Westside Barbell Equipment: The Ultimate Guide!


The powerlifting coach Louie Simmons says that the Westside Barbell powerlifting gym is the strongest gym in the world. His athletes have broken over 140 powerlifting world records and have won countless Olympic gold medals.

Louie Simmons says that his Westside Barbell powerlifting equipment gives his team an unfair advantage over every other powerlifting team in the world.

If you want to get freaky strong, break powerlifting world records and realize your full potential then Louie Simmons’ Westside Barbell powerlifting equipment is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Bands And Chains
  • Part 2: Squat Specialty Barbells
  • Part 3: Bench Press Specialty Barbells
  • Part 4: The Reverse Hyperextension
  • Part 5: The Inverse Leg Curl
  • Part 6: The Belt Squat
  • Part 7: The Back Attack
  • Part 8: The Glute Ham Raise
  • Part 9: The Powerlifting Sled

In this comprehensive guide I will show you how Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell powerlifting team use their specialized training equipment to break powerlifting world records while staying injury-free.

Louie Simmons is the mad genius of the powerlifting universe.

He invented many different powerlifting machines including the reverse hyperextension, inverse leg curl, belt squat and the back attack. Louie also popularized bands, chains, powerlifting sleds and many different specialty barbells for the squat and bench press.

Louie uses all of these different tools in his Westside Barbell powerlifting program to help his athletes get freaky strong while staying injury free. He believes that these Westside Barbell machines and training tools are essential for anyone who wants to compete against the strongest powerlifters in the world. 

In the 1980s Louie Simmons started using chains and bands to build the squat, bench press and deadlift. Nowadays it’s almost impossible to find a top-level powerlifter who doesn’t use these training tools!

Here is what chains look like on the squat:

The Chain Squat

The chains fall down on the ground as you reach the bottom position of the squat. This makes the top part of the exercise feel heavier than the bottom part.

Resistance bands are similar to chains but they feel completely different. Here is what bands look like on the deadlift:

The Band Deadlift

The bands are literally ripping the bar down to the ground faster than the speed of gravity! The bands make the exercise heavier at the top of the exercise but they feel completely different from chains.

Louie Simmons says they have eccentric training properties and can be used to increase the strength of your stretch reflex and your connective tissues.

Louie uses bands, chains and many different specialty barbells to make the squat, bench press and deadlift more challenging. However, he also designed a lot of Westside equipment to make assistance exercises more effective.

The most famous piece of Westside equipment in the world is the reverse hyperextension. Check it out:

The Reverse Hyperextension

Louie Simmons invented the reverse hyperextension in 1973 after he broke his lower back. Louie needed a way to rehab and strengthen his lower back at the same time. The reverse hyperextension does this perfectly!

Today the reverse hyperextension is used by many of the strongest athletes all over the world and by many healthcare and rehabilitation professionals. 

Louie Simmons also invented many machines to strengthen the hamstrings muscles. His most recent invention is the inverse leg curl machine. Check it out:

The Inverse Leg Curl

The inverse leg curl is basically an assisted Nordic hamstring curl machine. Louie Simmons calls this the single greatest hamstrings exercise you can perform. He says it is even more effective than his old favorite hamstrings exercise the glute ham raise.

As you can see Louie Simmons invented or popularized powerlifting equipment to build maximal strength, strengthen weak muscle groups and to rehabilitate your body and prevent injuries.

In the rest of this guide I will show you why these powerlifting tools are essential pieces of equipment for any serious powerlifting gym. I will also show you how Louie programs these tools and exercises into his own powerlifting workouts.

Trust me, you don’t want to miss this cutting edge information! Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: Bands And Chains

When I think of the Westside Barbell powerlifting gym I immediately think of bands and chains. It’s hard to think of any serious powerlifting gym that doesn’t use them!

Louie Simmons started experimenting with powerlifting chains on the squat and bench press in the early 1980’s. Louie says his strength in the squat immediately shot through the roof!

Here is a great video of the Westside team squatting with chains:

The Chain Squat

The chains are an extra form of weight that you hang from the barbell.

When you squat down the chains stack up on the floor which makes the bar feel lighter. Then when you stand back up the chains unload off the floor which makes the bar feel heavier.

This concept is known as “accommodating resistance” because the chains make the exercise heavier at the top where you are naturally stronger and lighter at the bottom where you are naturally weaker.

The chains also teach you to train explosively and force your muscles to work harder to stabilize the barbell on the squat and bench press. Louie Simmons mostly uses the chains on the squat and bench press.

