Westside vs The World Review
By Anthony Ricciuto
The Strongest Gym on the Planet!
Now when it comes to Westside Barbell there is a lot that can be said. There is not a single powerlifter anywhere on this green planet that has not heard of Westside Barbell and for good reason. No true strength athlete can say they haven’t heard of the strongest gym in the history of our sport. When I heard that Louie Simmons and the crew at Westside had a documentary in the works I couldn’t hold in the excitement. Let’s be honest, Powerlifting really doesn’t have too many documentaries made about it. Power Unlimited released years back gave some insight into the sport and some of the top names that dominated in each era. It was a good documentary and gave outsiders to our sport a look at what Powerlifting is supposed to be about. But in hindsight, it was not a super hardcore film and stayed politically correct throughout. It wasn’t made to rub you the wrong way or go against the grain.
A Real Powerlifting Documentary!
What a Real Powerlifting Documentary Should Look Like!
But with Westside vs the World, it is anything and everything but politically correct and was guaranteed to please the most hardcore diehard fan of Powerlifting and even more so if you are a Westside student. This documentary doesn’t care if you like Westside and its principles or not. Nor does it care if you can relate to the Westside mentality and how it permeates through the walls of this dungeon until it becomes part of your soul. This film documents over 30 years of history in Powerlifting and doesn’t hold back anything. When I imagined what a Powerlifting documentary should look like…this is exactly Westside vs the World!
The Westside Barbell Coat of Arms!
Discovering Westside in Powerlifting USA Magazine
Now I have a close tie to Westside Barbell for a lot of reasons. When I started reading Powerlifting USA magazine as a 14-year-old punk way back in 1990, Louie’s article was one of the first things I read in my very first issue. I fell in love with the magazine which years later would have me taking on the role of Sports Nutrition Editor for a 12-year run. But I was also bit by the Westside persona. Louie’s articles didn’t just educate me during my competitive powerlifting years, but also installed a different mindset of never giving up no matter what the world throws at you and no matter how bad the odds against you were.
My Very First Issue of Powerlifting USA that Bit in Hard!
A Gift from Louie that Changed Everything!
I have to say that from my premier issue of PL USA that I took into my hands in 1990, right until the very last issue in 2012, Louie’s articles were always the very first thing I would read when that magazine came in the mail. Yes it was the first thing I read even when I had my own monthly column in there. But as I mentioned in an article long ago, Louie showed kindness right away from our first interaction. Back in the early ’90s, I wrote him a letter, yes a letter with a stamp on it, not an email, about how his squat program had helped my sister add 50 pounds to her squat in only 8 weeks. Much to my surprise a few weeks later a box was on my doorstep. As a young teenager that didn’t get much mail, I was intrigued by what it could be. As I opened it up and found the entire Westside Barbell strength series on VHS tapes along with T-shirts and hats. I couldn’t believe it. Along with a handwritten letter from Louie encouraging us to be the best, I tasted a level of camaraderie felt very few other places. What would cause Louie to send us several hundred dollars worth of videos and Westside merchandise to a couple of young kids he never met before for free? I would have to say because Louie has a heart of gold. Now I am not saying that he won’t get under your skin or break your balls when it’s time to get under the iron. Oh, yea you better believe he can do it better than anyone, but underneath it all there are very few as sincere as Louie and no one is more dedicated to giving back to our sport.
The Original Westside VHS Tapes Louie Sent Me!
Working Side by Side with the Westside Crew!
During my time writing my monthly nutrition column for Powerlifting USA magazine I had taken on a lot of the top names in the sport under my guidance for nutrition programming and consulting. I also bonded with many of the best lifters at Westside as well helping them dial in their nutrition regiments to increase their strength, as well as focusing on keeping them healthy. Here I got to talk non stop with some of the best lifters at Westside even though I was a country apart living up in Canada. It was an unreal experience traveling up to the WPO Championships at the Arnold Classic in Columbus, Ohio in the early and mid-2000s and going backstage and meeting them in person. This also kept me on the cutting edge of the latest and greatest discoveries in training info of what went on behind the walls of Westside Barbell.
A Journey Into Hell!
Sorry for going off on a little tangent there but for those not familiar with my history I thought I would share a little of my past. You see I have read some of the other reviews of this documentary and I wanted to do something different. While others would criticize certain aspects of the documentary, the difference is they are complete outsiders looking in. When you are familiar with all that has happened over the last several decades, then you will look at it in a totally different light. Now even the red band extended trailer for this film had me on the edge of my seat. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up as Louie explained that training at Westside was like taking a journey into hell. He had me right there because I knew just from those few first seconds of the trailer it was going to be hardcore and totally raw.
