Left-Coast Westside

By Mark Bell

In Powerlifting

February 16, 2011

PDF Article

Mark Bell explains how he uses Westside Barbell methods at Super Training Gym in Sacramento, Calif.

The road paved by Louie Simmons and his elite lifters gives me confidence that his program works. Why do I feel it works? How about 20 800-lb. deadlifters!

The Russians used to do a lot of testing on their weightlifters, and Lou adapted a lot of those principles. Now he has his own testing ground at Westside Barbell. Through science, math and lots of trial and error, Lou has come up with the Westside Barbell Method. Time and time again, this method has not just worked for Lou and his lifters, but it has also worked for thousands of athletes all over the world. My gym, Super Training, was started in 2006, and this is the method we have used from Day 1.

Beginning in 2004, I trained at Westside for a little more than a year. Simply put, if you’re not at Westside, it’s hard to know exactly what Louie is working on next, so there is some variation between what we do at Super Training and what they do at Westside Barbell, but we utilize all the general Westside ideas. As Lou says, “Our results justify our methods.” I also use lifter feedback and trial and error to figure out what will work best for Super Training. The program we use consists of three different methods: repetition, dynamic and max effort.

Louie Simmons will be using Mark Bell to teach CrossFit Powerlifting seminars, where participants can learn all about Westside Barbell Methods. This article was originally published in the January/February 2011 issue of Power magazine.



17 Comments on “Left-Coast Westside ”


wrote …


Great stuff. I really look forward to reading more from you. You answered a lot of questions that I had about the "Westside method". I was dying when I read about grandma's walker with the tennis ball.

I'm curious, how much time do you CrossFit Coaches and Affiliates dedicate specifically to the pursuit of "Strength"?



Jeff Martin wrote …

Met Mark at the L.A. Expo. He was very friendly and spent a lot of time talking with some of my athletes about powerlifting. Look forward to seeing more of what he has to teach.


wrote …

Thanks for the article!

There's something I don't understand, and it just may be me not being fluent enough in English. What do you mean when you write "it's important to go up in weight about half the time after your speed work is done"?

Thanks for clarifying.


wrote …

Crossfitters doing some powerlifting from time to time, ok, I can see it for the pure sake of diversity. Otherwise, this "absolute power lifting" applies to nothing in functional jobs and is the sole reason we got away from the age old lifting techniques(which have somehow crept back into this journal). Its nothing but specialized equipment and isloation lifting. Some heavy weights like it becuase they post big numbers in their quarter squat where as they would have to post "f" for their attempt at a body weight pull up. I feel like I'm simply reading about Golds gym's finest and 1970s routine. I'm no expert on anything and everyone can be all butt-hurt about this post but seriously this is age old stuff. Look, to each his own, but if I never saw another King simmons article, I wouldnt mind, they go completley counter to everything else we have gained from crossfit mentality. As it is I still dont now why he ever made it in the crossfit journal. We all have friends I guess..and some of them do tons of steroids.


replied to comment from Ethan Orr

You are way out in left field. You should get with the left coast Westside instead. You think powerlifters can't do pullups? Here are two videos of Konstantin Konstantinov. One is of him deadlifting 939 lbs RAW without even a belt. The other is of him doing 55 kipping pullups.



Stop with the whole functional argument garbage. When have you ever found yourself upside down involuntarily and needed to do an HSPU? When have you ever actually needed to do something resembling a pullup or a pistol? Let's get over this. Being strong is perhaps the most functional and transferable of the 10 fitness elements to real life. If you really care about optimizing health and longevity you could do it without ever having to back squat more than 1 x bodyweight and without running more than 800m at a time. So why would anyone want to be any stronger or faster or whatever? BECAUSE IT'S FUN!! It's a challenge. I would bet that the majority of people out there doing CrossFit do it to get stronger and look better. Ya, the whole being fit and living longer thing is great but when it really comes down to it, if you are healthy then looking good and lifting big are really what people want.

