Note: I had intended to tape the entire seminar but a short-lived battery pack short-circuited that plan. At the time Louie Simmons told me I was at liberty to tape any or all of the seminar and that he had no secrets to hide. By providing these notes I am providing a far less accurate record of what was covered during this seminar than I would have been able to have recorded on video-tape. These notes do not record everything said or demonstrated in the seminar. Much of the material covered in the seminar is also covered in back issues of Louis Simmons’ columns in Powerlifting USA (hereafter “PLUSA”) complete reprints of which can be ordered from Westside Barbell Club directly for $30 plus $4 shipping and handling (address: “Westside Barbell Club, 1417 Demorest, Columbus OH, 43228”; Telephone: 1-614-276-0923). These notes are being reproduced for the use of all Team Fitness members as well as Strength_List subscribers.
Other Westside-related sites of interest:
- Westside Training Routine by Matt Hawkins
- Westside Training Questions and Answers by Dave Caster
- Westside Speed and Strength Journal by Louie Simmons, Dave Tate, and John Davis
- Homepage for Westside Barbell Club
Disclaimer: These notes may not perfectly replicate what was said or demonstrated at this seminar due to my own imperfect understanding or note-taking skills. I recommend anyone reading these notes to consult the previously published Simmons’ articles or even to contact Simmons himself by the telephone number or address given above. I found him to be very approachable, down-to-earth, no nonsense and very helpful in my first telephone contact with him and also when I met him in person.
Louie Simmons presented each day of the weekly workout routine at Westside Barbell Club and explained the routines and the rationale behind these routines.
Weekly Workout Routine: Friday Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Speed Day Speed Day Maximum Maximum for Squat for Bench Effort Effort Day Day for for Bench Squat and Deadlift
Points on the Above Weekly Schedule:
* There are 72 hours between each speed day and its corresponding maximum effort day.
* The actual contest-style bench and squat lifts are done on each’s speed day. Maximum effort days involve training assistance exercises for bench and squat to new maximums but not involving the actual squat or bench itself in the max effort training.
* Squat speed day involves sets of 2 reps done at 50-60% of 1 Repetition maximum (1RM hereafter) and for bench speed work involves sets of 3 reps done at 55% of a bench shirt max or 60% of your raw bench press max. Numbers of sets used will be explained below later.
* Speed Squat day begins one week with 50% of the 1RM and builds it up by 2.5% week by week until in the fifth week you’re at 60%. Then in the following sixth week you go back down to 50% and repeat the cycle.
* Speed days often involve chain and elastic band assistance exercises – these help to build up speed. More on this later. Louie Simmons: “Everyone should use chains and bands.”
* There is no special speed day for the deadlift – Simmons says that the eccentric (lowering) phase of the deadlift is irrelevant to the contest lift itself so that reps of deadlifts are counterproductive. Westside Barbell Club members do actual maximum effort work with deadlifts once a month or so.
* There are NO “OFF DAYS” and there is NEVER any PRE-CONTEST “OFF WEEK” nor any off-contest “OFF WEEK”s – Simmons believes that the periodization schemes and theory of “peaking” that are current among American trainers and athletes are all hogwash- – – his reasons for believing this will be explained later. In his article “Progressive Overload: Is It Progressive Disaster???” published in PLUSA (Sept. 1997, p. 26) he points out that the Soviets gave up on pyramidal training schemes as far back as 1964.
* The Saturday, Tuesdays and Thursdays which are neither Speed Days nor Max Effort Days are not “off days” but are reserved for Special Work and general conditioning work. Special Work is concentrating on assistance exercises that work on weak points that you or others have identified in your lifts. If hams and glutes are your weak points in the Squat then on Saturday you would work on ham and glutes assistance exercises but only do 60% of the total volume (Volume equals weights used times repetitions performed) that you used on Friday for such assistance work. On Sunday you would then (in addition to Bench work that day) do 60% of the volume of glutes/ham work that you did on Saturday (in other words only 36% of the volume you did on Friday of those exercises). That in turn would be preparation for Speed Squat Day on Monday. This empirically-derived training principle is what Simmons refers to as the “60% Rule.”
Other exercises done both on the Speed and Max Effort days as well as on the Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays include “sled work” – using a special sled attached to your workout belt by some harness you would drag between 45 to 200 lbs of weight on concrete for six trips of 200 feet. You use big strides and then pull hard. Simmons mentions a variety of ways of doing this: with straps tied to ankles; dragging the sled facing forward from it; dragging the sled facing backward to it; pulling the straps with your arms with straps over your shoulders; pulling the straps with your arms up from between your legs; the variety of ways of doing this targets different muscles. This exercise is good for back and knees and builds up “work capacity.”
RATIONALE for Sled Work: Eskil Thomasson, a Swedish powerlifter who moved to Columbus, Ohio just to work out with the Westside Barbell Club, had noted that Finnish powerlifters were particularly strong in the deadlift. He and some other Swedes asked Finnish powerlifters excelling in the deadlift what they were doing that contributed to their success in this lift. They stated that many of them worked in logging crews who would drag smaller pulp-wood logs out of the forest to a road where they could be picked up and moved by motor transport. They stated that this practice of dragging heavy weights contributed to their back and leg strength that aided in their deadlifts.
Members of Westside Barbell Club drag the sled every day. The Packers and Patriots football teams have adopted dragging as part of their conditioning and have found that it helps speed recovery for ankle, knee, and hip injuries.
