Westside Barbell- The Strongest Gym In The World

WHO MADE WESTISDE IN THE 90 ‘S?

Posted on October 13 2016

A lot happened from 1991-2000 at Westside.

I almost died in 1991. I ruptured my patella tendon during a low box squat. I am very sensitive to anesthesia, and the doctor knew this, but somehow after giving me a shot to calm me down for surgery, I fell asleep and they gave me anesthesia. I stopped breathing for four minutes and had to be trached as well as given chest tubes. This was a setback, to say the least. I woke up three days later and spent another four days afterwards in the hospital. I was 43 in ’91 and said I was done powerlifting after this miss hap. Little did I know, I would return again for yet another 20 years, But, let’s talk about the men who made Westside what it is today. We were at a local bench meet when I saw a jacked up guy lift without gear. At the time, in 1991, a shirt was only good for 25 to 50 lbs. George Halbert was his name. He benched 470 lbs. raw, as they say today, and was second to Jimmy Ritchie with 475 lbs. in a shirt. Jimmy told George that he could do more in a shirt, but George said he made only 473 lbs. in a shirt.

Tom Waddle knew George and said he would like him to come bench with us on Sunday, at Tim Vanhorn’s place. Only our top benchers were allowed to go to Tim’s to bench, the rest had to stay at Westside and suffer. There were just three benches and about 15 of us, so you really had to earn your spot. One day I challenged Chuck V., who had the number one bench, to bench and he said, “Mother F’er, catch us when we are out of shape”, I said “You mother F’ers are always out of shape!” When it was done, they beat us by 10 lbs. and got to keep the bench. I guess this is what George said is why he did not come to Westside for 2 years. He said, “I heard those Westside guys are crazy”, but he eventually became a Westsider and still is today. To Tom Waddle, you talked George into coming. His main training partners were Kenny Patterson and Gerry O. In ’93, I wrote an article in Powerlifting USA, entitled Three of a Kind. We were the only gym with three 600 lb. benchers, wow it has come a long way.

Arnold Coleman was just starting and later became the world record holder in the squat and total at 181. Chuck Vogelpohl would eventually not only break world records, but do so in three different weight classes. At 220 lbs. he was the lightest man ever to squat 1,000 lbs. But all still holds the world record at 42 of 1,140 lbs. His 1,180 lbs. squat at 264 lbs. bodyweight. He was the greatest squatter of all time. Until his teammate Dave Hoff would do 1,210 at 271 lb. bodyweight. These numbers seem crazy after Matt Dimel’s 1,010 lb. world record at SHW in the 80’s.

J. M. Blakely also benched with us. He was a very strong bencher. I remember JM doing 585 lbs. for easy sets of three reps. George was a real student of the game, he was very fast. Kenny had a great lockout. Then there was Jim, who was very slow but not explosive. It was very profound when George said he learned a lot from JM and Kenny, but that they never learned anything from him. Gerry O was to win a national championship. Like today, only top ranked lifters trained at Westside back in the 90’s.

Dave Tate came to Westside but was not sure about our system. But after six months of no progress, he jumped on board and began to make great progress. Dave was very explosive and also very crazy. His name was Zippy in the gym, when the crazy came out to play. He was a great training partner with his Zippy fired personality, along with Chuck V. who could never do enough in the workouts, and the two carried me along with them. I know they tried to kill me, but I am still in good enough shape to be their pallbearer, you assholes.

Chuck was one of the strongest men I ever trained with. I saw him do 1,100 lb. rack pulls from just above the knee and a good box squat with 885 lbs. of bar weight plus 640 lbs. of band tension. Chuck and I would workout for 30-45 minutes before anyone else showed up. He would do 1,000 crunches a day and too many lat pull downs to count. I asked him, “What do you get out of lat pull downs?” He said, “Nothing, I just like to do them.” I also asked him, “What do you get out of those heavy pulls?” He said they taught him how to strain. I thought, “He knows how to strain”, but I guess that is how he discovered to do so. Then it made sense. He was not only a lightweight 220 lb. champ at the WPO but also the heavyweight champ at 275 lbs. This was not an easy task as the world’s best lifter at the Arnold Classic.

Westside was never and will never be a gym, but rather a club. This is important, as everyone has a role helping with loading and with the lifter. An army is only as strong as its weakest soldier. That is the saying I would attach.