If all of these powerlifting videos and articles really bum you out maybe you should ask the journal for a return of your 25 dollars. Or perhaps you could submit some articles on why it is cool to be weak and suck. Whatever, I love this and found this article extremely helpful and I think a whole whackload of people will enjoy Mark's style of writing and will learn something beneficial about the conjugate system from this article.

And about your little steroid note: Have you ever been willing to sacrifice whatever it takes (money, health, relationships etc) to try and be the best of the best at something? If not then keep your mouth shut because you have no idea what you are talking about.


wrote …

I heard someone recently say...

"Three things you can never have enough of,
you can never be too good looking,
you can never be too rich,
and you can never be too STRONG!"

Thanks Louie and Westside


replied to comment from Ethan Orr

Ethan, How ya doin bud? Take a look at your Level 1 certification packet, at the Crossfit definition of Strength. If you are not a certified coach, then check the journal or mainsite. When you find it, ask yourself if practicing powerlifting in Crossfit is any different than practicing running form and technique through Crossfit Endurance, or practicing your gymnastics, swimming, Olympic weightlifting, cycling, rowing, etc. If you come up with a cognitive, holistic difference difference other than its face value, please share with everyone. And lastly, every sport that makes up Crossfit (the ones I mentioned above and all thinkable others) has a nasty reputation of heavy PED use within that sport. So, if you are against the steroid use in the sport of Powerlifting, and expel it from your acceptable part of Crossfit, then you should also be against all other sports, and in turn not take part in any exercise, ever. Look forward to your thoughts..


wrote …

More Louie!

Less Ethan Orr.


wrote …

Gents, I knew that would get my fellow meatheads squawking. Jeff, I do appreciate you bringing up the commitment thing. You’re right man I don’t know about it, the only thing I have sacrificed for or committed to being the best at, is service to your country, seems like you’ve committed yours to yourself and steroids, so you got me there, clearly, please tell me about sacrifice.
What I do agree with is one of your points about functional fitness, absolute strength cannot be completely ruled out any more than some of the exercises we do during daily WODs. Like you said how often do you have to hold weight about your head, spread your arms real wide and then squat. I would submit seldom to never. However my impression from my line of work has been, the individuals you showed doing heavy deadlifts and then an insane amount of pull ups, while that is clearly impressive, are often the exception rather than the rule, and are rarely attained without steroids. By the way, don’t blame me for the stigma on steroids and the fact that people want to be fit instead of artificially huge these days, do your thing and I’ll do mine, organically, with 10,000 other people, and we’ll have a competition and call it the crossfit games.
My contention would still be the absolute power lifting ideology, since it started in the 70s and hasn’t changed, has proven very little in the way of metabolically fit athletes. At least in my line of work these individuals have literally become liabilities rather than assets, NOT all of them, just like some of my non-roided men can DL 700lbs yet are agile and capable in every other way. The only sure bet is focusing on capability based fitness pushing the limits of speed, agility, power and stamina all at the same time. I’m not saying this to show some moral high horse military thing, I’m just relaying my very personal, very real, very serious point of reference for my impression on the need for more focus on functional fitness. So no, a lot of us don’t do it to look good or “get big”. We do have fun with it and we do challenge ourselves with heavy lifts now and again. Thanks for saying that the rest of us should write articles about “how it’s cool to be weak and suck”, I can assure you, you have missed the mark buddy, and I couldn’t have made fun of your mentality any better than by you saying that yourself.
Ryan, as I mentioned, powerlifting(absolute/conjugate,whatever) does have a spot in our work outs, it adds variety and challenge for the unknown. But we don’t focus on it, and recognize its extreme shortcomings in producing overall athletes IF AND WHEN it’s the main component to a training regime. Your right that steroids or at least PEDs are everywhere in sports, no one is naive to that, so the argument is not that simple. The question is what do we focus on in these articles and what do we promote as men? What we focus on depicts the kind of man we are, like the guy who brings a bat to a fist fight, if you’re not good enough, don’t show up, don’t cheat. If you’re saying that more people use steroids than not in crossfit, you’re simply telling yourself what you want to hear. Thus my point is not that this doesn’t happen every day in competitive sports, it does, but that crossfit has done a very good job fostering a better type of environment, while additionally saying “if you used to lift like that, now we challenge you to man up and do it like this, and square off with everyone else doing the same”. These articles, especially if you read between the lines, go contrary to that revolution, that’s my opinion and my issue. Oh and before you counter with this…PEDs are used in crossfit too, we know this, but at least measures are being taken to limit that in competition where it counts.
Possibly playing the devil’s advocate here, but felt someone needed to discuss this.


