Louie Simmons’ influence on powerlifting and on strength training does not need to be mentioned. All you have to do is talk to any strength coach or trainer and in some way, they have been influenced by Lou. Many times, it’s the use of bands or chains. For others, it’s the box squat. There are a lot of things that Lou has given the strength world; if anything it’s the opening of people’s eyes to something different. I feel very blessed to have actually trained with Lou at Westside Barbell (WSB) and there are a lot of things that do not get discussed in articles or interviews. Here is insight into the other things that I have learned from Lou that many people have not been privy to.

Train Optimally, Not Maximally

This was the number one thing that I learned from Lou and it has taken a lot of time to comprehend. There are a lot of people out there that still believe that you have to train your balls off every single time in order to succeed. One of the best pieces of advice that I ever got was: to leave the gym with something in the tank. I’m not sure who told me it, but several people have and I still think it’s worth remembering.

What Lou always told me is that when someone is dead-on in their training, they instinctively know what is enough and what is too much, in terms of training. They don’t have a calculator and they don’t consult Supertraining. They just know.

Training optimally simply means that what you are doing in the weight room (and what you are not doing) is going to maximize your success. Training maximally in the weight room means that you are just pushing the pedal down every single workout, with little regard to the outcome in the long run.

Train with Strong People in the Right Atmosphere

Ever hang around a really depressed person? Before you know it, all you can think about is how lousy your life is. You are your company. So if you want to be strong, start lifting with strong people. Here’s a question that I’ve asked approximately 5,435 people during seminars:

Jim: “What is your bench press?”

Seminar Person: “300 pounds.”

Jim: “And do you believe that everything that I told you today is what goes on at Westside Barbell?”

Seminar Person: “Yes.”

Jim: “So you have the training down, right?”

Seminar Person: “Yes.”

Jim: “And if you trained at Westside for one year, how much would you bench press?”

Seminar Person: “Probably 405.”

Jim: “And what if you didn’t train there?”

Seminar Person: “Probably 350.”

Jim: “So you think atmosphere is as important as training?”

Seminar Person: “Yes.”

Jim: “And how much effort have you given to finding or creating that atmosphere?”

Seminar Person: “None.”

This is very typical. I may get crucified for saying this but I really think that who you train with and where you train is much, much more important than the program you do. I did the WSB template as outlined by Dave Tate for two years. I got stronger. Then I started training with Kevin Deweese (who I should point out is now the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Morehead State). Training with Kevin is when my training took off and I got strong as hell. It was the same EXACT program, only a different atmosphere and training crew.

Have you ever wondered why the same teams in college are winners and the same teams are losers? It’s not recruiting. It’s because winning begets winning and vice versa.

People wonder why there is success at WSB. It’s not because of the training. It’s because of the atmosphere and the expectations that Lou has developed over the years. Don’t believe me? Then you haven’t trained there.

Learn From Everyone in the Strength World

It’s easy to surround yourself with like-minded people. Everyone tells you how great you are and you are more than willing to pass on the compliments. This is really weak.

Do you want to learn? Go listen to someone that is 180 degrees from what you believe. You may have to take a Zoloft, but it’s a great way to open your mind.

Lou may be critical of many things, but I have seen him study and embrace some ideas that many would have shrugged off. It is this kind of open mind that will allow you to keep moving forward.

Talk to Other Lifters

Lou is always seeking information from other lifters. Go to any meet and Lou is always mobbed by people. But he is also doing some recon work. He will always ask questions and see what lifters are doing and what their results were. Even if the lifter doesn’t subscribe to all of his ideas, he will still listen and immediately find a way to apply the new idea. Sometimes it works, other times…well, it’s not great. But the point is that you have to talk to other people that are actually DOING and not talking. There is a big difference.

3 Weeks From a Meet, You Can’t Get Any Stronger, but You Can Get Weaker

This nugget of wisdom is for those of you that panic several weeks before a meet and up your volume and intensity. This is not a good combination, especially before a competition. I remember that my last squat workout before a meet, I asked Lou what I should do. He responded, “Do only what you think is necessary and no more.”

Experiment, but keep with the principles. I know a lot of people get confused with some of the training; there are boxes, boards, bands, chains, cambered bars, kettlebells, etc. The list just gets longer and longer. While there are a lot of different exercises and cycles, the principles remain the same:

  • Dynamic effort method
  • Maximal effort method
  • Repeated effort method

As long as these things are being utilized and you understand them, then you are able to fit everything into your training. When things get overwhelming, Lou always has a way of letting me (and others) know that you need to keep with the basic principles and experiment.

Be Smart in Regards to Injuries

This is something that I’ve indirectly learned from Lou and Dave. Both of these guys have pushed their bodies to the extreme and have suffered the consequences. That is the nature of the sport for those that succeed. I remember during one training session, I really hurt my mid-back and it felt like I had fire running down my back and my legs. I took four weeks off from squatting and came back full strength and healthy. While I did get roasted for my inability to tolerate the pain, I know (and was later told) that I did the right thing. If you are hurt, time off won’t kill you. Three to four weeks with modified training will do more for you than pushing through and being sidelined for a year.

Have a Sense of Humor

Although most people don’t know this about Lou, he is extremely witty and funny as hell. While there is always a sense of intensity and purpose in the weight room, Lou never loses sight of the big picture. If you mope around and are always playing the “I’m a tough guy and can’t ever smile” card, there’s a good chance that you are a miserable person. Laugh a little.

I hope this gives you a little insight into what I learned from Lou. Understand that there is a lot more, and much of what I’ve learned over the years has come from him. There is no possible way I could list everything. Now I know that not everyone can train at WSB, but do your best to learn from Lou. Even if the idea seems a little strange, there is something that you can use to help you out.

Originally published on February 9th, 2006

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Jim Wendler is the creator and author of the 5/3/1 Training Program. Jim played football and graduated from the University of Arizona where he was a three-time letter winner. Wendler went on to squat 1000 pounds in competition and is an accomplished Elite Lifter with a 2,375 pound total. He serves the London, Ohio, community as a strength coach at London High School.