I am constantly asks “Why does Westside do this or do that?” Why, why, why!
When he asked “How did you come to the conclusion about training methods and exercises you use at Westside?,” I decided it was time to write this article.
We reached our conclusions after using a combination of Soviet training methodologies and special exercises developed at Westside dating back to 1982. Then, we used nothing but top 10 lifters, many who were or are all-time world record holders, for many experiments that lasted up to 18 months to verify the results.
Here is a list of reasons we use certain methods.
1. Why use a pendulum wave for speed strength for the classical lifts?
This approach to training by Arosiev suggested this type of planning for all special strengths. This can be found in Supertraining (Siff, Verkhoshansky, 2009). It was used for team sports that required sportsmen to maintain a certain level of strength. In the book, Managing the Training of Weightlifters (1982) A. S Prilepin shows data from 1974 that showed the minimal, optimal, and maximal number of lifts at a certain percentage. If you are training for speed strength where the average speed would be about 0.8m/s, Westside does 25 lifts per workout.
A. D. Ermakov and N. S. Atarasov’s 1975 data showed for 50 percent of their training doing between 75 and 85 percent. Russia, China, and Westside came to the same conclusion based on 780 highly skilled weight lifters. Westside uses 50-55-60 percent bar weight and 25 percent band tension at lockout. This adds up to 75, 80, and 85 percent at lockout. On the fourth week, go back to 50 percent and start a second wave. All the weights with maximal speed will build speed strength.
We use a pendulum wave because there are no wasted reps. Westside is always evolving and found that our lifters can perform five reps at the same speed as two reps. The result, a world record 900 at 105 pounds and a 1,035 at 220 pounds and a squat increase of 165 pounds going from 900 to 1,065 pounds at 242 in five months. For explosive strength use 30 to 40 percent and the optimal number of lifts are 36 lifts, six sets of six reps is optimal with two-minute rest intervals. For recovery, the volume, intensity, and velocity are kept perfect. Now on the fourth, switch bars if possible. This is only 20 percent of our training.
2. Why use max effort and why not a two or three or five rep max?
Let's start with the phrase maximal effort method. It is singular, not plural. This means one rep or a maximal exertion under an isometric condition or in a very slow movement against a maximal load. Remember in a contest of any of the five classical lifts, you do a single, not two or more reps. This builds strength endurance and is referred to as the submaximal effort method. The max effort method is considered best for improving both intramuscular and intermuscular coordination.
Remember, if you tackle a football player it is a maximal effort. If you run through the line, it is a maximal effort or you are sitting on the bench. This method brings the greatest increases in strength by using the most motor units. Know this, your body adapts only to the demand placed upon it. This method is intended for large barbell exercises: squats, pulls, Goodmornings. It is not for isolation exercises like sit-ups, leg curls, arm curls, or calf raises. It is used by top athletes who have been taught good techniques, but Westside starts lifters as young as 14 using max effort workouts. But only after a large GPP background. Two examples are Kenny Patterson, who started at 14 and became open world record holder at just 20 years old. Also, Dave Hoff started at 15 and squatted 1,005 at 19 and a 2,435 total at 252 body weight. He became the youngest to total 24-25-26-27-28-29 and 3,000 with no history of injuries. There are two max effort methods. First, you do a training max without exhibiting high emotion. A contest max is done with high emotional state while competing.
When doing more than 1 rep, it is the muscles you are training, not the movement. For the same lift, 72 hours should separate the dynamic method day and the max effort day. The max effort day is low volume with the barbell, but at the highest intensity possible on that day. The Russians, Chinese, and Westside count only all-time records in the classical and special exercises, small and large. It accounts for about 600 new records a year. The Bulgarian system calculated the highest weight lifted on a daily basis. It could account for about 4,000 maxes a year in both classical and special squats, pulls, and small special exercises. For sports I have seen an athlete do a set of five jumps onto a 53-inch box. This means they conserved their force production to do five jumps and never produced a force great enough to jump on a 53-inch box. You must learn to produce maximal force on a single attempt. In sports this is a must for blocking a punt, getting a rebound, or spiking on a volleyball court.