wrote …

Ethan: powerlifting is a sport. People happen to use sport specific training to be good at their sport. This article is about those people and how we can incorporate their theory into ours. What about this is so f'ing hard to understand that makes you write these walls of text about nothing?


wrote …


You really should read up a bit on Louie and Westside in general.

Louie's bread and butter is top-end, untested powerlifting. For that, he's an advocate of PEDs, mainly because they help you lift more, and because its rampant in the untested divisions of the sport.

HOWEVER, he also works will a TON of folks across a broad variety of domains, including football, rugby, Strongman, and track and field. Most of these athletes- including some of his powerlifters- are competing in events that are heavily tested for PEDs. Many are also doing events where, at first glance, you might not expect to see powerlifting used.

Louie and Westside are well-known and respected not only because his gym is the strongest you can find, but also because his methods work across the spectrum, not just in powerlifting. As someone who was familiar with- and using the methods of- Westside before Crossfit latched on to him, I can attest to it's effectiveness.

Let me share an anecdote;

I have a client, 18, football, track and soccer prospect. Needs speed and agility, as well as overall strength. He's fast, but not quick. When I got him, he had ZERO posterior development, no hip drive, etc. He'd simply never been exposed to anything resembling proper development techniques, and had spent his entire high-school life doing what his coach told him; those "Globogym" type old-school exercises you mentioned.

His 40yd PR was 4.98 after a speed and agility camp the year before, but he was running a consistent 5.75 when I got hold of him.

IN 7 WEEKS of 3x/week training, doing a TON of posterior work (box squats, deads, KB swings, good mornings, pelvic thrusts, sleds, etc)combined with some standard speed training (speed chutes and first step band training), his 40yd is a consistent 5.1, and I've never pushed him to run the 40 hard, because its simply a marker for us. To be conservative, I'd estimate he runs it at between 85-95% of his capabilities.

On carpet.

In gym shoes.

More than half a second.

In 7 weeks.

His vertical jump average is up 4 inches as well, and I've managed to up his weight just under 10lbs.

Add that to the fact that, for a 175lb kid built around speed, his squat PR is above 300lbs, and his dead is past 1.5X BW. I'd say the results speak for themselves.

Louie's methods aren't just for powerlifting- they can be used and adapted to train all sorts of athletes, and not just for power: The stuff he does transfers into other facets pretty well too.

I'd pick up Westside's Book of Methods; It's a bit of a goofy read, but if you can get through Louie's countless cryptic examples, the stuff in there is GOLD. Also, there's a pair of volumes running around out of Ultimate Athletic Concepts called "Transfer of Training in Sports" by Anatoliy Bondarchuk. You may wish to look into those as well.


wrote …

Andy, I strongly agree with your statement. I still do not understand the premise behind either of Ethan's posts.

Granted crossfit is a general physical preparedness (gpp) program; however, I think it is refreshing to see journal articles which promote the idea of specialized training. If nothing else, it promotes thought and productive discussion -- unlike this one.

And for reference, there are many, many strong guys (500+ deadlifts) who can knock out 30+ pullups -- without the use of steroids. You just have't surrounded yourself with that caliber of "athlete" (i'll use the term loosely).



wrote …

To Ethan and his ilk:

Powerlifters are the top of the heap when it comes to absolute AND relative maximal strength. And it's not because of steroids, or gear, because even when you control for those things, powerlifters still dominate tests of absolute and relative maximal strength. There are things to be learned here, if you can get past your ego.

Only weakness-apologists understate/dislike the need for absolute/relative maximal strength and the associated means whereby...ding ding ding lifting above 90%1RM and developing the special strengths (reversal strength, RFD, etc.).