Joe McCoy was a young, great lifter at the time, winning a WPC world at 19 years old. He trained with George Halbert and Kenny Patterson, along with the others. Kenny Patterson was the youngest to hold an open world record at 19 years old with a 716 lb. bench press. In Texas, John Inzer put on a Bash for Cash along with Joe McCoy. George was lifting in their first big money meet. As was Anthony Clark, a big star, looking to his 800 lb. bench which would be a milestone at the time. I think he made a 770 lb. bench in his reverse grip style. At the end, there was $10,000 in cash and prizes for the winner. It was given to Clark. But, being very good at math, I found that Kenny had actually won instead. But everyone had left the building. I told John Inzer. He made it good by sending K.P. money and all kinds of stuff, including a Dune Buggy. Even today, John Inzer is a great friend to Westside and its lifters, helping out in any way possible.

George made his benches mostly from his strong chest. Because of this, he had many tares. I told him he must make his triceps stronger so that they can carry most of the load. One day, after speed bench, George tried a 495 lb. close grip bench, but missed it at the top. He was not happy to say the least. On the next ME day, he chose to do close grip. I knew he would. He made 495 close, but afterwards missed 515 close. Then, he loaded 550 lbs. on the bar. KP and I told him not to do it, just to F with him. He takes a wide grip, and blows up a raw 550 lb. bench. At that point, KP and I dropped to our knees and said “We are not worthy” over and over again as we raised our hands over our heads 10 times. Long live King George.

Tom Waddle was a great team member, but was very unpredictable to say the least. After many tries, Tom finally won his first Senior Nationals. After pulling the winning deadlift, I ran on stage to congratulate him and he yells, “Westside rules,” just as I get to him he also yells out, “and you all suck” to about 700 people in the audience. I about passed out. But that was Tom, Westside to the bone, forever.

George could blow up anything of his chest, but could not lockout big weights. Kenny P. was just the opposite. But, George finally got it right. And the two were almost even for years. George started out at 275 lbs. bodyweight but took his weight down to 198 for his first world record. In Daytona, George made three world record benches to beat the then current world record holder, Dave Waterman. In the warmup room, Dave said to me, “I have never had even competition before,” and I replied, “You do now.”

Rob “Fuzz dog” Fusner broke the 308 world bench record giving Westside three bench world record holders at the same time. I don’t think this has ever happened, before or after. Kenny P. and George were the best coefficient benchers in the world for almost ten years. Rob was also very strong in all the powerlifts. In York, PA, at the IPA World Cup, Rob was lifting against Dave Barno, a strong competitor and friend. But on that day, Rob beat Dave. It was not easy to beat Dave, but Rob came through for Westside. These guys could bench about 600 lbs. and at the time, you only got up to 100 lbs. out of the best shirts.

Kenny P. was not doing well, and I said, “Kenny, I am going to come out of retirement after tearing my patellar tendon in half, plus almost dying in ’91.” This was now 1995. KP said to me, “Old man, you will never have 700 lbs. on your back again.” Well, he brought me out of retirement and I made in the 7’s, 8’s and even 920 lbs. putting me third in the Open World plus fourth in the total, at 50 years old. I can thank Kenny for my success. But, Kenny never did break his 728 world record again. He made it possible for me to make a 1,885 lb. total at 63 years old, 20 years after I had retired, making top 10 for 30 years and a USPF Elite Total for 37 years. Thanks KP.

Tom, Kenny, Rob, and Mickey Tate are long gone, but George is still training a group of benchers at Westside. I remember Mickey Tate was at Vanhorn’s gym one Sunday to bench with the rest of our top benchers. On the way to Tim’s, I had a talk about pain with Matt Dimel, my redheaded stepchild. He had a terrible injury to both knees and was having trouble with it, he felt the fear of pain. While driving I said, “Look you fat F’er, it is in your head.” Now I am waiting for him to smack me in the mouth, like he did many times. But nothing happens. He then says, “You’re right buddy. It is in my head.” I was relieved for a while. But, when we got in the gym, he started putting on wraps and all kinds of painers. I said, “I told you it’s in your head.” At that he came after me, all 370 lbs. of him, and ran me into a corner where about 10 eight ft. lights were standing. He drove me through them and into the wall, and all the bulbs went into my back. But, I had him by his long hair and beard and attempted to make him look like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Meanwhile, he is kicking and punching me. After a while, he stopped and I let go of two hands full of hair. I go right to the bench and do my set. After getting up, there was blood all over the bench, and lots of glass stuck in my back. Like nothing happened. Until after the workout, Mickey Tate says to me, “Don’t ever do that again. You two scared me to death.” I laughed. Because Mickey had been in jail for shooting someone. That was Westside in the 90’s.

