Starting Conjugate: Accessory Exercises
What makes the Conjugate Method the premier strength and conditioning method is its ability to raise all qualities responsible for strength and human performance simultaneously. Instead of breaking the training process down into blocks where one facet of strength is addressed, the Conjugate Method considers all facets of strength and addresses them weekly.
One thing you will often see linear periodization advocates push is the idea you need to dedicate a specific amount of time each year to focus on building muscle. Our linear counterparts fail to realize that each time you transition to a new block of training, you experience detraining in the strengths or skills built in the previous block.
The Conjugate Method allows an athlete to address and improve all aspects of strength and conditioning while building muscle and enhancing tendon and ligament health. We do not need to dedicate weeks of training to this specific goal; we focus on building muscle every training session.
Your accessory exercise selections can be some of your most critical training decisions. At Westside, we rely on our main exercises to identify weak muscle groups or joint angles, and we select accessory exercises to address those issues specifically.
So, how should one go about building their accessory exercise rotations? Here’s some advice:
The 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 rule is a training rule we follow at Westside Barbell, meaning 80% of a workout’s volume will be made up of accessory exercises, with the remaining 20% being the main exercise. This means that as soon as we are done with our main exercises, we still have plenty of training left to do.
Our main exercises for both max effort and dynamic effort are intended to train two specific strengths: absolute strength and speed strength. Our accessory exercises are where we build muscle and target lagging muscle groups affecting movement quality.
By including main exercises that address absolute and speed strength, along with the accessory exercise volume intended to build muscle and address specific weaknesses, it is easy to see the Conjugate Method accounts for all aspects of strength. This means no phases, no detraining, just steady gains in strength, speed, and size.
Train Like a Bodybuilder
As mentioned above, accessory exercises intend to constantly build muscle and specifically target lagging muscle groups. Pretty much the same goals as a bodybuilder, right? This means we don’t have to get too crazy with the exercise selection or variation; the basics work just as well.
Your initial accessory exercise selections should mostly be bodybuilding-style movements and address all muscle groups involved in your powerlifts. Your lower body accessory exercises should focus on the quads, hamstrings, glutes, back, and trunk, while your upper body accessory exercises focus on the shoulders, pecs, back, and arms.
Here is what a typical lower body accessory workout should look like:
Romanian Deadlifts - 4 x 8-10
Hack Squats - 3 x 12-15
Belt Squat - 4 x AMRAP
Reverse Hypers - 4 x 25
Standing Abs - 4 x 15-20
Here is what a typical upper body accessory workout should look like:
Dumbbell Bench Press - 4 x 10-15
Rolling DB Tricep Extensions - 4 x 12-15
Hammer Curls - 3 x 15
Tricep Rope Pressdowns - 3 x 15
Rope Curls - 2 x 15
Standing Lateral Raises - 4 x 12-15
As you can see, both workouts include a great deal of volume intended to build the muscle groups associated with the squat, bench, and deadlift. The two workouts above would be performed immediately following the main exercise of the day and can be utilized on either max effort or dynamic effort training day.
Putting It All Together
To ensure the basic template of a Conjugate workout is understood, I will provide examples of what each training day should look like with main and accessory exercises included.
Max Effort Lower
Deficit Deadlift - work up to a top set single.
SSB Goodmornings - 4 x 8
Front Squats - 3 x 8-10
Reverse Hypers - 4 x 25
Abs - 5 x 25
Max Effort Upper
Floor Press - work up to a top set single.
Incline Bench Press - 4 x 5-8
JM Press - 4 x 8-10
Williams Extensions - 3 x 15
DB Bicep Curls - 4 x 10-15
Lateral Raises - 4 x 15
Dynamic Effort Lower
Box Squat - 12 x 2 @75% (50% weight 25% band)
Speed Deadlift - 6 x 1 @70% beltless
Inverse Curls - 4 x AMRAP
Belt Squat - 3 x AMRAP
Reverse Hyper - 4 x 25
Abs - 4 x 25
Dynamic Effort Upper
Speed Bench - 10 x 3 @50% + minibands
Standing DB Overhead Press - 4 x 8-10
Barbell Rows - 4 x 8-10
Rolling DB Tricep Extensions - 3 x 12-15
Hammer Curls - 4 x 10-12
Skullcrushers - 3 x 10-12
The King of Methods
Linear periodization cannot match the optimization and efficiency of a Conjugate Method program as long as the Conjugate programming is organized correctly. The programming I provided above should dispel the idea that one should dedicate an entire training block to hypertrophy.
As you can see, a correctly organized Conjugate program builds strength, speed, and muscle simultaneously. Conjugate provides a lifter with a level of efficiency and programming optimization that other methods cannot match.
If I wanted to, I could change the programming for any athlete I work with to attain any training goal they choose, all while still using the same Conjugate Method parameters. This is something that a coach could not do with an athlete using linear periodization; they would lack the preparedness needed to transition to new training demands.
At this point, if I haven’t convinced you, at least you have a free week of programming.
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.