Seb Ostrowicz

A Westside Barbell Tale – Where I went wrong

Like many, I go through phases of learning, and these tend to coincide with how my training is going. I am always doing something weightlifting, be it watching old videos on youtube, reading articles online, or listening to podcasts while I walk to and from the gym or do chores. Last summer I was struck by the same back injury that has plagued my weightlifting career, littering my training with more ups and downs physically and mentally than one needs to know! This time however was the first time it had struck since I had graduated from my Sport and Exercise Science degree, and so this time I suddenly had nothing productive to fall back on: no piece of coursework or exam to work towards. I needed something, something that would show me the light, something that would lead me down a more productive path of training, something beautifully simple and methodological, something that made sense to me and fulfilled the science/nerdy side of me, something that I could really buy into.

The first time I had heard of Westside Barbell I was 17 years old and had seen Louie talking on the old Crossfit Journal videos about lifting weights of 40%, bands, compensatory acceleration, going backwards in progress if I always trained at over 90% yet somehow always maxing out and being over 90%… It made absolutely no sense to me! But he spoke which such conviction I just assumed, like the Further Maths exam I was revising for at the time that it did make sense, I just didn’t understand. And so I watched the videos, learnt his famous quotes, watched his lifters lift, and learnt absolutely nothing!

This time was different, this time I really needed to understand everything he was saying. Even though I wasn’t and I’m still not a huge fan of the equipped side of powerlifting I knew that his lifters were good and that they never got injured, and this was alluring. I read as many articles as I could that were written by him as well as articles written by others about his conjugate system. I listened to every podcast he had ever released. I downloaded as many books as I could find that he had authored or co-authored, and most importantly, I downloaded all the Russian texts that he seemed to reference at every possible moment. And finally there it was, having read as much as I could about Louie and his system, I felt like I understood everything he was preaching. I understood the max effort method, the dynamic effort method, the repetition method, volumes and percentages I needed to stick to, pendulum waves, exercise selection… It all made sense.

As I tend to do when I learn something new, I had to put it into practice. To do this I would need to devise the most perfect Weightlifting/Westside love child I possibly could. With most of what Louie had learnt coming from weightlifting, this shouldn’t have been so difficult. But it was…

I tried to include a max effort day for the squat, the snatch, and the clean and jerk whilst rotating their variation weekly. Dynamic effort work on the 3 lifts following a 3 week pendulum wave of 75,80,85%, and repetition work every day to gain as much muscle mass as possible. Trying to give enough attention to each of these three methods, the three methods strength training itself is built upon, was difficult. Gradually my program evolved into something I actually felt quite proud of. Volume was extremely high to accommodate for every method I hoped to train concurrently, but I was able to split sessions into two-a-days.

I was fortunate enough to befriend a fellow iron addict who had spent the best part of half a year interning alongside Louie at Westside Barbell, training with the guys over there. This was someone who actually knew how the system worked, or at least how the system worked while he was there. He knew the routine of training, the pace of the dynamic days, the intensity of the max effort days. He was able to look over my program several times to help me create what I really hoped could be a pretty revolutionary program in my life! Whilst his knowledge of weightlifting was limited, his knowledge of powerlifting, strength training, and in particular programming was incredibly important in the overall creation of my Weightlifting/Westside love child. When he first looked over my program I could tell that he could see glimmers of Westside shining through the scramble of systems I was trying to employ. Things made sense but they didn’t flow well enough. Overall daily volumes didn’t quite make sense. The most important thing that he said to me was to ‘Train what you are trying to train’. Simple, yet important. It is very easy to try and accomplish too much in any one session. I am a classic workaholic who will always over program rather than under program. I was doing too much. On days when I had a max squat for example, I didn’t also need bottom up front squats, jerk recoveries, leg press, push press, shoulder press, triceps, abs… I simply needed to focus on my squat, hit another accessory lift like good mornings, or some pause front squats, and then choose 1 or 2 exercises (back extensions, GHR) for 3 or 4 sets of 10. I needed to focus on the goal of the day and just push those few exercises harder. My intricate program was too intricate. I had over thought too much, and I felt like I knew it before I was even told it. My program didn’t resemble the Russians, the Chinese, or the Bulgarians, from where Louie bases his programing.

The Westside Program really is genius, and in many ways it is extremely complicated. It is ever changing, and what I know of it now is going to be different to what they are doing now. But to employ it you don’t need a masters degree. Keep it simple and train what you are trying to train. Don’t mix max effort singles with 5s and 12s. Pick your training mode for the day, work it hard, and add some hypertrophy towards the end. Constantly rotate what exercises you do, and always, always, break records.
Just as soon as I felt I understood, and that I could put it into practice, my plane was booked, and I met Glenn Pendlay…

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