The extra wide grip benches, however, are best done with higher reps. Keep those as main supplementals, as well as the DB's (single rep maxing is not advised with DBs!) Delts and lats are EXTREMELY important with raw benching since the bench shirt isn't supporting the shoulder girdle and the delts and lats are generally considered THE muscles of importance for the first few inches off the chest. Floor presses, depending upon arm length, are also recommended. Raw benchers probably won't need 3- or 4-board presses and should use the 2-board sparingly. Understand that the bench press is supposed to be paused on the chest. Keep this in mind when executing your benching exercises, especially as a raw lifter.
I'm a bodybuilder more than a powerlifter. Can I use WSB principles in my training?
Yes, see Westside for Bodybuilders (WS4BB). Remember that for natural trainees, a mass building program MUST be a strength-building program. Not necessarily a 1-rep max improvement program, but a strength building program. Train for strength improvement using exercises that tax the body and then eat for mass building, with sufficient protein, carbs and fats, to create a caloric surplus as well as the much-coveted "anabolic environment"
What are the best websites for information on Westside training?
EliteFTS Articles - look along the left side, the T-mag, powerlifting and training articles have TONS of info
Westside pdf articles - have Adobe Reader installed and download the articles. Focus on 2006, 2005 and 2004 articles. Read the 2003 and previous for some background information, with the understanding that the program has evolved and the info from "back in the day" may not still apply.
Iron Addict's forums have a specific Westside forum with TONS of info on WSB training, as well as a significant number of modifications to the training to suit various needs. Check the regular forums as well. Great info there.
i hope this helps others