* every 6 to 8 weeks you can try to establish new gym PRs for your three main contest lifts – if these exceed your contest record PRs then these become the basis of your new percentages for Speed Days.
Need for Building Up Work Capacity
Louie Simmons looked around the room full of powerlifters, coaches, fitness trainers and sports writers and said, “The truth of the matter is, most of you are out-of-shape. Americans need to build up their work capacity.” Compared to Soviet/Russian and Bulgarian training protocols we Americans have a much smaller work volume and, correspondingly, a lesser work capacity. According to Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, Bulgarian elite lifters typically lift 5,000 tons per year while Soviet/Russian lifters make about 20,000 lifts per year of which about 300 to 600 are maximal lifts. Looking at the training protocol that I and my training partner had been following I found that we were each making about 4,050 lifts per year with about 108 lifts in the “maximal” range. Since we are aspiring to be powerlifters capable of competing against powerlifters from any part of the United States or the world we should consider this a sign that we may be training at a level of work volume and capacity that does not develop our full potential as athletes.
Simmons believes it is important to develop work volume and capacity since endurance is necessary if we are to be able to perform all nine competition lifts to the best of our ability without burning out during the competition.
Simmons states that a training program, to be truly effective, must develop all aspects of absolute strength in tandem. Absolute strength comprises five different types of strength:
- speed ("Explosiveness") strength - acceleration strength - concentric (=lifting) strength - eccentric (=lowering) strength, and - static strength (e.g. in the bench press this would be illustrated by the ability to hold the barbell in the locked-out position after lift-off while waiting for the head judge to announce the "Start!" command.)
According to Simmons any training program that focuses on one set of strengths while neglecting the others, or else that tries to develop the various strengths in succession and not in tandem, will fail to produce the maximal absolute strength potential of the athlete.
The weekly program outlined above provides speed and acceleration training on the speed days, eccentric, concentric and static training on the maximal effort days and during many of the assistance exercises performed throughout the week.
On speed days the numbers of reps for contest lifts never exceeds 2 per set for squats or 3 per set for bench – too many reps per set wears down your shoulders. Also the increased sets slow your speed down.
The numbers of sets of reps should be picked in order to hold the total volume of work done in the primary lift exercises constant from week to week. The total volume for each week should equal 12 times your 1RM and as your training weight with the squat on speed day increases from 50% to 52.5%, or from 52.5% to 55%, the number of sets of reps should be adjusted to keep the total volume of work constant, e.g. In my case my 1RM for the squat is 600. that means my weekly training volume with just the squat should be 7,200 lbs. In calculating the reps needed to maintain Total Volume it is not possible always to achieve the exact same Total Volume since Reps and Sets are in whole numbers and not fractions (e.g. I can do 22 reps and not 21.55 reps) and therefore I select a number of reps for each weight increment that will yield at least the Total Volume of 50% at 24 reps.
Weight Total No. Sets of Total Volume of Reps 2 Reps Week 1 300 24 12 7200 Week 2 315 23 11.5* 7245 Week 3 330 22 11 7260 Week 4 345 21 10.5* 7245 Week 5 360 20 10 7200
——–[corrected on April 8, 1999]
* Presumably one could follow the sets of doubles with one single to complete the requisite numbers of reps.
For Squat, Bench, Deadlift and their corresponding assistance exercises the ideal relationship of numbers of sets to reps to control constant work volume is determined by Prilipin’s Table, reproduced below (given on p. 26 of PLUSA, Sept. 1997):
Prilipin's Table Number of Reps for percent Training Percent Reps Optimal Range of 1RM Per Set Total 55-65 3-6 24 18-30 70-75 3-6 18 12-24 80-85 2-4 15 10-20 above 90 1-2 7 4-10
The point of speed days is to learn to become super-explosive – don’t wear yourself out in the gym with endless repetitions of near maximal weights – there is no carry-over from such training into the contest. The speed training conditions the nervous system to recruit maximally the motor-neurons involved in the movement. While muscle mass is necessary for strength it is the optimal training of the nervous system that develops optimal strength, not the mere building of muscle mass. The nervous system is the key.
According to Simmons, “The Soviets (Russians) know everything. Americans know virtually nothing. . . everything we do at Westside Barbell is based on Soviet Olympic training methods.” Simmons regards V.M. Zatsiorsky and Medvedev as “geniuses.”
Interval for Rests on Speed Day: 45 seconds . . . this is what he terms the “lactic acid tolerance method.” From Douglas M. Crist I learned that lactic acid release in turn stimulates human growth hormone release. Optimal response comes from longer rests of 1.5 to 3.0 minutes. Simmons’ recommendation of 45 second rests has more to do with conditioning the nervous system to recognize the training for the contest lift so that it will more optimally recruit motor-neurons. Also such short rests force you to adapt to the discomfort of the lactic acid build-up which is necessary for endurance during the contest.
All assistance exercises both on speed days, max effort days, and for special training must be rotated every two weeks. Once the body and nervous system comes to recognize the training as routine it will no longer adapt and grow. New stimulation is needed to shock the nervous system into renewed adaption and growth in strength.
Simmons and Zatsiorsky believe that there is no time off for serious athletes. Simmons believes that a lapse of ten days in training would be disastrous for the progress of a strength athlete. When I asked him “what do you do when you have a flu or are otherwise ill?,” he replied, “I go to the gym to work out and to make sure everyone else catches what I have.” Kenny Patterson added, “I find that when I have been sick and went to the gym to work out that I had a better work-out because I had to work harder against the sickness.”
