Base Building: Training Methods for Beginners
Choosing to begin strength training is one of the most beneficial decisions an athlete can make for themselves. Strength training allows athletes to improve their absolute strength, explosive power, work capacity, and body composition, depending on the selected training methods and program design. Strength training must be part of the plan if an athlete wants to reach their full genetic potential.
The Conjugate Method is the premier strength training method for all athletes, regardless of experience level. While many believe the Conjugate Method to be reserved for intermediate or advanced-level athletes, the truth is our training methods work as well for beginners as they do for intermediate and advanced athletes.
Over the years, the Conjugate Method has been used at Westside Barbell to make the strongest stronger, the fastest faster, and the well-conditioned better conditioned. It only makes sense that a training method capable of improving advanced athletes can significantly enhance an untrained individual's strengths and skills.
The Conjugate Method is indeed a complex training methodology. To truly understand the science behind the methods and their capabilities, one must dedicate years to accruing and applying knowledge successfully in the gym. However, an advanced understanding of the Conjugate Method training theory is unnecessary for a beginner athlete to formulate a Conjugate-based training scheme successfully.
Fortunately, with the advent of the internet, all an athlete needs to begin training is access to easy-to-understand information that provides guidance and advice.
Our Base Building series intends to allow athletes new to strength training to use the Conjugate Method right from the start to provide the best training trajectory possible. If you start with the best, your results will be most optimal.
Below, we will discuss the training methods applied when building a base of strength, movement skills, and work capacity using a Conjugate-based training plan.
Max Effort Training
One thing that can force an internet strength guru into convulsions is the use of max effort training with beginners. It is commonly believed that high-intensity training is dangerous for beginners and unnecessary. Whenever I hear a strength coach claim that max effort training is dangerous and unnecessary, I immediately know that coach is limited in their understanding of strength training.
Is max effort training risky? Sure, there is risk associated with training at elevated levels of intensity. However, risk is involved no matter the training method, whether an athlete is training at high intensity, high velocity, or high volume/output. What matters most is the coach or athlete's ability to manage training and have safeguards in place to ensure training does not go off the rails.
Instituting max effort for beginners can be achieved successfully by always doing two things: keeping the exercise selection simplistic and leaving a set in the tank during the main exercise of each max effort training day. By doing these two things, athletes can protect themselves from overestimating their skills and strengths, leading to injury.
You may ask yourself, "Why use max effort for a beginner in the first place? Can't we focus on repeated effort training instead?" Sure, you could. However, you would not improve your absolute strength, intermuscular/intramuscular coordination, or durability at a rate even near comparable to a training plan utilizing max effort training.
For a beginner, max effort is easy to achieve. If we are dealing with an advanced-level powerlifter, it may take 10-12 sets to work up to a weight that crosses the 90% intensity threshold. However, for a beginner, it will likely take half the number of sets to reach max effort output while remaining capable of optimal exercise execution.
The beginner athlete's exposure to high intensity is limited. As long as we employ the risk mitigation strategies mentioned above, there is little chance of injury being caused solely because of the training intensity.
Let's look at max effort training for beginners from an objective perspective. Max effort is easy to achieve, relatively low risk provided precautions are taken, and will profoundly impact absolute strength and movement skills for an athlete new to strength training.
Additionally, because we can achieve max effort output without a tremendous energy investment, the athlete will have plenty of energy left to accomplish repeated effort accessory work immediately after the main exercise. Absolute strength, power, work capacity, and movement skills can all be developed within the same workout. Why shouldn't a beginner use max effort training?
Leave a set or two in the tank, select exercises that match your current strengths and skills, and focus intently on the execution of each set. As long as a beginner can do those three things, max effort training can be accomplished safely.
Repeated Effort Training
The max effort training discussed above represents half of the training methods utilized when designing Conjugate-based training for the beginner athlete. The other half of our training plan will use the repeated effort method in place of what would typically be dynamic effort-focused training.
Dynamic effort training helps improve an athlete's rate of force development while supplying a substantial amount of training volume, leading to enhanced levels of work capacity and hypertrophy. While dynamic effort training is incredibly valuable, it can often be outside the abilities and skill set of an athlete new to barbell training.
We primarily replace dynamic effort training with repeated effort training for beginners due to the training intent necessary to accomplish proper dynamic effort training. Optimal dynamic effort training requires an athlete new to the squat, bench, and deadlift to perform these movements using submaximal weights while achieving maximal velocity.
As with any skill humans try to learn, going as fast as possible while attempting to become competent with a new movement or skill typically leads to disaster.
This rings true for beginner athletes attempting to perform proper dynamic effort training. By replacing dynamic effort training with repeated effort training, we remove the velocity requirements while benefiting from an elevated level of training volume. This keeps the risk associated with the training low and the training optimal.
However, just because we are not holding an athlete to the usual dynamic effort barbell velocity requirements does not mean the athlete should avoid moving explosively. As athletes become more competent with the basic repeated effort exercises, barbell velocity can and should gradually increase.
On days the repeated effort method is applied to main exercises, we will most often perform 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps, working between 70-85% training intensity.
The repeated effort method will also be used during each training day's accessory exercise programming. When performing repeated effort accessory exercises, we will perform each exercise using the heaviest weight current energy levels permit while completing each set and rep with proper form for 3-5 sets of 5-8, 8-12, 12-15, or 15-20 repetitions.
Additionally, instead of solely focusing on multi-joint exercises such as the squat, bench, and deadlift, our accessory training will utilize multi- and single-joint exercises.
When executing our accessory exercises, we will perform them in an order that allows optimal energy levels to be available for each set. This means multi-joint accessory movements will be performed first, followed by single-joint accessory exercises such as skull crushers or hamstring curls.
Base Building Using the Conjugate Method
The information regarding the max and repeated effort methods above is intended to provide an athlete new to the Conjugate Method with a basic understanding of the two primary strength training methods that will be used to create an optimal base-building training plan.
The ultimate goal of the Base Building series is to provide easy access and understandable information that can be immediately applied in the gym by any athlete interested in using the Conjugate Method.
The Conjugate Method can be applied to all training populations regardless of age, sport, experience, physical limitations, or schedule. Refrain from believing a beginner must use less than optimal training methods because they are new to the training process. If an athlete seeks to improve and advance rapidly, then the athlete must employ the most effective means available.
Check out all the information in the Westside Barbell Strength Training Blog. Our blog contains information that can be applied in many ways to improve the training of all athletes, regardless of experience level or ability. Whether working with someone new to training or a highly experienced athlete, the Conjugate Method is truly the key that allows athletes to unlock their full genetic potential.
Simmons, L. (2007). Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Westside Barbell.
Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. Verkhoshansky.
Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics