Full disclosure: I was, am, and will always be a Westside Barbell fanboy. I started lifting in 1999, and when I started “researching” on the internet, the ONLY way to train for strength was to “do Westside Barbell”, so that’s what I grew up with and it will always hold a special place in my heart. Because of that, when I saw that Louie Simmons had released a 306 page book detailing his life and the story of Westside Barbell AND that it was on sale, I legit just pulled out a credit card and paid whatever it cost to have. Along with that, having followed Louie for so long, I’m VERY familiar with his particular brand of insanity as it relates to writing and speaking, so I was able to look past a lot of things in this book that will most likely be completely unbearable to a new reader.
All that said, let me start with the conclusion: if you’re NOT a fan of Westside barbell, I’d skip this book. This is pure fan service: going into drama, behind the scenes stuff, crazy stories, stats, facts and figures. Hardcore powerlifting fans, and specifically those of Westside, will get a kick out of it, but those that are just fans of lifting in general hoping to “learn from the master” aren’t going to get much for the price point. There is SOME gold in this regarding training for powerlifting, but you gotta mine the hell out of the book to find it.
That said, I read the whole thing in 3 days of casual reading. It’s an easy read and I found it pretty enjoyable. Because Louie is so scatterbrained, it actually makes the book well paced, because Louie will start on a boring subject but out of nowhere tell a story about a guy kidnapping a dog and getting 100 days in jail before switching back to talking about band tension calculations. It keeps you on your toes.
Below are the notes I took as I read the book, to give you an idea of what I was thinking/feeling at the time. Enjoy!
* Written all on the third person: Louie’s alter ego talking about Louie.
* Written in Louie’s delightfully insane “steam of consciousness” writing/speaking style. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it will be jarring. If you’re familiar with it, it will still be jarring, but you’ll be used to it.
* Holy hell, Louie does a subtle callout of Ironmind early in the writing: accuses them of stealing the idea of the “magic circle” and Super Squats. As a rabid Ironmind AND Westside Fanboy, I’m vexed.
* In general, Louie doesn’t go easy on anyone in the book. He’ll praise people for strengths and speak matter of factly about their weaknesses (so and so was a bad squatter, so and so never did well in the sport and went on to become a ref, etc etc). When I went to Kaz’s seminar, it was very similar. Don’t know if this is a generational thing, a “being one of the greatest of all time” thing, a “I’m too damn old to worry about being nice” thing, or just a thing, but it’s honestly pretty cool to have no doubt about the thoughts of the author.
* Louie’s “The Ball or the Sword” story gives the reader a solid understanding of why he is the way he is. The quote “Louie believes that if a powerlifter doesn’t want to invest his or her life into powerlifting, he or she shouldn’t waste their time” is why he uses the methods he uses. It’s also why he’s so into unlimited ply, and only cares about the biggest numbers period dot: because THAT is powerlifting. It’s not about who is the best with an asterisk (raw, under 40, 2 hour weigh in, drug tested, etc etc), but simply who can put up the most.
* Louie’s age shows primarily in the things he thinks are acceptable to write. If you are sensitive to social issues, it’s most likely not going to go over well for you. I’m 73 pages in, and have encountered one homophobic slur (not said by Louie, but relayed by him as something one lifter said to another) and his advocacy of “Lucha Underground where men beat the hell out of the hot women; it’s twice the fun.” I’m old enough that I “get” his generation, and after reading Dick Marcinko’s “Rogue Warrior” I doubt anything an author writes can be offensive to me at this point, but it may be jarring to other readers.
* “but Louie, in 1982, would not read any scientific studies from an American author.” Man can I dig that. Paul Kelso was speaking illy of the state of exercise science in the 80s in “Powerlifitng Basics Texas Style” as well.
* “Louie first found the importance of the Dynamic Method. Most lifters divided training days from heavy to light. But strength is measured in velocities, not heavy or light. Instead, it is measured by fast, intermediate, or slow.” I feel real stupid for having not thought of it like that before. And part of that is most likely because I’m not a speedy lifter to begin with.
* Louie is unapologetic in how much he despises how US Weightlifters are being trained these days. The topic comes up a LOT in the book. I imagine it’s a result of him coming from a weightlifting background: we never forget our first love. I am so vocally against powerlifting these days, and it’s because that’s where I started and it’s rough for me to see the state it’s in right now. Of course, I’ve also said that we do so poorly in weightlifting that we may as well give Louie the reigns and see what happens, but I am a fan of chaos.
* Louie misspells the names of a lot of lifters in the book. Just ran across “Glen Pendley”, and I know I’ve seen more throughout the book.
* “but that the real key was the special single* joint exercises.” People don’t get this about Westside. They think it’s just DE and ME, but that’s only 20% of the training. EIGHTY PERCENT is Repetition Effort. THAT is where the magic happens.
* “Producing the rule book and training qualified referees were the key focus of the IPF. Louie did not agree that an IPF qualified referee status could be achieved in two months of studying a rule book when it took three to five years to be an Elite level lifter” Love it
* “To this day, Louie believes that if an athlete is subject to being tested, then everyone connected to the federation should be checked, including refs, spotters, officials, meet directors, and the guy who collects the door money.” Also love it.
* “Also, the IPF had drug testing, and lots of people were opposed to having their civil rights invaded” as a political science guy, this stuff always bugs me. Your civil rights cannot be violated by a private organization: only the government can violate your rights.
* There’s a whole section on federation drama, if you’re into that. Oh powerlifting.
* “It is hard for Louie to understand why powerlifters bad mouth each other instead of uniting together” ok, that is a comical lack of self awareness given how the book has gone so far.
