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The Standard Westside Template

Written by Tannhauser

Like many lifters, I’m curious about the much-publicised Westside system, the brainchild of powerlifter and strength coach Louis Simmonds and others at the Westside Barbell Club in Ohio.

However, knowing where to start can be difficult. When I searched for examples of Westside routines, initially I was puzzled by how different these were from each other. The reason is simply that there are no definitive Westside routines – the Westside system is a set of principles around which individual training programs are constructed.

Adding to this confusion are two factors. Firstly, the Westside system is continually evolving: in some cases, ideas presented in earlier articles are no longer flavour of the month. Secondly, there seems to be cottage industry of self-styled Westside interpreters, who pop up on threads with cries of “that’s not Westside!”

The purpose of this article is to try to provide, for complete novices, a simple introduction to the Westside system. I have based this largely on Jim Wendler’s description of the ‘Standard Westside template’ (see Further Reading), which is well worth looking at. I have followed his example in sidestepping any discussion of chains, bands and lifting gear. Please feel free to add constructive comments, including corrections.

The basics of the standard template

The standard Westside template can be summarised as follows:
  1. It uses a four-day rotation, with two days devoted to bench press and two devoted to squats/deadlifts.
  2. One bench press day is a dynamic effort session. In this, multiple sets are carried out with a light weight, aiming to build speed.
  3. The other bench press day is a max effort session, which uses near maximal weights for a limited number of sets.
  4. As is the case for bench press, one squat/deadlift session per week is dynamic effort, the other is max effort.
  5. Accessory/supplementary exercises are done on all four days.

Putting this together, a typical rotation would be:

Sunday – Dynamic Effort Bench

Monday – Max Effort Squat/DL

Wednesday – Max Effort Bench Press

Friday – Dynamic Squat/DL

The core of the four sessions


Dynamic Effort Bench Session
The goal of the dynamic effort sessions is to develop speed. Therefore the emphasis throughout the sets is to move the bar quickly on the concentric part of the exercise. The weight at which the bar can still be moved explosively while still providing adequate resistance will vary, but Wendler suggests 55% of your current raw 1RM

Do 8-10 sets of 3 repetitions of regular bench press. Although short rest periods between sets are sometimes recommended, Wendler feels this is irrelevant.

Max Effort Squat/Deadlift Session
One squat/deadlift based exercise is used in this session and this exercise will be rotated regularly (e.g. every one to three max effort sessions). The easiest way of doing this is to alternate a squat and a deadlift based exercise.

The goal is to carry out at least three sets of one repetition, using 90% or over of your 1RM for that day. Each session, try to break your PR from your previous effort on that lift. You will probably need to rest 3-5 minutes between your heaviest sets.

Possible max effort exercises could include:

High box squats (1-2" above parallel)
Parallel box squats
Low box squats (1-2" below parallel),
Rack deadlifts (or pin pulls)
Deadlifts while standing on elevated platform
Reverse band deadlifts

Using different bars for squats (e.g. safety bars) can increase the variation for the squat exercises still further.

Max Effort Bench Press Session
The pattern is similar to the max effort session for squats/deadlifts. Again, pick one exercise and rotate this lift every one to three max effort sessions. The goal is to carry out three sets of one repetition, using 90% or over of your 1RM for that day. Each session, try to break your PR from your previous effort on that lift.

Suitable exercises include floor press, 2 board press, 3 board press, incline press and close grip bench press. Rest between sets should be as long as is needed to get the lifts.

Dynamic Effort Squat/Deadlift Session
On the standard template, dynamic effort squat/deadlift sessions use the box squat. All sets are carried out using a parallel box. A three week wave is used, based on your current 1RM box squat wearing the same equipment:

Week 1 – 10x2 @ 50% RM
Week 2 – 10x2 @ 55% RM
Week 3 – 10x2 @ 60% RM

Upon completion of the 3rd week, you simply start the wave over again, recalculating according to your new 1RM.

Supplementary and accessory exercises

If the correct loading is used for the max effort and dynamic day, then there can be plenty of flexibility on these exercises. Choice of exercise, sets and reps can be adjusted according to how you feel on that day.

Bench Press sessions

Triceps - On one session, do high intensity/low volume triceps work. An example might be 4 or 5 board presses or rack lockouts with heavy weights. Wendler prefers to do this on Dynamic Effort day.

