My Trip to Westside Barbell

TAGS: WSBB, bench, powerlifting, dave tate, Elitefts Info Pages, barbell, bench press

My weekend trips to Columbus Ohio usually include a visit to the Westside Barbell club.  This visit would be different than those previous because I was actually going to train on Saturday and Sunday as a bench and squat seminar attendee opposed to just watching the action.

I arrived at Westside to meet Dave Tate and one other trainee for a bench workout.  Watching the instructional tapes, reading articles and seeing others perform the Westside techniques gave me a solid concept of what I wanted to execute.  In reality things did not fall into place as well as I had hoped when training on my own.  Dave watched as I knocked out my first triple using my dynamic load plus a couple of chains.  The chains immediately made their presence felt by loading the top of the press, which is usually the easiest part of the rep.  According to Dave keeping the bar over the wrists with the elbows properly tucked is the most difficult part of the technique to master. We conquered this problem by pointing the knuckles of my forefingers towards each other while trying to pull the bar apart.  My grip felt awkward with the new wrist position, but involvement of the triceps improved dramatically.  The elbows fell into place and I was able to stay very tight by flexing the lats throughout the movement.  It is difficult to perfect technique without an expert set of eyes to help you identify glitches; fortunately I was able to hear advice straight from the stud's mouth.

Dave conducted an elaborate Q and A for us focusing on the bench dynamic and upper body max effort days.  The key to the dynamic work is speed, but finding the right load and knowing when to progress to a new weight can be a challenge.  Using one load for four sets followed by a five percent increase in bar weight for the remaining sets is a good way to progress to a new dynamic weight.  Bands do change the scope of things by requiring less focus on speed when used with the bench.  The extra eccentric loading created by the bands is the primary benefit.  Those needing to perfect form can boost practice opportunities by doing twelve sets of triples with a reduced load.  You should "work up" twice every four weeks following the dynamic sets and use one week a month to hit some high rep bench work.  Dave suggests using half of the dynamic load for two sets of 20-30 reps. This is best done in a competitive mode by trying to beat the combined number of reps from both sets done by your partner.

According to Dave identifying the optimal grip width for competition is a matter of selecting your best grip from training.  At Westside three different grip widths are used during a dynamic bench workout.  Try to establish a consistent routine by reusing grips for a period of time before rotating.  During competition wide grips favor lifters using bench shirts, while a closer grip is best for a raw bencher.  Raw lifters will benefit most from max effort lifts such as cambered bar presses, board presses and illegal wide presses because of the extra chest emphasis.  Some heavy dumbbell pressing on a bench or swiss ball during the supplemental portion of the max effort day is also a great way to develop the extra chest strength needed for shirtless pressers.  The ability to customize portions of the Westside training system in an effort to address weaknesses and special needs is one of the programs greatest assets accordingly to Louie Simmons.

The Westside system has a simple checks and balances mechanism in place to prevent overtraining.  Many lifters make the mistake of doing too much supplemental and assistance work on the Max Effort day.  Using heavy loads during prehabilitation workouts, which are simply intended to promote blood flow, is also a mistake.   As a result the speed of the barbell during dynamic workouts suffer.  One must lighten up on training volume and or intensity of the assistance and supplemental phase of the workouts if they notice decreased bar speed during dynamic sessions.  Assistance and supplemental work are also intended to create muscular balance.  Muscular balance is achieved by dedicating equal emphasis to planes of movement.  Horizontal pulling movements such as rows match with bench pressing, while vertical pulling exercises must accompany shoulder pressing.  Dave believes this is extremely important for injury prevention.

It was an honor to be in a gym that has produced so many Powerlifting world record holders on Sunday morning.  The writing was literally on the wall of the tiny gym, which barely contains it's huge patrons.  A chalkboard listing the records for the squat, dead lift, bench and total according to weight class cannot be missed as one enters the world of Westside Barbell.  Six unsuspecting students, who would never know how much help a Westside seminar would provide them until they rubbed the chalk on their own hands stood in awe of their awesome surroundings. White Zombie echoed through the gym as a few Westside members finished their workouts.

Dave Tate arrived right on time this Sunday morning, but he did not appear to be a typical lecturer.  His determined look and impressive form made it easy to tell Dave practices what he preaches.  We were broken into two groups according to our working weights for the dynamic squat. Luckily I was put into the second group, giving me the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the squatters taking center stage before me.  None of the students had used the special Powerlifting squat rack before, but we had seen it in use on the Westside instructional tapes.  Huge rubber bands were looped under the rack legs and around the barbell for added tension.  Bands have become a staple of the Westside training routines, and you would quickly understand why if you used them.

