Louie Simmons and Westside Barbell are profiled on Vice.
Is it a fair profile or did Vice mischaracterize Westside Barbell as a clubhouse for masochistic, ex-criminal misfits?
Video Transcript *Louie Simmons in bold text.
Narrator: The whole world of the matter is that the gym matters most and if anything’s in the way of that gym, it’s just gone. He is the last Samurai warrior.
Narrator: A tiny dingy warehouse dead in the middle of Ohio is home to world champions and record holders. Westside barbell has become legendary for its brutal form of strength training. The gyms founder Louie Simmons is the Godfather of American powerlifting and people from all over the world come here to study his methods.
Vice: How did you get started in powerlifting?
Louie: I just want to be strong and I’ve had, well, you know, low self-esteem probably. I didn’t have much and growing up and so I got a lot of a lot of fights but weights turned me around. It gave me self-confidence.
Vice: Why is the gym down Columbus and not out west or anywhere else?
Louie: Because I live here and you know we’re just having temple. People go to Shaolin Temple. Shaolin Temple don’t go to them.
Narrator: There is no more respected or controversial voice in strength sports than Louise Simmons. As a competitive power lifter for over 50 years, he’s ranked elite in five different weight classes and was a top-10 lifter for over 30 years. In 1987, he started Westside barbell and lifters began seeking Louie out for his advice. He quickly gained notoriety for his unconventional training methods and machines along with his embrace of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs which is something he did not want to discuss with us but has addressed unapologetically in the past in an interview with Joe Rogan.
Louie: I went on anabolics January 1970 and I’ve never been off. See, it’s not against the rules to take drugs, it’s against the rules to get caught taking drugs.
Narrator:Lou stated in interviews and on the Westside website that he does consulting for a number of NFL and college football teams. However, powerlifting is the gym’s primary focus and lifters deemed worthy by Louie are taken under his wing to train for free.
Gym Member: I’ve been here for seven years and I think I’ve probably been around knew more than everyone else and I mean the man lives in his own world and he just rejects everything outside of it. Like what what would matter, like what’s your name, he doesn’t care if you lift, numbers he cares about. That that’s more important.
Vice: So, what’s the differencebetween this gym and then other gyms across America?
Louie: There’s a lot of difference in this gym. This is a club that my accountant told me I spend $1,500 a month for buying breakfast. First thing in the morning at 6 o’clock, we all eat breakfast together four times a week and we discuss training, then we come here and train that’s a big difference, you know, too many gyms you go to gym and you leave you never see the guy again. These guys are pretty much buddies and everyone is for everybody here.
Vice: How did you know that you want to become a coach and make the switch from just a lifter and actually helping other people look better?
Louie:I didn’t. I always wanted to be a lifter, you know, but then we guys started coming so, of course, I had to guide them along and that’s how we came up.
Vice: How do people become members here?
Louie: They come in for a tryout and you gotta have the body like, you know, to be honest we’d never let you in here because you fight right yeah but, you know, you gotta have a body like that and then you have to be able to do the mental training every day got to do this over and over and it gets harder and harder but you got enough nuts to go until you got nothing. It’s all mental.
Narrator: Louie’s lifters come from a variety of backgrounds. There’s former athletes, construction workers, prison guards, and college academics. The common thread among many of them though is a troubled past. Whether it be prison stints or drug addiction.
Vice: How do you find powerlifting and why did you get into it?
Gym Member: Keep myself out of trouble. I was up and all that and well we need outfits why was that I think it to opiates. I’m seven years clean in September.
Gym Member: I’ve lifted weights since I was a kid and I went to the penitentiary and I started powerlifting in prison.
Vice: What do you go to jail for?
Gym Member: Oh, everything man. Possession with intent, attempted murder, aggravated robbery, first degree of soul yeah a whole bunch of stuff when I was young that was along time ago.
Vice: So, was powerlifting a factor in you just like redirecting that energy into something more pleasing?