On the other session, carry out low intensity/high volume triceps. Suitable exercises would include triceps extensions and pushdowns.

Shoulders - One session uses ‘high stress’ exercises, such as dumbbell bench press, dumbbell incline presses, military presses (with dumbbells or a straight bar) and dumbbell floor presses. Wendler prefers to put the high stress shoulder exercises on Dynamic Effort day.

The other session uses ‘low stress’ exercises, such as front raises, side raises and rear raises.

Lats/Upper back - Both sessions should include some lat/upper back work and both are done with low intensity, high volume. Choose two lat movements a week, preferably one horizontal row and one vertical pull.

Squat/deadlift sessions

Hamstrings – the preferred exercise for supplemental hamstring work is the glute-ham raise. If no dedicated machine is available, it’s possible to improvise using the seat of a lat machine or even the floor. Many lifters will have difficulty performing this exercise at all, let alone varying resistance on it, so Wendler’s recommendation is to “do the exercise and not worry so much about sets/reps”. Alternatively, it is possible to do one exercise for hamstrings and lower back (see below).

Low Back – It is difficult to work the lower back without hitting the glutes and hamstrings as well Therefore, one exercise carried out with sufficient intensity, could be enough accessory work for both muscle groups. Not everyone can deal with extra low back work twice a week unless one session is very easy.

Good choices of exercise could include back raises, 45 degree back raises, reverse hyperextensions, pull-throughs and good mornings.

Abdominals – These are trained heavy in each squat/deadlift session.Some good exercises to choose include weighted sit ups, Roman Chair sit-ups, stability ball, hanging leg raises, side bends.

Breaking the pattern – ‘working up’

At regular intervals – about once every three-four weeks, it would be advisable to substitute ‘working up’ for a dynamic effort session. For example, instead of the usual dynamic effort bench press day, the aim would be to work with increasing weights over five sets or so to hit maximum or near maximum lifts. However, to accommodate this change, the next max effort bench press session would just consist of accessory exercises.

For bench press, including these working up sessions can be played by ear. If you are feeling strong on that particular day, then go ahead. For squat/deadlift sessions, there may need to be some pre-planning, as it might be a good idea to adjust the previous max effort squat/deadlift session, for example, by cutting some of the accessory work.

Putting it all together – a sample Standard template routine

From the above, it should be apparent that the standard template allows for a great deal of flexibility, particularly in the supplemental and accessory exercises. The design recognises that we may need to adjust the volume and intensity of work according to how we feel on a particular day.

However, just for the sake of illustration, I’ve put together an example of what a standard template workout might look like in week one. Remember that in subsequent weeks, the max effort lifts would be rotated and the box squat weights changed according to the wave loading pattern explained above.

Sunday – Dynamic Effort Bench Press Session
Bench Press 8 X 3 @ 55% 1RM,
Triceps - Rack Lockouts, 4 X 5
Shoulders – Military Press, 4 X 5
Lats – Pulldowns, 4 X 5

Monday – Max Effort Squat/Deadlift Session
Deadlift - Three sets of 1-3 reps @ 90 -100% of 1RM
Hamstrings – Glute/ham Raises 3 X 6
Lower back – Reverse Hyperextensions 3 X 10
Abdominals – Weighted Sit-ups 3 X 10

Wednesday – Max Effort Bench Session
Bench Press movement -Two board press, three sets of 1-3 reps @ 90 -100% of 1RM
Triceps – Barbell Tricep Extensions, 6 X 10
Shoulders – Rear DB Raises, 3 X 10
Lats – Seated Row, 5 X 8

Friday – Dynamic Effort Squat/Deadlift Session
Squat movement - Box Squat, 10x2 @ 50% 1RM
Lower back/hamstrings – Stiff-Legged Deadlifts, 5 X 5
Abdominals – Hanging Leg Raise, 4 X 8

Further reading

» MuscleTalk - A briefer description of the Westside principles, with a sample routine
» EliteFTS - The original Jim Wendler article which this summary is based on.
» T-Nation - Comprehensive article explaining the principles behind Westside-style periodisation
» T-Nation - Part two of Dave Tate’s article on periodisation the Westside way, including sample routines..

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