By now, most of you have heard about the passing of legendary strength coach Louie Simmons. He was 74 years old, at the time of his passing. To be total honest, I wanted to take to social media right away to say…. Something. Unlike most of the deaths in the strength training community, this one took awhile for me to process. I’m not sure I have completely processed it to be honest, the loss being as profound as it is.
You see, it didn’t matter your strength training discipline or even sport – Louie was the master. A bona fide genius in his field not due to any formal education on the topic, but rather an obsessive need to understand all things strength. This is his story, and what you can learn from it..
Louie lived and died by numbers. Powerlifting totals, to be exact. And that’s certainly one way to define the man. He totaled elite in a staggering 5 weight classes. Just achieving elite status in one is a momentous accomplishment, but Louie needed more. Always more. His competitive career spanned from 1979-2012. He competed in equipped (aka geared) powerlifting and set some astounding personal records. Among them:
Squat (Single-Ply): 821 pounds
Squat (Multi-Ply): 920 pounds
Bench Press (Raw): 496 pounds
Bench Press (Single-Ply): 530 pounds
Bench Press (Multi-Ply): 600 pounds
Deadlift (Single-Ply): 705 pounds
Deadlift (Multi-Ply): 715 pounds
Even these numbers didn’t begin to define the man, for it was what was in his head and in his heart that made him who he was. And who he was was a man who lived life on his own terms, never waivering, never bending. He was a breath of fresh air, especially when it came to steroid use. Almost 25 years ago, he sat down with T-nation and during the interview, casually mentioned that he started using anabolics in January, 1970. Straight, with no break.
He continued using them non-stop unapologetically until at least 2012. That’s 42 years straight, for those of you that are counting. So much for the “using steroids will kill you” nonsense. Louie once summed up his philosophy on the matter as follows, “Get on a low to moderate dose of something that works, and stay on it…”. Food for thought, for those who choose to use.
But it would be a tremendous mistake to attribute his success to that one factor, because you can find a dozen or more people on gear in any hardcore gym in this country. They never set the records Louie did, because they never approached strength the way Louie did – with a burning passion to understand, tinker and toy with his training.
There’s that word again, training. Louie instinctively knew linear (Western) periodization was a dead end street, and created the conjugate training system. He described it as a hybrid of Russian and Bulgarian methods, and the creativity displayed in how he combined them was pure genius. He read all the Russian texts. He read all the Bulgarian texts. He saw for himself who was setting records and why, and it had very little if anything to do with anabolics. It’s the training that separates the men from the boys, and how much you know about it.
His most prominent character trait though, concerned his never say die attitude. In 1973 he blew his back out doing heavy good mornings, herniating 2 discs and rupturing a 3rd. Doctors told him that surgery was his only option, that his weightlifting career was over and he’d be lucky to walk again – nevermind lift weights.
Louie looked right back at him and said, “Thanks Doc, but that doesn’t really work for me. I won’t be seeing you again”. Then, the self described high school dropout (“I had to pay them, to drop out of school” he once chuckled) used his budding knowledge of anatomy and physiology to create solution for both himself and others – the reverse hyper. Long story short, he not only returned to competitive lifting by beating his old world records, he established new ones. He championed sled dragging and went on to develop the belt squat machine, the landmine and the plyo swing, among others. I ordered his “Westside Method” VHS tapes and manual back in the day, and learned more from that kit than virtually any other I ordered or used.
To this day, I’m still pulling stuff out of it. He didn’t have to share his knowledge on the subject, he would have been perfectly justified keeping it all to himself. Instead, he freely shared what he knew with all those who had a sincere desire to learn and to work. On that score alone, he commanded respect.
Louie is a legend because he left something very important behind – a legacy. He was fearless, unapologetic and demanded greatness from himself and his lifters. He never made excuses, never put limits on himself because of his age or stature. Never settled for the bullshit line “there’s nothing you can do”. Which is why when I first heard that from a Dr. my mind instantly recalled how he overcame adversity with his back injury.
And I’m here to tell you that’s exactly what it is – bullshit. I’ve proved the Dr’s wrong before, and helped others do the same. And I credit Louie with giving me that never say die attitude, and passing it along to others. There is nothing impossible in this world, it is only the lack of will and courage that brings about failure. Only a few though, have the necessary strength to overcome. And it’s not all physical, not by a longshot. Louie