The film starts off talking about Louie’s rough childhood and being bullied early on in life. In his teens, he got drafted to go to Vietnam but when his father passed away he was stationed in Berlin, Germany. Here reading about the Original Westside Barbell in Culver City, he became intrigued about their unorthodox training methods. He got out of the army in 1969 and from there on in Louie dedicated himself to competitive powerlifting. Then in 1973, he broke his back his L-5 to be exact, for the first time. He was on crutches for close to a year but this didn’t stop him. It was the creation of the Reverse Hyper Machine that helped rehabilitate his back to be stronger than ever before. By the mid-1970’s Lou was back competing with a vengeance. He won the 1980 YMCA Nationals which at that time was the biggest show in the country. During this time Louie’s garage became the first training grounds. With no heat or air conditioning and a dirt floor, it was the beginning base where many world champions would lay their roots. This was the beginning of Westside Barbell and the first powerlifting crew to dominate.
Louie Squatting in the Garage Gym!
Injury Strikes Again
In 1981 Louie broke his back once again doing a heavy squat where it pinned him to the box. He knew to rehabilitate himself once again he would need a new way to train and Western Periodization wasn’t the answer. Here he turned to the Soviet and Bulgarian training methods studying book after book until he created the core principles of Westside training. Here the concepts of maximal effort days and dynamic effort sessions were created and the conjugate method was born.
The Legacy of Matt Dimel
I remember from those early Westside training videos that Louie had sent me back in the early 1990’s the ferociousness of big Matt Dimel. Him doing rack pulls with over 900 pounds in front of the red background has always left an impression on me not to be forgotten. At 380 pounds and over 6 feet tall he looked like a Viking warrior from years gone by. His all-time world record squat of 1010 put Louie on the map and before he knew it the powerlifting community took notice of his unique training methodology.
Louie and Matt’s Animated Gym Brawl!
The One and Only Chuck V
In the mid-1980’s Louie moved out of the garage into a new commercial space. With several National Champions and Matt’s all-time squat record, new faces wanted to be part of Westside. Here Chuck Vogelpohl got his start in powerlifting and the beginning of a career that would shock the powerlifting world. Chuck’s first major injury was caused by wrestling with Matt Dimel where he broke his neck. In the 2000s Chuck’s stage presence skyrocketed. His reputation as the hardest training lifter at Westside is no exaggeration. His gym squat of 885 with 640 pounds of band tension is beyond anything you could ever imagine. His adrenaline-fueled rage was his trademark that few could ever match on the platform. Many even questioned if Chuck was human or some kind of machine.
The Intensity of Chuck was Unreal!
In his early 40’s Louie tore his patella tendon squatting over 700. His first surgery went ok without any glitches. But the second surgery turned into a disaster. Due to a medical mistake by using anesthesia on him after letting them know he is allergic, caused him to go into convulsions and stop breathing. After cutting holes in his throat to perform a tracheotomy he was in a medically induced coma for days. But that didn’t stop Louie from doing a max bench workout hours after being released from the hospital with a hole in his throat and his leg in a cast. If that isn’t hardcore then I don’t know what is.
Louie Bencing with his Leg in a Cast!
The 1990’s and Beyond
Here Westside moved locations to the famous Demorest spot and his role as a coach became even more focused. His column in Powerlifting USA took off like a wildfire. Here he made over 20 DVD’s to help educate the masses on his training system. The world’s best strength and conditioning coaches from the NFL and NBA visited Westside to learn from the man himself. With the rise of multiply gear and the WPO taking center stage, powerlifting entered a whole new era. Professional powerlifting was here even if the world wasn’t ready. Kenny Patterson and George Halbert were breaking bench press world records at every other meet. The introduction of chains and bands played a big role in many of his lifters hitting new levels of strength. Kenny’s riling of Louie had him come out of retirement at age 50. With his past injuries creeping up on him this was no easy comeback. But no matter what he had against him, Louie squatted over 900 and benched 600 to show the world that he still had what it took to roll with the world’s best.
The Very First Article in Powerlfting USA I ever Read from Louie!
