Starting Conjugate: Repeated Effort Bench Press
The Conjugate Method uses three primary strength training methods: the maximal effort method, the dynamic effort method, and the repeated effort method. These methods deliver specific training effects, with each method playing a vital role in developing an athlete’s strength and conditioning.
The repeated effort method is the method most responsible for ensuring an athlete maintains an optimal level of training volume every week. Unlike the maximal and dynamic effort methods, which are trained on specific days, the repeated effort method is utilized every training day. Why? Because it allows us a way of keeping our volume at the right level and focusing on the development of weak muscle groups.
The repeated effort method is not typically used when programming the main exercise of these training days. In a standard Conjugate Method program, the four main exercises of the week will be a max or dynamic effort training day. The repeated effort method comes into effect once accessory training begins.
However, there are times when it is wise to utilize the repeated effort method during your main exercises to change up your training. One way we do this at Westside Barbell is to replace our dynamic effort upper training day with a repeated effort upper training day. Doing so can effectively increase upper body muscle mass, improve bench technique, and raise your strength endurance.
To do this, you must know when and how to make these adjustments to your programming. Here is how we go about programming repeated effort bench training:
When to Program Repeated Effort Bench Press
Typically, the use of a repeated effort bench wave comes into play for two reasons; a new lifter is being introduced to Conjugate-style upper body training, or an advanced lifter is experiencing issues with dynamic effort bench. These are not the only two scenarios repeated effort bench would be utilized, but these two are the most common.
Beginners often do best starting with the repeated effort bench press in place of the dynamic effort bench press due to the ease of execution and increased upper body hypertrophy. New lifters, or even experienced lifters new to Conjugate, often struggle with the proper execution of dynamic effort training.
This is due to the intent required for each rep and set for dynamic effort training effects to be experienced. For dynamic effort training to be maximally effective, the barbell must be moved at high velocity while maintaining proper form and execution. This can prove to be a difficult concept to understand and execute for any athlete new to this training style.
Experienced lifters will typically use a repeated effort upper wave for one of two reasons; to change up their training and increase volume or because dynamic effort pressing is causing elbow and shoulder pain. Throwing in a wave of volume work can help if you have tendinitis issues caused by benching against bands too frequently.
As mentioned above, the key benefit of substituting repetition work in place of dynamic work is increased training volume. For beginners, this work lays the foundation necessary to improve all other strengths in the future. For experienced lifters, this work will help increase muscle mass and help reduce the wear and tear of dynamic effort benching against bands.
How to Program Repeated Effort Bench Press
Programming a repeated effort bench training day is simple; you will replace your dynamic effort upper main exercise with a repetition-focused main exercise. Regarding frequency, we follow a three-week wave when training dynamic effort, and it is no different when using the repeated effort method.
When performing a wave of repeated effort bench, we will organize the training so that the first week features high volume levels at a lowered intensity and then reduce the volume while increasing the intensity over the three weeks. However, the intensity will always be regulated and kept at or under 80%.
Here are a few examples of exercise selections and programming options when performing a three-week repeated effort bench press wave.
Week 1 - 8 x 8
Week 2 - 6 x 6
Week 3 - 5 x 5
Close Grip Bench Press
Week 1 - 10 x 5
Week 2 - 8 x 5
Week 3 - 6 x 5
Incline Bench Press
Week 1 - 5 x 5
Week 2 - 4 x 5
Week 3 - 3 x 5
Banded Bench Press
Week 1 - 5 x 5 w/ 70% (45% bar weight + 25% band weight)
Week 2 - 5 x 5 w/ 75% (50% bar weight + 25% band weight)
Week 3 - 5 x 5 w/ 80% (55% bar weight + 25% band weight)
As you can see, there are a few different options for volume, intensity, and exercise selection/setup.
You can choose to keep the intensity relatively low and the volume high, go with a good mix of volume and intensity, or add accommodating resistance or specialty bars to alter the training effect of an exercise further. As far as training intensity goes, you will use the heaviest weight you can while completing all prescribed sets and reps with proper form and intent.
When we substitute repeated effort work for dynamic effort work, we typically only do so for one wave. Then, we will return to dynamic effort work for at least 2-3 waves before returning to repeated effort work.
However, if you are a total beginner, you may substitute dynamic effort training for repeated effort training for as long as necessary. For a beginner, the improvements in muscle mass and strength endurance afforded by repeated effort training trump the need for an increased rate of force development in the first 8-12 weeks of training.
Method to the Madness
The aspect of the Conjugate Method that most benefits an athlete is the amount of freedom allowed when designing a training program. Our methods follow specific rules and parameters, but when you fully understand the Conjugate Method, you see how it can be applied to achieve any training goal.
To the uninitiated, our programming can seem like a bunch of random exercises. However, if you know what you are looking at, you will see we are constantly manipulating our training to target a variety of strengths and abilities to further improve athletic performance. Substituting repeated effort work for dynamic effort work represents one way we can manipulate our programming.
It may look like madness, but there is always a method and plan behind everything we do. Once you achieve a solid understanding of each training method, you will realize there are what seems like an infinite amount of ways you can design Conjugate Method programming. That’s what makes the Conjugate Method superior; no matter the sport, athlete, or gym setup, we can always develop an optimized training program to provide the training adaptations we seek.
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.