“You need to be on serious ‘roids to train Westside.”

“Westside doesn’t work for raw lifters.”

“Unless you’re competing, there’s no reason to use any Westside principles.”

“Westside will just get you hurt.”

You see stuff like this pop up even in decent forums and articles where people should know better. I want to offer a personal counterpoint to this idea that Westside-style programming is only applicable to elite or enhanced lifters.

I don’t have any data to back this up, but I’m pretty sure that I’m the “average” elitefts™ reader. I’m a natural, post-bulk, five foot, eleven inch guy at 228 pounds. I train raw, and I don’t compete. My proudest strength achievement was a 410-pound deadlift when I weighed about 195 pounds near the end of a cut a few years back. In other words, I’d get kicked out of Planet Fitness for how I lift and laughed out of elitefts™ for how well I do it.

I’m not even noticeable at my gym in sleepy little Staunton, Virginia—if you didn’t watch me lift or recognize all my elitefts™ apparel, you wouldn’t guess that I was a serious lifter or that I knew a little strength theory. For these reasons (and because most people I help train haven’t exercised since high school two or three decades prior), I don’t offer much in the way of general training advice here and, when I do, it’s qualified for “average Joes” or people with injury problems similar to mine.

So with all that in mind, it’s probably odd that I’m commenting on just how effective Westside-inspired training can be. But in the bigger picture, I feel completely qualified to espouse this method not because of where I am now but because of where I started. In all honesty, I’m just about the most naturally "unathletic" person I know. A lack of proprioception and congenital ligament laxity make me a sprain or strain just waiting to happen, and I’ve never demonstrated any skill at any level of sport. It wasn't any surprise that I was the overweight kid who was perpetually picked last for everything in gym class.

I wanted that all to change though, so I threw myself into sports, starting with wrestling. I adopted what in retrospect was a semi-starvation diet (supplemented by laxatives) that would’ve qualified me as anorexic had I been tested for it. One of my most vivid memories from my two-year/one-win wrestling career was my coach telling me to keep my warm up on as long as possible so as not to inspire confidence in my opponents. My girlfriend at the time (now wife) used to say that I was so skinny I disappeared when I turned sideways. The only thing that kept me from being completely destroyed when I took up football was that I loved training legs.


I took up Westside not because I needed tips for powerlifting but because I’d hit a plateau where oddball programs and increasing volume weren’t leading to the strength gains I wanted. I was in college, and I should’ve been having the best gains of my life. They weren’t happening though. I’d had no programmatic guidance in high school (we were a BFS school where nobody followed the program at all), and the usual Muscle and Fiction programs weren’t doing much for me in college.

Enter Westside. Like 99 percent of the people who discovered Westside in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I found out about the system through internet articles by Louie and Dave Tate. And thanks to those articles and relentless research on the system’s intricacies and roots, I learned how to train.

I’m not sure most people ever learn how to train. Sure, they kinda know how to lift—I had decent squat and bench technique and knew every kind of curl—but putting those lifts into a structure suited to their needs and idiosyncrasies is a different story. For me, it would’ve been a long slog were it not for the output of so many people associated with Westside and elitefts™. Where typical programs restricted me to certain exercises, reps, and tempos, Westside freed me by not only providing a flexible template for routines but by also encouraging me to learn the lifts and techniques best suited for me. It even gave me the tools to fight my physical deficits in health and natural athleticism with its focus on prehabilitation and explosive strength. It made me think about loading over time and how my preferred lifting techniques had unique strengths and weaknesses that I could programmatically address.

Now, a decade or so later, I’m 31, with most of adulthood’s usual obligations. But while my peers from college and high school have largely given up the gym, I’m still getting stronger and, in a lot of ways, I’m structurally healthier now than I was when I was a kid. I use Westside-inspired programming because it’s the only thing I’ve found that wrings out the last drops of my limited strength potential. Will I ever impress anyone who’s knowledgeable about lifting? Nope, but that’s OK. I know where I came from and I know where I’m going.

Because Westside is a system that teaches, I’d have few qualms in recommending it to any intermediate lifter who’s interested in improving his absolute strength, provided he put the time into learning the system and learning his own body. As far as who I’d call an intermediate lifter, I’d count anyone who’s cut their teeth on programs featuring the big three lifts (anything from Hoffman to Wendler) and wants something more focused. The same goes for bodybuilder-style lifters who’ve squatted, benched, and pulled for quality reps and now want to up their totals.


For raw recreational lifters out there who are making that transition from Golden Age-style programming into Westside territory, here are the things that helped me:

  • Use bench, squat, and deadlift techniques appropriate for raw lifting. A common example is the squat; I use a hybrid style that falls between Olympic squats and the ultra wide, sit back method. On the same note, I used to pull ultra wide sumo, but after a while, I kept getting repeated glute strains that never got better, so I switched to conventional style. Even though it took me a few years to get it as strong as my sumo, it was a smart decision.
  • Paused reps are great for building strength at the bottom of presses and squats.
  • Lunges and TKEs keep my knees happy; leg swings and flexor stretches keep my hips happy.
  • Arching is hard on the back. I do most of my work with a neutral spine. Then I break out the arch for big attempts. I also do lots of static abdominal work to offset the arching.
  • I’ve got small wrists that don’t like being extended, so I use wrist wraps and Fat Gripz often.
  • I don’t adapt quickly to lifts, so sometimes I’ll stick with a max effort lift for four or five sessions.
  • Unstable accessory lifts are helpful for joint integrity and for keeping a stable bar path in a max effort lift. Push-ups off medicine balls or out of blast straps are a great example.
  • If a lift hurts in a bad way, I don’t do it. It’s just that simple. I change my technique or just drop the movement entirely.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, machines can help you focus on lagging muscles or reduce the beating your body takes from heavy barbell lifts.
  • I’ll keep my dynamic effort days interesting by using jumping lifts and hang cleans.
  • If work has me stressed or I’m not sleeping well, I’ll sometimes just take a week off from lifting. A week of unplanned rest is nothing in a lifetime of lifting.
  • I’m thorough with my warm up. Sometimes I’ll go to the gym and get antsy that the rack or bench I need won’t be available by the time I’ve warmed up, so I grab it ASAP. To keep that urge in check, I’ll just rotate to a different max effort lift than planned if I can’t get what I need when I’m done prepping. Read Programs That Work 3.2 for my upper body warm up.
  • I use partial movements to give specific joints a rest.

I want to close by saying that Westside isn’t the be-all, end-all for everyone, nor should it be. It’s a constantly evolving and improving beast. I’ve augmented my own work by adding ideas and techniques from probably thousands of sources, but it is the best framework for me, one that touches all the bases and improves what I want to improve. If you have questions about how I train or tips of your own for making the system work for you, share them below.