Legends Never Die

Written by: Kevin Cann

I started to become aware of powerlifting in 2014 as I took a job at a gym with a strong powerlifting culture.  I was not interested at the time in the sport as I was still doing my own things.  I knew what Westside Barbell was and had read a lot of Louie’s stuff from my many years of working with high school and college athletes.

This is how big his reach was in the strength world.  I didn’t even know what powerlifting was, but I could tell you about the conjugate system and Westside Barbell.  The popularity of Louie and westside led there to be haters everywhere, even in the athletic world.  Everywhere he went there would be people that loved him or hated him.

In 2015 I decided to get involved in the sport of powerlifting.  I began training with a multiply crew that “ran Westside” as everyone says.  Again, to show the influence and popularity of a small gym in Columbus, OH.  My first ever squat was a SSB box squat with front facing mini bands.

I weighed around 170lbs at the time and had very rarely ever squatted in the gym.  I had a blast training with the crew and would not have stuck with the sport if the fun wasn’t there in the beginning.  No one cared about taking off hundreds of pounds when it was my turn.  I didn’t give a fuck that they did that either because I had to put them back on.

My path crossed with Boris Sheiko shortly after and the next step in my journey would begin.  Ironically, this would be a huge conversational piece with Louie over my many phone calls and 2020 visit out to Columbus as he had met Sheiko too and greatly respected him.  The love of combat sports was a frequent topic of conversation too and he would use that to explain certain lifting conepts to me.

I fell into the trap of the internet where I started to say that Westside is only for multiply lifters.  This was my inexperience and lack of understanding about the foundational principles to get people strong as fuck.  Multiple degrees and over a decade of experience and I still had no idea how to get people brutally strong.  Sheiko opened that door for me and my bias and competitiveness took over from there.

In 2018, Sheiko stopped taking online students from foreign countries.  I wanted to do something very different that would let me learn a different way to practically apply ideas.  I was introduced to Jeremy Hartman at this time and he opened the door to some of the ideas of GPP and lower frequency training.

This change was really hard for me as all I knew was Sheiko’s way.  The drop in volume led to lower work capacity and an initial drop in numbers.  There is a transitional period changing from program to program, especially when they are drastically different.  We worked hard on building up things that I never built up like my sumo deadlift, using the safety squat bar, cambered bar, and lots of accessories to build weaker areas. This process was going to take time, but time that was necessary if I wanted to raise my ceiling in the sport. This was not no progress, this was essential lateral progress that was so important to me if I wanted to keep doing this long term.  It ended up building a really strong base for me to get into equipment and made that transition much easier.

I then went back and reread a lot of Louie’s articles and his book and began to think about it a lot more.  I had a converstion with Sheiko after he had visited Westside and he said that the difference between him and Louie was where priorities lie.  He favored technique; Louie favored strength.  This means much more to me today than it did then.

A good example of this is pause squats.  Sheiko uses a lot of them to help develop technique and some strength at given angles.  Louie does not use pause squats because the loss of velocity decreases force output.  He would start the bar on pins before bringing it down and pausing.

I then asked myself why can’t we do both?  I knew it would require some organization in a yearly plan to do so, but with the greater understanding of skill acquisition, we can definitely find a way to incorporate both.

We started to develop the system.  I decided to do a year of singles to really understand them so that I could be more surgical in my ability to program them.  This was very helpful in me being able to develop our current system.

I knew I needed to learn more, so I got Louie’s phone number and gave him a call.  Our first conversation was about 90 minutes long and I think I said 3 words the entire time.  I wish I recorded it because he said some things that really made me think at the time.  

I then would think about what he said and would have more questions so I would call again.  Eventually he said come down and train for a few days so I took him up on that offer in the fall of 2020.  Yes, at the peak of covid.

This is what I really needed to learn the importance of GPP work and smaller exercises and how to add them into a program.  I was still much too focused on the competition lifts and their variations with the programs and needed to shift some volume and attention to the smaller exercises.

The first day I lifted at Westside, I wanted to be the first one there so that they would know I am fucking serious.  I pulled in at 4:30am and Louie was already in the parking lot doing shit.  I got out and introduced myself and we sat in his Jeep for a half hour just shooting the shit about lifting and fighting.  

He had no fucking idea who I was and didn’t care.  He coached me up and helped me as much as anyone else there.  Took me to breakfast and made sure to talk to me the whole time and answer any questions.

I do believe this was earned though.  We were doing dynamic squats with a box, SSB, and standing on foam pads (which was interesting).  I was supposed to have 155lbs on the bar with the 250lbs of band.  I ended up working up to 275lbs with the 250lbs of band and on the last set Louie told me to do a set of 10.  I think he was actually impressed with my work ethic and respected that enough to give me his time and knowledge all weekend.  It was a lot of fun too.

He will be missed by the strength community.  Many people will hate on him for one reason or another, but he really would help anyone and not charge for it.  His contributions to the strength world are more than anyone else has ever given and will be near impossible to duplicate.

He had always said that Westside will die with him, but there is no way that is true.  He helped and influenced so many people that Westside will live on forever.

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