The Mad Monk of Power Lifting
An Interview With Louie Simmons
by Nelson Montana
Louie Simmons knows strength. To most bodybuilders, strength is a fringe benefit to weight training. A means to an end. To power lifting guru Louie Simmons and his disciples, strength is the end, the beginning, and everything in between.
Louie owns and works out at the Westside Barbell in Ohio. This is not your ordinary health club. It's more akin to a dark and dank torture chamber. Its members are warriors. A squadron of strength with one ultimate quest: lifting more weight. Nowhere in sight are there treadmills, neon lights, or even a leg extension machine. Only iron, and lots of it. It's a safe bet you won't see too many of its inhabitants flexing their calves in the mirror. This is a place where only the most serious of elite strength-training athletes come to push the boundaries beyond what any mortal man (and woman) would consider unfathomable. Some of Louie's personal bests in the major lifts defy belief. He has squatted over 800 pounds and benched over 600 pounds, at the age of 51! He is the only man over 50 to accomplish such a feat.
Mention things like "going for the pump" or "training instinctively" to Louie Simmons and you're sure to get a glare from his steely eyes that would turn your blood cold. To Big Lou, training is a science. Pure and simple. But unlike so many of the pseudo-science pundits that espouse their concepts by presenting unnecessarily complicated (and often contradictory) information that sounds more like it was meant to subjugate than enlighten, Louie provides clear cut, practical training advice that has proven itself in numerous case studies. Even if your goal is not so much strength, but increased muscle, there comes a time when the stone cold facts toward more growth means lifting weights that are heavier than you've ever lifted before. In this exclusive interview for Testosterone magazine, powerhouse Louie Simmons shows you how it's done.
NM: Louie, let's start by telling the readers a little about yourself and your training facility.
LS: I own Westside Barbell, which is a private gym. The strongest gym anywhere! I can show that by saying this...we have 22 people who have squatted over 800 pounds. Seven of my members bench press over 600 pounds, three of which are world record holders. One guy does 657 at a bodyweight of 220. Another does 688 at 242, and another still can bench 728 at 275.
NM: Unbelievable! These are all clients of yours?
LS: No, I don't believe in personal training. I accept a member into the gym, and I'll toss him out if he doesn't do his work. I have, however, been a consultant to the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots, plus lots of major college teams.
NM: What are the basic principles of your strength-training methods?
LS: I'm a speed/strength expert. It's all about speed. If you're fast, I can make you strong. I believe in working within the relationships between force and velocity, and you have to train at 60% of your one-rep maximum to do that. If you work heavier than 60%, the bar will move too slowly to build maximum force. We do not use any machines because they don't accommodate resistance correctly. We also include stretch bands and chains attached to the bars.
NM: And all movements are fast and explosive?
LS: Correct. Things like slow repetitions and negatives just make you sore! They will increase size, but they do nothing to increase strength, so we don't do them! For our bench, as an example, we do eight sets of three reps at 60% of the max, with 30 seconds rest between sets.
We at Westside don't concern ourselves with muscle growth, but I will say this: the average guy who trains here gains about 40 pounds in two years! Mostly from squats and good mornings. We live on good mornings. Standing, straddled on a bench, bent leg, straight leg, flat back. Everything! Even seated.
NM: Seated? That's a new one!
LS: It's a great rehab exercise.
NM: Good mornings are an excellent movement that you rarely see anymore. A related movement is the hyperextension, and I understand that you invented a "reverse hyperextension" machine?
LS: Yes, I invented it in 1974 as a rehabilitation device after I fractured my fifth lumbar vertebrae and I couldn't do anything else. It's the only device that rotates the sacrum and actually opens up the disk area, allowing fluid to go into the soft tissue. So it not only builds up the lower back, but it works as restoration.
NM: Explain the "kneeling squat."
LS: Basically, you load the bar on a power rack and, while on your knees, you sit back, much like a child would sit back on his feet while watching television. The only thing that moves is the hip. Watch a good squatter and you'll notice the shins never move. The back stays straight. The only things that moves are the hips.
All the standing squats we do are box squats. You go from yielding the weight downward and, as you're "sitting" on the box, the action is overcome by dynamic effort?that's why it makes you so strong. Even though you're on the box for a second, you're still maintaining the energy of the eccentric portion of the lift. We do believe in doing many different exercises because the more exercises you do, the more coordinated you become at doing any one exercise.
NM: Many of the exercises you employ contain unorthodox movements throughout their execution. I would imagine that moves like squatting on your knees or seated good mornings must be seen in order to be executed correctly.
LS: For that reason, we have two videos available. One for squatting, and one for benching. They go into great detail...all the great stuff we're doing. (To order, call 614-276-0923.)
