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The Westside of CrossFit

[/caption] In December 2009, I was lucky enough to spend a weekend at Westside Barbell with Louie Simmons. Since that time, I’ve had the awesome opportunity to work with Louie and some of his athletes on CrossFit Journal articles. The most important thing I learned about strength training is also the simplest: you don’t get stronger by doing the same thing over and over again. That’s a very CrossFit idea, but it’s straight from the depths of Westside. Louie learned it back in the early ’70s, and he’s believed in it ever since. European athletes knew it even before that. “Once you learn to spell your name right, you can only spell it wrong,” Simmons will tell you. The concept seems obvious to me now, but a year ago I was skeptical. I was squatting and deadlifting heavy every single week, and the numbers were going up, at least for a while. And back in the day, of course, I bench pressed every Monday as heavy as I could go for the same number of reps every time. See, I thought that I would increase my deadlift by deadlifting over and over again, and I thought endless benching would make me King of the Gym. [caption id="attachment_569" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Lots of good people in this pic, including three CrossFit Games champions."][/caption] To be fair, I went through about a three-month period where I followed a Starting Strength-type program of increasing the weight on the bar every session and squatting, pressing and deadlifting heavy about twice a week. My form improved a lot, and I saw some pretty good gains for a while. Then I got some joint pain, as well as The Fear. I was literally scared of getting under a heavy barbell, and my stomach churned when I thought about it. This wasn’t the excited butterflies you get before a max attempt. This was a real aversion to lifting. I’d never experienced it before, and I’m pretty sure it was overtraining telling me to back the hell off. So I did. And I went to see Louie in Columbus, Ohio. What I learned from Simmons is this: going heavy all the time and doing the same movement every week will wear you out. It’s not sustainable for more than about a month—or less. For me it’s definitely less. I peak at about three weeks on a given lift at maximum intensity. [caption id="attachment_571" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Steve Slater of Slater's Hardware has all the coolest toys."][/caption] That doesn’t mean you can’t go heavy a lot. It just means you can’t be pulling 1RM deadlifts every single week or squatting your max once a week. That’s unsustainable. I also learned that every movement has a weak link. If you do that same movement over and over again, you might improve, but you’ll never bring the weak link in line with the others without some special attention. [caption id="attachment_570" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Boz and J-Ward get some tips on assistance exercises."][/caption] You can keep deadlifting, but if your core strength sucks you should probably give it some special attention with some good mornings, Romanian deadlifts, back extensions, ab work and so on. If you don’t, at some point your posterior chain will be strong enough to pick up a weight that will ruin your spine. Neglect your weaknesses at your own peril. And again, doesn’t that sound a lot like CrossFit? I find it interesting that extreme powerlifters and CrossFitters have some pretty significant commonalities despite the gap between specialists and generalists. The CrossFit idea of constant variation means you’re always being faced with different movements presented in different load and rep schemes, which keeps the body fresh and prepared for unknown challenges. The Westside idea of planned variation and systematic elimination of weaknesses results in stronger, fresher lifters. Looks almost like two sides to the same coin, doesn’t it?

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