For example here is what a Max Effort bench press workout with chains could look like:

  • Exercise A1: Speed floor press with chains, 9 sets of 3 reps
  • Exercise B1: 30 degree incline DB press, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise C1: Rolling DB extensions, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise C2: Band pushdowns, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise D1: Cable rope face pull, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise E1: Standing DB hammer curl, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps

You can click right here for the training video for this workout.

Chains work extremely well for building the squat and bench press. Louie Simmons likes to use them for the max effort squat, dynamic effort squat, max effort bench press and the dynamic effort bench press.

As much as Louie Simmons likes to use chains he likes bands even more. 

Here is a great video of bands being used on the bench press. Check it out:

The bands are like giant rubber bands. They are literally pulling the bar down to the ground faster than the speed of gravity!

Louie Simmons says that bands are even more effective for powerlifters than chains. Check it out:

Bands increase acceleration. If you hook bands onto something they are going to pull it down much faster than the speed of gravity.

If I attach a band to a barbell it’s going to turn the barbell into a rocketship during the eccentric phase.

Bands have a number of advantages over regular straight weight or even chains. The bands introduces a form of eccentric stress which is insanely powerful for making you stronger, building muscle mass, strengthening your connective tissue and making you more explosive.

One of Louie’s favorite strategies is to use quadrupled resistance bands on rack deadlifts. If you use the “monster-mini” bands then you can add as much as 280 pounds of band tension at lockout. Check it out:

The Band Rack Deadlift

Talk about a brutal deadlift!

Louie Simmons also likes to use bands for some upper body accessory exercises. Anytime he has an athlete who is stuck on the bench press he has them perform 100 reps of band pushdowns 3 times per week on their off days.

For example they might perform 100 reps of band pushdowns on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Louie has many athletes who increased their bench press by 50 pounds in 6 months using this strategy!

The bottom line is bands and chains are two of the best pieces of equipment that you can buy. They work unbelievably well for building strength and size. If you don’t train with bands and chains then you might as well be living in the stone age!

OK – maybe that was a little harsh. Let me try again: your name must be “Patrick Star” because you are clearly living under a rock!

Part 2: Squat Specialty Barbells

The Westside Barbell powerlifting team uses a variety of specialty barbells for the squat and bench press.

Specialty barbells are barbells that have a different design from a regular 45-pound barbell. They are used to attack weak muscle groups and overload the body in a slightly different way from a regular straight barbell.

Many of the world’s strongest athletes like the 4x World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw use specialty barbells extensively in their training programs.

Here is Brian Shaw talking about why he likes specialty barbells so much:

“I get a lot of questions about why I use all the specialty bars and why I don’t just squat with the straight bar.

It’s because every specialty bar has a different purpose. And for me it has a different purpose in my training.”

Louie Simmons didn’t invent any specialty barbells. However, he has found some unique ways to use them to strengthen the squat and bench press.

Here are Louie Simmons’ 3 favorite specialty barbells for the squat:

Westside Barbell Specialty Barbells For The Squat

  • Option #1: Safety Squat Bar
  • Option #2: Buffalo Bar
  • Option #3: Cambered Bar

The safety squat bar is the most popular specialty barbell in the world. It has a large padded surface that sits on your upper back and shoulders while you squat.

Here is the Westside Barbell powerlifting team performing some speed box squats with the safety squat bar. Check it out:

The Westside Safety Squat Bar

The safety squat bar is an unbelievable piece of equipment.

The bar is bent so the extra 45-pound plates sit further in front of your body than normal. It almost feels like you are performing a front squat because the center of gravity is so far forwards on your body.

It feels like the bar is trying to slam your body and your face right into the ground! This forces your lower back and upper back to work super hard to maintain an upright posture while you squat.

The safety squat bar also reduces the pressure on your shoulders while you squat. This can make it easier to recover for your bench press workouts during the week.

Some Westside Barbell athletes will even perform good mornings with the safety squat bar!

The bottom line is the safety squat bar is an unbelievable piece of equipment for building the squat. Louie Simmons likes to use it on the dynamic effort and max effort squat workouts.

Another one of Louie Simmons’ favorite squat specialty bars is the buffalo bar. Check it out:

The Westside Buffalo Bar Squat

The buffalo bar has a small bend in it.

The main benefit of the buffalo bar for squatting is it reduces the pressure on your shoulders. The built-in camber distributes the weight of the bar more evenly across your back. This reduces the pressure on your shoulders and makes it easier to recover from your heavy squatting sessions.

The buffalo bar is not as essential as the safety squat bar but it is a great specialty bar to use for more variety. Louie Simmons loves to use this as a substitute for the straight bar on squats. 

