Starting Conjugate: Basics of the Repeated Effort Method
When most people think of the Conjugate Method, two training methods come to mind, max and dynamic effort. However, the repeated effort method is an equally important aspect of the Conjugate Method. This method allows us to build the muscle mass necessary to improve overall physical composition, meet athletic demands, and move heavy weights.
As I have mentioned, one of the issues with a traditional linear-style training program is the detraining that occurs as the athlete moves through phases. The strength and skills improved in one training block will decay as a new training block is introduced due to the training style and stimulus change.
One phase most linear-based programs include is a hypertrophy phase. This means an athlete will spend multiple weeks solely focusing on increasing muscle mass. While muscle mass will be increased, absolute and explosive strength will decrease. This causes peaks and valleys in the development of strengths and abilities.
The Conjugate Method trains multiple strengths and attributes simultaneously, allowing an athlete to become bigger, stronger, and faster without fear of losing size, strength, or speed due to mismanaged training. Training this way also leads to a higher level of preparedness, considering the Conjugate-trained athlete does not have to worry about decaying strengths or skills between phases.
Utilizing the Repeated Effort Method
The repeated effort method comes into play during accessory work, so you will use the repeated effort method each training day. Accessory exercises are performed immediately after the main exercise of the training day has been completed. When writing your accessory exercise programming, there are a few things you need to take into consideration.
The first thing you want to consider is the focus of the training day. This is a simple concept; if it is a lower body training day, you will choose accessory exercises focusing on lower body muscle groups, with the same rule applied to upper body training days. There are specific accessory exercises, such as back or ab movements, that can be performed on both upper and lower body training days.
The weak points you identified during your main exercises are the next thing to consider. Yet again, another simple concept; if a muscle is weak, focus on it more. This doesn’t mean that you should drastically change anything you’ve been doing; you’ll just add some additional sets or an additional exercise that directly targets the identified weakness.
The final thing you will have to figure out is how to properly organize and program your accessory exercises to ensure optimal energy management and ensure the quality and effectiveness of your accessory training remains high.
Here is how we go about programming our accessory exercise training.
Accessory Exercise Programming
The primary goal of our accessory exercise programming is to build muscle mass and improve the physical composition of the athlete. To explain it in simple terms, we train like powerlifters during our main exercise and like bodybuilders during our accessory exercises.
Aside from a few powerlifting-specific accessory exercises, you will find that many of our accessory exercise selections are movements commonly featured in golden-era bodybuilding programs.
For example, we will use exercises such as good mornings, hamstring curls, and barbell rows to focus on posterior chain development. These aren’t revolutionary exercises; these are basic exercises that deliver extraordinary results as long as your training intent and program design are on point.
Understanding how and when to choose a particular set and rep scheme is important. Fortunately, it is simple to understand. For most multi-joint movements, we will perform 3-5 sets of 5-8 reps if we are going a bit heavier or 8-10 reps if we are training a bit lighter. The set range will remain the same for single-joint movements, but the rep ranges are much broader.
For example, we may perform an exercise such as hammer curls for four sets of twelve reps, while we may perform banded tricep pressdowns for three sets of fifty reps. As a rule, we want to organize the exercises so that the most demanding exercises are performed immediately following the main movement, with the less demanding exercises being performed afterward.
Understanding optimal set and rep ranges and accessory exercise organization will lead to better-managed energy levels and improved workouts.
Putting It All Together
Here are examples of common ways we will program upper and lower body accessory exercises to address the muscle groups involved during each training day appropriately. Keep in mind the below examples are basic and evenly balanced, meaning no specific weakness or issue has been targeted.
You will notice how the exercises are correctly organized, with the most demanding being performed first and the least challenging falling toward the end of the training day. You will also notice how that correlates with the rep range selection, with exercises featuring the highest number of reps falling towards the end of the training session—the more intense the exercise, the more energy we want in reserve to perform it.
Upper Body Accessory Training Example
Exercise 1: Incline Bench Press - 4 x 6-8
Exercise 2: Standing DB Shoulder Press - 4 x 8-10
Exercise 3: Rolling DB Tricep Extension - 3 x 12-15
Exercise 4: Cable Flys - 3 x 15
Exercise 5: Bicep Cable Curls - 3 x 12-15 per arm
Lower Body Accessory Training Example
Exercise 1: Sumo Deadlifts - 5 x 5
Exercise 2: SSB Good Mornings - 3 x 8-10
Exercise 3: Reverse Hypers - 4 x 20-25
Exercise 4: KB Swings - 3 x 20-25
Exercise 5: Standing Abs - 4 x 15-20
Athletes could use each example on a max or dynamic effort training day.
For your Conjugate training to be successful, it is vital to understand the goal of each method in use. Ultimate training success occurs when all methods are appropriately programmed and executed; no method is more important than the other. If you want to become bigger, stronger, and faster simultaneously, the Conjugate Method is the way.
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.