In Part 1 of this four part series, Dave covered the first three keys of his strength development system: coaching, teamwork, and conditioning. In this segment, the big guy will cover the strength portion of the Westside program.
To be strong you must have strength. Pretty simple concept, don’t you think? So did I, but then I started getting a lot of e-mails telling me strength isn’t important for sports. So I had to go back to the drawing board and rethink this one. After many hours of deep thought I still have to say: strength is very important! A quick football example and I’ll move on to how to develop strength.
I’ve been told there’s no need for a lineman to be able to squat over 350 pounds as he’ll never have to move more than that on the field. This may be true if he had to move the 250 pound guy one time and it didn’t matter how fast he moved him. We know in the game of football that the rate of force development is very important. You don’t want people being moved slowly. We know from Mel Siff’s writings that max force in the barbell squat can be measured at around 60%. At Westside we’ve found close to the same percentage to be true.
The other thing we know is the average play will last under ten seconds and there’ll be between three and ten plays per drive. Our lineman who squats the “recommended” 350 will now be able to create max force at 210 pounds and may or may not be conditioned to do this more than one time. Too bad the guy across from him weighs 350! Who will wear who down?
Now, if the lineman could squat 600 pounds he’d create max force at 360. Does he have to actually squat 600 pounds? No! But he better be able to create max force with 350 pounds for eight to ten sets of two to three reps (around ten seconds set length) with 45 to 60 seconds rest. If not, he’s at a disadvantage.
So how do you get strong?
We use a method called the max effort method. This is lifting heavy weight for one to three reps. There are two max effort training days per week, one for the lower body (squat) and one for the upper body (bench). One max effort movement will be completed for each day. The best movements for beginners to use are listed below:
Max Effort Squat Movements
Standing on 3 inches of mats or boards for 1 rep max.
2. Good Mornings for 3 to 5-rep max sets.
When you become used to the movement, then singles should be performed.
3. Close Stance Low Box Squats for 1 rep max.
Set the box so your hip at the crease of the leg joint is three inches lower than parallel.
4. Safety Squat Bar Squats
If you have one of these bars then start using it. It’s one of the best ways to build the muscles that squat and deadlift.
The reason for this is the bar is trying to toss you forward and you have to fight to keep it in a good path. It also takes the weight off your shoulders as you don’t have to hold the bar as you would a regular squat bar. You’ll hold this bar by the front yokes. Don’t hold onto the rack and pull yourself up, either.
If you don’t have one of these bars, then try to do anything you can to change the center of gravity of the movement. This can be done a number of different ways. You can use what’s called a Manta Ray that snaps onto the bar; you can do high bar squats; or you can wrap a thick towel around the bar so it’ll sit higher on the back. Each of these will all work the body differently.
5. Pin Pulls for 1 rep max.
I like to have lifters use pins below the knee at various positions for this movement. Only pick one position per day.
Max Effort Bench Movements
1. Various Board Presses
Same as bench press except you’ll bring the bar down to a select number of 2 x 6 boards on your chest. The two board press would be two 2 x 6’s (one on top of the other). The board is usually around 12 to 16 inches in length to make it easy for a spotter to hold it in front of you.
If you don’t have a spotter to hold the board, you can tuck it under your shirt, use a band, or use one of those rubber waist trimmer things to go around both you and the board.
2. Floor Presses
Lay on the floor and perform a bench press with a one second pause at the bottom. This exercise is designed to strengthen the midpoint of the bench press. It’s also very effective in increasing triceps strength.
3. Close-Grip Incline Presses
Use a low to steep incline with one finger on the smooth part of the bar.
4. Pin Presses
Place a bench in a power rack and a bar on the pins. Adjust the pins (safety supports) to change the range of motion. Do these from various positions, from just off the chest to two inches below lockout.
5. Reverse Band Press
This movement is the same as a bench press except you’ll use two large flex bands to hang the bar from the top of the power rack.
Note: Bands and/or chains can be added to any of these movements for variety and training effect.
So how many sets and reps should I do for this max effort movement?