Finally there is the giant cambered bar. Check it out:

The Westside Giant Cambered Bar

The giant cambered bar is another one of Louie Simmons’ favorite pieces of Westside Barbell powerlifting equipment.

The bar has a giant bend in it which lowers the center of gravity of the exercise. This gives the exercise a completely different feel. You will also find that the bar wobbles forwards and backwards while you squat.

The weights are rocking forwards and backwards like a pendulum! Your body has to work harder to stabilize the bar and to maintain proper squatting technique.

If you have already mastered your squat technique with the straight bar then the giant cambered bar is a great option to mix things up. It is not as essential as the safety squat bar but it makes a fine addition to any Westside-style powerlifting gym.

Part 3: Bench Press Specialty Barbells

The Westside Barbell powerlifting team uses a variety of specialty barbells to train the bench press. These specialty barbells can make you stronger, more muscular and more resilient to injury all at the same time.

Here are the 3 most popular Westside Barbell bench press specialty barbells:

Westside Bench Press Specialty Barbells

  • Option #1: The Bamboo Bar
  • Option #2: The Buffalo Bar
  • Option #3: The Cambered Bar

Let’s take a closer look at each of these options.

Option #1: The Bamboo Bar

The bamboo bar is THE most important bench press specialty barbell in the world. Nothing else even comes close!

Here is Louie Simmons demonstrating how to use this barbell:

The basic idea is to hang weights or kettlebells from bands on both ends of the barbells. This is called the “hanging band method.”

The weights bounce around all over the place while you perform the bench press which forces all of your muscles to work even harder to stabilize the weight.

The barbell itself is very flexible which makes the weights shake even faster all over the place.

The bamboo barbell is not some “functional training” gimmick. Louie Simmons swears by it for building strength and stability in your upper body. Check it out:

“It’s helped me rehab. It worlds all the stabilizers and with heavier weights it makes you stronger.

I used a bar like this when I had shoulder socket surgery. 3 months later I bench pressed 300 pounds in a t-shirt. Hardly anyone else can touch a weight after 3 months!”

The Westside Barbell powerlifting gym likes to use this bar as an accessory movement for higher reps on their dynamic effort bench press day.

Other powerlifters like Marc Bell also like to use this bar once per week on their speed day. I guess great minds think alike!

Option #2: The Buffalo Bar

We’ve already talked about the buffalo bar for improving your squatting strength. It turns out this piece of Westside equipment can also be used to train the bench press!

Here is a great video of the Westside team performing a max effort bench press workout with the buffalo bar. Check it out:

The buffalo bar does a couple of really cool things.

First of all it increases the range of motion of the exercise. Most people will be able to lower the bar 1 inch more with a buffalo bar than they can with a regular straight bar.

This is almost like a deficit bench press! This extra range of motion can be a great way to stimulate more strength gains off the chest.

The other cool thing about this exercise is it forces you to rotate your hands outwards while you bench. This can relieve some of the pressure on your shoulders and overload your body in a more natural movement pattern.

You can click right here to listen to the “mad scientist of powerlifting” Chris Duffin talk about the benefits of the buffalo bar bench press.

Option #3: Cambered Bar

The cambered bar is another one of Louie Simmons’ favorite bench press specialty bars.

It has a built-in camber which increases the range of motion of the exercise by about 2-4 inches. Check it out:

The cambered bar is like the buffalo bar on steroids! If you have enough range of motion in your shoulders to use this bar then it can be a great way to stimulate strength gains of your chest.

Just be careful about how far down you lower the bar! If you have pre-existing shoulder issues then the cambered bar bench press is not your friend!

Part 4: The Reverse Hyperextension

Now we’re getting to the good stuff! Louie Simmons has a huge number of machines that he uses to build the squat and deadlift.

These machines are all designed to build up the strength of your hamstrings, glutes and lower back. These muscles are known as the “posterior chain” because they all work together to help you perform exercises like squats and deadlifts where you extend your hips.

Louie Simmons’ all-time favorite exercise for training the lower back is the reverse hyperextension. Check it out:

The Reverse Hyperextension

The reverse hyperextension is like the opposite of a regular back extension. You use your lower back, glutes and hamstrings to extend your legs behind your body.

Louie Simmons invented this exercise in 1973 after he broke his lower back. Louie needed a way to rehabilitate AND strengthen his lower back at the same time. The reverse hyperextension does both of these things!

Here is Louie Simmons himself explaining why this machine works so well:

“This is the best cure for bulging discs. This is traction. It’s motion traction and that’s the most important type.

You’re becoming stronger as you become physically fit.

Every time you use the machine for strength it also works for restoration. It’s the only exercise I know of that can do that.”

