Recently I had the opportunity to speak with world-renowned powerlifter and strength coach Louie Simmons.
Louie is owner of arguably the world’s strongest gym, Westside Barbell. Westside, located in Columbus Ohio is a gym of champions recognized for their innovative style and tenacious approach to weight training.
Westside Barbell is a no holds barred invitation only gym. The “ Westside Barbell ” method of training has helped athletes attain astronomical numbers in the powerlifting forum. Louie Simmons has also used the “Westside Barbell” method to train and develop athletes and teams from many different disciplines including Olympic gold medal sprinters (Butch Reynolds and Moe Robinson), UFC champions (Kevin Randleman and Matt “The Immortal” Brown), NFL teams (Cleveland Browns, Seattle Seahawks, and Green Bay Packers), numerous college teams, and he advised professional rugby teams (the New Zealand All-Blacks, and Melbourne Storm).
Louie himself is an extremely accomplished powerlifter. He is one of only 5 lifters to total Elite in 5 different weight classes. Mr. Simmons has realized a top 10 ranking for 30 years. Only 2 lifters over 50 years of age have reached 920 pounds in the squat, benched 600 pounds and reached 722 pounds in the deadlift to total 2100 pounds. Louie Simmons is one of those men. His personal accomplishments and those of his athletes speak for themselves.
Westside Barbell produces complete beasts.
Currently 5 of the top 10 powerlifting totals of all time are held by Westsiders.
“Beast Mode” Motivational Speech by Fearless Motivation:
Here are some of the high marks accomplished at Westside:
77 athletes achieved 800+ lb. squat
31 Athletes achieved over 900lbs. Squat
21 Athletes achieved over 1000lbs. Squat
7 Athletes achieved over 1100lbs. Squat
2 Athletes achieved over 1200lbs. Squat
22 athletes achieved 800+ lb. deadlift
2 athletes achieved 900+ lb. deadlift
15 Athletes totaled over 2500lbs.
9 Athletes totaled over 2600lbs.
4 Athletes totaled over 2800lbs.
1 Athlete possesses the largest total of all time 3005lbs.
44 Athletes achieved over 700lbs. Bench
14 Athletes achieved over 800lbs. Bench
4 Athletes achieved over 900lbs. Bench
1 athlete with a 1,005 lb. bench
When I spoke with Louie we discussed what separated Westside Barbell from all the other gyms in the world, the mental strength of champion athletes, and many other topics. Here is the interview.
SP How much of one’s physical strength stems for the mental?
LS All starts in the brain. You can have a million dollar body and a 10 cent and won’t get anywhere. I have seen it over and over. The greatest in anything regardless of sport or discipline have the belief that they are the greatest and are not afraid to fail. If you are afraid of failure you will never succeed.
SP Are there ways to become mentally strong?
LS In my opinion no. There are people who will fight and people who won’t. You can’t build heart and you can’t build nuts. It’s about competition, and with lifting it’s about numbers. When some people reach certain numbers they fold. They can lose it in a second.
Now if an athlete has mental strength they can improve on it. As a coach you can make them better. I have my athlete do something out of the ordinary to see how they respond. We compete with each other, push one another, and challenge each other in gym to increase mental strength. Through these competitions we can build strength and see who can’t handle it.
SP If you have an athlete that lacks the necessary confidence or strength what do you do?
LS I let him go. I don’t think if it is not there it can be built. There are two types of people in this world. There are predators and there is prey. You need to find out what you are. This is not only in lifting but in life. There are grass eaters and lions who’ll eat the grass eaters.
SP You say a person is either mentally tough or they are not, as if it is something they are born with or not. But don’t you think environment also plays a role?
LS It’s a lot of environment. If everything is given to you your whole life, or if when things go wrong your parents intervene and fix things, you will become a soft person.
SP You are definitely not soft. You broke your back twice and made two comebacks. Tell me was there ever a moment when self doubt crept into your mind after the injuries?
LS Not once. Not once. I know one thing. If you quit once you are a quiter. I never ever quit. Not only did I break my back I completely tore my patella. I have beaten my body bad in this stupid sport. I nearly died lifting. I was in a coma for 3 days. When I woke up I was mad. Mad! I am a fighter. I was born that way. It’s just me.
SP Explain to me what went through your mind after your first back injury.
LS the first time was in 1973. I had just finished a meet and felt indestructible. 2 months later I broke my back. I had no training partner, no chiro, no PT. There was none of that available to me. I was on my own. When I was able to move enough I went down to my basement and looked in the mirror. I said to myself “one way or another you got to get well.” And that’s when I came up with the Reverse Hyper Machine. I needed to do something. As the Road Warrior says “desperate men do desperate things.”
SP How will lifting weights carry over to regular life?
LS It contributes to success. Lifting weights you set goals, you reach goals. It builds self-esteem. It helped me. When I was a kid I was always in trouble. I had low self-esteem. Lifting weights gave that confidence and others began to recognize me for it. It gave me recognition.
SP How can a failed attempt on a lift be helpful.
LS It is OK to fail on a lift. But, never fail to learn. Why did I fail? You have to be smart enough to figure out why you missed the lift.
SP What advice would you give a person trying to get better results in the gym?
LS Surround yourself with the best. If you run with the lame you will develop a limp. Only hang around people that want to kick your ass. That will make you an ass kicker.
SP What were some of the biggest mistakes you made in your training?
LS The biggest mistake I made, and I did it for 12 years was using western periodization. I learned you have to apply science to the weights. I started to study the training they used overseas. Eastern Bloc training. To get results you need to use the conjugate method.
SP One thing that stands out to me about you is your willingness to change. If you need to change your program, your approach, or your philosophy you are always willing to do that.
LS The hardest thing for a human being to do is change. You have to be willing to change. Dinosaurs didn’t and they are gone. If the athlete doesn’t change or adjust he is gone.
SP What makes your gym the strongest in the world?
LS Brains. Brains. Where did bands come from? Westside. Where did chains come from? Westside. Where did the box squat, board bench, floor press come from? Westside. I could go on and on, it’s the conjugate method. Where did people get the conjugate method? That’s Westside. People write about the conjugate method all the time but never reference Westside. I reference everybody.
Everything has to be connected. This is the conjugate system. If there is one break in the chain, you fail.
The reason this gym is so strong is we experiment. I will have 5 guys do one thing, if it sucks and doesn’t get results we throw it out. We find what works and use it. Eliminate those exercises that don’t work and use the one’s that work.
I see people repeat the same mistakes over and over again for years.
SP Any tips for people just starting out lifting?
LS Build a base. Mathematically a pyramid is only as strong and tall as its base. Every kid I think should be exposed to wrestling and gymnastics that’s a good place to start. That and running obstacle courses and things like that.
For adults I would build a base with sled work. High rep lower back and abs work. Have them do high rep band pushdowns and band leg curls. Good mornings with the bands. Strengthen the ligaments.
Everybody wants to do what the strongest guy in the gym is doing. He didn’t start off that way. He built a base and that’s what they need to do.
SP What do you do prior to a competition?
LS I meditate. I do nothing. I think of nothing. Your brain is full of ideas you have to let them out. You don’t want to jam things in it. They are in there already. Before you lift the weight be you. If you need to get crazy, get crazy. If you need to be calm, be calm.