Make sure to only do one max effort movement per session. The sets are dependent on how strong you are and how you work up. If you only bench 185 pounds, it wouldn’t be wise to start with 135, then jump to 155 for a set and then finish with 185. There’s very little volume completed this way. It’s better to use a set rep scheme as follows:
2 Board Press (Max 185)
- 45 pounds for 3 sets of 5 reps
- 70 for 3 reps
- 95 for 3 reps
- 115 for 1 rep
- 135 for 1 rep
- 155 for 1 rep
- 175 for 1 rep
- 190 for 1 rep
The last one should be an all-out effort. If not, keep working up. There’s nothing wrong with missing a weight on the movement. As you can see, the volume is much higher and the work load more productive to strength gains.
What do I do after the max effort movement?
Your choice of movements after the main max effort movement should be based on where your weaknesses are. For 90% of the lifters and athletes I’ve seen, this movement would be something for the triceps on bench days and hamstrings on squat days. These would be followed with other movements designed around the individual lifter. To better illustrate, see the sample templates below:
Max Effort Bench, Upper Body Day
A. Max Effort Movement
Board Presses. Pick one movement from above and work up to max.
B. Triceps Movement
Pick one or two of the following listed below:
- Dumbbell Triceps Extensions with elbows in
- Dumbbell Triceps Extensions with elbows out
- JM Presses
- Close Grip Incline Press
- Close Grip Rack Lockouts (mid to high)
- Close Grip Board Presses (mid to high)
- Barbell Extensions to nose or lower
- Close Grip Push-ups with hands on hex dumbbells
Sets and reps are dependent on what each lifter feels he needs to do. Most have found one heavy day and one lighter day per week to work best. I’d recommend the heavy day to be on the max effort day and the lighter day to be on the speed or dynamic day.
For the heavy day, work up to one to three heavy sets of five reps. This can either be the same weight for all sets or it can be staggered weight for the three sets of five reps. The light day will consist of 4 to 8 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
C. Shoulder Movement
You should only do one or two light shoulder movements as the shoulders get hit in every session anyway. For example, when you squat, your shoulders are getting pounded. They also get trained each time you bench press. I believe most shoulder injuries are a result of overuse and overtraining of the deltoid area. With this in mind, I’d suggest all the shoulder movements be part of the raises or rotation categories. The sets and reps would average around 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps. These would include:
- All types of rotator cuff work
- Side Raises of any kind
- Front Raises of any kind
- Rear Raises of any kind
D. Lat Movement
I used to feel all lat work should be performed on the same plane as the bench press. In other words, all lat work should be rows. While this makes sense in theory, it doesn’t hold up in real life. Too many lifters don’t do this and many bench a hell of a lot more than me!
Yes, I do feel rows are a better choice but there are advantages to the pulldown and chin-up movements as well. I’d suggest mixing them up and doing one to two movements per session. The best of the best in this category include:
- Chest Supported Rows – Performed on any rowing machine where your chest is supported on a pad.
- Barbell Rows
- Dumbbell Rows
- Face Pulls – Stand in front of a lat machine and pull the bar to your face.
- Chins to the front
- Pulldowns to the front with close or wide grip
The sets and reps on the lat work is somewhat tricky and will depend on the movement. All movements should be done strictly and with good form. This will keep the weight relatively low. For the chins, training to failure on each set seems to work best, while the rows seem to work better with lower reps (5-8) and fewer sets (2-3). The pulldown and face pulls all seem to feel and work better in the higher reps range (12-15) for higher sets (4-5).
Max Effort Squat or Lower Body Day
A. Max Effort Movement
Low Box Squats with Safety Squat Bar. Pick one movement and work up to max
B. Hamstring Movement
There are tons of hamstring movements but only a few that’ll make my list as the best of the best. Most hamstring movements are a complete waste of time for strength because they only work the hamstrings from either the hip or knee and not both at the same time. The best of the best list includes:
1 – Glute Ham Raises with a real GHR bench!
The reason I say “real bench” is that I’m in the equipment business, so I see the junk that’s out there and it frustrates the hell out of me. First off, a so-called “natural” glute ham raise (where you kneel on the floor and someone holds your heals as you fall forward) is not a glute ham raise; it’s a manual hamstring curl.
