Base Building: Lower Body Main Exercises
For an individual to benefit maximally from a Conjugate-style program, it is a requirement to have a baseline level of strength and fitness established before moving on to more advanced movements and methods. It makes no sense for someone who has just begun barbell training to attach bands and lift max effort singles immediately.
A beginner must start with basic movements to bring up absolute strength and improve muscle mass. We achieve this by relying primarily on two of the three methods used in Conjugate training; the max effort method and the repeated effort method.
Dynamic effort training is typically limited when programming for someone new to barbell training. This is because, without a baseline level of absolute strength and muscle mass, it is unlikely a beginner can achieve the barbell velocity needed to cause the training adaptations dynamic effort training aims to cause. Even if a beginner can achieve the correct barbell velocity for a set or two, it is unlikely they can maintain the velocity throughout the workout while performing all reps safely.
Here is the way we suggest someone new to barbell training develop their lower body strength and muscle mass:
Max Effort Lower
While we generally avoid all-out max-effort singles when dealing with total beginners, it is important to load the muscles, tendons, and joints to raise absolute strength levels and increase durability. We achieve this by implementing sets of three and five for max effort main exercise work.
It's simple, each week, we will rotate max effort variations as we would typically, except we will perform a set of 3 or 5 reps aiming to establish or break a current 3 or 5 rep PR for whichever variation we are currently training.
Initially, these variations are fundamental, such as barbell squats, front squats, and deadlifts using a basic barbell. After the first six to eight weeks of training, it is wise to begin rotating in a specialty bar or two. The SSB or bow bar is ideal. You can also add exercise variations such as box squats or deficit deadlifts.
The priority is familiarizing yourself with the basic movements and building the baseline strength and coordination necessary to feel confident handling a heavy barbell. As you begin to feel comfortable, you can start increasing the intensity or difficulty of the exercises.
The time it takes for someone to feel ready to advance in training will vary from athlete to athlete. It is important to go at your own pace and to build confidence in executing the basic lifts. However, do not let fear take over and limit your ability to improve. Basic exercises will only provide beneficial training adaptations for so long; you must introduce new stimuli at some point.
Repeated Effort Lower
In place of conventional dynamic effort training days, we will utilize the 5 x 5 set and rep scheme for controlled repetitions when training beginners. The objective here is simple, accrue as much volume as possible while developing the technical skills necessary to continue to more advanced training methods.
Same as with max effort work, we will initially only use a basic barbell and advance onto the SSB or bow bar as skill with the basic barbell improves. We do this for the same reason we eventually implement specialty bars for max effort work; the training stimuli must change for adaptations to continue.
We will still use a three-week wave format. However, we do not escalate based on percentages, considering a beginner will not have the experience or max lifts established to ensure the percentages make the training worthwhile.
We choose a first-week weight we know the athlete will have no problem moving. Then, when the next week rolls around, we will add another 5-15lbs to the barbell depending on what we decide is tolerable. Once one three-week wave is completed, we will begin the next three-week wave using the second week's weight from the previous three-week wave.
Conjugate Method training can be as straightforward or as complex as you want to make it. As we know, the more advanced an athlete becomes, the more specific the training must be. As a beginner, you can benefit from practically any level of weight training.
You want to focus on getting the greatest amount of training adaptation out of the least amount of training variation. Not only does this ensure you get maximum benefits from the exercises you choose, it gives you the time needed to develop good technical skills with the basic lifts. Advancing your training without being physically prepared will only set you back further.
It is a great choice to begin strength training. Using Conjugate Method theory and training structure to design your programs is even better. Just make sure you make the necessary edits to the program to allow yourself to get the most benefit from your training. Pay your dues, and enjoy the process.