Why Simmons Rejects Periodization (=Pyramiding)
Simmons explained that pyramiding schemes used in the United States went out of fashion in the Soviet Union in 1964 when the Russians finally figured out that periodization was based on bad science. It is bad science because by concentrating on hypertrophy, strength, and power in separate lengthy microcycles one suffers detraining in those strengths that one is not concurrently working on. Speed is actually developed in the hypertrophy phase (where the light poundages permit it) but by the end of the power phase speed has gone out of the work-out. Worse, Simmons pointed out that studies of athletes revealed that training for several weeks over 90% of the 1RM leads to a deterioration of the form due to overload of the nervous system. By incorporating speed days, max effort days, and various speed exercises on other days during each week into one microcycle one continues to train speed strength, acceleration strength, eccentric and concentric strength and static strength regularly enough so that none of these becomes emphasized at the expense of the others.
Louie Simmons contrasted American and Russian training philosophies as follows:
American-Style Pyramiding Russian-style cycling of Intensity Training: of Strength Training _____ | | |\ |\ |\ |\ |\ ________| | | \ | \ | \ | \ | \ | | | \ | \ | \ | \ | ________| | | \ | \ | \ | \ | | | | \ | \ | \ | \ | | | | \| \| \| \|
Each rise and fall represents two week cycles at the end of which one changes all assistance exercises. Volume of work capacity is maintained across all microcycles whereas in the U.S. scheme intensity is increased at the expense of total work volume which actually decreases as one approaches a contest.
Certain small muscle groups cannot be overtrained in the same way that large muscle groups can be overtrained. So Simmons advises doing abs work and sled work every day.
More on Squat Exercises and Speed Days
The typical weaknesses in performing the squat are found in having weak abs and a weak back. The typical weaknesses found in the bench are in the triceps and deltoids. You need to have a knowledgeable and experienced powerlifter observe your lifts to see where your weaknesses lie. Then you must seek to strengthen the weak muscles by means of special work and assistance work and routines on speed and max effort days.
One of the best assistance exercises for improving one’s squat is the Box Squat which works the hips – it is the hips that make the squat work. During the squat the back itself should not move nor should your shins or knees be moving much.
On any speed or max effort day you should be doing no more than 4 to 5 exercises – more than that and you’re wasting time. Use exercises that will build up your weak areas and switch exercises when your body has adapted to it and it isn’t working any more. You need to experiment with different assistance exercises to find the one that helps you most with your weakness – – – out here “somewhere” there are one or two exercises that will help you to put an extra 25 lbs on your squat – but you have to be motivated to experiment and search until you find those effective strength–building exercises!
When you find effective exercises you should continue to use them right up to the day of the contest for that’s when they will help you the most.
A word on “intensity” – “intensity” is not a subjective state of mind of “feeling buffed” after a workout but rather is an objective physiological state determined by heart-rate, respiration rate, blood pressure etc. The object of maintaining high volume is to raise work capacity, not to generate a “pumped” feeling in the gym. You must raise your work capacity gradually.
In the Box Squat one should keep backs arched (or straight – I believe he means “not bowed over” – elsewhere Simmons says “however you start a squat, whether bending over or head up, is how you’ll perform the entire squat.”) Box Squats are done in 8 sets of 2 reps.
The seat for each box squat must be set customized for each lifter so that it is just below the parallel point for that lifter. The squat bar should be in the middle of the back – DO NOT LET THE BAR ROLL! Your elbows must be down to allow the lats to hold the bar properly. Simmons is big on the notion that you should have as wide a grip on the bar as possible – this prevents rolling and he believes that the closer your grip is that more the bar will roll and the more stress it will put on your bicipital tendon. He says that many tendon injuries in the arms that people blame on the bench are actually caused by poor grip technique in the squat. Simmons is also big on the notion that your stance should be wide.
When you descend in the squat:
1) . . . your butt must start to go back, 2) . . . then you begin to descend, 3) . . . as you descend you let the knees go out, and 4) . . . you keep your back up and your chest out.
You must overload the hip and the knees and shins should not move much when you go up.
In Simmons’ Box Squat you must actually set yourself on the box but not to relax long enough to let the weight compress your spine. Instead you stop just long enough to break the “eccentric-concentric” link and you explode upward from the box as fast as you can.
While on the seat for the less than 2 seconds you should relax the hip but keep shoulders and back tight. It is your hips, back, and glutes that propel you upward and not your quads. He emphasises “pushing the bar up” rather than working your legs.
Simmons believes that leg extension machines, leg curl machines and leg presses are all useless as assistance exercises, because they do not work the insertion point of the hams and glutes. If you build up your back and abdominal strength your squat will go up. [Alternative and contrary view: If you use leg presses, extension and curl machines to work each leg separately at a time then you can build up more useful strength using such machines – since we have these machines already we have to make the best with what we’ve got.]
“Contrast Method” on Speed Day
Chains and bands are part of what Simmons calls the “contrast method” – one of the problems with developing speed and explosive strength is that in the power lifts the heaviest resistance is met in the early part of the lift but resistance decreases as lock-out is approached due to changing leverage. To develop speed and explosiveness optimally it is desirable to have increasing resistance to counteract the increasing ease caused by more favorable lock-out leverage. Simmons believes chains and bands help to achieve this increasing resistance which aids in developing explosiveness.