Second, to the beginner, a GHR should be hard to do. If you get on a bench and can knock out 10 to 15 reps the first time you do it, then the machine isn’t built correctly. The toe plate should be long enough to push your toes into it. The pad should have an angle on it to keep your body in the correct position so you don’t fall off at the top. I can go on and on with this, but the fact is that too many companies build equipment designed by people who’ve never lifted a real weight in their lives!
To do a GHR, you’ll start with your body in a horizontal position on the bench with your toes pushed into the toe plate. Your knees will be set two inches behind the pad and your back will be rounded with your chin tucked. You then push your toes into the pad and curl your body up with your hamstrings while keeping your back rounded. As you approach the top position, squeeze your glutes to finish in a vertical position.
The sets and rep scheme for the GHR depends on the strength of the lifter. I find most athletes and lifters to be very bad at these as the hamstring strength of most people is downright terrible. For those who fall into this category, I’d have them do two to three sets of GHR as part of their warm-up for every workout of the week. I suggest they strive to get 3 sets of 10 reps. This will mean for most that they’ll be doing three sets to failure, failing around 3 to 5 reps each set. Over time this will improve.
Once they get better, I’d have them keep the GHR as a warm-up movement and drop the sets and reps to 3 sets of 8 reps. At this time in the program, they’d now add the GHR as a main movement as part of the main session at least one time per week. Yes, they’ll be doing GHR’s five times per week!
For the main session there are several suggestions to follow for the highest success. While doing the GHR as the main movement, it’s “bust ass” time. The reps and sets will fall into several categories and should be rotated every few weeks. Examples of these programs would include:
- Three sets to failure
- One hundred total reps (using as many sets as needed)
- Three heavy sets of 5 to 6 reps while holding weight across chest
- Three heavy sets of 5 to 6 reps while holding weight behind head
- Three heavy sets of 5 to 6 reps with the back of machine inclined up 4 to 30 inches.
Dynamic GHR Sets
Here you get to the top position and drop fast and rebound out of the bottom with as much force as you can. You can use a heavy medicine ball or weight to lower faster and drop the weight at the bottom.
Start at the horizontal position and have a training partner place his hands on your back for a three to five-second count. While doing this, drive into your partner’s hands as hard as you can. After the five seconds, your partner will pull away and you should fire up as fast as you can to finish the rep. This is best preformed with 5 to 6 sets of 3 reps.
For this version you’ll break the movement into three holding positions, each for 5 to 10 seconds. Start at the horizontal position and hold for 10 seconds, raise halfway and hold for another 10 seconds, then rise to the top and hold for 10 more.
In this version you’ll give yourself a set time and do as many reps as you can. For example, you use five minutes and end up with 70 reps the first time you do it. The next time you’d use the same time and try to beat the 70 reps.
GHR with Bands
This is a movement for the more advanced lifter. Strap each of the bands around the bottom of the GHR and place the other end around your upper traps. The bands will add heavy resistance at the top.
Forced GHR with Heavy Eccentric
This is a good version for those who aren’t strong enough to get one rep. With this version the training partner will help the lifter get to the top and then he’d lower the rep on his own. Only enough assistance should be applied to help the lifter get one rep. Sets of 3 to 5 reps are best with this style of the GHR.
2 – Reverse Hypers
Here’s another one of those things that bothers me. The reverse hyper is a trademarked name, so there’s only one way to do them and it’s on a reverse hyper machine. Anything else is not a reverse hyper!
This machine is also very good for the development of the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. There are many ways to perform the reverse hyper but these three are the best I’ve found:
Three to four heavy sets for 6 to 10 reps
This is a looser style then many are used to. After you get on the machine you’ll use a couple of reps to get the weight moving (these don’t count for the total). When you get a full range of motion, you’ll try to catch the weight at the bottom of the motion where the axis of the plates begins to cross the front legs of the machine (closest to your head). This way you reverse the weight before it reverses you. This style seems to hit the hamstrings and glutes very hard.