Due day at Vanhorn’s, George went to out-bench the great Larry Pacifico, who I saw bench 590 at 228 in the early 1970’s. But that was a good reason to try it unofficially. KP jumped in like a good training partner. First George, then KP. 475, to KP’s 480. Then 545, to KP’s 550. Then 585, and KP made a strong 590 and called it a day. But George went on to his first 600 lb. raw bench. What a day. George said a great monument in his past was watching KP at John Inzer’s bench meet. George made 650 and missed 672 and then sat in the front row to watch KP make a 716 world record. But it was how he did it, George recalls it must have taken 10 seconds to lock out and win top coefficient bench over Clark. Then, a few weeks after KP made 728 to make him the greatest bencher of all time.

Joe McCoy was one who thought that the weights might be light at the big money events, but after his opener he said to me, “The weights are real.” Eskil Thomasson came to visit Westside from Sweden a few weeks before the money meet because he did not believe that we trained like we said we did. I told him we were going to Texas for the meet and he said he would come along to report it in the magazine he was writing for. After the meet, he was sold and moved to Westside for 10 years, until he had to move back to take care of his mother. Eskil was bigger than me and he could not out-squat, out-bench, or out-total me. But, in his last meet with Westside, in York, PA, he said he would beat my 722 lb. deadlift. No way Jose. On his last try, he pulled 725 lbs. to beat me. And, while he was holding the deadlift, after the down signal, he said in his witches voice, “F you Louie Simmons.” It was a great day for him and myself to see him make that lift, we will both remember that day forever. Stay strong, Eskil, you fag.

George had a history of back problems and asked if it would be ok if he just did bench meets from here on out. He had already made an Elite Total. So I said, “Sure. You earned it.” George started losing body fat but kept his bench strong. He knew the gym was for trying new and improved ways to train, and we had the guys that could do just that. Westside was always evolving, through countless hours of intense work.

The gym had up to 155 lb. dumbbells, which no one could do 20 reps of. Or so I thought. I made 13 reps, KP could only do 16 reps, for some reason on a stability ball. I told George, when someone could do 20 reps with the 155’s, I would buy 175’s for the gym. I remember, George had just got off work and was in his work jacket when he came in the gym with the blacked-out windows. I told him if he could do 20 reps with 155’s, I would buy 175’s. George goes right over to the 155 lb. dumbbells and does 20 reps dead cold. I could not talk for once. The next week, we had 175 lb. dumbbells, for those who could do them.

George and KP were ruling the bench at Westside. But then an eccentric man came to Westside to erase a lot of records on the record board, who was this man? J. M. Blakely. He is the man behind the JM Press. I handed out 545 for 3 reps, of the now known JM Press, to him. And so we named it the JM Press. It is still a major part of our bench training at Westside.

Dave Waterman was one of our top rivals at money meets. Dave was the first 181 to bench 600 lbs. His 628 lb. record did not last long before George finally had a good meet. There was a bench meet in Lumberton, NC that offered $8,000. That was a lot of moola so I called them to be sure they really had $8,000. They said yes. I told them we will be down, and to have the money in small bills. Lumberton is a very small town where if you wanted to take a girl out to impress her, you took her to Denny’s. They had no idea who would show up for that kind of cast.

We had three world record holders. Plus Waterman showed up as well. The bench came from Kmart, it was about 8 in. wide, and the head ref. would only use 45’s. No 100’s on a Kmart bar. JM said it was like maxing out with a 3 in. cambered bar, it bent so much under heavy weights. First, Dave Waterman fell off the bench three times. He was gone. But, with our three world record holders plus JM and Mickey Tate winning the Masters, we took home all the cash. I did not think we would get out of that town alive. The head ref. hated me, along with his sister, or wife, or both, I’m not sure. I guess because I handed out to everybody. George had a bad day but came through for some cash. KP was always on. And Waterman always did great, but not on a slippery 8 in. wide bench. Our guys had always had it out for Waterman, after he had become the first 181 to bench 600 lbs., and said he not only was the greatest bencher, but also the best looking. We hated him, but at the same time, loved him for his talent and for being a great competitor. Much like a rabbit in track. But, we finally killed the rabbit.

