The life of an intern in the world’s strongest gym

Posted: September 10, 2013 in Guest Blogs
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The life of an intern in the world’s strongest gym

Written by P.J. Dundass

Week 1

“Walk like a man- Welcome to Westside Barbell”

“Are you Irish?”

“Yeah…. That’s me” I respond hesitantly.

“Then get in” shouts a guy parked outside my motel with a hoodie over his head.

It’s 7 a.m. and just 10 minutes ago I was contemplating what clothes to wear for more time than I care to mention. My only instruction heading into today’s session was “Don’t dress like a faggot, I’m serious, and yeah… Just don’t be a faggot in general”. I am on my way to Westside Barbell.

Westside Barbell is a small invite-only gym located in Columbus Ohio where you must be invited or meet elite status before you even dare to ask whether or not you can train here. It is renowned as the STRONGEST gym on this planet.

As soon as I set foot in the door it suddenly hits me, this place is RAW. Immediately, I am told to throw my bag wherever the hell I like, if it gets stepped on, all its contents are crushed, tough luck man. I turn and inquisitively cast my eye on this room I am in. This is the breeding ground for the boogy monsters you used to be warned about before going to bed, just now in power-lifting form.

I start warming up before the big guys get here. My training partner is Joe, one of the other interns, the hooded man as described above. He has told me to get my technique right on the box squat before the guys get here, otherwise be ready for a world of complete interrogation.

It’s now 7.45 a.m. and I see everyone coming in. In walks the man who is the master of ceremonies of this arena.

I say to myself that I figure I’ll get the 500 pound elephant out of the room right off the mark via introduction. Being a wise or foolish smart ass opening, I say; “Hi my name is P.J. and I am the guy whose balls you’ll be breaking for the next few months” Staring me dead in the face, this man swiftly and bluntly replies “I don’t break balls… I COACH”.

This coach is Louie Simmons


Louie Simmons is arguably the greatest strength and conditioning coach of all time. Louie is deemed by the general world of strength training to be the “Godfather” of powerlifting.

His achievements with a range of powerlifters speaks for itself-

  • The Westside Barbell team have broken more than 100 world records, including 4 out of the 5 top totals, and four of the top 10.
  • He has trained the highest all time totalled male and female powerlifters in Dave Hoff and Laura Phelps the pound for pound strongest man and woman on this planet.
  • No gym in the world has more than one person who has totalled over 2800lbs, Louie has FIVE.
  • Additionally he has trained two Olympic gold medal sprinters and a UFC heavyweight champion amongst others.

A pretty mean résumé right?

Louie himself is one of only five lifters in the history of the sport to gain elite status in five weight classes and currently the only person over the age of 50 to deadlift 722lb (327Kg), squat 920lbs (417Kg) and bench 600lbs (272Kg) (I put Kgs there because I know how us Europeans add up our weight, no need to Google convert it, I got our asses covered).

What the hell does Louie do to train his elite ensemble of athletes? It is all based around a system called The Conjugate Method.

The Westside conjugate method is the combination of two highly developed and complex training systems: The Soviet and the Bulgarian systems. It essentially is a multi-faceted system whereby there is a rotary motion of connected specialized movements and exercises which are related strongly in make-up to one another.

This system involves a 4 day a week training system utilizing a training schedule split into both lower and upper body days. These days are the deadlift/squat and bench press days thereby training all 3 of the power-lifts.

Westside’s training plan is more distinctive in that it may be broken down into two further groups based on two of the three main methods utilized: The maximal effort method and the dynamic effort method- An example of a typical training week is detailed below.

  • Monday- Maximal effort method- Squat/Deadlift
  • Wednesday- Maximal effort method- Bench Press
  • Friday- Dynamic effort method- Squat/Deadlift
  • Saturday- Dynamic effort method- Bench Press

“The three methods can be defined as”

  1. THE MAXIMAL EFFORT METHOD = “Lifting a maximal load against maximal resistance” therefore “should be used to bring forth the greatest strength increments”.

Aim = Increasing absolute strength and strength speed

  1.  THE DYNAMIC EFFORT METHOD = “Lifting a non-maximal load with the highest attainable speed”.

Aim = Increasing the rate of force development and speed strength

  1. THE REPETITION METHOD =“Using considerably less than maximal resistance until fatigue causes one to fail”

Aim = Increasing work capacity and strengthening up muscles which make up the anatomical structure of an activity
(Zatsiorsky, 1995)


I will be delving into these training methods, looking at their individual purposes and utilization on athletes from my own experience over the next 8 weeks.

My first week using the conjugate method produces interesting results. Training on my first day, being the maximal effort day for the squat/deadlift hits full impact on my walking to work on Wednesday. This impact is so much so that I leave my apartment 2 hours earlier than necessary to walk 45 minutes to Westside and home again. This is pain has yet to subside while writing this; I am broke up from my first week.

During my first week in Ohio I come across this area in Columbus where a Dayton sign looms over the highway about 30 minutes from my apartment. In this area there is this big stretch to walk on in the middle of the road and cops constantly have people pulled over. When I walk this with heavy legs, I get to take that step back, realizing that there is no way better to combat weakness than with strength. Although the walks are a test in themselves, learning what pushes you to the limit and what you are really made of is truly character building.

The term “Walk like a man” originates from a Sopranos episode whereby two of the shows younger characters are acknowledging the fact that they have bigger dues to pay and must rise to an occasion bigger than themselves in the mob. This, consequently meaning they could be dead or alive unless they choose wisely. I too may have only begun my journey and am similar to those two characters in that I am a beginner. But the biggest similarity we share? I would rather be dead than average. Right now I am walking my line every-day… Are you?


P.J. Dundass is an aspiring Irish strength and conditioning coach originating from Connemara, Co. Galway. He is a recent graduate from The Waterford Institute of Technology having completed a Bachelor of Business (Hons) degree in Recreation and Sport Management. He is currently completing an 8 week internship in Westside Barbell in Columbus, Ohio.

  1. Bruce Wardrop says:

    Nice post PJ – I’m really looking forward to hearing how you get on over there. Say hi to Tom for me. Best of luck!

  2. Bernard Brannigan says:

    Great read will he b keeping us informed over the coming weeks ? Would b great to hear more

    Sent from my iPad

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