Originally published in 2002

‘’Westside only gets the best caliber athletes to work with.”

This is something we hear and read about all of the time. It usually comes from other lifters and coaches. What exactly does “best caliber” athlete mean? For the purpose of this article, we will define it as having an elite status in the sport of powerlifting before coming to Westside Barbell. Based on this definition, only three or four lifters fit this description. Tom Waddle and Dave Tate are two such lifers, both of which have put three to four hundred pounds on their totals after being stuck for more than four and five years respectively.

Another more recent example is Mike Ruggeria. Before training with the Westside principles, Mike had best lifts of: 780 squat, 500 bench press, and 750 deadlift. Mike was stagnant at these numbers for more than three years and began to seek advice. After several conversations with Louie Simmons over the phone, Mike’s lifts went up to 815, 550, and 780 respectively. As luck would have it, Mike decided to move to Columbus. After training at Westside for six months, Mike broke his PRs at the IPA  Nationals with an easy 900 squat and a very strong 800 deadlift with a near pull of 820. After the 800 deadlift, Mike turned and thanked Louie, saying he had been trying to break that record for more than three years. Mike is also the fifth Westside lifter in the past year to squat 900. Mike additionally benched 500 after suffering a recent non-training
related triceps tear before coming to Westside.


What did Mike have to change to achieve these results? First, Mike’s squatting equipment had to change. It was having an adverse effect on his squatting technique. He was wearing regular tennis shoes, which were causing his feet to pronate. This made it difficult for him to push out on the sides of his shoes as well as to keep his knees out. If you do not keep your knees out, you are creating a longer lever arm, which is counterproductive to squatting big weights. He had to switch to Chuck Taylor All-Stars. These shoes have a flat base, which makes it easy to push out on the sides of the shoes and keep the knees out. Mike also had to change his training suit. The suit he was wearing was causing him to push his knees inward instead of outward. By switching to a different brand of squat suit, he was able to activate more hip intervention.

Once the equipment issues were addressed, we still noticed some technique problems. Mike was rocking too much while on the box. This is a very common misunderstanding related to box squatting. When we advocate sitting back onto the box, we mean sit back from the start of the lift by pushing your hips way back, not sit down on the box and rock backward. This technique change is not always easy, but with a coachable lifter like Mike, it took only four to five weeks. This is 24-35 work sets. This is another advantage of performing eight sets of two reps. There are more work sets in a shorter period of time (workout density). Had he trained in a more traditional fashion, in which two to three work sets are standard, then this technique change would have taken 14 to 16 weeks to complete!

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Also, within the first week of Mike moving here, we noticed that he had very weak hamstrings. He could not do one rep on the GHR without assistance and had a difficult time with the reverse hyper technique. We quickly added a higher reverse hyper and glute ham raise volume to his training. Getting him to sit back rather than down on the box also would help in strengthening his hamstrings. Once these issues were addressed and the weak points brought up, the rest was HISTORY. Or, in Mike’s case, PRESENT, because he is not done yet.

Getting back to the original statement about getting the best athletes. Ask yourself as a coach which is a more difficult task—increasing a novice athlete’s strength or increasing the strength of an elite athlete who has been stuck for a number of years?Remember that there have only been four of these pre-elite athletes that have come to Westside. All of the others started out there as novice lifters. These are the same type of lifters these other coaches get to work with. Maybe they ought to look past their lifters and back at themselves to find the problem. Training and coaching is a never-ending learning experience. The day you quit learning is the same day you quit succeeding. Some coaches quit learning a long time ago, probably when they discovered they knew everything.