Strict sets for 3 to 4 sets of 15 reps
To do the strict reverse hyper, set yourself on the bench so your hips are 3 to 4 inches off the back of the machine, then arch your back as hard as you can while keeping your chest off the machine. This will put your body in a diagonal position. To perform the motion, you’ll begin with the axis of the plates even with the back legs on the machine (closest to your hips). From the start position, focus on arching the weight up with the lower back. You’ll only be able to get the weight so high. When you get to the top, try and hold the position for a one count. This will be impossible to do but try your hardest. The tempo of this movement is twice as slow as the first style of hyper. You’ll feel this style more in the lower back than anywhere else.
Timed Reverse Hypers
This is a classic Louie Simmons movement. Use much less weight than you would with the other two styles. Either style of the reverse hyper can be used for this. Pick a designated time (usually 3 to 5 minutes) and continue with the set nonstop for as long as you can or until you hit your time deadline.
3 – Pull Through
The pull through is a special exercise designed to train the muscles of the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes. Begin by facing away from a low pulley cable with a single “D” handle. Next, bend over and grab the handle between your legs while facing away from the machine. Then pull the handle through your legs until your body is in an upright position. This movement is best trained with 4 to 6 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
4 – Dimel Deadlift
The Dimel deadlift is the one movement we get the most questions about. To perform it, stand in front of the barbell with around 30 to 40 percent of your max deadlift weight. Pull the bar to the top position. This is the starting position of the exercise.
From here you want to arch your back as hard as you can and push your hips back until you feel a extreme stretch in your hamstring and glutes. For the first few reps you’ll lower the bar with a controlled tempo to just below knee level then rebound back up. Once you get the bar path figured out you’ll then begin to lower very fast and rebound out of the bottom in a ballistic fashion. This is a high speed, high rep exercise that’s best trained with 2 to 3 sets of 20 reps.
5 – Close Stance, Stiff Leg, No Touch Deadlifts Off Box
This is another great movement for the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. Stand on a four inch box and pull deadlifts. The key here is you’ll not touch the floor until the set is finished. The bar will stop short of the floor by a few inches before you complete the next rep. I’ve seen this trained two ways. First, for a couple of heavy sets of 3 to 5 reps; second, for a few sets of 15 to 20 reps.
6 – Sled Dragging
Sled dragging is a very underrated hamstring movement. There are a few ways to really hit your hamstring with the sled. The most popular is forward walking where you make sure to really kick the front leg out.
The second method is to grab the sled handle or strap behind your knees with a close stance. While in the bent over position, keep your hands behind your knees while walking forward. You’ll only be able to take small steps but after a few steps you’ll know right away what you’re training.
There are two very good ways to drag the sled for hamstrings. First is with very heavy weight for 15 to 20 steps per set. The second is with lighter weight for 70 to 100 steps per set.
7 – Inverse Leg Curls
This movement is performed on a glute ham bench or a standard hyper extension or back raise bench. To perform it, set your body on the bench as you would a back raise. You’ll be in a facedown, rounded over position with your heels and toes off of the toe plate. The only thing holding you should be your heals against the pad. If you’re using a GHR bench you’ll want to set the toe plate forward so your knees are just off the pad.
To begin, arch your lower back as hard as you can and force your heals into the pad. Pull yourself into the horizontal position and then try to leg curl your way up another three to four inches. If done correctly, you’ll only be able to pull yourself up a few inches. When you hit your highest spot, you’ll hold statically for a three count then lower. This is best trained for 4 to 6 sets to failure.
C. Torso Work
These torso movements are intended to train the muscles of the lower back and abdominals. This could very well be the most important group of the entire training program.
Many great movements for the training of maximum strength are listed below. Choose one for the lower back and one for the abs. If you feel the need, two can be performed for each muscle group, but try to keep the total main session movements down to four to six movements. If you feel the need for more torso work, add it to the warm-up or an extra workout later in the day or on an off day.
1. Reverse Hypers
This movement is already described above. If you choose to do the exercise as a hamstring movement, find something else to do for the torso work or use a different method to train it.