One can be in condition and prioritize relative strength (absolute strength per bodyweight) simultaneously. Like Louie said, "Big ain't strong. Strong is strong." Hypertrophy and favorable joint leverages (indisciminate weight gain) help strength but they don't dictate it. Improvement in neuromuscular efficiency (the other mechanism by which strength is gained) produces more positive carryover to every other possible athletic endeavor than improvements in any other physical capacity. Getting stronger (improving relative maximal strength) makes you faster at the 100 yd. dash, the 400 yd. dash, the mile, the two mile, the 10k, the marathon.

All things being equal, when applied to a broad test, the athlete with the better relative strength wins. EVERY TIME. You don't see (male) games competitors with a less than 2.4 to 3x bw deadlift, 1 to 1.25 x bw snatch, etc. etc. Spealler (speed and power endurance specimen) hasn't won the games, but athletes with better absolute and relative maximal strength have (khalipa, salo, hell even holmberg). You can't afford to be a "specialist" in anything, but its no coincidence that athletes with superior relative maximal strength always seem to end up on top.

It takes years of training to develop that strength background (a 3x bw deadlift at 180 is 540 pounds...when was the last time you saw that at your box/unit?). Lifting heavy things "once in a while" is not sufficient to create that kind of adaptation. That superior performance must be planned for systematically and long-in-advance, and its pursuit must be relentless and consistent for years.

Finally, maximal strength takes longer to train, and longer to detrain, than any endurance capacity (strength endurance, power endurance, speed endurance), which by itself makes training for relative maximal strength a better long term investment than training for endurance if your goal is optimized performance.

If you take an out-of-metabolic condition 180 pound athlete (#1) with a 2.5x bw squat and a 3x bw deadlift, and ask him to train to run a 400 yd. race against another 180 pound athlete (#2), who is then in metabolic condition, but only has a 1.5x bw squat and 2.25x bw deadlift, here's how the results play out:

Day 1: weak, in condition athlete (#2) beats strong, out of condition athlete (#1)
Day 60: strong, IN CONDITION (by way of training) athlete (#1) beats weak (but now STRONGER, by way of training), in condition athlete (#2).
Year 3: our athlete who started out weak (#2) MAY have narrowed the gap on the athlete who came to the contest with more relative strength, but only if the relatively stronger athlete has not commensurately improved his relative maximal strength.

This calculus stays the same regardless of the test at hand (INCLUDING COMBAT). It'll take the athlete with the strength background mere weeks/months to even the score against the endurance champ. But it will take years for the endurance champ to even the score against the strength athlete.

Finally, I don't mean to marginalize the importance of endurance. You can't optimize fitness without training that capacity. But strength is the foundation underlying it all. In my opinion, programming should reflect this.

And that's why these powerlifting articles are f@#!ing awesome.


wrote …

I don't mind articles such as these in the journal. in my opinion one of the essential elements to being a sucessful crossfiter is to eliminate your weaknesses and maintain your strengths (a hard feat to attian for me at least). I figure that if you need to work on any area of fitness then you sghould go to a specialist in that area and ask "hey how do I improve at this task". I aprreciate the input that specialists like Louie Simmonds, or Dr Romanov, or Carl Paoli because they give us the keys to the kingdom of their specialty. It is then the job of us the crossfiters to implement those ideas into our own programming. So if you are a weak barbell lifter then maybe some of the westside methods would help you, if you want to learn how to do a back flip then watch some of the Carl Paoli videos, if you need to run faster then try some the crossfit endurance methods. The journal is a great resource to find some new ideas to help us all get better at whatever it is that we are striving to improve in crossfit.


wrote …

Great powerlifting article. How often, or when, do you guys train in gear?


Paul Southern wrote …

Great breakdown Mark.


wrote …

There are some great opinions and writes here on the site. Best $25 I have ever spent! BTW, I throughly enjoy the powerlifting articles. I have been doing crossfit for 9 months and realize that my PR clean/snatch is stuck until I focus on leg strength. I plan to use Louie's methods this summer and test the results.

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