Basic Conjugate Training Advice IV
In today's strength and conditioning world, more and more coaches are realizing the benefits of following a Conjugate-style training program. Formerly, many coaches used linear-based training programs to develop one strength or athletic ability per training block. Fortunately, many now realize Lou has always been right; you must develop all necessary strengths and athletic skills simultaneously.
If there is one key aspect of the Conjugate Method that makes it superior to all other training methods, it is efficiency. Athletes only have so much time away from practice or competition, so any time spent training must be spent as efficiently as possible. Using the Conjugate Method, we can easily tailor training to ensure the training is specific to each athlete.
To maximize the efficiency of a Conjugate-based program, a coach must have an expansive understanding of the strength training methods and movements commonly utilized within the system. This calls for a coach to constantly seek knowledge and apply that knowledge where it matters most - the gym.
Below, we will provide a few pieces of advice to assist both the new and experienced coach in the construction and execution of effective Conjugate Method programming.
Using Basic Lifting Equipment
The use of strength training equipment such as lifting belts, wrist wraps, knee sleeves, and training shoes should be something all coaches recommend to their athletes. With the types of demands athletes place on their bodies in their sport, it makes no sense to increase the wear and tear if there are ways to mitigate the issue.
If you look around the country at many athletic training facilities, you see athletes regularly training without proper training equipment. If training equipment is used, it is typically in the form of a velcro-style belt. As a coach, you should recommend that all your athletes wear proper strength training equipment in the gym.
The highest-level strength training athletes, who train to be as durable and resilient as possible, use supportive equipment regularly. What makes any coach think their athletes can train without it? Adding belts, wrist wraps, and knee sleeves helps protect the spine and joints, leading to less accrued damage and faster recovery times.
Just as you wouldn't play ice hockey in your shoes, you shouldn't deadlift or squat without a proper lifting belt. Sport-specific tools exist for a reason. As Lou would say, "I didn't invent toilet paper, but I am smart enough to use it."
How athletes manage their energy is one of the most crucial aspects of optimal strength training. Proper energy management calls for the coach or athlete to understand how to organize exercises within a training plan to ensure optimal levels of energy are available to execute a movement in a way that achieves the goal of the training.
For instance, if it is a max effort day, our immediate goal is achieving a high level of training intensity during our main training day exercise. Therefore, after a reasonable warm-up, we will immediately begin working up on the max effort exercise of the day. It would make no sense to perform an overzealous warm-up or perform accessory exercises before the main exercise of the training day.
Not only do we want to manage our energy level to ensure our main exercise training is as effective as possible, but we also want to organize our accessory exercise training to allow for adequate energy levels for each exercise. We will always perform multi-joint movements before single-joint exercises when planning accessory exercises.
As for single-joint movements, these exercises will be performed in an order according to their importance to the athlete. If an athlete has a triceps weakness, we will focus on the triceps-based exercises before moving on to biceps or shoulder training. If an athlete has weak hamstrings, we prioritize hamstring exercises over quadriceps-focused movements like leg extensions.
Managing energy is simple; all it takes is some planning and common training sense.
Leave a Set in the Tank
One of the most common mistakes athletes new to the Conjugate Method make is going overboard with max effort training. Unfortunately, many coaches and athletes misunderstand the intent of max effort training, believing the goal should be to replicate the intensity and output level of a third-attempt world record squat, bench, or deadlift every week. However, this is not the case.
At Westside, we have always understood that for training to remain effective, it must be sustainable. Athletes can only recover so much in a week, so it is critical that a coach properly regulates max effort training when using a Conjugate Method training plan. One of the best ways to manage intensity and accrued fatigue is to leave a set in the tank during max-effort training days.
The true intent of max effort training is recruiting the largest motor units. By doing so regularly, an athlete's absolute strength will increase dramatically. For this to be possible, we must cross the 90% training intensity threshold. However, once we have achieved anything over 90%, it is not a requirement to take another set and push near 100% or go for a new PR.
Typically, we expect to PR in at least one upper and one lower variation once per month. If the athlete is more experienced, or if life allows optimal recovery, PR lifts can be even more frequent. However, an athlete is not expected to achieve a new PR lift each week of training.
Leaving a set in the tank should be the norm when working with athletes not concerned with powerlifting or strength-based sports. Allow PRs to happen when the time is right, avoid getting greedy, and push the intensity past 100% every max effort training day.
Optimization is Always the Goal
The advice presented above represents how coaches and athletes can optimize their training and achieve more satisfactory results. When using a Conjugate training plan, it is important to have as many options and strategies to employ as possible. The life, schedule, and training needs of an athlete are constantly changing; the training method utilized must be able to adapt.
No matter the situation an athlete might find themselves in, there is a way to build a Conjugate Method strength training program to help the athlete continue to improve their strengths and abilities. With an astute coach at the helm, training can be optimized to fit each athlete every training day. This leads to improved training optimization and rapid improvement noticeable on the field, court, or mat.
With the limited time athletes typically have to dedicate to strength training, making every minute in the gym count is essential. Aside from that, we must also ensure the training does not interfere with practice or competition and that an adequate recovery rate is maintained. The Conjugate Method provides the platform to allow for this to be possible.
The Conjugate Method is the premier training method, and the strength and conditioning world is waking up to this fact. Just remember, Lou told you so.
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