Friday, July 15, 2011


While on the road the last ten days, I have been able to indulge in listening to the incredible, the one and only, Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell fame.  Louie is funny, but trying to follow him is like trying to follow flubber through a raquetball court with 10 good players - the stuff just comes from anywhere and everywhere and you have to be ready for him to say anything as he free thinks his way through the mountains of information and concepts he's applied to his profession over the last forty plus years of elite powerlifting.

Louie is 62 or so, and still squats over 700 pounds, benches over 450, and deadlifts over 600.  That wouldn't be easy for any 62 year old, but Louie does in spite of having broken his back twice, and tearing his pec and shoulder tendons at least twice.  The way he tells the story, his pain could be your salvation, because he says he's learned to train now in ways that give more strength with less injury.

Westside Barbell
CrossFit Journal (search for Louie Simmons)

In the many videos and articles by Louie in the CrossFit Journal, Louie lays out the principles of his methods.  Big picture, variation is the key.  Western style block periodization doesn't work, he says, because it is limited by the law of accommodation - that is, as the body becomes accommodated to a stimulus, it will no longer adapt.  This concept should not sound strange to a CrossFitter, the prescription for which is "constantly varied functional movements at high intensity."

Louie's system is three fold - go heavy in the major lifts once per week, but almost never do the same heavy movement two weeks in a row.  That means they work on many variants of the deadlift, going for a PR in each variant, but it may be weeks before they lift in the movement they will use in competition - as Louie puts it, "there are builders and there are testers." Builders are movements that develop strength, while testers are movements they will use in competition. Part two is speed work - they use 50-60 percent of their 1RM and strive to move the bar at maximum speed, again in some variant of the major lifts.  Lastly, after the max effort days and the dynamic effort days, they work on their weaknesses using the repetition method - in other words, while working the compound movements that are the three power lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press) they lift heavy, or lift for speed, but they use many sets with reps that rarely exceed 3, with short rest intervals in between.  Then, to work on weaknesses, maximize their GPP, and perhaps bulk a little, they use high rep isolation movements for 2 to 3 sets.

What that amounts to is four days in the gym, with relatively short workouts when one considers that these incredible men and women are the strongest group of humans on the planet.

Louie's system is a brilliant simplicity, and based on Westside's performance, you'd have to bet it works. I've always wondered how much Westside's focus on variation influenced CrossFit founder Greg Glassman as he developed CrossFit's prescription - perhaps someday I can ask.  Of course - he may have just stumbled across the truth as Louie did after many years of frustration.

As you think of your own training, remember the law of accommodation - if you are doing the same things, eventually, your body is no longer stimulated, and will stop adapting.  If you can think of new ways to get the stimulus you desire, and train with sufficient intensity, the body will continue to adapt.

It's taken a year or more of haphazard study for me to get my head around what Louie's method entails, and it's been a pleasure to gain some understanding of it.  I have a plan for how to use Louie's ideas to enhance my "work capacity across broad time and modal domains" - CrossFit speak for becoming more fit - as part of CrossFit's generalized training.  My goal is to surpass my prior PRs for the squat (365), deadlift (400), and press (172) in 2011 - but be able to complete a 5 minute Fran, a 10 minute Helena, and a 20 round Cindy!

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