For more info, read Science and Practice of Strength Training by V. M. Zatsiorsky (1995).
3. Why Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT)?
The late Dr. Red Hatfield (a.k.a. Dr. Squat) brought to my attention in the 1970s that one must accelerate throughout the full range of motion or the total force value is lost to some extent. To train for a fast rate of force development (R.F.D.) it is recommended to use weights ranging from 30 to as high as 70 percent of a 1RM. For explosive strength this is high velocity 75 to 85 percent; for speed strength this is intermediate velocity. Strength speed or slow strength requires one to use a much higher percentage of band tension over barbell weight.
Here’s an example: A.J. Roberts during a strength speed phase made a box squat with 700 pounds of band tension, plus 510 pounds of barbell weight that equals 1,210 pounds. During the circamax phase, AJ made 740-pound barbell weight plus 440-pound band tension that equals 1,180 pounds. On meet day AJ made a 1,205-pound meet personal record.
For abrupt loading place bands over the plates as well as over the bar. A second method of abrupt loading is to use 200 pounds or 300 pounds of chain that unloads in the bottom of the squat plus bands over the bar.
We know by reading Supertraining that the amount of force a muscle can produce changes with different joint angles. It states that the greatest force possible is after the joint passes through the halfway point of the movement. This means that no matter how fast you push after the sticking point the weight becomes easy and the amount of force is decreased due to joint angles. Biomechanically the Fmm is a combination of muscular forces or tensions that undergo two transformations according to The Science and Practice of Strength Training—one joint movement and muscular forces which transform into external force. There are different muscular forces as body positions change. Remember CAT: when using less than a maximal load the Fmm will decrease at the end of the movement regardless. This is illustrated on page 40 figure 2.20 in Science and Practice of Strength Training. It shows the maximal isometric force Fmm to the bar at different body positions. This also happens while doing sports that require rowing, kicking or throwing.
CAT makes it possible to produce an increased muscle tension by moving the load as fast as possible throughout the entire range of motion.
4. Why do you use Accommodating Resistance (AR)?
The theory of CAT is good but somewhat incomplete. Go back to page 40 figure 2.20 in Science and Practice of Strength Training. It clearly shows that force changes as the bar travels through the full range of motion. But the problem is that it decreases near the end of the lift. You have all missed a lift at near lockout. Figure 2.20 shows why, but how can this be corrected in training? The answer is by using some method of variable resistance. One may think of authors Gones and Nacticus and their machines with their variable lever arms. As early as 1879 Zander developed a strength device to develop maximal tension throughout the full range of motion.
One method of variable resistance is isokinetic. With an isokinetic device the speed of motion is constant no matter how much force is developed. Let’s talk about different velocities. Motion velocity decreases as external resistance increases and inversely, maximum velocity Vmm is achieved when external resistance is close to 0, according to V.M. Zatsiorsky in The Science and Practice of Strength Training.
The best method of Accommodating Resistance Westside found is attaching chains or bands to the bar. The amount of chains or bands you add to the bar will determine the special strength you want to develop. For explosive strength where velocity is high, the total bar weight can range from 30 to 60 percent made up of mostly chain or band resistance or both. For speed strength, 25 percent of the load is made up with chain or band tension at lockout. Remember, you must have some amount of chain weight or band tension at the bottom of the lift. For near maximal weight ranging from 90 to 97 percent for circa-max training, the band tension is 39 to 47 percent. For example, for those who squat in the 700 to 800 pound range the band tension is 375 pounds. If you box squat 500 pounds plus 375 pounds of band tension you should squat 800 pounds at meet time. A 550-pound box squat plus 375-pound band tension, you will squat 850 pounds. With a 600-pound box squat with 375-pound band tension you will squat 900 pounds. Use the same band tension with a 650-pound box squat will render a 950 pound meet squat. A 1,000-pound squat on meet day is possible after a 600-pound box squat with 440 pounds of band tension. To prove this, Westside has more than 80 800-pound squatters and over a 1,000-pound squat.