Glen Chabot also comes to mind as a great guy, and very strong. I think he had a 665 lb. raw bench at 275. He always had a lot to say, like if he did not win The Arnold he would retire. So when The Arnold came around, I walked up to him and said, “I heard you are retiring, Glen.” He got a big laugh out of that. And to answer the question, he retired.

I hate kilo plates and here is why. In Daytona, KP called for 722 but was miss-loaded to 821. After getting a reload, it had taken too much out of him, and Waterman won, again.

George said he wanted to lose weight and go down to a lighter class. Jerry Schwenker, a national level bodybuilder with a big bench, helped George out with a diet. At the same time, he also built up his lockout. This was due to band training, now known as Combination Methods Training, a term coined by Dr. Mel Siff in Supertraining. One group was testing bands on the bench, mainly our top benchers, meaning world record holders. And Chuck V., Dave Tate, and myself in the squat and deadlift.

Back to Daytona and Waterman again, plus the giant killer, Markus Schick, was in the house. This time George beat Dave, 650 to 628. KP made a 688 lb. world record at 220. Now, George went on a tear, on the next 9 attempts he made 8 world records. But, Marcus won best lifter. With Doug Heath, George, KP, and Rob Fussner holding world record benches, we were the most dominant benchers the world had ever seen.

How much is too much band tension? Just ask Westside. The saying goes, “If you live by the sword, you die by the sword.” Too much band tension hurt George’s peck, and also broke his best bench by 50 lbs. a couple weeks before he pulled out in the warmup room at The Arnold. Rob lifted and tore his peck completely off in his opener, and was then gone for good.

At about this time, Tony Ramos came to the gym and brought along Paul Keys to train. Paul was really a strong bencher. He made a 625 lb. floor press. And to add to the list, J. L. Holdsworth, one of the strongest full lifters I have ever seen. He could also floor press 625 lbs. In just four meets he made the fourth highest total ever made. But, an old back problem put him out of our great sport. Tony Ramos still holds the total and deadlift marks at Westside. He is known as the ninja, because of how he disappears and reappears all the time.

I remember, at one point, Paul made 615, KP made 625, JM made 610, George made 625, Mike Wolfe made 620 (now 639), and Nick Winter made 700. All raw. McCoy did 515, but at 184 lbs. bodyweight. I was very proud of our men. Like many, George was convinced that board pressing was the key to a big bench. But, I told him, he must touch his chest, after all that is the hardest part of the lift for most. I got George to use a cambered bar with an 11/2 in. camber. Then in his next meet, he broke the world record twice, with 744 and then 766. No third attempt because he hurt his shoulder. This would be George’s last world record. It took a couple of years to recover to where he could do 535 for four reps.

Matt Wenning was training at Westside and was closing in on 600 raw. But during a gym shootout, George’s peck was separated from the bone completely. George knew he could not compete again and felt he should leave the gym for good. I told George he is Westside, he and the men I have mentioned throughout this writing. And that he must stay and train others and teach them like he was taught, not only by me but by the other greats before him and his training partners. Matt won the raw shootout at Dave Tate’s gym that day.

I remember, at The Arnold one day, we were leaving when I heard some young guy call out to me, “Mr. Simmons, Mr. Simmons, can I talk to you?” I said sure. He was going to Ball State and wanted to come train at Westside. I said sure. He wanted to learn what I had been doing since 1982, about the time he was born. He came to train, became very strong, and started a personal training business. He left Westside and quit competing in gear shortly after breaking the total record in the 308’s. It only lasted about three minutes. Then, his new training partner, Chuck Fouks, broke it with his monster deadlift, making 900 lbs. in just four meets.

I am proud to say not only Matt trained at Westside, but also, Dave Tate, you made Elite Fitness. Jim Wendler of 5-3-1 Fame, although it does not add up, trained at Westside. Along with the Brandon Lilly and his cube system. And of course, Mark Bell and his Super Training gym. If there was a problem, it could be solved inside Westside, by someone, including Drex Welch, Gabe Reitter, and many, many others.

A lot of this information came from George, as he helped me write this. Because I nearly died in ’91, I could not put things in proper order.

If you want to learn all about who built Westside, look for the next edition.

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