Five Random Things I’ve Learned at Westside

TAGS: westside barbell club, AJ Roberts, WSBB, strength, deadlift, squat, powerlifting, strength training, Elitefts Info Pages, barbell, training

AJ Roberts is an accomplished athlete in the sport of powerlifting, and is currently ranked as one of the top 100 powerlifters in the world in two separate weight classes. His best lifts include a 1008 pound squat, 750 pound bench press, 755 pound deadlift and a 2430 pound total. AJ currently trains at Westside Barbell in Columbus, Ohio. Most recently, he was Director of Personal Training and Youth Fitness at a health club in Owensboro, KY. Previously, AJ was an NCAA Division I strength and conditioning Coach at the University of Idaho, and also served as editor for Sports Specific, one of the largest sports training websites in the world.

Before I moved to Columbus, Ohio to train at Westside Barbell, I thought I understood what went on between the four walls of the gym. After all, I had read every article Louie had ever written, I’d bought every DVD he’d made, I’d bought his book, and I’d spoken with him several times at meets and over the phone. It didn’t take long, however, for me to realize that all I had really been exposed to was a very small part of what Westside is.

You see, unless you train at Westside, you don’t get to see all the experiments that go on, you don’t get to see the training tools that come and go and come back again, and you don’t get to listen to the daily conversations between Louie and the lifters. You also don’t get to watch the evolution of the training system.

I could probably sit and write a book about all the things I’ve learned since walking through the gym doors, but, as I know, there is still so much more that I will learn in the coming years, and so much that will get thrown out the window, so you’ll have to get by with these five random things:

1. The dynamic method was developed due to people not being able to handle multiple max effort workouts in a week.

If you’ve been following my log or Matt Smith’s log, you may have noticed that traditional three week waves are rarely done at Westside anymore. With the amount of advanced lifters we have training there, the majority have spent years and years doing waves and now routinely work up heavy after 3-5 sets of speed work. This isn’t done every week, but it happens more often than not.

2. Only use the straight bar on dynamic days.

This isn’t set in stone, and occasionally the Buffalo bar is used, but 99% of squatting done on dynamic days is with the straight bar. We use a combination of bands, chains, and bands + chains to always make the exercise different, but the bar remains the same.

3. You need to deadlift every week.

You’re either doing speed work or doing some sort of max effort movement, but you need to deadlift every week. You don’t have to use your competition stance all the time, and rack work should be done conventionally.

4. Circa Max phase is done before every meet.

From years of results, Louie can pretty much call everyone’s numbers based on what you do during Circa Max phase. If you want to hit 1000 in a meet, then you need to hit 600 with a blue, green and purple band. If you want to squat 900, then you have to hit 600 with a blue and green band. 800 would be 500 with blue and green. This is the only part of training that is actually planned out in advance.

5. Nothing beats being strong.

Despite the gear being what it is today, nothing beats actually being super freaking strong. There is a time and place to learn how to maximize your gear, but what happens when you can’t get any more out of your bench shirt or squat suit? At some point you have to work on getting stronger.


How often do you guys come back to the same max effort exercise? Also, I complete raw and would like to use Westside methods to improve my bench. Any suggestions?

We usually cycle through the same exercises every 4-6 weeks, but may do different variations of the lift.

If you are competing raw, I would stick to basic ME movements:

- bench
- incline
- floor press
- 2-board

Do lots of high rep dumbbell work afterward, keeping the reps between 12-20 for 3-4 sets.

How do lifters at Westside manage to do one max effort bench day and one dynamic effort bench day in a week and still stay healthy?

I've been benching twice a week since I started powerlifting, and actually used to go heavy on both days: one being top-end work and the other being low-end work. Switching over to ME and DE was easy for me, as it is essentially one high and one low day. The key, though, is to listen to your body, and if you’re still beat up come DE day, you simply deload.

Also, with all the pressing, you need to make sure you are performing the same amount of pulling. Face pulls, rows, pull-ups, etc, should all be used in your training.

Is dynamic work at Westside still done in “dynamic” style?

I think people have misunderstood the changes for our dynamic squat workouts. We still perform several speed sets, 3-5, but we’re using a higher percentage, as this is what has been working. For a while they were going heavy every single week, but we have backed off of this for this training cycle, and so far everyone is getting stronger.

It's actually very similar to what Westside did before bands and chains as far as percentages go, but now we are incorporating them as well.

We’re able to do this because our max effort movement is never the same as our dynamic movement. If you look at the bench press, regardless of what movement you do, you are always pressing which makes going heavy twice a week miserable.

Despite this, there have been changes.

Greg and Luke perform three week waves of speed work, but using 5's instead of 3's. I recently experimented in a loose shirt for a few weeks and will probably return to this once I figure out what’s going on with my tricep/delt, and then there are others who still perform it the orignal way as they feel it carries over.

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