Now back to AR. Chains provide AR by first deloading on the eccentric phase, then reloading on the concentric phase. This is the most natural way to provide AR. Band tension has an added bonus, as it provides an overspeed eccentric phase. This is very important as it increases kinetic energy (K-E). This helps the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). Many think of depth jumps for training the SSC, but there are others. A plyo swing can build reversible muscle action. Westside had a patented plyoswing that loads weight plates plus bands to increase velocity. To increase kinetic energy it is better to increase velocity rather than mass. A plyometric action that requires an amortization phase, also called the shock absorption, lasts only 0.15 seconds between the eccentric and concentric phases. But when sitting on a box or a floor press done correctly, meaning relaxing the muscle while contacting the floor for a brief time, it lasts up to four seconds due to deformation. This is due to muscle and tendon elasticity.
Rubber bands work similar to the muscle and tendon, adding more elasticity that plays an important role in raising motor output in all sport movements. This is due to stored energy that is equal to the amount of force applied on the eccentric phase that causes deformation. This happens during the support phase while running. What if a large man pushed down on a rubber basketball until it flattens out say three inches? Then he slides his hands off the ball very fast? It jumps off the floor due to stored elasticity. This is what happens when one absorbs the resistance on the eccentric phase. So you see, bands work best for variable resistance, but also for adding K-E with overspeed eccentrics, while building, and to some extent, changing the strength curves.
It has been said that with lifts that involve many body parts, chains won’t work. They are wrong. Glen Pendley and Travis Mash, two highly qualified Olympic weightlifting coaches have used chains for the two Olympic lifts. The chains must be loaded by using a support set of ¼-inch chain to hold the ⅝-inch chains so they have contact with the platform at all times. Look how Westside places chains on the barbell.
Bands work even better by preventing the force that is applied to the bar from diminishing as the bar reaches the top of the pull. Glen Pendley says it is great for pulling throughout the snatch. Bands can be used on all five classical lifts. You can see an AR device for the Olympic lifts in the 1983 weightlifting yearbook by Bud Charniga Jr. Westside has been using chains and bands on barbells for around 25 years and the author is credited with combinations of resistance methods in Supertraining.
5. Why does Westside use delayed transformation?
Starting in 1970 I would raise intensity and lower volume. It was a standard method of periodization leading up to a meet, sometimes referred to as Western Periodization. This was the only meet preparation known for American lifters. Its goals were to reach maximum intensity before a contest.
But Western Periodization had a major flaw. While intensity was as high as possible at the most critical time, the volume had been reduced. This was the logic to allow one to focus on only the largest weights possible. But a lifter must maintain a certain fixed amount of volume to sustain a true maximal. It was suggested to drop all special exercises before the competition cycle. This was a major flaw as well. Why do special exercises that benefit your strength then drop them before a meet, the most important time for barbell volume. A 1,000 pound squat must maintain 21,250 pounds of volume up to 28 days out from the meet.
This is backed up from Westside data collected from 26 men who squat 1,000 up to 1,210 pounds. Westside uses a 20 percent barbell to 80 percent special exercises ratio for our yearly plan. So how does Westside prepare for all meets? As you know, Westside uses a three-week pendulum wave style periodization from Arosive and others. It was very common for sports teams. All waves consist of 75, 80, and 85 percent at lockout with a combination of barbell weight plus chains, bands, or both. On every fourth week, it is rolled back to 75 percent. Westside uses a delayed transformation of 28 days devised by three renowned coaches: Matveyev, Y. V. Verkhoshansky, and Ivan Abadjiev. These gentlemen’s research made it possible for Westside to reach our highest results on all three lifts on contest day.
Other sports like track and swimming can benefit from a delayed transformation for important events. Charlie Francis, the renowned sports coach of Ben Johnson, used the same delayed transformation that a top swimming coach used to break world records.
