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Q & A with Westside Barbells’ Louie Simmons
Louie Simmons is the owner of Westside Barbell and a living strength training legend! He is one of a very select group of powerlifters who have totaled ELITE in 5 different weight classes and Louie is one of only a couple of men over 50 years of age to have squatted 920 lbs or more, the first to bench both 500 and 600 lbs, and the only to have totaled 2100 lbs! (over the age of 50)
Louie has worked with twenty-five World and National Champion powerlifters, twenty-seven lifters who have totaled over 2000 pounds, and a World Record holder in the 400-meter dash. He is a strength consultant for the Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and numerous college football teams.
We were lucky enough to have Louie answer some questions from our members. Read on, you’re in for a treat!
“Old School” percent-based training programs
Q: Mr. Simmons, I’ve heard of people having success with the following “old school” percent-based system (on what would later become DE Day):
SQUAT and BENCH
- Week 1: 70% x 8×3
- Week 2: 75% x 8×3
- Week 3: 80% x 6×3
- Week 4: 85% x 5×2
- Week 5: 80%x2, 85%x2, 90%x2
- Week 1 - 15 singles @ 65%
- Week 2 - 12 singles @ 70%
- Week 3 - 10 singles @ 75%
- Week 4 - 8 singles @ 80%
- Week 5 - 6 singles @ 85%
Do you still recommend these programs to lifters? Why or why not? Thank you very much for your time and answers to my questions.
Louie Simmons: That is a very, very old template and I no longer recommend it to our athletes. We found it to be too restrictive as it doesn’t allow for the lifter to expand his training on a given day based upon his needs. For instance, if halfway through a cycle the lifter realized he needed to do more low box squats because his form was falling apart in the hole, a percent based system does not allow for the variance in training required to fix the problem.
The other concern with percent focused systems is that they essentially preclude the use of bands and chains. The alterations in load due to the accommodating resistance of bands and chains makes it too difficult to accurately calculate percentages as they are meant to be used in such systems. This is why at Westside we went to using max singles with the conjugate system. It takes the calculation out of the equation.
The program as you outlined above can work just fine for beginners, but it is not optimal. Westside is a constantly evolving system of methods. We are always looking for something new that will take us to an ever higher level of achievement. If you look at some of my older articles, and then information I am putting out now, you might see what appear to be contradictions, but in reality you are seeing the evolution of Westside training. When you have a chance, go to www.westside-barbell.com and read the articles we have published. They will get you up to speed with our most effective and current programs.
I have also recently put all of my knowledge together in one place in my new book, The Westside Book of Methods Here you will find a collection of information thru experimentation of some of the greatest lifters, Olympic sprinters and NFL Players.
Training athletes vs. full meet Powerlifters
Q: I have a question regarding your methods when training an athlete, specifically a football player. What methods or template do you use with these athletes? How do you train them differently than your full meet powerlifters like Greg Panora and Tony Bolognone? In addition, what kind of conditioning work do you use for athletes? Thank you in advance for your time.
Louie Simmons: Great question!
First, athletes need to be powerful (generally speaking) in the same muscle groups as powerlifters, so their squat, bench, and deadlift training is very similar.
Squat training for athletes will generally use more 3 rep max exercises such as good mornings, squats with bands, and squats with safety or buffalo bars. These 3 rep sets are still max attempts like the maximum effort (ME) singles for the powerlifters. Athletes will box squat, but we will vary the box height more often as it is imperative for them to develop maximal hip, glute, and hamstring strength at different angles so they can optimize their explosive power from the static positions they will find themselves in on the field of play.
Deadlift training is done for singles. When doing reps it is very easy for the athlete’s form to slowly break down potentially putting them in a vulnerable position for injury. In addition, we want football players to work on maximal explosiveness for single movements. They don’t have to go up and down multiple times per play, but they have to execute play after play so we want to train them to be able to repeat explosive single movements with a minimal loss in power.
Football players need explosive power in the lower body and nothing works that like jumping. We include weighted jumps using ankle weights and or dumbbells in their regimen. We have several athletes who can jump onto a 20” box while holding 2 x 70 lbs dumbbells!
Trust me, when you get to being able to jump on a 20” box holding 140 lbs your unloaded explosiveness and jumping ability will be everything you want it to be.
Many coaches seem to have things backwards and try to condition their athletes with weight training. Unfortunately, this only has the undesirable effect of making the athlete weaker, slower, and thus more prone to injury. At Westside, conditioning comes from general physical preparedness (GPP) work primarily via sled pulls and Prowler pushes.
On average, a football player runs about 14 yards per play. This precludes the need for using excessive distances for GPP work. With that said, an athlete should always train to be able to exceed the on the field demands he will face. We have found a distance of 40-60 yards for pushes and pulls to be ideal.
GPP work is not always as intense. If the athlete is beat up and tired we will use a lower intensity variation such as walking for 1-1.5 miles with ankle weights. We use the ankle weights to increase the intensity of the exercise just enough to get some blood flowing which I believe aids with tendon and ligament recovery.
