Starting Conjugate: Initial Max Effort Exercise Selection

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Absolute strength is the King of all strengths. If you wish to develop your speed-strength, strength-speed, muscular endurance, and muscular size to the fullest, you must constantly focus on increasing your absolute strength. 

Absolute strength is the stat that moves all other stats. As your absolute strength improves, so does your ability to enhance different strengths further. As it has been said, an athlete with high levels of absolute strength will almost always be bigger, faster, and more resilient than weaker athletes. 

The Conjugate Method features two max effort training days each week dedicated to improving absolute strength. We refer to these days as max effort lower and max effort upper. Each training day calls for exercises focused on developing the bench press, the squat, and the deadlift. 

We use variations of these basic exercises to avoid accommodation, utilizing specialty bars, accommodating resistance, or special exercises like good mornings that allow us to improve in multiple lifts simultaneously (like squat and deadlift). 

When exercises are appropriately selected and programmed, no training system can match the efficiency and effectiveness of the Conjugate Method. 

Selecting Max Effort Variations for Beginners

The Conjugate Method relies heavily on training data. We use percentage training, which calls for reliable max effort numbers to be available regularly to ensure our dynamic effort training is performed at adequate intensity levels. The less reliable the training data, the less effective half of your program will be. 

How can you be sure your training data is reliable? By controlling the amount of max effort exercises you introduce into your programming. 

As a beginner, you can get a lot out of the basics. Exercises such as incline bench press or close grip bench press are effective variations for someone just getting started with heavy barbell training. Just because you choose to use the Conjugate Method does not mean you have to hook bands and chains up to your incline bench press for it to be effective or considered Conjugate. 

By keeping your exercises as basic as possible at the beginning, you start at a pace that makes it easier for a beginner to track and feel confident in the training data they are collecting. 

Programming Strategy

As mentioned above, the goal for max effort programming for beginners is to select exercises that provide accurate training data and to get the most gains out of as few variations as possible. Not only that, but less exercise variation means more time to learn your movements and develop the technical prowess necessary to safely and effectively move max effort weight. 

Here is how I would program the first two months of max effort lower and upper body training for a beginner:

Month A

Week 1:

ME Lower - Squat, top set of 3 reps

Me Upper - Bench Press, top set of 3 reps

Week 2:

ME Lower - Mat Deadlift, top set single

ME Upper - Close Grip Bench, top set single

Week 3:

ME Lower - Squat, top set of 3 reps

ME Upper - Bench Press, top set of 3 reps (pause last rep)

Week 4: 

ME Lower - Good Mornings, top set of 3 reps

ME Upper - Floor Press, top set single

Month B

Week 1:

ME Lower - Squat, top set single

Me Upper - Bench Press, top set single

Week 2:

ME Lower - Deficit Deadlift, top set of 3 reps

ME Upper - Incline Bench, top of 3 reps

Week 3:

ME Lower - Squat, top set of 3 reps

ME Upper - Bench Press, top set of 5 reps 

Week 4: 

ME Lower - Cambered Bar Good Mornings, top set of 3 reps

ME Upper - Axle Floor Press, top set single

In month A, the athlete will become familiar with high-intensity lifting. Week one focuses on introducing the athlete to high-intensity barbell training, with triples around 90%. Week two introduces special exercises. 

I keep these to single reps, considering it is safer for a beginner to perform one heavy rep and be done with it than attempting to manage three heavy reps while being generally unfamiliar with an exercise.

Week three returns back to similar workouts as week one, with the goal being improved execution and confidence with the basic barbell movements. Week 4 introduces two more special exercises into the fold, primary variations of the competition lifts. 

In month B, a similar pattern is followed. Week one sticks to the basics, except now we will begin performing the competition reps for heavy singles, providing us our first bit of accurate max effort training data. What makes this data more precise than special exercise data? The competition lift data will be the weight we use to figure our training weights for dynamic effort training. 

Week two features two additional special exercises that provide different stimulus and training adaptations compared to the month A week two exercises. This allows us to use our basic movements to track data for DE work and our special exercises to consistently attack and bring up weaknesses identified in our basic movements. One hand washes the other. 

Week three features the basic movements, this time for some rep work. This gives the athlete a break from all-out max-effort training while providing levels of volume and intensity that still benefit the athlete tremendously. 

Week four calls for the first introduction of specialty bars. Think about it, eight full weeks of training so far, and we are just introducing specialty bars. That should show you Conjugate programming depends on patterns and strategies, not specialty bars and chains. 

Moving Forward

Once a beginner has completed the above eight weeks of training, it will be time for evaluation. Suppose the athlete has completed all weeks of training without issue, can safely and effectively lift a barbell under max effort conditions, and has built a baseline level of strength. In that case, you can begin editing the programming to become more specific to the athlete's training goals. 

If a beginner has completed the first eight weeks and continues to struggle with their execution of max effort training, it is recommended to run through the eight-week program again. The programming I provided above would be considered fundamental, entry-level programming. If an athlete finds this programming challenging to execute, adding bands, chains, or more specialty bars and exercise variations will only lead them to disaster. 

Success with a Conjugate Method program depends on many things, but two things are critical to a beginner; exercise selection that provides valuable training data and the opportunity to get the most strength out of the least amount of exercise variation. 

Remember, a proper Conjugate Method program is a program that adheres to the scientific principles of strength training. Not a program that exclusively features exercises that look like a Ninja Warrior obstacle. 


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.

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