For powerlifting it is of the utmost importance to break a squat record at all meets to make it possible to break your total record. The delayed transformation phase lasts 28 days. Twenty-eight days out from meet time, the lifter will use sets with 50 percent barbell weight plus 25 percent band tension. The lifts are limited to 15 lifts, plus 10 speed pulls with 50 percent bar weight plus 30 percent band tension. The special exercises stay the same. Let’s look at two examples: one for an 800-pound squatter and one for a 1,000-pound squat max.
To make an 800-pound meet squat you must box squat 500 pounds plus 375 pounds of band tension. It is done on seven lifts after a warmup: 315 pounds for two reps, 370 pounds for two reps, 405 pounds for one, 470 pounds for one, and 500 lbs for 1 rep on a parallel box raw or suit down, no wraps.
For a 1,000-pound meet squat, the normal procedure would be 405 pounds x 2, 455 pounds x 2, 500 pounds x 1, 560 pounds x 1, and 600 pounds x 1. The band tension would be 440 pounds or 44 percent of 1,000 pounds.
Let’s look at A.J. Roberts making a 2,855-pound world record total at 308 with a 1,205-pound squat.
- At 21 days out, 740 pounds plus 440 pounds band tension for Friday’s squat workout.
- On Monday, 18 days out, take opener deadlift with plates on 2-inch mats. This reduces leg drive and emphasizes more back function.
- At 16 days out, opener bench.
- At 14 days out, 75 percent of 21 day’s max.
- At 13 days out, normal speed bench workout.
- At 11 days out, train only special exercises: belt squat, reverse hyper, rows, hamstrings, etc.
- At 10 days out, floor press to a new max to alert CNS.
- At 7 days out, light box squats.
- Saturday before meet, do six sets of speed bench down from nine sets.
- Monday train lower back and legs like normal.
- Then rest and focus on weight cut.
As you can see our circa-max phase is concurrent with the delayed transformation phase. The weights for circa-max range from 90 to 97 percent. Westside always breaks new records during this phase, but always with some to spare. Remember train optimally. For the high level, do only on new record, as you have the other two lifts to train in the next few days. I hope this gives insight on how we combine our circa-max training in conjunction with our delayed transformation phase.
6. Why not squat to raise your squat?
The late, great Bill Starr wrote an article in the early 1970s entitled “If you want a deadlift, don’t deadlift.” His approach to increasing your deadlift was to stop doing regular deadlifts all the time and replace much of the training with special exercises like power cleans, Goodmornings, rack deadlifts, deadlifts while standing on a box, back hyperextensions, and many small special exercises like leg curls, leg raises, and so forth. It is a period of 18 months from mid 1971 to February 1973. This method increased my deadlift from 550 pounds to 670 pounds at 180 body weight. Westside adopted the same approach for the squat. One must squat on a box, and then train the muscles that squat separately. Tony Olievira came to Westside to train fulltime with a 900-pound squat. In three weeks the team competed and Tony made 890 pounds.
Just like Bill Starr’s method, Westside does not assess squat workout in a weekly plan, but rather evaluates the lifter by first watching their technique to determine if they are starting in the right direction, meaning performing correct biomechanical efficiency. Incorrect technique can lead to first pain, then injury. Pain can limit one from producing maximal strength. Pain from bad technique can reduce your neuromuscular efficiency. This can affect the skill one needs to perform a squat. To perfect the kinematic chain, one must display the correct sequence of muscular actions. This means developing the correct coordination patterns of motor skills.
Now let’s think. If you have bad form, repeating the same actions will only lead to accommodation, leading to diminishing returns. Tony would not sit back first in the squat movement, but instead go straight down, using the incorrect muscle group, meaning the quadriceps, which can lead to knee injury.
