Building Accessory Exercise Rotations
The Conjugate Method is highly effective for a few reasons; an athlete can train multiple strengths simultaneously while also providing enough accessory exercise volume to increase overall fitness and muscle mass. This is what makes the Conjugate Method the most effective method in terms of efficiency and specificity; athletes can alter the main and accessory exercises to change the training effect to meet a specific sporting need.
If you are having issues with your squat, the programming can be adjusted to specifically address identified weaknesses in the squat during the following lower body training session. Unlike phase training, there is no need to make drastic changes to the program or worry about detraining from phase to phase when you are focusing on training all strengths all of the time.
The Conjugate Method builds strength in a stairstep manner, while typical phase training has a peaks and valleys effect with some strengths decreasing while others increase phase to phase.
When building a Conjugate program, each training day will essentially break down into three parts; main exercise, accessory exercises, and GPP exercises. Below, we will discuss basic strategies we employ at Westside when programming accessory exercise rotations to increase muscle mass and address identified weaknesses.
Accessory Exercise Programming for Beginners / IntermediatesWriting programming for beginners and intermediates is typically less specific as far as addressing weakness and more focused on developing a strong and well-balanced athlete. This is not to say you shouldn’t program to solve a glaring weakness. However, it is important to keep in mind lifters with less than five years of training experience will go through different phases of muscular imbalance, displaying a variety of weaknesses throughout these initial training years.
For this reason, it is often best to choose exercises that cover all of the basics for each muscle group when programming for those with less training experience. The first five years of training should be a well-planned elevation of absolute strength, strength-speed, and speed-strength levels while increasing muscle mass and strength endurance by utilizing a fundamental approach to equally focus on anterior and posterior muscle groups.
Here’s what a typical upper body accessory workout would look like for a beginner/intermediate:
Barbell Rows - 5 x 8-10
Rolling DB Tricep Extensions - 4 x 15-20
Chest Supported Rows - 4 x 10-15
DB Bicep Curl - 3 x 12-15
Tricep Rope Pressdowns - 3 x 15
DB Lateral Raises - 4 x 12-15
As you can see, this accessory rotation is relatively high in volume. As far as intensity goes, you should use the heaviest weight you can lift while completing all prescribed sets and reps with proper form. This does not mean the heaviest weight you can manage. The idea is to get the most out of each exercise, and athletes can only accomplish that if the volume and intensity are matched appropriately. Lightweight training is inadequate weight training.
The featured exercise selection focuses on building the back, arms, and shoulders. This rotation features only one bicep-specific exercise considering the biceps involvement when training barbell rows and chest-supported rows. This would account for one upper accessory workout for the week; the other would follow similar set and rep schemes, choosing different exercises. The same rules would apply to lower body accessory workouts as well.
Accessory Exercise Programming for Advanced Lifters
When training advanced lifters, coaches must solve different problems. As a lifter reaches an advanced level (typically between training years 6-10), genetic and athletic potential are beginning to become realized, and specific weaknesses become apparent. As we train, our body naturally maximizes our genetic predispositions. For instance, a naturally strong bencher who has no issues with tricep or bicep strength but still struggles with back strength in the deadlift.
They’re genetically predisposed to build the strength and muscle mass necessary to press heavy weights; however, back strength could lack, causing limitations in their overall bench press success and leaving their deadlift stagnant. This is the type of situation where you begin to target specific weaknesses in your accessory programming regularly. The question is, how?
Here’s an upper and lower accessory exercise workout for an advanced lifter with back weakness:
Close Grip Bench - 5 x 5-8 heavy (main accessory)
Barbell Rows - 5 x 5-8 heavy
Tricep Cable Pressdowns - 4 x 15-20
Hammer Curls - 4 x 10-12
Pull-ups - 4 x AMRAP
Face Pulls - 3 x AMRAP
Rack Pulls vs. quad minibands - 5 x 5 heavy
RDLs - 4 x 8-10 heavy
Hack Squats - 4 x 10-12
Reverse Hypers - 4 x 25-30
Abs - 5 x 20-25
As you can see, the volume and intensity are increased, and the focus is placed on the posterior chain. This is why it is important to be an experienced lifter when training at this level; you must have the physical capabilities to push volume and intensity to the next level while still maintaining a healthy and predictable recovery rate.
Inexperienced lifters can begin to experience loss of ability and increased fatigue levels when excessive training demands are placed upon them. This is why we reserve this approach for advanced lifters.
Keys to Success
It is important to note that no matter how well selected your main exercises are, your accessory programming dictates your overall success. Without an intelligently laid out accessory workout plan, you raise the likelihood of both failure and injury. Your accessory workouts will build muscle mass, improve strength endurance, and increase GPP levels.
It is vital to have a balanced approach to your exercise selection as a beginner. For at least the first five years of your training, you will be building your base as far as muscle mass, and work capacity goes, so leaving no stone unturned is essential. Focus on consistently training all major muscle groups, occasionally focusing on a specific weakness if it becomes restrictive to your progress.
As an advanced lifter, you will already have a good idea of your specific weaknesses. The trick here is to have the ability to program to address these particular weaknesses while still training the remaining muscle groups to an adequate level, so progress continues. You do not want to focus so intently on one weakness that another arises; this makes training into a game of Whac-a-Mole.
To accomplish this, you will ultimately have to increase the overall volume, which will require the necessary levels of conditioning to manage the training while still recovering adequately between training sessions. This is another reason why we recommend this approach be reserved for those who have reached an advanced training level.
To continue to improve, you will also have to escalate the intensity levels of your training consistently. Unlike some sports where they become easier as you improve, weight training must become increasingly difficult to be effective. You get stronger, and the training gets tougher. Accommodation is a vampire; increased volume and consistent exposure to optimal intensity levels are a stakes to the heart.
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.