I’ve been seeing a lot of articles lately which have been attacking the Westside Barbell system of training. Some of the articles have done so in a direct sense (Dan Green’s West of Westside article), and some less directly. I decided to write this short blog to address what I see as more than one fundamental flaw in the position of said articles.
One flaw in these criticisms is that the opinions expressed indicate a basic failure to understand one of the major overriding principles of the Westside program, and that is individual variety within a basic template. For example, Mr. Green used board presses as one way of relating how Westside did not work for him (and a way to say they are ineffective for raw lifters). When he did so, he failed to note that Westside encourages the athlete to find the maximum effort (ME) and accessory exercises that work optimally for THEM as an individual. So, if Mr. Green properly understood Westside and found that board presses did nothing to aid his full range of motion (ROM) competition bench press, he would have dropped the exercise from his rotation and replaced it with one that worked well for him. In other words, that was not a failure of Westside; it was a failure of the trainee.
Another of the recent attacks on Westside is the argument that Westside is only viable for equipped training. To that end I can speak personally. I train raw with the exception I do wear briefs when squatting because I feel they help to protect some old groin and hip injuries, and I also think that they impart an overload benefit to my training. Beyond that I wear a belt and will use straps when pulling only if my grip farts out (by the way I have pulled over 700 lbs without a belt and have a herniated navel to show for it). I can specifically address and provide an alternate view to Mr. Green’s concern about board pressing and triceps work for the raw bench press. My raw bench press is limited by my lockout strength. When I added board pressing (5 boards) as an accessory triceps movement my bench press increased in direct correlation to the increase in my 5 board press. In other words, to imply in a blanket fashion that a given exercise does not work for raw trainees is folly. It depends on the lifter and his or her unique anatomy and physiology.
How about the box squat? I see many a raw lifter say that box squats are not good for raw squatters. My opinion differs a bit from what I understand Louie’s to be on this topic as I do feel that a raw trainee needs to include a full ROM raw squat in their ME rotation, but I totally agree with him that box squats are excellent for the raw squatter. The primary reason, in my opinion, being the box squat is infinitely less stressful on the knees (when performed properly which is a whole other discussion) when compared to the standard back squat. Box squats also teach a technique which translates to a safer back squat (sitting back more and keeping the knees from excessively driving forward). Of course, while doing these things they also build the same musculature as the back squat and therefore have a very significant transfer to the movement. The end result being they allow for greater squat training volume and frequency especially over the long term.
Another raw squatter criticism of the box squat is they claim in detrains the lifter in the hole for the competition squat. I saw an article on T-Nation recently where it was stated that Brandon Lilly was squatting 1,005 lbs in multi-ply gear and then got buried by 650 lbs when he tried it raw (the author said Brandon relayed this story to him). This was another semi-direct attack on gear, box squats, and Westside, but it was an ill-conceived one. Now, first, the bulk of Brandon’s squat training at the time was box squatting (as he did the 1,005 lbs when he was still at Westside), but he was not wearing briefs and a suit for most of that training. The majority of it would have been with briefs only. I am sure he did almost no regular full ROM back squats at the time, so it is possible that if he tried a raw squat without a few sessions to acclimate to the movement he might have gotten buried with 650 lbs as claimed, but I will say that is unlikely in my opinion. With that said, let’s go with it for a moment. What the author fails to note, and I am not sure if it is out of ignorance, or simply a desire to misrepresent, is that if Brandon had simply raw squatted for a few sessions to acclimate his body to the movement and the lack of briefs he would have easily handled the same 650 lbs and very likely much more. In addition, if Brandon’s training had included a raw back squat in his ME rotation and everything else had remained exactly the same he also would have smoked the 650 lbs and more with no acclimation period needed.
By the way, did I mention the box squat was created and used by the members of the original Westside Barbell Club in Culver City, CA way back in the 60s? Guess what didn’t exist back then? You got it, powerlifting gear (briefs, squat suits etc.). In other words, it was invented by raw trainees…
The bottom line is that Westside works for all forms of powerlifting, general strength training, and athletic development equally well (and Louie has proven it over and over and over again). I understand those attacking it are often selling something and may feel that attacking the top dog is the way to build their own reputation, but any attack on a proven system should at least use a rational and valid argument. Is there more than one way to get strong? Heck yes! Is Westside a superior way? Heck yes! ‘Nuff said.