Simmons use chains of 5/8 gauge that are 5 feet long and weighing about 20 pounds. Chains are attached to the squat bar so that at the bottom position most of the chains are lying on the floor or half off of the floor. As the lifter ascends toward lockout the chains are taken up so that their weight is continually added to the total weight as the lifter goes up. This can be used also for the bench and deadlifts exercises.
Simmons states that there are three advantages to using chains in this manner:
1) At the beginning of the concentric phase of the lift the original weight for explosive training is maintained [=50-60% of 1RM for squats and 55% for 1RM bench . . . for 1RM “raw” bench PR use 60% instead.]
2) Only the upper and top portion of the lift is overloaded which ordinarily would received less work stimulus due to increasing favorable leverage towards lock-out.
3) The nervous system “learns” to drive harder to the top to outrun the increasing weight of the chains and this helps develop speed and explosive strength.
In a previous issue of PLUSA Simmons records an experiment in which a squat bar was loaded with 415 lbs and two chains attached so that at lock-out the lifter would have 455 lbs while at below parallel the lifter would have half of the chains lying on the floor leaving 435 lbs on the bar. Chains were added to the bar at intervals (with 50 second rest breaks between sets) according to the following schedule:
Set No. No. of Chains Weight at Weight at Added Bottom Lock-Out 1 0 415 415 2 0 415 415 3 1 435 455 4 1 435 455 5 1 435 455 6 2 455 495 7 3 475 535 8 4 495 575 9 5 515 615 10 0 415 415 11 0 415 415 12 0 415 415 13 0 415 415
The final four sets are invariably done more explosively than the original two sets without the chains. Simmons claims that this immediate effect is virtually unheard of in conventional training. Simmons states that these exercises added from 70 to 100 pounds to the totals of several of his lifters in periods ranging from 6 to 12 weeks of use.
He did not explain explicitly what the “contrast” in the contrast method was but I gather that it refers to the contrast between the reality of decreasing resistance in the actually competition lift and the experience of increasing resistance in the chain and band-assisted exercises.
As a rule of thumb Simmons suggests that those with squat PRs of less than 600 use 2 sets of chains (4 total) regularly and that those with a PR between 600 and 800 use up to 3 sets (6 total) regularly. You should do two sets without chains, then add one set of chains for 2 or 3 sets and then another for another two of three sets, etc. and then return to doing 2 to 4 sets without any chains to experience the increased explosiveness. The above weight of 415 would have been appropriate for a person with a squat PR between 690 and 830 lbs.
Good mornings with chains would help build acceleration for the deadlift.
Update on Use of Bands [09/17/MM]
Dave Tate posted the following information on Strength_List which is useful for those intending to use Jump Stretch bands in their training: What bands to use in your training: Bench Press: mini bands regardless of bench Squats: 100- 300 pounds pink bands (actually with a squat this low you shouldn't be using bands unless you are a lighter lifter) Squats: 300-600 green bands Squats: 600 to 800 blue Squats: 800 to 1000 green and blue * The band tension depends on the cycle of training. If it is a circa maximal cycle then the tension will be much higher. The bands must also have tension in the bottom. This we found to be extremely important to the success of the program.[Dave Tate]
Maximum Effort Days
Monday would be the “Maximum Effort” day for Squat and Deadlift. On Maximum Effort day you seek to reach new 5RM, 4RM, 3RM, 2RM and 1RM PRs for the ASSISTANCE Exercises used for squat, bench, or deadlift – – – you DO NOT seek new maximum 1RM PRs for the contest lifts themselves, except once every 6 to 8 weeks in lieu of actual competition lifts. Excessive PR attempts on the contest lifts is inadvisable but doing these with the assistance work and special work produces increasing strength that is transferred into the contest lift itself.
Simmons stresses that IT IS NOT IMPORTANT THAT YOU ACTUALLY ESTABLISH NEW PRs on each new max effort day . . . rather it is ONLY IMPORTANT THAT YOU ATTEMPT TO ESTABLISH NEW RECORDS. The learning effect is translated to the nervous system regardless of whether you succeed in making new PRs or not.
You must constantly switch the assistance exercises that you are working on during max effort day at least once every two weeks – keep PR record to be compared only with the exact same exercise. Simmons suggests that you can vary such max effort exercises as follows: the example here is for bench assistance exercises:
w/ BB w/DB w/BB &chains w/BB &bands ------------------ | --------- | -------- | ------------ | --------- Triceps Extensions| | | | ------------------ | --------- | -------- | ------------ | --------- Incline Presses | | | | ------------------ | --------- | -------- | ------------ | --------- Floor Presses | | | | ------------------ | --------- | -------- | ------------ | --------- "J.M." Presses | | | | ------------------ | --------- | -------- | ------------ | ---------
Note that you took four basic assistance exercises and transformed them into 20 total assistance exercises. You could cycle through these over an ten-week period before starting over again. Note that this hasn’t touched lat pull-downs, dumbbell rows, military presses, lock outs, pin-presses, and the like all over which could also be recruited and varied to suited your needs.
Simmons suggests that you use the Max Effort day to try to work on your “sticking” points. He suggests that each individual lifter has different sticking points and that each one of us needs to search diligently for the one or more exercises that really hits our individual sticking point the hardest with best results. He cautions that lifters are too apt to understand this to mean to seeking out those exercises that they enjoy and that come easily to them . . . instead you must find those that are hard, difficult, and not so much fun precisely because they are hard and difficult. It is these exercises that will reward you the most. Here’s an example of what Simmons means: few people really enjoy the deadlift but all serious lifters agree that the deadlift is one the most productive exercises in building mass and strength . . . “No Pain, No Gain!”