Louie believes the reason this exercise works so well is it provides traction to your lower back.

When your legs swing underneath you in the bottom position of the exercise they are pulling down on your lower back. This reduces the pressure on your lumbar discs and improves the health of your lower back.

This is the opposite of something like a heavy squat where the barbell is pushing your lumber vertebrae together!

Here is the world-class powerlifter AJ Roberts explaining why traction exercises are so important for elite powerlifters:

“Heavy squats compress my lower back but the reverse hyperextension machine actually relieves that pressure.

Before I would squat and then my lower back would be so tight I’d be lying on the ground for 30 minutes.

With the reverse hyperextension I get immediate relief from the traction force.

The reverse hyperextension helps me prevent injuries while building my squat and deadlift.”

Louie Simmons uses this exercise as his primary lower back exercise after his heavy squats and deadlifts.

Here is what a typical Westside Barbell max effort squat / deadlift workout might look like. Check it out:

Sample Westside Barbell Dynamic Effort Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Speed box squat with bands and chains, 5 sets of 5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Speed deadlift against bands, 5 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #3: Reverse hyperextension, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Glute ham raise, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps

Here is the training video:

This is how the Westside Barbell powerlifting team likes to organize their lower body workouts.

They perform their heavy squats and deadlifts early in the workout. Then they perform accessory exercises for their lower back and hamstrings such as the reverse hyperextension.

Louie Simmons will use the reverse hyperextension as much as 8 times per week!

He performs 4 set of 10 reps in the morning with 50% of his 1-rep max on the squat. Then in the evening he performs another 2 sets of 15 reps with 25% of his 1-rep max on the squat. The evening session is performed for restoration purposes.

You can read more about restoration workouts in my article “Westside Barbell Extra Workouts: The Ultimate Guide!

Part 5: The Inverse Leg Curl

Louie Simmons says that the inverse leg curl is the single greatest hamstrings exercise you can perform. Yes – it is even better than the glute ham raise!

Here are Louie Simmons’ exact words:

“It’s an improved version of the glute ham raise. It is the single greatest hamstrings exercise that you can perform.”

I told you I wasn’t kidding! The inverse leg curl is the machine version of the Nordic leg curl, one of the most advanced hamstrings exercises ever invented.

Here is a young Dr. Layne Norton demonstrating the Nordic leg curl:

The Nordic Leg Curl

Talk about a strong pair of hamstrings! The Nordic leg curl is so effective because it trains the hamstrings as knee flexors AND hip extensors at the same time.

The problem with this exercise is that only 1% of powerlifters can perform it correctly without assistance. It is one tough exercise!

The Westside Barbell inverse leg curl is an assisted version of the Nordic leg curl.

The machine offers you assistance on the way back up so you can perform the exercise even if you don’t have elite hamstrings strength like Dr. Layne Norton. Check it out:

The Inverse Leg Curl Machine

What a cool design for a machine! The inverse leg curl lets you work up to performing the regular Nordic leg curl even if you have weak hamstrings.

Louie Simmons says that everyone who visits the Westside Barbell gym absolutely loves this exercise. Many of Louie Simmons’ athletes have used this machine to build their hamstrings strength so they can perform Nordic leg curls without assistance.

The inverse leg curl machine is right up there with the reverse hyperextension as one of the most important pieces of Westside Barbell equipment that you can buy. 

Part 6: The Belt Squat

The belt squat is another tremendous exercise invented by Louie Simmons.

The exercise is very similar to a regular back squat. However, instead of holding a barbell on your back you are going to use a cable attachment connected to a dipping belt.

Here is a perfect demonstration of this exercise:

The Belt Squat

The belt squat is an unbelievable exercise.

It lets you train the quads, glutes and hamstrings without having to hold a barbell on your back. This means there are no compression forces on your lower spine.

The belt squat takes things one step further though: it actually produces traction forces on your lower back!

Here is Louie Simmons describing this unbelievable piece of equipment:

“I invented the belt squat in 1975. It’s absolutely the most incredible one piece of equipment.

The cable device pulling downward will actually help correct pelvic tilt and it takes the pressure off your lower back.

An incredible amount of volume can be done on the belt squat and the reverse hyper. The reason being? Traction.

As we work out we’re getting instant restoration. So those are two pieces of equipment we live on.”

Talk about a powerful exercise! The Westside Barbell crew uses this exercise as a core accessory movement for the hamstrings and the rest of the posterior chain.

If you have access to this wonderful piece of equipment then you have to start using it in your workouts!