NM: Some people's body types are better geared for heavy training. Do you have any examples of people who may not have been too strong to start out with, but showed considerable improvement using your methods?
LS: Well, I have trained five women, all of whom have squatted or deadlifted over 500 pounds! Anyone can benefit from this because I don't work on the muscle, I work on the central nervous system. That's the key. You can have a large body that isn't nearly as strong as a smaller body. People think that tendon strength is a factor, but tendons have very little blood supply. The best way to work the tendons is through ultra-high reps.
NM: What is the biggest mistake people make when trying to obtain more strength in a lift like the bench press?
LS: They need to strengthen their arms! The pecs are weak muscles. That's why the pecs can get sore or injured from benching, but the tris rarely get sore or injured. It's important, also, to lift in a straight line. In order to improve your squat, you need to strengthen the stomach, especially the external and internal obliques. This is why people wear lifting belts. They either have bad technique or weak abdominals. All my abdominal work is done standing up. I do pulley crunches facing away from the machine, but instead of kneeling, I remain standing. It's a much more natural use of the abs than while sitting or kneeling. Muscles have to relate naturally to one another in order for a person to be strong.
Another problem with most training techniques is that there's too much rest in between sets. Even training to ultimate intensity, if you wait five minutes before doing the next set, you're not really working any new muscle fibers. It's just a repeat of the first set. With our methods, we rarely have injuries. And we never burn out, which happens a lot with guys who use the HIT or Heavy-Duty methods. Personally, I work out 13 times a week, year-in and year-out. I do four normal, 60-minute workouts, and the rest is "specializing training" like erector work. And I never burn out, even on little sleep. If someone were to use the high-rep, high-intensity style of training for more than four weeks, their progress will start to go backwards!
I worked with Mike Francois for a short period, and we used the same techniques. But we worked on what he needed. He wanted his legs bigger, which I thought was impossible, and we worked doing incline squats (similar to a hack squat), and he would never lock his legs. We got them bigger!
NM: Are there any supplements that you've found to be helpful in your strength training?
LS: I'm not really an expert on supplements. I think glutamine is good. But for the most part, I take lots of Tribulus and Saw Palmetto. That works great. I do not like creatine due to the fact that it can cause cramps.
NM: What is your stance on the use of steroids?
LS: The dangers are way overrated. It's corticoid steroids that they inject football players with every day that will kill you! Personally, I've done anabolic steroids straight for the last 28 years.
NM: Do you cycle?
LS: No, I stay on. I don't believe in periodization in training, either. I use mostly anabolics like Equipoise and Laurabolin until it's time for a competition, and then I do the harder androgens. I do not take Anadrol. I've never had any problems. I know guys who take much more than I do, to the point where you can call it abuse, and they don't seem to have any problems, either. There's no possible way I can train the way I do without taking anabolics, but the same techniques of training apply even if you're natural. I've also used the andro products and find that they give a greater boost in aggression than steroids! At least temporarily. I use them right before training.
NM: After reading this interview, I'd venture to guess that a lot of our readers will want to get in touch with you or, at least, have a consultation over the phone. Is there a number where you can be reached if someone wants you to work with them?
LS: You don't have enough money! I only work with the people in my gym, and I'm very selective about who I let into my gym. For example, I have a guy named Brett Bartley who now squats 925...
NM: 925?! That's amazing!
LS: He's a total freak of nature: 25-inch arms! It's people like him that I work with. I decide who to let in, and I decide who to kick out. We have some of the strongest men in the world training at Westside because these methods work. This is not a "theory." It's proven.
NM: Lou, at age 51, you are showing absolutely no signs of slowing down.
LS: I'm stronger than ever.
NM: I hope we can do this again. And the next time we speak, I'll be expecting your numbers to be even higher [jokingly]!
LS: You can count on it.
After our interview, Louie returned to his beloved domain of pain to join his legion of supermen. His is an imposing, almost menacing figure: 242 pounds of raw power dressed in oversized shabby sweats that evoke the image of a mad monk overseeing some select cult. As he lurks among the catacombs of the gym, one gets the feeling that he looks upon its members with an almost parental pride.
If you're ever in the area of Westside Barbell in Ohio and are curious to take a look around its premises, I would recommend that you approach it with extreme trepidation. This is a brotherhood of very dangerous people, and they don't take kindly to sightseers. Unless you are able to hang with the big boys, you're not welcome. But if you hear screams of agony and the thunder of tonnage crashing to the ground, you're probably in the right neighborhood.
To order one of Louie's fine instructional video tapes, call 614-276-0923.
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