Total volume of work on Max Effort day should not exceed 60% of the total volume of work done on Speed day.
Weight Releases – there is a device known as a “weight release” that allows you to attach an extra weight to the squat bar or bench bar during the eccentric lowering phase which automatically disconnects at the bottom of the lift. Simmons suggests having the squat weight at 60% of 1RM and bench weight at 55% of 1RM and attaching enough extra weight so that your are lowering 80% of your 1RM on the squat and 75% of your 1RM on the bench. When the weight disconnects you would be raising only 60% on the squat and 55% on the bench. The rationale for this is that this allows you to develop more eccentric strength – – – it is not absolutely necessary and Simmons believes that eccentric strength is being developed in the contrast method, especially when bands are being used.
For bent-over good mornings Simmons believes one may use a wide or close grip.
During squat you must push stomach out in order to support the back.
Squat Assistance – Simmons believes that the Manta-Ray and the Safety Squat Bar are very good for helping to build the squat. He believes that the Manta-Ray somehow helps your deadlift as well – you have to stay upright when using the Manta-Ray and it helps isolate the legs. Another assistance exercise that Simmons believes is great for the glutes and hams is one in which the Safety Squat bar is suspended by loops of chains from the frame of the power rack at about parallel level with bands or more chains being used to added resistance to the safety squat bar from below. This is also good for the erectors – it looked challenging enough that I chose not to try it. Simmons says that most powerlifters hate and disdain the safety squat bar but he believes that the reason so many powerlifters dislike it is that it is working the muscles used in the squat in an unfamiliar way and, he believes, that this actually means it creates more versatile strength in the squatter. He insists that you not hold onto the safety squat bar when using it [I believe this was in reference to the assistance exercise in which it is stabilize by the suspended chains within the squat cage.]
ALWAYS MAKE MAX EFFORT DAY INTO A CONTEST! In a sense Max Effort day is a surrogate for real competitions and you want to urge yourself and your partners with lots of shouting, screaming, bellowing and name-calling. I gather Westside Barbell Club is a pretty rowdy place and that the lifters have a great capacity to forget and forgive the abuse that they dish out to each other by way of encouragement. At Fitness we will have to be more circumspect in our language and forms of encouragement. The point is that we should try to recreate the “contest adrenalin” during these work-outs.
Simmons says that one reason why Soviet/Russian exercise science findings and recommendations differ so much from U.S. exercise science and findings is that nearly all exercise science data gathered in Russia comes from observations of elite Russian and Eastern Bloc lifters. American physiologists are more apt to randomly select and test healthy young adults from the general population. e.g. look at standard weight/height tables and Body Mass Index measures in the United States . . . according to them nearly every member of Team Fitness is an obese, overweight blob . . . they do not take into account the extra muscle mass typical of powerlifters! Soviet/Russian exercise science findings are more appropriate guides for elite and even amateur American powerlifters because we are closer to the elite Russian lifter norm than we are to the American average non-athlete norm.
More On Max Effort day . . .
Simmons says that we should always analyze our lifting after a session to see what our weak points are so that we can work on them during max effort days or special work on the other days.
On max effort day do triples until you can’t do them any more. Then do doubles to failure and then do a 1RM attempt for the specific exercise. According to Medvedev you need to constantly vary your exercises. Every two weeks your exercises should change. You need to cross-train by variation. This is what the Russians call the “conjugate method.” Basically you will not make progress if your muscles get bored.
Another method, which is actually “static training” or isometric exercises, are “pin pulls” or “pin pushes” where you set the bar between two pins in the power rack and just press or push against it. This is very stressful and exhausting and one should not overdo it. Simmons elsewhere says that lifters who use the isometric exercises should have their blood pressure checked regularly and if it rises to discontinue this exercise.
Band Deadlifts – If you attach stretch bands to the deadlift bar and the support platform and practice deadlifts this way it will improve your grip and lockout.
More on Grip Work: Simmons and Westside Barbell Club do a lot of PVC tubing rolls ups in order to improve their grip-work. They also put wrist-wraps on tightly around the portion of the forearm above the wrist in order to create greater gripping power – this is done only in assistance work and the way it works is beyond me.
Another exercise for improving deadlifts are “pin-pulls” – not isometric this time but rather as follows: You set the deadlift bar on pins several inches higher within the power rack than where the bar would be if the plates were sitting on the ground. It is easier to lift them up this shorter distance. As your weight goes up in this exercise you then set the pins lower and repeat it and then lower until you are lifting a heavier weight directly off the ground. Simmons says that to set the deadlift bar any higher than two pins above the floor level is a waste.
Cryptic Remark: Simmons says not to”lower the hips in the deadlift.” I puzzled over this one but I think I now know what he means: sometimes I have seen lifters get into position in either Sumo or conventional style and then nearly sit down within that position before starting their pull. Simmons says that the more you can align the knees, the feet, and the hip joint within one plane the easier the pull will be. Therefore you lower yourself only as far as the starting position with as much alignment between these points as possible.