Gym Member: Yeah, I figured I was in there, you know, I might as well lift weights and get big I wanted to come where the strongest guys train and be under him. I mean, the windows closed and for me I’m 42 I wanted to spend this the last year’s here to bring out the best. I used to drive from Indianapolis to here which is three hours two and a half, three hours to train and did that for four years and we finally said F it and we moved up here. You got the best teacher and mad scientist in there that old knows all sorts of stuff.
Narrator: We have spent decades analyzing Soviet and Eastern European athletes combing through translations of their secret of training manuals. He bases Westside’s training larger on Russian and Bulgarian systems which he feels produces, not only strength but true grit. Louie uses a lot of unconventional methods and machines not seen anywhere else.
Vice: This is the real deal right here so that it’s a great for lateral movement oh it’s you minutes like I feel it really strengthen my feet.
Louie:keep coming keep coming keep coming forward this way.
Narrator: Louie’s cult of personality transformed West Side from a local gym into a brand name but that hasn’t stopped West Side from being accused of cheating. Their brash confidence and steroid use naturally draws a lot of hate on line. Though not all the guys at the gym are juicing the ones we spoke to were unapologetic about their use.
Vice: What do you think about that like the controversies with drugs and all that stuff? Do you have any opinions on that?
Gym Member: Yeah. Come see us. It’s a drug thing? Cool man. I’ll tell you what I take and you can take it you can see if you can do what we can do. People think we get judged easier because we’re from WestSide, we get judged harder because people already have that perception.
Narrator: Powerlifting competitions are broken into two categories, drug tested and non-drug tested. It’s the same lifts and judging the only difference is one organization makes you pee in a cup and the others do not. The splitting competitions happened in 1983 with the formation of the American drug-free powerlifting Federation breaking away from the United States powerlifting Federation which had become over run with drug use over time. More Federation’s formed and today there are currently 19 powerlifting leagues, seven test, twelve do not.
Gym Member: As far as the substances go, if you want to take drugs, take drugs. If you don’t want to take drugs, don’t take drugs. I respect all forms, raw, drug free, use drugs, do whatever the you want, snort cocaine on the platform, I don’t give a, but I don’t compete in drug free Federations.
Louie: This gym broke close to 140 all-time world records these are top-5 totals for Coker in 181, 198, and 220. That board is my life right there. That’s all my friends, all my memories, and all the accomplishments that I’ve ever done there, people in here and that’s all I care about.
Gym Member: A lot of times you’re lifting for the old man, lift him for him is a driving force. He’ll never admit it but he wants us to succeed and the old man’s getting old, you know, there are certain things that I want to accomplish while he’s still here.
Vice: What does it take to break a world record?
Gym Member: You got to be willing to endure pain because you’re gonna have setbacks, you’re gonna hurt yourself , you’re gonna tweak muscles ,you know, I broke my back three times, I blow my biceps off, ruptured discs, my neck up, I can’t feel in this hand half the time and I still do what I do, and I’m still going.
Vice: For all the training and abuse to their bodies, the reality is powerlifting isn’t a financially lucrative sport. After you factor in all the costs, most lifters actually end up losing money.
Gym Member: There’s no monetary value of this, it’s like we’re basically kicking the out of ourselves just because we love it. When I got the invite to come out here and people don’t really get it, you know, like what are they gonna pay you, we don’t get paid.
Gym Member: Maybe I’m F’ed up but the more beat up and hurt I am the more I enjoy what I do. I crawl to the bathtub in the morning because I can’t stand up straight. That’s when you find out what you’re really made of.
Narrator: After spending time with Louie and the guys at Westside it became clear that this gym is absolutely everything to them. Above it all, the controversy, the hard exteriors and the hard lives, the gym is a place for them to feel like they belong to something.
Vice: If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Gym Member: If I wasn’t lifting weights, I’d be dead or in trouble somewhere. I can’t imagine walking away from it. I’ll be here till I’m either in a wheelchair or dead.
Louie:Other people think that I’m a little off but it doesn’t matter because my mind is on one thing and if a man’s mind’s on one thing… I’m like a samurai can never stray from the way. When I go I’ll be in that room, the the dead men room, you know,hanging on that wall, the Westside till I die.