5 Lessons from The Strongest Gym in the World

Westside Barbell Club
  1. Work your weaknesses. Focusing exclusively on your talents will lead to your demise. To keep progressing, especially for advanced athletes, find your weak points and improve them. Ignoring your weak points will only make them weaker, and the longer you ignore them the sooner they’ll catch up with you. I experienced this first-hand with my deadlift which I wrote about in a previous article. The squat came naturally to me — I enjoyed the lift, my body is better suited to squatting, so I devoted a ton of energy to it. But neglecting my deadlift meant I neglected my back which led to injury and regression in my strength training. While spending time on your weaknesses isn’t the most fun part of your training, it pays the biggest dividends.

  2. Do whatever it takes to keep improving. Don’t get attached to a particular way of doing something. I was amazed to hear about recent changes Louie made to the way he trains competitive powerlifters. Maybe you could call it “off brand” or at the very least a sharp diversion from the approach he’s taken in the past. But it was for the sake of getting his lifters stronger, to keep pushing their performance to higher levels, and isn’t that really his “brand”?. Despite the fame Lou acquired for having a very particular way of doing things, he’s always willing to try different approaches so his athletes can continue to improve.

  3. When in doubt, go back to the basics. While Lou has an eye for innovation — he currently holds a dozen patents on novel exercise machines — that doesn’t mean he ignores the past or eschews simplicity. He told me about how he used an old technique from the 1950’s York Barbell Club to increase a particular athlete’s deadlift by 100 pounds. He also talked about the overlooked effectiveness of a rudimentary exercise, such as push-ups for upper body strength. New and complicated isn’t always better — sometimes you should look to what has worked in the past or aim to simplify things in order to make progress.

  4. Lead from the front. The biggest question I had for Louie was about coaching. So many of his lifters say their greatest joy comes from breaking records for Louie rather than themselves. Why did they feel that way? The infamous Bobby Knight has a similar relationship with his players, as do Bulgarian weightlifters with their legendary coach Ivan Abadjiev (known outside Bulgaria as “The Butcher,” all of Abadjiev’s lifters refer to him as “Uncle Ivan”). Lou’s answer: he was more of a training partner than a coach — always in the trenches leading his team from the front. He was always with his lifters during every training session, helping in the warm-up room at meets, and cueing them on the competition platform. Until recently, he’d often compete alongside them, but numerous injuries forced Lou into retirement. He never acted, or felt, like a superior of any kind; he considers himself an equal to his athletes and that builds an ineradicable bond.

  5. Attitude is everything. In talking with Louie for three hours and even more time talking with his athletes, I picked up more technical knowledge than I can possibly share here . But the one thing every person emphasized — all the way from the newest athlete, to a 33 year member of the club and down to Louie himself — was attitude and mindset. Above all the technical stuff, the mythical methods of the Westside Barbell Club, above even Lou’s guidance was each person’s attitude. The perfect program and the perfect gym won’t work unless you do.  Unless you believe you are equal to the challenge. . Set big goals, train as hard as you can, and be consistent. This is something I’ve written about multiple times in the past, but even I need to be reminded of it. Attitude is everything.

This was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I’m incredibly grateful to all the athletes at Westside who gladly answered my questions and coached me during the two days I trained there. I’m grateful to Louie for the time he gave to me without any concern for how many questions I asked or how long I wanted to talk. While we’re not all trying to be competitive powerlifters, we can all be stronger. And few people know as much about building strength as Louie Simmons.

Louie Simmons and yours truly.

3 thoughts on “5 Lessons from The Strongest Gym in the World”

  1. After reading your blog post I finally watched Westside vs The World this weekend. Amazing strength was built in that gym! Motivating to see older guys continue to get stronger.

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