When I was a boy in the late 1960s, the counterculture revolution was in full swing, the anti-war movement was at its peak, and kids everywhere were turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. I barely noticed. I was too busyreading every strength-training article I could get my hands on. The best ones were found in Muscle Builder/Power (later Muscle & Fitness)—and the best of the best were written by Bill “Peanuts” West and George Frenn.West and Frenn led the original Westside Barbell Club of Culver City, CA. The club was open to aspiring lifters and world-class athletes alike, and its members used the most advanced training systems yet devised. Westside ruledthe powerlifting scene until West started the slow, sad descent that led to his untimely demise in 1984. Trust me, these boys were years ahead of their time. Remember, this was in powerlifting’s “raw era” (T-shirts, gym shorts, and ACE bandages only), decades before the advent of modern “gangster gear.” Westside’s Pat Casey was the first man to bench 600 pounds, squat 800 pounds, and total 2,000 pounds. George Frenn, who held both the 242-pound and superheavyweight squat and deadlift world records concurrently for a time, made a crazy 854-pound squat at 242 pounds. The U.S. Army drafted me in 1966, and I served until 1969. I immersed myself in powerlifting after that. I’d learned much from the Westside articles and felt I owed the club a debt of sorts. I had no idea, though, that I was about to begin a lifelong odyssey that would make Homer proud. I never got to Culver City, but I kept reading Westside articles and applying Westside principles. In no time, I made unreal strength gains. In February 1973, I squatted 605, benched 380, and deadlifted 670. Those lifts made a 1,655 total, which was the first of my five Elite totals and only 55 pounds shy of the 181-pound-class world record.
Some lifters from my area now began to train with me in my garage. We used a linear periodization system, which I sensed was dangerous. My intuition proved correct in 1973, when I broke my L-5 vertebra. I was on and off crutches for 10 months, but not a single doctor was able to fix my back. Necessity being the mother of invention, I built the prototype for the Reverse Hyperextension machine (for which I own five patents). I quickly repaired my broken back using only this machine!
By 1980, seven lifers trained in my garage—and we all won at the YMCA Nationals! I was still using linear periodization, but what choice did I have? What was I missing? I was determined to find out. I readall the Soviet training manuals that had been translated into English and discovered that what I’d been missingwas science. The Soviet manuals actually referenced Newton’s three laws of motion! I was spellbound. I fractured my L-5 vertebra again in 1983. Again, I dived into the Soviet manuals. Linear periodization was gone and replaced by two- and three-week waves to build special strengths. I also began to use the conjugate system of rotatingexercises. Now I always know precisely how fast and thus how strong I am; and I eliminate my weak points by using the correct exercises.
At age 50, I squatted 920, benched 600, and totaled 2,100. At age 57, I deadlifed 715. How did I accomplish these feats? How did I remain Top 10 in the world for 30 years? The answer is simple: by applying scientific principles (specifically, physics, mathematics, and biomechanics) to strength training. The proof is in the pudding. No gym in the world has two men who can total 2,700 pounds, but Westside has four ranging from 2,900 to 2,960. Only Westside has two 900-pound bench pressers and two 1,200-pound squatters. Our women, led by the amazing Laura Phelps and her 11-times-body-weight total, hold four of the 10 possible all-time total records. Westside has broken more than 100 all-time world records. The great weightlifter Jon Cole once said, “The greatest test is the test of time.”
Westside has surely passed that test. While gym after gym continues to fall, Westside Barbell remains on top. Special thanks to FLEX and Robbie Durand for providing me with this platform so I might repay, in some small measure, all those athletes who have sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears for the advancement of my passion. I will repay my kindred spirits with the only currency I can give: endless work to upgrade the efficacy and safety of the greatest training system ever devised…the Westside Barbell Method. FLEX