Technique in Deadlift: Always pull bar in toward body, not just straight up. Keep legs straight and do not put hips down. After deadlift workouts always hit the glutes, hams and abs afterwards. Always lockout your legs before your lockout the deadlift bar. Keep feet straight but pointed out at lockout.
One exercise that is supposed to help the deadlift is the so-called “Zercher Squat.” This is one in which you are holding the barbell in the crook of your elbows in front of you and in which you squat down until the elbows touch the knees and then back up again.
Bench Press Work-Out [Sunday = Bench-Press “Speed Day” at WBC]
Simmons believes everyone should work lats on Bench-Press days and on Deadlift Day. Remember Max Effort days are 72 hours after Speed days. The “Deadlift Day” is actually Squat Max Effort Day. There is no deadlift “speed day” in Simmons’ weekly schedule although he does not disallow it.
On all days (or six days a week) Simmons and members of WBC do sled-work, dragging 45 to 200 lbs on a special sled attached to their weight-lifting belt for a total of 1,200 ft – 200 ft a shot on concrete for six times. Simmons says this work will help you make great strides in your lifts, particularly your deadlift. Going 1,000 ft with the sled attached to both ankles really works the legs. This work is also supposed to be great for ankle, knee and hip injuries.
On Speed Bench Day you do 8 sets of 3 reps at your 55% of 1RM (with Bench-Shirt, or 60% of bench-press 1RM without shirt). Unlike the squat you do not vary the percentage from week to week but you still aim for a constant work-out volume of 12 times 55% of 1RM.
Technique: Simmons believes that you should press the bar straight up from the starting position (just below nipples) – he does not see the rationale for making it come up in a parabola to above the top of the chest – it increases the distance to travel; it creates rotator problems in the shoulders, and it’s bio-mechanically more difficult. Also it’s not required by the rules.
Simmons believes that you should not pause at the bottom of the bench – he believes you should use your lats to lower the barbell – your elbows should be close to your sides and you should not use lots of arm (triceps and delts) energy to lower the bar. You should shrug your shoulders inward keeping the lats flexed and you should relax them when lowering the bar. He believes that there is a two second interval in which the kinetic energy created in your muscles by lowering the bar is retained and is still available for being transformed in a recoil pressing action. Longer than two seconds and that recoil energy is essentially lost. However the referee’s pause is usually much less than these two seconds. Therefore he believes his lifters should work on the speed – lower the bar quickly in good form without bouncing and then press outward while the recoil energy still exists. However they have not competed under the new IPF benching rule in which the lifter must decide on the pause himself. My opinion (different from Simmons but in line with Ed Coan’s) is that you should try to make your gym lifts as conformable to contest rules and conditions as possible. Therefore I think we should practice a legal but short pause at the bottom to benefit from the kinetic recoil energy without violating IPF/USAPL rules.
I have found the advice about “lowering the bar with your lats” very mysterious because I have a hard time visualizing it. So I went up on the bench and had Kenny Patterson feel my lats on my left side as I lowered the bar. Apparently I was doing it the right way: you ease the bar down by using friction of your arms against your flexed lats. Lowering with your lats helps to keep your triceps fresh for the explosion outward. Simmons is real big on stressing the importance of tris. Depending too much on pectoral strength leads to too many injuries but he says you hardly ever hear of triceps injuries.
Simmons believes that on speed bench day you should do the three reps in about three seconds and not exhale until you’ve finished the set . . . filling yourself with air and protruding your belly out with your arch makes the benching a lot easier.
Kenny Patterson and George Halbert traded off doing the speed bench demonstration. Patterson did 4 sets of 3 reps at 315 lbs and 405 lbs for 4 sets of 3 reps. So I guess each set doesn’t haven’t to be exactly 55% but rather all 8 sets should average 55%. Simmons cautions that if your speed slows down on any of the speed days you should not increase your weight. During their sets Patterson and Halbert varied their grips going from a close-grip, to medium-wide, to maximum legally wide. Westside Barbell Club members who are not doing the lifts spend their time shouting encouragement at those who are lifting. Simmons thinks that this is important to keep lifters in the right aggressive frame of mind needed to work through their intended work volume.
Simmons believes that out of every 200 lifts on the speed days you should use 20 of those lifts to try to tackle a higher weight. The amount of extra weigh should be determined by each lifter by trial and error. Remember you don’t want your speed and pace to falter and so you should aim for an increased weight that doesn’t slow you down too much.
After the speed work one of the favorite assistance exercises is the “J.M. presses” named for J.(ohn) M.(ark) Blakley, a phenomenal bencher who also lives in Columbus though he is a World Gym member and not a WBC regular. J.M. Blakley has an eccentric benching style that WBC members find amusing – he pauses for a good five seconds claiming that it increases his energy and performance. Simmons thinks this is sheer nonsense and that Blakley could press an additional 30 pounds if he wasn’t spending so much time dramatizing his lifts with the impressive but unnecessary pauses. Another thing J.M. Blakley does is to press the bar in an exaggerated arc back towards his head. For reasons discussed above Simmons thinks this is also a bad idea. However he believes many lifters get in trouble with their lift when the bar goes out of the groove and makes an involuntary swing back in an arc. Therefore to prevent this the WBC members do the “J.M. Press” which is an exaggerated partial bench in the J.M. style but not locking it out. They do this so that if the bar does go out of the groove they can muscle it back into the right groove. The best way to imagine the J.M. Press is to think of yourself getting ready to do a lying overhead triceps extension with a loaded barbell: Your elbows would be bent and the barbell would be coming back towards your head over your chest. Then, instead of touching the barbell to your forehead you would straighten it back out in the groove suggested as ideal by Simmons. Simmons specifies that you should reverse the J.M. Press once the barbell is four inches away from your chin.