The height of the box was adjusted to one inch below parallel for each squatter and a manually operated jack like device was used to raise the bar to the appropriate starting level.  The first group moved through the sets at a fast pace while teacher Tate made corrections accordingly pointing out many mistakes while complementing improvement.  His ability to address and simplify complex issues was of great benefit to the attendees.   Each lifter was amazed by how easily Dave was able to identify flaws that they were unable to see on their own.  Drastic improvement was visible from set to set as technical changes were made.  A training partner tandem looked each other in the eye with approval, affirming that attending the seminar was a vital move in their choice to be better powerlifters.  Most of the squatters did not maintain enough curve in the lower back, which interfered with their ability to sit back on the box.

My turn quickly approached as the first group finished.  It was time to go to work and my level of mental arousal had been building as I watched others train.  My first set of doubles was rough at best and I could not wait to get out from under the bar so I could implement the technique corrections, which needed to be made.  Unfortunately the rack operator responsible for catching the bar with the hooks did not know how to engage the mechanism. I stood in a static position with the bands pulling me down for several second before Chris Street figured out what to do.  Our training loads ventured upward as the workout progressed.  The new load was intimidating for me as a first timer with a bum knee and back. A switch went off in my head when Dave Tate turned towards me and said "you better be ready".  I took my position under the bar and went to war with gravity, knocking out my best set pain free.

A wide array of exercises was executed following the dynamic work for demonstration purposes.  Dave made sure every person in attendance understood how to properly execute glute/ham raises, reverse hypers and other Westside favorites.  Fire in the eyes of the Westside members make it obvious that half ass efforts are not tolerated.  My group approached the supplemental phase of the workout with intensity.

The real fun began in the parking lot with sled dragging.  Ropes were attached to my ankles and I was told to walk like Frankenstein so I would properly pull the plate-loaded sled behind.  Time under tension mounted and the lactic acid followed.  A second exercise required me to bend over with straight legs, grip the rope between my ankles and walk with short strides.  These sled exercises felt like hypertrophy training but the muscles were taxed differently than I expected.  My groin, hamstrings and glutes were fatigued but not terribly sore.  Westside members use the sleds to increase strength, accelerate recovery and prevent injuries.  The lack of eccentric components takes soreness out of the equation while the concentric phase creates elevated blood flow.  Heightened blood flow is crucial for recovery and injury prevention according to Dave Tate.  Dave does a series of shoulder exercises with the sled during his prehabilitation sessions the day before his dynamic bench work to blast away soreness lingering from training earlier in the week.

Prehabilitation workouts are an important tool for accelerating recovery and preventing injuries.  Tough workouts build up junk in the system, which slow recovery rates.  Maximal performance requires quick recovery.  Prehab workouts were created to increase blood flow while incorporating some unique flexibility work.  The shoulders are often the most highly taxed from the Westside routine.  Shoulder recovery is addressed through the use of plate-loaded sleds.  Light external rotations with the sled provide a great way to increase blood flow without taxing the system because of the absence of an eccentric portion of the exercise.  Tricep pushdowns utilizing a very low weight for 20-30 reps helps with tris, while a cable crossover is great for stretching the pecs.  Be sure to keep all work very light during these workouts.

We took our seats, not in desks but on gym equipment.  Our lecturer went to work on the dry erase board detailing the components of the training system.  Questions were addressed with exercise demonstrations and group discussion.  Every attendee had the chance to inquire about his individual training situation.  Professor Tate summarized his recommendations for each lifter in great detail.

Westside members usually decide on the max effort lift of the day when they arrive at they gym.  Trainees feeling overtrained may elect to lower the intensity of the max effort work by hitting a heavy triple instead of a new 1 RM record, but hitting a 1RM previously achieved is not recommended.  On lower body day the max effort work may be dumped all together for some heavy sled pulling, which pushes up the dead lift while putting less stress on the system.  Louie Simmons has pulled 11 forty-five pound plates.  Dave in particular becomes more specific with his training when he approaches a meet.  Certain max effort lifts boost his dynamic bench work and as a result they receive special attention.  Maintaining training records can help anyone identify what max effort lifts help their bench.

My mastering the squat seminar experience came to an end, but the information I learned will last forever.  Theoretically all of those in attendance should make tremendous improvement since they are armed with information they can apply to their training.  Overhearing positive conversations in the parking lot confirmed by theory.  One salivating lifter remarked, "Actually squatting in front of Dave gave him the opportunity to tell me exactly what I need to do.  No way to do that over the phone, I have been stuck on my squat for a while, but after making the technique changes during the workout my squat speed went through the roof".   Facial expressions also revealed the excitement built in the rejuvenated powerlifters who now had a new potent bag of tricks.

Scott Mendelson

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