Finally, we work on flexibility and mobility. One cannot optimally harness their developed power and speed if they are tight and lacking in mobility.
Preventing injury and improving health of shoulders
Q: Mr. Simmons, I saw an article a while back about you having to have partial shoulder replacement surgery. What do you recommend relative to bench press form injury prevention techniques? A lot of us older longtime lifters have bum shoulders and would love to prevent further injury and or improve the health of our shoulders.
Thank you so very much, it is a pleasure to have access to someone of your knowledge.
Louie Simmons: It’s great to hear from someone who wants to take a proactive approach to preventing shoulder injuries!
Bench form directly correlates to shoulder wear and tear. I trained and competed without a bench shirt for many years and always flared my elbows when pressing. In those days, flaring the elbows when benching was the accepted norm. Unfortunately, so were shoulder injuries. With the advent of the bench shirt, lifters were compelled to use a slight tuck of the elbows. This equipment induced alteration in form had the dual effect of allowing the lifter to get more out of the equipment AND was better for the shoulders placing less stress on the joint.
Rotator work, as well as a focus on rear delt training helps to prevent injury by increasing shoulder stabilization during heavy pressing. The addition of proper stretching further protects the joints by increasing mobility.
My personal favorite exercises for shoulder pre and rehab are Indian club swings, kettle bell swings, and Bandable Bar presses. All are available at www.westside-barbell.com.
Indian Club and Kettlebell Swings
Indian clubs vary in weight from 25-45lbs (depending on the style of club). I swing them under control over and around my head (see picture for an idea of how this looks – if you purchase them from our site they also come with an instructional DVD) for 2-10 minutes. I normally perform 10-12 “reps” alternating hands every 30 seconds. I try, and recommend to others, to mix things up sometimes swinging them both forward and backward.
Kettlebells are excellent for shoulder health as an injury preventative and form of rehab. I highly recommend the works of Pavel Tsouline for information on how to best use them. My kettlebell shoulder exercise of choice is what I call “lazy kettlebell catches” which are a variation of a kettlebell hang snatch. Instead of catching the kettlebell at full extension, I catch them halfway up at shoulder level. I find this exercise to be excellent therapy for my shoulders.
Louie Simmons performing backwards swings with Indian Clubs
Louie Simmons demonstrating Indian Clubs
This unique bar is made from bamboo. At Westside we hang kettlebells from the ends via mini jump stretch bands (bands and bar available at www.westside-barbell.com) and perform bench presses. The combination of the highly flexible Bandable Bar, jump stretch bands, and kettlebells results in an incredibly chaotic movement. This chaos makes it an amazing rehab/prehab exercise for the shoulders. 4-5 sets of 15-50 reps will work wonders for your shoulders. See the video below to view this very unique movement in action.
Bamboo Bandable Bar
Bamboo Kettlebell Chaotic Presses
If you take the above advice, I am confident your shoulders will thank you!
Q: Coach Simmons, how do you recommend one train for strongman? Thanks so very much for your time and consideration.
Louie SImmons: We had a strongman visit us not too long ago. He trained the same as our powerlifters with respect to the core exercises. We had him do considerably more GPP work and varied his accessory training using some strongman specific movements (ex. Overhead presses after his main bench exercise).
With weights, the bulk of his training was with low box squats, good mornings, deficit deadlifts, and band pulls. We took him from barely pulling 500 lbs to 800 lbs! We did not train deadlifts for reps with our view being that absolute strength will provide the strength endurance needed for his meets. In other words, if you can pull 800 lbs for a single, you can pull 700 lbs for reps. Conditioning should come from GPP, not the weights. This is ALWAYS true and I cannot emphasize it enough. Weights are for absolute strength and GPP for more generalized endurance.
We skipped powerlifting gear with the exception of briefs. He would not be competing in a suit so we felt that training with one would serve no purpose.
Rehab for a herniated disk
Q: Louie, I am a coach and have several athletes at the high school level who have herniated disks as a result of poor coaching in the weight room. They haven’t squatted or pulled in a very long time and I want to be able to rehab them to the point where they can. What is the best way to accomplish this?
Louie SImmons: If you have access to a Reverse Hyper™, get them on it. If not, get one. This is not an advertorial for my own product; I truly feel it is THE key to back injury prehab/rehab. I invented it after having broken my own back. In fact, I have broken my back twice and rehabbed myself to the point of being able to set a record squat of over 900 lbs in my 50s!
The beauty of the apparatus is it provides traction while strengthening the back. Discs will not heal without traction, and strengthening the musculature is all-important to regaining one’s lower back health.
Have them swing their legs forward such that they can see them prior to beginning the extension (this optimizes the traction). Have them avoid over-extension at the peak of the movement.
Use the Reverse Hyper™ on both DE and ME days. Slowly return to squatting with box squats using foam on the box to reduce the impact. Use chains prior to bands, and wait to use bands until core strength has returned to a significant degree. Slow and consistent is the key.
Written by Travis Bell (answers provided by Louie Simmons and edited by Chris Mason)
Discuss, comment or ask a question
If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums - Q & A with Westside Barbells’ Louie Simmons discussion thread.