More squatting would not correct this. Building the major muscle groups to produce proper technique is the answer. If a boxer would slap you on the right side of your face, after the first time your response would be to block it with your right hand. If the boxer would always try to slap you on the right side of your face, you would develop the muscle action to block it over and over forever.
Our theory is likewise, meaning we would build the glutes to push back, while forcing your knees out to the side so the lifter starts the squat by sitting backwards, then down. This is the correct muscular pattern. First we must build a specific sequence for perfecting a perfect movement. Arched back Goodmornings play a great role in the process. To do an arch back Goodmorning, place bar in the squat position. Note not low bar. Now with a shoulder or wider stance, brace your abs against your belt. Next, lean forward with an extreme arch in your entire back. Never let your back bend at all. This is a very limited range of motion exercise, letting the bar go in front of the knees slightly, about six to eight inches. Hold bottom position for two or three seconds by super arching your spinal erectors, then complete the rep. Do three to five reps per set, working up to a heavy set, but never let the back lose the arch. To perform while leaning forward, push your glutes out to the rear while pre-stretching the hamstrings. To complete the lift, push against the bar to complete the lift. This is the same biomechanical pattern as the start and finish of the squat. To build the glutes and hips, you can walk in the ATP or do isometric holds. The holds can be for 60 seconds a set, by standing erect while pushing the hips forward and backwards simulating the correct start and finish of a squat or deadlift. A walking set can go up to two minutes a set. This work can be 10 minutes of actual work. This work fluctuates 15 degrees in either the up or down direction. This is a major exercise at Westside for both squatting and deadlifting.
Next, the hamstrings play a great role in squatting. Westside uses four exercises for the hamstrings. First, we use the inverse leg curl. This is a machine that allows one to do a Russian leg curl first, but reduces some of the athlete’s bodyweight. Take weight off lever arm until lifter is using just body weight. Then place lever arm on ground and you are ready to do a Russian leg curl plus added weight. Next, do calf-ham glute raises with weight. Both exercises rep range is two to six reps. Next, do standing leg curls. This exercise really builds the hamstrings around the knee. And last for building strength for muscles, but also connective tissue, do band leg curls. Here hook a band around your power rack while sitting on a bench and hook ankles through band and leg curl your heels under your glutes for a total of 200 reps a day. Do sets of 50 or more per set. Also, ankle weight leg curls, again 200 total reps per day, 10 to 20 pounds on each foot. Pick bands or ankle weights, not both on the same day. On our max effort day, the deadlift or heavy Goodmorning also help build your squat by building your entire back. Tony always does speed squats on Friday, totaling 25 lifts with an average weight of 80 percent. On Monday Tony does some type of squat two out of three weeks, almost always with a special bar. A lot with a very low box, or onto soft foam with a close stance, which is the opposite of his very wide stance. This training method produced a meet squat in just under six months to 1,065 pounds. That is a 165-pound increase not by squatting more, but by building his posterior chain. A hint for our Olympic weightlifting brothers: stop squatting four and five times a week and spend more time building your back and hamstrings and don’t forget your glutes.
7. Why do you say track athletes spend too much time running?
After one learns correct running technique, you must increase strength and power.
Why do men run faster than women? Simply they are stronger and more powerful. Women’s technical skills are on par with their male counterparts, but they lack the strength and power to run as fast or jump as high. Two things happen when running too much. One, you create a speed barrier. Constantly performing the same speed exercises or running the same distance at the same time, you develop a speed barrier. The athlete learns to run at a certain speed and no faster even if they become stronger, more flexible or have a faster reaction time.
Many coaches believe to become faster, more running must be included, but because of always repeating the same effort, the speed barrier grows.
Note: read The Science of Sport Training by Thomas Kurz.
If the athlete performs the same training load with the same exercises over long periods of time, the sports performance will decrease.
Performance comes from a result of adaptation, but the great sprint expert, Dr. Ben Tabachnik, said to adapt to training is to never fully adapt to training.
Note: much can be found about adaptation in Dr. Atko Viru’s book, Adaptations in Sport Training.
