Louie Simmons is a powerlifter, strength coach and owner of Westside Barbell, possibly the gym with the strongest members in the world. With 50 years of competition experience in powerlifting, he’s also coached some of the best athletes in the sport including Dave Hoff, who currently has the biggest combined deadlift, squat and bench in the world at 3,005lb (1,363kg).
How you do powerlifts can show your weak points. If a bench press bar ends up over a lifter’s face, I know they have weak triceps. You must press the bar in a straight line out over you, lower it straight down and press it back up as straight as possible. That way you eliminate any rotation of the shoulders, which causes rotator cuff injuries or soft pec tears.
In the squat, people often lean over – that’s normally because they have weak abs or a weak back. Don’t turn the move into a good morning. Force your thighs apart and drive into the bar from the bottom of the move.
The traditional form of periodisation known as ‘blocked’ periodisation – which is when you work on one aspect of training at a time – is a disaster. You might do a month-long block to develop muscle mass and then another month-long block where you develop power, but by the time you get to block three you’ve de-trained from block one. In the same way, when you focus on training purely for absolute strength, you increase the weight and drop the volume hugely, and your gains become erratic and unpredictable. At Westside Barbell we use ‘conjugate’ periodisation, where you work on more than one aspect at once, so you’ll keep your power or the volume of your lifts up while you work on other factors.
Speed is key
I train using the dynamic method, where you use sub-maximal weights – say, 60% of your max – and train with maximum velocity. The other major way to train is to do ‘max effort’, which uses heavier weights. I recommend four workouts a week – a speed day and a max effort day each for upper and lower body, with speed and max effort days 72 hours apart. Your car has gears for different speeds, and you’ll damage it if you don’t use them all. The same applies to your body when training.
If you want to be more explosive, do lots of box jumps – 24 in a session if you’re a novice, 40 twice a week if you’re advanced. Just pick a moderate-sized box and use a weight vest, kettlebells, anything. It’ll improve your explosive power, because when your bodyweight stays the same, you can only produce so much force. Pulling a sled allows you to add more. You might have an incredible car, but it doesn’t get any faster if you drive it every day – you need to put more horsepower into it. That’s what I do.
At Westside we don’t just constantly train the big lifts, because that doesn’t address weak points. For instance, we never do reps with the deadlift because there’s no eccentric phase – we’ll do heavy singles, then build up weak points with moves such as box squats or good mornings. Train the body parts that are used in the big moves, not just the moves themselves.
Choose your weapon
Simmons uses an array of kit to work on his lifters’ weak points. Which is right for you?
Weak triceps? No problem – just get a friend to hold a board above your chest when you’re doing bench presses. It decreases the range of motion and allows you to work on sticking points.
By wrapping heavy resistance bands around the barbell you can increase – or decrease – resistance at the bottom of a squat, bench press or deadlift, allowing you to work hard throughout the full range of motion.
Drape them over the bar so they lie on the floor – as you push upwards, the added weight will make the move tougher. Also, you’ll feel like Mr T.
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