The strength sports community suffered a great loss on March 24, 2022, when legendary powerlifter and coach Louie Simmons passed away at the age of 74. Few people, living or dead, could claim to hold a candle to Simmons’ impact on both sports and physical training. Entire generations of lifters recreational and professional alike have benefitted in some way from his efforts, ingenuity, and devotion to physical culture.
From inventing some of the most widely utilized pieces of equipment you’ll find in gyms across the globe to personally crafting the training and performances of hundreds upon hundreds of world-class athletes, Simmons was — and will remain — a pillar of ferocity as a coach and a cornerstone of the lifting community.
View this post on Instagram
To list all of his career accomplishments and accolades front to back would take many, many hours. But if you were to compile some of the Westside Barbell magnate’s more resonant achievements in strength, these feats, in no particular order, would stand above the rest.
The Legacy of Louie Simmons
- The Conjugate Method
- Accommodating Resistance
- The Reverse Hyperextension
- The Belt Squat
- Non-Powerlifting Athletics
- General Physical Preparedness
- As a Powerlifting Coach
- Women in Powerlifting
- Westside Barbell
- Quotes & Contributions
Louie Simmons had suffered several injuries early on in his athletic career and took notice that many of his contemporaries were similarly debilitated. In his mind, something had to be done to address the common denominator — the approach to lifting itself.
Simmons went on to study the Soviet Olympic lifting programs and methodologies due to the Russians’ vice grip on the weightlifting podium in the late 20th century. Having been inspired by the Soviet training principles — high volume, lots of exercise variability, and an emphasis on “building the base” — Simmons married his research to his own experiences, leading to the development of the conjugate method.
View this post on Instagram
He determined that by training various physical qualities such as power, speed, and endurance over the course of a training cycle, an athlete would maintain a higher degree of overall fitness and thus be more resilient against potential injuries. Alternating high-load, maximum-effort workouts with lighter sessions focused on explosive power or rate of force development became the norm.
Beyond that, Simmons also highlighted what he called the “law of adaptation,” meaning that the body would get used to performing the same movements in the same manner. So, he started using more variations of the squat, bench press, and deadlift in his training, and passed these principles down to his athletes. The evolution of the conjugate method established Simmons’ name in athletic training, and much of the ideology is widely used in strength sport gyms to this day.
Simmons helped to spearhead the implementation of accommodating resistance in strength training. Specifically, the usage of resistance bands or heavy chains as part of exercise. He determined that these tools could help an athlete improve their rate of force development by changing the load profile of the exercise.
Bands and chains make a given exercise easier or harder in a specific part of its range of motion, providing some assistance or forcing some extra stimulus if an athlete is weak in a particular phase of the lift. Although accommodating resistance has become quite popular and normalized in strength and athletics, Simmons was far ahead of his time with the practice.
In the mid 1970s, Simmons suffered a back injury that prevented him from competing. While he was recovering, he was trying to find a way to speed up the rehabilitation process. He realized that doing traditional back extensions wouldn’t work for him, which inspired his development of the reverse hyper machine.
Simmons kept the invention to himself for almost 10 years, but he eventually released it to the market after realizing that NBA legend Larry Bird’s career was cut short for a similar reason. Reverse hypers can be found all over the world in most specialty gyms, allowing athletes to train their lower backs safely and effectively if traditional back extensions cause pain or discomfort.
Similar to the reverse hyper, Simmons is also credited with the proliferation of the belt squat — an exercise that allows an athlete to train their legs if they’re unable to squat with a barbell due to injury or immobility.
Simmons noted that by fixing the resistance to the hips and pulling downward instead of loading the body axially, both he and his athletes could safely perform heavy squat training without excessive fatigue on the spine. He didn’t just make use of the belt squat in powerlifting, either. Belt squats were a staple in the training regimes of the mixed martial arts athletes he worked with as well.
Other equipment inventions include: The Inverse Curl, Hip/Quad machine, Static/Dynamic Developer, and the Virtual Force Swing, according to Westside Barbell’s website.
Simmons didn’t just apply his coaching skills to powerlifting or combat sports. He worked with athletes across various disciplines. Notably, Simmons spent time training and tutoring the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers in the NFL, prominent pitchers in baseball, track athletes such as Olympic gold medalist Butch Reynolds, and MMA fighters like “The Immortal” Matt Brown.