The Troublesome Times into the Millennium
During the 2000s Westside dominated powerlifting like never before. But internally tempers flared and relationships were bruised in the gym and on the platform. When Chuck Vogelpohl left Westside due to a conflict with Louie, he took some of his lifters with him to go to Lexen Gym. Matt Wenning, Phil Harrington, and some other top names in the sport decided to go as well. During this tumultuous time, Big Iron Gym was chomping at Westsides’s heels to dethrone the best and become top dog. The untimely death of their head coach Rick Hussey due to Cancer was a major loss to our sport. I talked with Rick many times on the phone as I was working with some of his lifters as well. He was not only an amazing coach but someone that gave to the sport more than he took. To make things worse Westside’s top-ranking lifter for the last several years Greg Panora also left. Setting so many records in such little time left him burned out and not wanting to continue in the sport. The things he accomplished in just a few short years have shown that he was one of the strongest lifters that have ever lived.
Greg’s Strength and Talent were Beyond Comprehension!
The New Crew Proves Themselves
With many of the old lifters gone or retired, Louie was looking for some new talent. In came the likes of AJ Roberts, Luke Edwards, Tony Ramos, and the rising star Dave Hoff squatting 1005 as a teenager. AJ’s 1200 squat set the record books on fire. But before long his health issues took its toll and he decided that he no longer mentally had what it took to keep going. But of all the stories that touched my heart the most was that of Luke Edwards. Three weeks after performing an 840 deadlift in competition he was hospitalized. Luke suffers from a rare kidney disease. By 25 years old he had his first transplant. Even after this he still came back and squatted 1000 pounds. A few years later his body rejected the kidney and he was put on dialysis. Even during the hardship of all that he was enduring he never missed a workout. I will be doing an article in the near future about Luke that will be like nothing you ever read before.
Luke’s Story was Beyond Motivating!
The Women of Westside
While many outsiders may think that Westside is just a bunch of grown men looking to be the strongest they can, they are dead wrong. The strongest women in the world are part of Westside and have done so since the 1980s. Laura Dodd and Mariah Liggett were two of the original Westsider’s that took more world titles than you can count. Not to be forgotten is Amy Weisburger who has competed for over thirty years and was the first woman to qualify to compete at the WPO Championships for having a total higher than what is required for the men’s division. Another of my clients, Karen Sizemore’s photo was shown in the video but wasn’t interviewed. She held world records in the bench press and was doing things back in the late 1990s and early 2000s that was unreal. The woman of the hour is none other than Laura Phelps. No one dominated the platform like her. I am honoured to have worked with her years back because she is a legend that this sport will never forget. To be honest I don’t think another woman on this planet will ever touch what she has done.
Karen Sizemore Toying with over 400 Pounds in the Bench!
Not Just Heavy Weights and Muscles
One of the most touching parts of the film is when after ten years of absence, Chuck Vogelpohl showed up for the daily Denny’s breakfast that Lou is known for. For Chuck to come back after all that time it showed that once you are a Westsider, you are always a Westsider. His presence motivated Dave Hoff to total over 3000 for his second time around. Chuck’s intensity and persona are beyond what mere words can say. Another segment when Lou at 63 years old passed out on his second squat attempt at a competition was gut-wrenching. For him to say it was over, and to hang up his belt after one last meet hit like a ton of bricks. For any lifter that no longer competes due to health or injuries keeping them back, when deep down they don’t want to stop is heartbreaking.
The Greatest Woman Powerlifter Ever!
For those of you who have not seen Westside vs the World, then I can’t recommend it enough. If you have been in the sport for any number of years it will take you back in time that I guarantee. Throughout the entire documentary, each team member had their own personal story and what obstacles they had to overcome in their pursuit of greatness. But the most heartfelt moment is when Lou talked about not fitting into the current world. Not liking cell phones in the gym, the stupidity of social media, and the pussification of the new generation. Him complaining about how he can’t get into the faces of the younger lifters the way he did with his old crew left its mark. The change of Westside that is now 5% Powerlifting and 95% sports-related showed that the tide has changed as the popularity of our sport is not what it used to be.
Lou’s Words Touched my Heart Like No Other!
But nothing hit as hard as when Lou said, “ What else I got? I am hooked onto that white whale. I got nowhere to go. What else am I going to do? I am going to go down with that whale. It’s going to drag me to the bottom eventually and I don’t care. That’s what I want.” For anyone that has tasted exactly what he said right there, it will burn your heart with a searing pain that nothing can extinguish. Lou with all his accomplishments and victories on the platform, all his stories with the ups and downs are summarized right there with those few short words. Westside is more than lifting big numbers or breaking records. It’s a mindset of never giving up no matter what is against you, and no matter how bad the odds are stacked against you until you attain victory or die trying!