* Nice to see Louie write positively on Chuck V. Their relationship was strained for a while, but seems to be in a good place. And really, anything written about Chuck is awesome. He’s a goddamn sasquatch in all ways, because along with being huge and scary, there’s SO little out there about him, because he doesn’t talk.
* I’m at a part in the book where Louie talks about a buddy of his throwing his food on the floor at a restaurant and assaulting the cooks because they put onions in his food. This is one of many stories of downright psychopathy. I can’t tell if Louie attracts these kinds of people, or if there are just more of these folks out there than I realize.
* Tons of stories start with “so and so knew a 13/14/15 year old kid that was really strong and he started lifting at Westside and etc etc”. I find it a little off putting how so many of these adult men are just hanging out with these teenage boys. And maybe it just shows how uninvolved I am with my local community, but it just feels weird reading it so much.
* “Ryan Cannelie” for Ryan Kennelly. Ok, this book was clearly never edited or proofread.
* I feel like someone may have tried to help Louie at the start of the book and then eventually gave up, because around page 135 or so Louie’s rambling style of writing really starts to take off. Again: if you’re familiar with it, it’s not bad, but if this is your first exposure to how Louie presents ideas, you’re in for a ride.
* All criticism aside (so far), I’m 165 pages in and all I can think is “This is what ‘Westside vs the World’ SHOULD have been”
* “a bodybuilder is at his or her weakest and smallest at contest time. In contrast, however, a powerlifter is at his or her strongest and biggest at contest time.” That’s honestly a pretty interesting revelation. Something to be said about the razor’s edge of health/performance a powerlifter is on for a meet peak though.
* “Sue came to Westside overweight. She wanted to powerlift to get into shape. Most of the time, this does not work” I hope people are taking goddamn notes here! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a 300+lber start lifting to “get in shape” and then put on a bunch more bodyweight because they’re “naturally talented” at heavy lifting. No dude: you have mass, and mass moves mass. You started exercising to get healthy: get healthy, THEN put on mass.
* “Also, normal people can only give you normal results.” DING DING DING. People are in such a rush to normalize things, but that’s the whole point: you gotta be and do things differently to achieve different results.
* “He thought it would take a weight gain to do it, so Louie pushed up the volume and added more calories.”* Straight from the master’s mouth folks. Quit trying to bulk on Starting Strength: up the volume, up the calories.
* The “Nightrider” section is brutal. Just a long list of callouts by Louie on former Westsiders.
* Don’t skim the book, because Louie’s crazy mind throws things in at random spots. The section on Chuck V under world record squatters suddenly turns into a seminar on how bands work.
* Louie throws some shade at EliteFTS, clarifying that they are separate businesses. It’s gotta be tough to be Louie’s friend I am sure.
* Louie writes that he will never watch “Westside vs the World”. Good call Louie.
* It was heartwarming to see how positively Louie speaks of Jim Wendler.
* Page 214 and now the homophobic slur IS coming directly from Louie. It’s a quote from the 90s, and I get times were different, but still, it just takes a book that reads like a kindly old man retelling stories from the past and puts a lot of ugliness in it in short order.
* Louie refers to Dave Hoff as the strongest geared lifter of all time, which is honestly a shock for Louie. I’m used to him not differentiating between gear and raw, just referring to lifters as lifters. Wonder if he’s finally gotten sick enough of the politics to feel the need to clarify at this point.
* Some of these stories about Westside personalities are just painful to get through. Helpful reminder that being a good lifter doesn’t mean being a good person. Often, it can even be necessary to not be one to be the other. This is a selfish hobby.
* I remember in 07 when I wanted to “Do Westside Barbell training” and the common question was “can I still do it if I don’t have a GHR/reverse hyper”, and guys like Tate and Wendler would say you don’t need that stuff and would offer up old school movements like GHRs and RDLs and back extensions. But when you read this book, you realize just how important all the crazy crap Louie developed is for the success of Westside. And yeah, Westside may have STARTED with just the basics, but it’s clearly evolved, and the idea that you can follow the program without all the specialty equipment is really getting silly now. 20% of the training is ME/DE, and the rest is all super specialized bodybuilder work.
* “For some odd reason, lots of Louie’s friends go to jail” at least Louie is aware this is weird.
* “The Curse” is an awesome section of the book that describes why Louie will set out to help anyone in the world of lifting. Very touching.
* So far the last half of the book is basically Louie listing names of people and lifts that they did/how those lifts improved while training at Westside. This is pretty typical Louie Simmons stuff. His articles are all like this too. What’s crazy is Louie will screw up the spelling of the name of someone he’s known for 25 years but will know down to the POUND how much that person squatted at a meet in 1996.
* Louie advises a rubgy coach to have his players wrestle in the off season to cut down in season injuries. Goddamn do I love that suggestion/solution.
* I’m on page 273 of 306 and the book is just running completely off the rails. Any semblance of organization is gone, and it’s just Louie finding jumping off points to rant about people and things. Which isn’t to say that it’s not entertaining, but again, for those that prefer structure: you won’t find it here.
* Ok, now the homophobic slur isn’t a quote from the 90s or a quote from someone else. Come on Louie.
* There’s a story about a lifter not knowing what order a powerlifting meet runs in (as far as order of lifts) and then going on to set a pro total. There’s a lesson there about how being super academic about your sport probably doesn’t matter as much as simply being strong.
* So many of Louie’s stories about lifters end with “they died much too young”. Probably something to take away from that.
* Last 10 pages of the book are an excellent example of the need for competition in powerlifting in order to get stronger. It can’t just be going against a spreadsheet. Competing against a real human drives us to get stronger. Also, at the very end, it says Louie banned all the members of the night crew of Westside for life, which included Dave Hoff. Man, I can’t keep up with the drama.