2. Banded Good Morning
This is a great high rep movement. To perform this exercise, you’ll need to use a Jump Stretch flex band. Stand on the band with one end of the loop under both feet using a medium stance. Place the other end of the band around the upper traps. From here do a standard good morning movement by bending over and standing up while keep the knees slightly bent. Make sure you’re forcing back onto your hamstrings as you bend over. This movement can be trained a variety of ways for a few sets of 20 reps to a few sets of 100 reps.
3. Pulldown Abs
Begin by placing a rope or leather triceps handle on the lat pulldown machine. Face away from the machine and grab the rope behind your head with both hands. Perform the movement in the same motion as a deadlift. Start by pushing your abs out and then tighten them as hard as you can. Bend over at the waist until your torso goes below parallel to the floor. Reverse the motion in the same manner.
4. Back Extension
his exercise will help strengthen your lower back. Using a glute ham raise or back raise, lock your heels in and bend forward at the waist. Begin the movement by arching yourself to a parallel position and holding for a second. Return to the starting position slowly to avoid getting dizzy.
5. Ab Wheel
This is a great exercise for your abdominals. All you need is an ab wheel (which can be purchased at EliteFTS.com). Start on your knees and roll yourself out, keeping your abs tight. Once you’re parallel to the floor, bring yourself up, back to the starting position. This isn’t an exercise for everyone as it requires great core strength.
6. Hanging Leg Raise
You can hang from a chin-up bar or use special straps. This exercise can be done several ways. The first way is bringing your knees to your chest and lowering them back down. This is the easiest way to do them and recommended for beginners. The more advanced version of this is keeping your legs straight throughout the entire movement. For those wanting a good challenge, try bringing your feet to the top of the chin-up bar. Make sure you don’t swing and use momentum to perform reps. If you’re not strong enough to do this, have someone place his hands on your lower back.
7. Roman Chair Sit Ups
This is a great exercise to develop your hip flexors and abdominals. Place your feet under the GHR foot pads, keep your knees relatively straight, and perform sit-ups. To make the exercise more difficult, hold a plate behind your head.
This exercise is designed to isolate the obliques. To begin this movement, lie on your back with your hands over your head holding onto a heavy object. Pull both knees toward your chest in a tucked position. Keeping this tucked position, roll your knees to the left side until they touch the floor, rotate back to the center, then roll them to the right. You must keep your shoulder blades on the floor. To increase the difficulty, perform the movement with your legs raised in a 90 degree angle.
9. Straight Leg Raises
This exercise is intended to strengthen the abs and hip flexor muscles. Lie on your back on a flat bench or on the floor. Keep your arms out to your sides or hold onto the rack. Raise your legs to a 90 degree angle and press your lower back into the bench as hard as possible. Lower your legs until you feel your back start to arch. At this point, raise the legs back to the starting position. Not everyone will be able to go all the way down at first, just go as low as you can before your back arches. If you try to force it too soon you may injure yourself.
How Do I Cycle the Max Effort Movement?
You have to always remember that with this style of training every movement has its own life cycle associated to it. In other words, each movement cycles independent of the other. Also, each day cycles independent of the other days.
For the max effort day, the first movement (max effort movement) will rotate in a one to three week cycle. There are several ways to accomplish this. The more advanced the lifter, the faster the movement has to change. An advanced lifter will need to change this movement every week. An intermediate will change every two weeks while a beginner will change every three.
How do I know if I’m a beginner, intermediate or advanced? If you have to ask this question, then you’re a beginner. Everyone new to this style of training should treat himself as a beginner. There are checks and balances (C & B’s) throughout the program so you’ll know when to change. The C & B’s for the max effort movement are if you’re breaking records or not. If you chose two board presses and hit 315 on week one, 320 on week two, and 335 on week three, then you should use a three-week rotation.
Now, if you hit 315 on week one, 320 on week two, then can’t do 315 on week three, then you should switch every two weeks. The longer you use the method, the sooner you’ll be switching every week. There are a few alternative approaches worth looking into:
- Many coaches have found it best to use a two week cycle with their athletes where week one would be an intro week to the movement. Here they may use a percentage based scheme for a week (such as 70% of their best with the same movement for 2 sets of 5 reps, or 80% for 3 sets of 3 reps). These coaches have found the athletes do much better on week two (when they hit the one rep) when they use an intro week to the movement.