Progress comes fast in the beginning, but after a few years in the same program, there is often no change in performance improvements.
While advocating weight training, it must be done correctly. Learn to perform exercises correctly with explosive strength being the goal, and not building excessive muscle mass, adding to the athlete’s body weight. This concept works for any distance from 60 meters to running a marathon.
Don’t mistake becoming bigger means getting stronger. Remember, big ain’t strong, strong is strong. In Underground Secrets to Faster Running by Barry Ross, Mr. Ross brings up many valid points about faster running. Why should one become stronger and more powerful? Peter Weyland’s study found that force, not faster leg movement, produced faster times. It is greater ground force and minimal ground contact. Ninety percent of effort to run is to overcome gravity. This is about your strength level combined with how much you weigh. In Underground Secrets to Faster Running, he discussed a study found in the Journal of Biomechanics in 1987. It showed that amount of force used horizontally during constant speed is only one-tenth the amount of force used vertically.
This is why to run faster, you must overcome gravity. The stronger you are pound for pound, the faster you can run. Remember, the greater the mass, the greater the gravitational pull. To run faster, it requires three things: how much muscular force you can deliver during ground contact, ground contact time must be held to as minimal time as possible, and stride rate, meaning how often you contact the ground. And above all, weight training must be aimed at increasing strength and power, not adding unnecessary mass or body weight. Two methods of weight training are employed: the dynamic method, lifting or throwing a non maximal load with the highest attainable speed. Lifting 30 to 60 percent for developing a fast rate or force. For speed strength, training at 75 to 85 percent of a 1RM. The second method is superior for improving maximal strength.
This method uses the most motor units. Maximal speed or a maximal effort is all that should be used to make one more powerful and as strong as possible.
To run when the foot strikes the ground, there is a rapid change in both muscle length and the forces developed. This, again, is why strength and power must be emphasized. A study by L Paavolainen in 1999 entitled “Explosive Strength Training Improves 5-km Running Times” supported this idea. The study dropped 32 percent of the running and replaced it with explosive strength training. The weight training increased ground force that decreases ground contact time. The study showed that by decreasing one-hundredth of a second per stride on a 5km race that uses 2,500 strides, an overall reduction of 25 seconds can be made.
The more powerful sprinters who produce much greater ground force will have a greater reduction of ground force contact time, meaning a much greater sprinting time. First, however, one must learn correct running mechanics. Second, like the max effort method shows, you must remember that your body responds to the demands placed upon it.
For neuromuscular adaptation, one must run at top speed.
Try to increase the acceleration phase for as long as possible to limit the maintenance phase. That reduces the deceleration phase to a minimum. There are many fallacies like doing the high knee drills, when in fact this phenomenon creates a rebound effect that causes an increase in elevation due to reversible muscular action during the stretch-shortening cycle.
The last and possibly the most important part of all this is injuries. Track has far too many injuries through running too much, causing overuse injuries. When a top male sprinter makes ground contact, it can produce 1,000 pounds of ground force. Multiply this with the average ground strikes of 43 and it adds up to 43,000 pounds of force in roughly 10 seconds. The same athlete will never lift 1,000 pounds on both feet at a time in the weight room.
But the coach will repeatedly have their athlete overrun and cause them to reach a speed barrier. Charlie Francis said this can happen as early as 13-years-old. I had an Olympian visit Westside who ran in the 2016 Olympics and he informed me that he ran two times a week and only ran 50, 100, and 150 m, never longer. He worked only on acceleration for his 200 meter race. There is time for weight training all year long. It can be done in 25 minutes for athletes who squat or deadlift 550 pounds or less. After a fast warmup 5x5 sets at 275, 300, 325, plus 25 percent band tension will only take 15 minutes with 1½-minute rest intervals between sets for both squats and deadlifts. This leaves 10 minutes for small special exercises for the most important running muscles. For max effort work, working up to a max, doing only singles, takes very little time.
This leaves lots of time for your running training and all important restoration.