Setting Up Westside for the Raw Lifter

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Setting Up Westside for the Raw Lifter

institute of iron
Gareth Williams

The Westside Method is widely accepted as the "go-to" system for developing absolute strength. The system utilizes the max effort method, dynamic effort method, and the repetition effort method. How you choose to use these principles will determine your success. This is exactly what I will be discussing in this article.

Louie has spent a long time perfecting the Westside Method for geared lifters. However, if you’re a raw lifter, then you may need to tweak some things to suit your individual needs. Westside is a system, not a program. If something isn’t working, ditch it.

Max Effort Method

The max effort method is your meat and potatoes. It involves rotating the main lift every one to three weeks. This allows you to handle maximum weight 90-100% every week.

When selecting the exercises in you rotation, pick exercises that actually target your sticking point. If you’re weak off the chest, would you choose the incline press or a close-grip 4-board? Exactly. I have had good results by training my weakness for two max effort workouts and then my strong point for the next session, repeated in that fashion.

If I feel like crap one day, then I’ll do a triple or a max set of five instead. Don’t be afraid to do this. It’s not going to make you weaker - not every day can be the day.

Dynamic Effort Method

You gotta be fast to be strong! If I neglect speed work, my lifts start to move slowly, my deadlifts won’t budge, and I can’t hit PRs. Not good. Like it or not, the dynamic effort method will develop explosiveness that will compliment your maximum strength. Also, speed work is often done for 6-12 sets for 1-3 reps, making it a great opportunity to practice your setup and technique.

Now, before I get into percentages, think about this: Some people are faster than they are strong, and vice versa. Not everyone can lift 60% at 0.9- 1.2m/s. If you’re having a bad day, that 60% can be more like 70%. The correct percentage for you will have to be determined by your bar speed on the day. So, if you’re a "grinder" and you need to use 35% to be fast, then stay with it. Just remember what speed work is about and why you’re doing it.

Repetition Effort Method

Train like a bodybuilder...but before you go reaching for you iPhone to post shirtless selfies of yourself on your Instagram account, remember that this is Powerlifting. This is the method used to build muscle where it’s needed in order to bring up our competition lifts.


The supplemental lift will come after the main movement and should specifically target your weak point. The accessory lift comes next. This exercise should help build the supplemental. Again, choosing the appropriate supplemental and accessory exercises can be a daunting and frustrating task and may take some trial and error. The exercises you choose will be based on your individual weaknesses and how you’re built. Since we’re building muscle here, I recommend using full ROM exercises over partials for the added time under tension.

Take the bench press for example:

Weak off the chest: Incline DB presses
Weak midpoint: Incline barbell press
Weak lockout: Close-grip incline press
Bands and chains can be added, but don’t go crazy with them. Keep in mind that the supplemental lifts are used to build muscle. Also remember that accommodating resistance is harder on the CNS than straight weight, and bands more so than chains.

Two Common Misconceptions

Below are two training tools associated with Westside that are quite popular to bash, perhaps due to the raw vs. geared debate or those who believe Westside is for geared lifters only. Either way, it’s a load of crap.

Box Squats

These have been getting a bad rap by a lot of people. Box squats will develop the posterior chain like nothing else. They can be used for max effort, dynamic effort, or even as a supplemental lift. They teach you to stay tight and how to be explosive, and they’re also easier to recover from than regular squats. What more do you want?!

The biggest problem I see with box squats is when they are performed incorrectly. If you don’t sit back far enough, if you lose tightness, or if you end up rocking off the box, then don’t be surprised if they don’t yield any results. Ease into these until you nail the form. Remember, as with all lifts, you’re only as strong as your technique.

molly westside box squat

Bands and Chains

Bands and chains are a great tool to use in your training. They make you faster and stronger, and they teach you to get tight. It's too bad that most people don’t know how to use them.

Louie recommends setting up the accommodating resistance to give 25% at the top of the lift. For some reason everyone seems to think that this is set in stone! If your raw deadlift was weak off the floor, then do you really need any accommodating resistance? Probably not.

Here is an example of the kind of accommodating resistance percentages you might be better off using based on the sticking point. I’ll use the bench press again:

Weak off the chest: No accommodating resistance
Weak midpoint: 10-15% accommodating resistance
Weak lockout: 20-25% accommodating resistance
Bringing up a Weak Point

A weak point can be caused by technical, mental or physical influences. I’m not going to touch on the technical or mental aspects as there are plenty of articles and instructional videos out there already. However, a physical weak point can be caused by a lack of:

Don’t fall victim to the belief that you can simultaneously increase these three attributes effectively. If you’re strong but need to be more explosive, then lower the max work so that you can focus on speed. For best results, pick one attribute for the squat/deadlift and the bench press, and train the others enough to maintain them.

It is no coincidence that I started smashing my old squat PRs when I wasn’t able to bench press or deadlift for three months after my wrist surgery. I’m sure you’ve probably heard about other lifters in similar situations; some guy can't squat or deadlift due to a lower back issue. However, six months later, his bench is up 20 pounds! Maybe that’s why it’s not uncommon for bench-only guys to have a double bodyweight bench? Something to think about...

"Do less for strong body parts and more for weak ones. Don't just add volume on top of volume for someone who is already training hard." – John Meadows.

Here are some questions, which I stole from Jim Wendler, to help you assess your weakness:

Strength: Can you grind out a max effort lift for three to five seconds, or do you just fade out?
Speed: Do sets with 60% of your max move explosively?
Hypertrophy: Do you have enough muscle mass to compete in your weight class?
Once you find the area that needs improvement, as well as those areas that you need to maintain, you can use the below as a rough guide of how to program your training:

Whatever combination you choose, your score should be no more than six for the bench press and the squat/deadlift.


Don’t jump straight into high amounts of work. Instead, allow your body to adjust. Drop the other things back before you gradually increase the work needed to bring up your weakness.

Dave Tate, in the elitefts™ bench manual, talks about Bridging — the term he uses to explain a smart progressive way to add volume to a weak point from one workout to the next in order to avoid injury. This is accomplished by changing exercises and using a heavier one each workout. Take the triceps for example: pushdowns, dumbbell extensions, barbell extensions, JM press, and high board presses.

In regards to the recommendations for the repetition effort method in this guide, that’s based solely on my training. You be the judge of what high/low volume is for you.

Final Thoughts

It’s also worth mentioning that, when choosing exercises, you need to be realistic in terms of what you can recover from. Not everyone can deadlift every week and get stronger. Louie once said, "Why do an exercise that takes more than it gives back?" He advocates using speed pulls, various types of box squats, and good mornings to build the deadlift. A front squat done without a belt is going to be easier to recover from than a reverse band deadlift. You still max out but less weight is needed to do so, meaning you can recover faster.
"Building Better Athletes"