- Another approach similar to the first one is a three week cycle based on 70% for 5 reps on week one followed by 80% for 3 on week two and then 100 plus on week three. I personally don’t like this as I feel the chance of injury is too high with the higher reps when compared to the singles.
- One approach told to me by a very successful lifter overseas was to cycle the down sets of the max effort movement. This lifter would work up to a one rep max and then hit a down set of a prescribed percentage. He’d use 70% for 2 sets of 5 reps on week one, 72% for 2 sets 5 reps on week two, 76% for one set of 5 reps on week three and 80% for 5 reps on week four. The max effort movement would change every week but the down sets percentage went up for the fourth week, then the cycle would start again.
Do You Do the Max Effort Movement Every Week?
This answer depends on what you’re doing on all the other days as well as the individual. If you’re hitting it very hard with bands on the dynamic day, then you may find you can’t hit the max effort movement every week and may have to take it easy one workout of the month. If you find you’re not recovering, then you’ll want to take it easy one of the workouts each month. When you “take it easy” (not a day off) you’ll replace the movement with higher rep work using a movement intended to train the same muscles.
How Do You Know If You Went Heavy Enough?
If you have to ask this question, then you’re totally missing the boat. This movement is about straining as hard as you can. If you make the weight and have something left then you need to add more weight and go again. When using the max effort method you must strain to gain!
How Do You Cycle the Other Stuff?
The max effort movement isn’t the only movement that has to cycle on this day. All the supplemental movements must also cycle. These movements won’t cycle at the same rate as the max effort movement as they can be cycled longer. The four ways I recommend cycling these movements are weight related, rep related, set related, and movement related.
1. Weight Related Cycles
With this method you’ll try to use more weight for the same reps with the same movement until you can’t increase any longer. At this point you’ll switch the movement. For example, let’s say you choose dumbbell extensions for your triceps movement. For week one you perform 50 pound dumbbell extensions for 3 sets of 10 reps. The next week you do 60 pound dumbbells for 3 sets of 10 reps. The third week you use 70 pound dumbbells for two sets of 10 reps and one set of 6 reps. Now it’s time to change the movement or the method of training the same movement.
2. Rep Related Cycles
With this method you’ll try to get more reps on each set of a given movement. For example, let’s say you choose the GHR for your hamstring work and get one set of 6, one set of 5 and a third set of 5. The next week you want to try to get more reps then you did the last time. After three to four weeks (or when you can no longer add more reps), you’ll switch the movement or the method for training the same movement.
3. Set Related Cycles
This method is one of the best for increasing volume fast over the training cycle. All you do here is add an additional set to the movement with a desired number of reps. For example, you decide to use reverse hypers as your lower back movement. For week one you do 2 sets of 10 reps. Week two, 3 sets of 10 reps, for week three, 4 sets of 10 reps, and on week four you get 4 sets of 10 reps, but only 7 reps on the fifth set. This is when it’s time to change the movement or method.
4. Movement Related Cycles
With this method you’ll switch the movement every week and cycle the sets and reps from week to week. This is the best choice for the more advanced lifter as they’ve already figured out how to train on feel.
The actual movement doesn’t need to change every three weeks but something has to change every few weeks. I feel the reverse hyper and GHR are both very important to my training and both are trained two to four times per week. This would be an example of how I’d cycle my GHR movement for the main session:
- Weeks 1-3
- Monday: GHR, rep related cycle
- Friday: GHR on 6 inch incline, weight related cycle
- Weeks 4-7
- Monday: Ballistic GHR, rep related
- Friday: GHR on 10 inch incline, rep related cycle
Note: These cycles may not last the three weeks as the change may need to happen before then because of stagnation. The two days will also cycle independent of each other.
That wraps up the strength portion of the eight keys. In the next segment, I’ll cover the speed element of the Westside training style.