Simmons is really big on triceps extensions and also on dumbbell presses. His dumbbell press is done with you lying on the floor. You bring the dumbbells down to your neck and then swing your hands back so that the ends of the two dumbbells are “standing” on the floor on either side of your head. You then roll them back and press outwards. You can do 7 sets of 8 reps or 10 sets of 6 reps or, if you’re using 50 lbs dumbbells, three sets of 5 reps. He likes to superset these with lat or triceps pushdown exercises.
Dumbbell extensions will make you strong, says Simmons, and he is also a fan of Ed Coan-style flies (out to the side while hunched over with bent knees, or forward and up while standing upright).
Plate raises are another bench assistance exercise – you just grab a 45 lbs or whatever lb-wt plate and raise it from your hips to above your head while pressing outward. This is not a usual exercise but it adds variety.
Pains and Numbness: Simmons believes most cases of shoulder pain and reports of numbness in the hands during bench press work are not due to arm injuries but rather pinching of nerves in the serrati vertebrae. He recommends that you get a powerful friend to lift you off the ground while holding your chest and arms bear-hug style from behind.
Full-Range Dips and Weighted Dips: Simmons is not a fan of this exercise which he believes puts too much stress on the shoulder rotators.
On Bench grip: Simmons believes we should have a wide grip. His main complaint against the narrow grip has to do with shoulder rotation: if you look at the work being done by the shoulder rotators when you press with a close grip as opposed to a wider grip you can see that the close grip puts more stress and work on the rotators than does a wider grip. [Obviously the illegally wide grip also puts strain on the rotators – that is why Simmons says you should not use the illegally wide grip to improve your bench more than once a week.]
Regarding the 20 in 200 speed work rule – while Simmons says you should try out a heavier weight now and then he suggests you should not go above 500 lbs on speed day.
The speed workout shouldn’t last longer than 110 minutes. Use 60% volume rule for exercising tris, lats, and back.
Simmons believe shoulders should not be overworked.
Finally DON’T MISS A REP ON SPEED DAY although you may vary speeds.
Bench Press Max Effort Day
The main assistance exercises for this day are - floor presses - board presses - close grip inclines - rack lock-out exercises
When doing either speed bench work or assistance work using barbells make sure you move your grip around – variety will help make you stronger.
Why focus on speed? – The energy expended by a lifter involves that amount of weight hoisted times the distance through which the weight is moved. That’s not the end of the story, however. Obviously if you are holding a barbell over your chest statically, even though you are not moving the weight through space you are expending energy just holding it in place. Therefore there is an extra energy being expended in addition to the energy required to move a bar – therefore the quicker you complete a lift the less energy has to be diverted from moving the weight to holding the weight. As you increase your workout speed your 1RM should go up as well.
Bench Shirts – Simmons and WBC members do not use bench shirts in the gym at all but only put them on in contest. They believe the shirt only assists in the initial phase of the lift which they try to address in other ways before using the shirt. On the other hand the shirt doesn’t help with the lockout and that is where they think most lifts fail. [Alternative Opinion: J.M. Blakley believes that you should practice your heavier bench weights with bench-shirt frequently – his rationale is that the shirt throws you out of your regular shirtless groove and therefore preparation for a contest requires using the shirt in the gym.]
On Bench Max Effort Day no less than on Squat/Deadlift Max Effort Day you should vary your routine, your choice of assistance exercises, every two weeks. For instance, both the rack lock-out exercise and the board presses help you with the lock-out phase but the board press make you experience the difficulty of supporting the weight which the rack lock-out spares you from.
Simmons is against work-out partners giving each other lift-offs for bench exercises – he believes that this should be reserved only for the contest itself. He believes that learning to pull the bar off the rack with heavier weights will help develop lateral strength which is needed for the bench.
Try to establish a new 1RM PR or repetition maximum for ONLY ONE EXERCISE per max effort day. Trying to establish new PRs for all your four to five assistance exercises would burn you out.
Rack Presses: Always use this to go for a complete press out and lock-out – don’t just work on part of that range of motion. You should warm-up with 3 sets of 90% of your 5RM and then go for a new 5RM PR. Try to do this at least twice. Never have the bar lower than 6 (six) inches above the chest – the bench shirt and other exercises should address that range of motion..
Floor Presses: You are lying on your back to press the barbell up. You can add 20 lbs chains and do close-grips as well for 4 to 5 sets of 3 reps. Keep increasing chains until you miss a rep.
You can do the same with barbell and bands – the difference between bands and chains is that the bands never really relax whereas the chains do de-load when you lower the bar.
Illegally-Wide Grips: Simmons thinks that a maximum of 6 reps of using an illegally wide grip will help develop the chest strength needed for getting the bar up but he recommends against over-doing this exercise which is hard on your shoulder rotators.
Repetition Method: Every 2 out of 6 weeks instead of going for 1RM max efforts you can try going for a new maximum number of repetitions. You should attempt three sets to failure.
Doing dumbbell work on the stability ball is another WBC favorite.
IMPORTANT NOTE on MAX EFFORT DAY: Don’t worry if you don’t succeed in making new PRs in weight or numbers of repetitions – rather be concerned that you are making the MAXIMUM EFFORT.