Although they don’t adhere as rigidly to some of the niche principles found in Westside Barbell, professional athletics have leaned on Simmons in one way or another for decades.
While he may not have been the original creator of general physical preparedness (GPP) as a guiding principle in weight lifting, Simmons both relied heavily on it in his own gym and encouraged all athletes to practice GPP in one form or another. He believed that balancing training and recovery to be vital for any athlete who wishes to achieve the highest total possible.
“We found that when not doing the small GPP workouts, we suffer from detraining,” Simmons write in one of his blogs. “Any athlete will regress in strength, endurance, or speed when GPP for hypertrophy is neglected.”
He emphasized that the more advanced an athlete became, the more relevant GPP was to their performance in the gym. Many of his athletes would partake in exercise like the sled pull before their lower body workouts, or utilize ultra-high repetitions on isolation movements to flush blood into the tissue.
Simmons was a great lifter in his own right, but he became legendary in powerlifting for coaching other elite competitors.
Among those that are closely associated with him are Chuck Vogelpohl, Dave Tate, Matt Wenning, J.M. Blakley, and his first all-time world record holder, the late Matt Dimel. That said, the athlete that may be most associated with Simmons and Westside in recent years is Dave Hoff, who currently has the highest multi-ply equipped total in history — 1,407 kilograms (3,103 pounds).
According to Open Powerlifting, he set that record in 2019 at the WPO Super Finals:
- Squat — 577.5 kilograms (1,273.1 pounds)
- Bench Press — 460 kilograms (1,014.1 pounds)
- Deadlift — 370 kilograms (815.7 pounds)
Nowadays, names such as Hunter Henderson, Heather Connor, Brianny Terry, and Amanda Kohatsu come to mind as some of the dominant women leading the charge in powerlifting. However, Louie Simmons was fostering female powerlifting in his gym far before it became the norm.
His first major female athlete was Mariah Liggett, who won multiple international competitions and held world records throughout her career. Other names include Laura Dodd, Terry Byland, and Simmons’ own wife Doris.
For some perspective, powerlifter Amy Weisberger competed in the 2000 Westside Invitational, where she set a total world record in the 56-kilogram (123-pound) weight category.
- Squat — 204.1 kilograms (450 pounds)
- Bench Press — 127 kilograms (280 pounds)
- Deadlift — 204.1 kilograms (450 pounds)
- Total — 535.2 Kilograms (1,180 pounds)
The record in question was actually 34 pounds ahead of the male elite total at the same weight. Simmons credited Weisberger’s ludicrous strength in part to her usage of accommodating resistance and equipment like the reverse hyper.
Westside Barbell is debatably the most renowned professional strength training facility in the world. Men, women, veterans and newcomers alike have all crossed the threshold at Westside and shed blood, sweat, and tears under Simmons’ watchful eye. The ethos at Westside is simple enough — get as strong as possible at any cost.
Simmons actually came up with the name during his tenure in the U.S. Army while stationed in California. After he got out, he founded the facility and its now-iconic pitbull logo. Membership at Westside is by invitation only, and that exclusivity allowed Simmons to cultivate and nurture the right environment for developing world-class athletes.
Those that train at Westside are invited to get their names up on “the board,” a chalkboard detailing the patrons’ personal records by weight class. To etch your name into the board with Simmons watching is among the highest honors in powerlifting.
What many lifters and supporters may remember most about Simmons are his quotes that provided a combination of attitude and sincerity. He had his own way of getting a statement across, but it always of wanting to see athletes succeed. Some of his most famous phrases are below.
View this post on Instagram
“There are two types of people in this world — predators and prey.”
“Weak things break.”
“Don’t have $100 shoes and a ten cent squat.”
“Big is not strong. Strong is strong.”
“Did you ever notice that those who criticize the strong or the elite are usually weaker or less successful than those they pass judgment on, and those who are strong or elite in their respective sports rarely condemn those who are not as strong or as successful as they are.”
The lifting community recoiled in pain when the news broke of Simmons’ passing. From content creators to career powerlifters, the community was swept off its feet at the passing of a titan. While Louie has departed, however, his offerings, teachings, lessons, and musings will remain.
Featured Image: @westsidebarbellofficial on Instagram