Part 7: The Back Attack

The back attack is almost like a good morning machine. Here is a perfect demonstration of this exercise:

As you can see the motion of this exercise is exactly like a good morning. However, the exercise actually feels completely different from a regular barbell good morning!

The machine is pushing your body forwards rather than downwards. This forces your lower back to work extremely hard.

However, unlike a regular good morning there is very little compression force on your lower back. This means you can perform the back attack machine as an accessory movement without worrying about overtraining your lower back.

This machine is so effective that Bill Gillespie, the first man to bench press 1,000 pounds gives it his full seal of approval. Check it out:

“For the posterior chain I think it is clearly the best piece of equipment that you can buy.”

One of the cool things about the back attack is you can add band tension to overload the top portion of the strength curve. This is extremely helpful for improving your lockout strength in the deadlift and improving your ability to support heavy weights on your back in the regular back squat.

Here is a great video of the 4x World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw performing the back attack with an unbelievable amount of band tension. Check it out:

The Westside Back Attack

The bands add a tremendous amount of eccentric stress to the exercise. If your lower back can handle it then this will result in much faster size and strength gains over time.

The bottom line is the back attack is a wonderful piece of equipment for training your lower back. Louie Simmons believes it is second only to the reverse hyperextension for building and rehabilitating your lower back.

Part 8: The Glute Ham Raise

The glute ham raise is an excellent piece of equipment for training your hamstrings. Louie Simmons prefers the newer inverse leg curl machine but the glute ham raise is still used by almost every Westside Barbell athlete.

Here is a perfect demonstration of this exercise:

The Westside Glute Ham Raise

The glute ham raise is so effective because it lets you train the hamstrings as knee flexors AND hip extensors at the same time. Just listen to Louie Simmons:

“The glute ham raise is superior to a leg curl because you train the hamstrings as knee flexors and hip extensors at the same time.”

Most hamstrings exercises like leg curls or Romanian deadlifts only let you train one of these functions at a time. The glute ham raise is a better choice than the Nordic leg curl for most people because it is less mechanically challenging.

Most powerlifters cannot perform a single Nordic leg curl but they can usually perform at least 1 rep on the glute ham raise.

Here is Louie Simmons describing his love affair with this piece of Westside equipment:

“Glute ham raises reign supreme as the best bodyweight exercise you can use to develop the glutes and hamstrings.”

In fact the world-class powerlifter Dave Tate relied on the glute ham raise almost exclusively to increase his hamstrings strength when he trained at the Westside Barbell powerlifting gym.

If you are strong enough then you can use bands or dumbbells to make this exercise more challenging.

Part 9: The Powerlifting Sled

The powerlifting sled is a phenomenal piece of equipment. The most common way to use the powerlifting sled is to drag it behind you as you walk forwards.

To perform the forwards sled drag you would tie a rope to the sled and attach it to your powerlifting belt. Here is a perfect demonstration:

The Westside Forwards Sled Drag

The forwards sled drag is a superior tool for developing the hamstrings and glutes. Louie Simmons says this was his #1 exercise for improving his deadlift.

Here is the Westside guru Matt Wenning describing how to use this wonderful piece of Westside equipment:

“What I like about the sled is it’s very versatile. If you’re injured you can use it; if you’re trying to put on muscle you can use it; if you want to get conditioned you can use it.

What I like about the sled as well is you don’t need a lot of equipment for a ton of different exercises. All you need is a little room outside and you can do a lot of different stuff.”

Louie Simmons’ general advice is to perform 2-4 trips of 100-200 feet after your lower body workouts. The sled builds lower body strength and improves your overall work capacity all at the same time.

When you perform forwards sled drags there is no eccentric component of the lift so you will not create any additional muscle soreness. This makes it an ideal tool for restoration purposes as well.

Conclusion

Louie Simmons has invented or popularized more pieces of powerlifting equipment than I can count! If you have ever used bands, chains, specialty barbells, glute ham raises or reverse hyperextensions then you are walking on the shoulders of this powerlifting legend.

If you want to take your training to the next level then I highly recommend you invest in your own Westside Barbell powerlifting equipment.

Here is a list of every product mentioned in this article:

Using the right tools and exercises can be the difference between blasting through your training plateaus and spinning your wheels for years on end.

I know some of you are saying to yourselves that you can’t afford legit Westside equipment. If that’s true then Arnold Schwarzenegger has some advice for you:

“To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: don’t be economic girlie men!”

When you say “I can’t afford this” your brain shuts off. Instead when you say “how can I afford this?” your brain works overtime to manifest it into reality.

So stop being an economic girlie man and get that new piece of Westside Barbell powerlifting equipment today!

As always, thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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