For four weeks on Max Effort day for bench you should go for RMs for triples, doubles and single but for another two weeks your should go for maximum repetitions at lower weights. Remember always to switch exercises, or at least the configuration of your exercises every two weeks.
Incline Exercises: Always try to push yourself through the bench
More on Bench Technique:
From speed day you should have been conditioned to push yourself through the bench, and thereby push the bar through the space from chest to lock-out, as one continuous explosive motion.
Pull in your shoulders and flex your lats. Pull yourself off of the bench by grabbing the bench barbell in the rack and pulling yourself up so that you can pull in your shoulders tight and then lower yourself onto the bench with them tight. Fill yourself with air – Simmons actually recommends holding your breath through the entire bench because the pressure give more support to back. Keep back arched and PUSH YOUR BELLY OUT. Dave Tate says, “Remember, guys, you want to suck in your bellies on the beach for the girls but on the bench you want to stick them out as far as possible.” I quote this because it is unforgettable , not because it’s in politically correct taste. PUSH BACK, PUSH YOURSELF THROUGH THE BENCH!
Angle of legs and position on bench: o o ---------- | ---0 \----------- | ---0 / =========|==== \==========|==== / | | | \ | | | ___/ = = = ___\ = = = Right - feet,legs Wrong - does not and back form natural form a supportive arch arch
Make sure you push with your feet when you do bench.
Use of “Stability Ball” – The “stability ball” is a Swiss Exercise ball that is about 29 inches wide. Simmons believes that dumbbell presses on the stability ball are great for developing stability in the back. While your back must lay directly on the ball your butt must be hanging off of it. Elbows in and do dumbbell presses with heavy weights (at least 50 lbs). Do these to failure.
Five minute rests between sets are encouraged and then repeat set with same weights until failure.
Illegally wide bench presses are recommended no more than once a week for 6 sets.
Gymnastic rings are used for push-ups suspended off of ground with arched back, and with various hand positions (hands in front of chest, hands forward and hands backward. The truly ambitious can attempt it with feet positioned on stability ball.
IMPORTANT NOTE: On Max Effort days although you do max weights or maximum repetitions on all five exercise you attempt to establish new maximum records on only ONE EXERCISE – otherwise you’d burn out. Simmons and Co. nearly forgot to mention this.
More on Max Effort Days:
One exercise that Simmons thinks is great for abs and hips is the “Spread Eagle Sit-up.” His power rack has holes all the way down to the floor. The spread eagle is done by putting the cross-support bars through the lowest holes in the power rack and placing each foot under each bar and then doing sit-ups in this uncomfortable position. Additionally work-out partners can hold your legs in this uncomfortable position as you do your sit-ups.
Shoulder Work: Shoulder dumbbell press on the stability (Swiss) ball a is great exercise. Shoulders require raises and Simmons recommends that you increase the weights raised by the shoulders gradually.
Key Exercises for Bench Press On Max Effort Day: - Benches (with band, chain, barbell, dumbbell variations) - triceps work - lat pull downs - side lateral raises - abs work
In these five exercises do the maximum possible per workout.
“Be Ready for any Contest All Year Round” – as stated earlier Simmons does not believe in time off for the week prior to competition nor time off afterwards.
“If you are sick, go to the gym” – Kenny Patterson claims this makes him feel better and that he does a better workout because he is consciously fighting his illness as well. They seem to have flues and colds in mind. I’m not sure that they have post-bypass surgery in mind or serious back injuries. . .
Steroids and Supplements – Simmons does not think much of creatine. He believes all it really does is to pump up muscles with water retention and that while this is morale boosting for body-builders that it does not increase power significantly. He does not seem to be aware of the role of creatine in regenerating ATP from ADP in the Krebs Cycle. His other reason for having his lifters avoid creatine is that there is ample documentation in the medical literature of the role of creatine in causing muscle cramps and he believes that this is something to be avoided when squatting over 600 lbs or deadlifting huge weights.
Simmons is in favor of quality proteins and believes around one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is adequate. While he appeared to be neutral on the subject of steroids he did remark that the blood/urine profiles of lifters busted for steroids revealed a common deficiency in the minerals of magnesium, calcium, copper and zinc. Simmons is especially concerned about magnesium and calcium deficiencies since both minerals are essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system and motor-neural coordination and recruitment. He does not know whether steroid use causes these deficiencies in the tested lifters or whether they were due to other lifestyle factors but he encouraged all lifters, whether natural or drug-assisted, to take vitamin and mineral supplements so as not to be deficient in these needed minerals.
Simmons has good words for Poliquin Principles – why not? After all they are largely his own principles written up by Charles Poliquin.
Deadlifts: Although Simmons is “down” on machines, and is particularly skeptical of the value of leg press, leg extension, and leg curl machines, he does recommend his own reverse hyper-extension machine as well as his own ham/glutes machine. However he does say that “good mornings” and the “pull-through” exercises can accomplish what his ham/glutes machine is supposed to do.
Simmons on Mike Mentzer’s “Heavy Duty” Protocol: IT DOES NOT WORK – all of the exercise science and physiology refutes Mentzer’s extravagant claims on behalf of exclusively high intensity/low volume work.
Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, Science and Practice of Strength Conditioning (1-800-747-4457).
Russian books translated by Bud Charniga, ( 1-313-425-2862) Fundamentals of Speed Strength and Management of a Strength Athlete.