WSBB Blog: Understanding Exercise Selection, Volume, and Intensity for Beginners

WSBB Blog: Understanding Exercise Selection, Volume, and Intensity for Beginners

As you begin strength training, you will encounter an immense amount of information on the internet arguing which methods are the best and which exercises are most effective. Unfortunately, most of these “methods” are basic linear periodization with minor adjustments made to disguise the fact it is basic programming with a few cheap tricks added in.

In reality, there are only two methods of training that almost any strength training programming is derived from, basic linear periodization and conjugate periodization. Typically, most lifters begin training by following a basic linear periodization considering the ease of use and application.

As training continues and time passes, these athletes will ultimately reach a point where accommodation has set in and gains have stagnated, calling for a change in approach.

Fortunately, the Westside Barbell Blog is here to provide the information necessary to use Conjugate Method periodization right away. Below, we will discuss the strategies we recommend athletes follow when beginning a Conjugate Method program. 


Exercise Selection 


As a beginner, your exercise selections will be basic. One thing to consider as a beginner to Conjugate, your body will not be used to the different types of specialty bars, accommodating resistance, or exercise variations used in a typical Conjugate program. Don’t mistake this as a bad thing; this means you have plenty of ways at your disposal to attain higher levels of absolute strength.


Beginner Conjugate Method training should focus on getting the most out of each new exercise or exercise variation before changing or adding in new variations. When setting up your initial Conjugate Method programming, we recommend starting with the basic squat, bench, and deadlift for your Max Effort training days, using our suggested volume and intensity ranges for these workouts. 

As you begin to progress and develop improved levels of strength and sound technique, you can add in simple exercise variations. These variations should be slightly modified versions of the powerlifts, such as close grip bench versus bands for the bench press, box squats versus bands for the squat, or deadlift variations like mat deadlifts or deficit deadlifts.

As a rule of thumb, beginners should always focus on using as much bar weight as possible regardless of exercise variation, employing the use of minibands or monster minibands



One of the most misunderstood methods of the Conjugate Method is the Maximal Effort Method. This method calls for single, sometimes multi-rep exercises between 90-100%+ of 1rm every week, one day for each body part. These days are known as Max Effort Lower and Max Effort Upper


A max effort day calls for an athlete to work up to a one or multi rep max set, with the goal being to lift a PR to beat the previous 1rm for the exercise chosen. Does

this mean you should kill yourself to beat a previous 1rm? No. While the goal is to PR as much as possible month to month, the truly beneficial training effect is the number of motor units recruited when the body is forced to lift at high intensities at 90% and above. 


This leads to significant increases in absolute strength, the main goal of any strength training program. Ultimately, if you wish to possess a high level of strength endurance, speed-strength, and strength speed, you must first possess a high level of absolute strength. This is why weekly maximal effort training and exposure to high-intensity training are essential. 




When it comes to Max Effort Lower and Upper, the goal is to lift the heaviest weight possible that training day, focusing on getting there as fast as possible to save the energy necessary to lift a max effort PR. This leads many beginners to wonder where the bulk of the training volume is located in a Conjugate Method program. 

The first way we accrue weekly volume with the Conjugate Method is through Dynamic Effort Lower and Upper training. Dynamic Effort training uses a combination of proper training intensity combined with adequate training volume to increase force production, speed-strength, and strength endurance. At Westside, this is accomplished using the box squat on DE Lower days and speed bench on DE Upper days.


The second way we accrue weekly volume is in our accessory training. After the main exercise each training day, you will perform three to five different accessory exercises using varying volume and intensity ranges. At Westside, we typically perform a main accessory exercise such as rack pulls or close grip bench using a rep scheme of five to eight reps at a higher intensity for three or four sets.

As you progress through the accessories that follow, you will increase the volume and lower the intensity workout to workout ending the training day with a high volume lower intensity exercise like Reverse Hypers or kettlebell swings. 

Works Sourced (click to view):


Supertraining; by Dr. Mel Siff


Science and Practice of Strength Training; by Dr. Vladimir Zatsiorsky and Dr. William Kraemer 


Westside Barbell Book of Methods; by Louie Simmons


Related Articles: Conjugate Method | Programming | Knowledge



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