Have belt will travel: Westside Barbell

At some point I will write about my first visit to Westside barbell, for now I will talk about my most recent visit to this gym. For those of you that aren’t familiar, Westside barbell is one of the most successful powerlifting clubs of all time. A number of great lifters have come out of Westside barbell and then struck off to find their own success in business or training.

Calling ahead

Each time before I go to Westside I call ahead and find out if it is ok to come in and train. I would like to tell you dear reader and say that my voice is more confident and less fanboyish each time that I call them, but that would be a dirty lie. In my experience when you leave a message with them they get back to you in a few days. Then you have to act like you aren’t mildly freaking out and gushing at the fact that you are getting to speak to THE WESTSIDE BARBELL. They were kind enough to look past my childlike glee and allow me to come in and train with the Saturday morning crew and then ask questions later on about training and such.

In the hotel room

Here I am, sitting alone in a hotel room thinking about how it all started over ten years ago. Driving alone to Columbus, Ohio to train at Westside Barbell. Driving by the closed gym that night to make sure I knew where it was and then driving to the hotel to sit by myself and think about how in a few hours I would be training with some of the most intense and strongest people on the planet. Feeling that slight bit of trepidation, but mostly excitement while sitting in the room that I was getting the chance to train with and learn from the best. Eventually sleep finds me by about 11pm that night.

Pulling up and time to go

I got up at about 6:30, got dressed (I avoid wearing any labels while training at Westside, the last thing you want to happen is everyone starts calling you Kentucky or something), and made some tea then got on the road. I pulled up to the gym at about 7:12am and the place was already going. Standing outside I could hear the clatter of bars and plates being moved along with stereo playing. As I walked in the gym I’m hit with the aroma of chalk, sweat, and iron. Welcome back to Westside, Mike, now what are you going to do…

Training

I quickly hop in with a group of collegiate linebackers. One just graduated from playing at The Ohio State University and the other plays for Indiana. They are doing speed bench with a football bar against band and chain resistance. We are coached the entire time by Tom Barry the general manager of Westside Barbell. I’m told to lockout my reps since I’m having a hard time between the pec and the band tension to do so with each rep. We motor through 8 work sets, slightly changing the weight for each of us with each set. From there we did band resisted pushups (light band) with our hands on a barbell for three sets of burn out with different grips for each set. The sound of loud DMX playing through the PA and 20 or so athletes slamming weight made me realize that if there is a Valhalla it is probably quite like this place. From there we did what they refer to as the “Dirty 30” which is ten reps of pullovers, followed immediately by 10 skull crushers, and then 10 close grip bench presses or what I would simply call the “painful 30”. After going through three work sets each, we moved on to 4 sets of 10 reps on each arm dumbbell snatch (60lbs.) while keeping our feet on the ground and focusing on hinging at the hip along with making the upper back do the work. This was a bit of a metabolic test to say the least. Once that was done we did some cable rows on the belt squat machine with a MAG handle (first time I used one and definitely can say that I like it) with holding it at our sternum for a 5 count with each rep along with band tension on the exercise. The final set was just repping it out as many as you could. Afterwards the session was over and I did a bit of random accessory work trying out the different equipment that they have there. I was then alone in that gym for a few moments and just took it all in. All the other lifters were chatting outside or had left to go about their day. Here I am standing in Westside barbell and I’m 23 again, alone, tired, but with the sense of what is possible…

westside barbell survived
A selfie at Westside Barbell, I understand I deserve to get punched for this one…
belt squat machine and the row handle that I used
belt squat rows with the mag handle

The gym

Westside Barbell lays in wait in an otherwise quiet commercial garage location on the west side of Columbus Ohio. It is two large garages with a small office on each side and one bathroom. The gym is has a pile of dumbbells thrown unceremoniously on the floor, a variety of custom machines that they have created throughout the years. A number of nice monolifts, squat cages, benches, and deadlift platforms. It is everything you need to get strong with no frills and definitely no rules for setting weights down gently and avoiding grunting.

The people

I can’t say enough good things about the lifters I have met at Westside. After training they are great people to chat with about training and otherwise. Yes, I have been physically threatened by a few of them in the past, but that’s part of life (bit of a story behind that too). I chatted with Tom Barry a bit about training afterwards for his thoughts on how to work with my athletes along with how to help myself rehab from my shoulder surgery. These folks are a wealth of knowledge and always willing to help those that want to learn. After chatting with them for half an hour or so I left and hopped back in my car to head back to Kentucky.

Louie Simmons

The following day I was out for a little walk and noticed I had a call coming from a Columbus phone number. I answered it immediately and on the other side of it was Louie Simmons. The Louie Simmons. He called simply because I left my contact information in the office when I chatted with them about some further questions on training. Louie and I chatted for about 45 minutes about training, life, rehabilitation and otherwise. The one interesting piece of advice that I will share was a book recommendation that he gave me and that was Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. The story of the quest for perfect speed…

I can’t say enough good things about each of my interactions with Louie Simmons. He has always allowed me to come to his gym and answered my questions any time we have spoken. He might be a controversial person in the strength world, but he has always given his time and energy in my experience.

Summary

Westside Barbell is one of the greatest gyms I have ever set foot in. It is nice to be able to both be humbled and educated at the same time. Each visit I have had at that gym I’ve come away with new ideas, questions, and knowledge that I did not have before. This is definitely not a gym for the faint of heart, this is not a place to mail it in. This is a place where you lay it down. Thanks again to everyone at Westside for allowing me to come in and train with them. Thanks again to you dear reader for taking the time to read this.

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