Starting Conjugate: Tracking Max Effort Progress as a Raw Lifter

Starting Conjugate: Tracking Max Effort Progress as a Raw Lifter

No matter your goals in the gym, having the ability to decode training feedback and track your progress is vital to the training process. Without this ability, knowing the next step to improve becomes challenging, which can quickly lead to an athlete experiencing the effects of accommodation. 

For this reason, many choose to stick to simplistic approaches that are easy to understand, even if these approaches are inferior to other methods.

It's understandable. At first, the Conjugate Method can seem difficult to understand. If you come from a linear background where the focus is almost solely on the squat, bench, and deadlift, Conjugate can quickly become a maze of specialty bars, exercise variations, and accommodating resistance. 

One of the most common issues cited by athletes new to the Conjugate Method is the perceived inability to accurately keep track of competition lift progress due to exercise variations. This misunderstanding is caused by the wealth of misinformation presented online by individuals both for and against the Conjugate Method. 

Today, many well-meaning coaches begin utilizing the Conjugate Method to provide their athletes with more optimal training and differentiate themselves from their business competition. However, the theory and application of the Conjugate Method are not something that a coach can learn overnight. 

This leads to some coaches presenting what seems like authoritative information when they are a beginner themselves. Or worse, they misapply the methods, receive negative feedback from their clients, and go on to take a run at the ATWR for being the biggest Westside hater.

At Westside, we encourage all coaches to adopt and use the Conjugate Method to train their athletes. We believe no method on Earth is superior. All we ask is that you properly educate yourself; that way, you and your athletes experience the highest levels of success. This is why we strive to provide as much free educational content as possible. 

So, back to the topic, how can you ensure you accurately track progress when utilizing the Conjugate Method? Simple, via intelligent exercise selection and program design. 

The Secret to Exercise Selection Success

You are mistaken if you believe we do a new max-effort variation weekly with no rhyme or reason. Each month, you will have four upper body max effort training days and four lower body max effort training days. 

For both upper and lower, two of the workouts will be special exercises designed to improve weakness or skill, while the other two workouts will be exercises that are either exactly like or very similar to the competition lifts. How you choose these exercises depends on your sport and muscular weaknesses. 

For example, here is what would be considered optimal exercise selection for a powerlifter training max effort upper:

Week 1 - Pin Press (competition-relevant lift)

Week 2 - Push Press (special exercise)

Week 3 - Bench Press vs. Light Bands (competition-relevant lift)

Week 4 - Incline Bench Press (special exercise)

As you can see, two exercises are relevant to the competition bench press, and two are designed to bring about specific training adaptations. So, how do we track progress? We look for correlation. 

How? By keeping the same max effort exercise lineup for at least eight weeks. This allows the necessary time to see if the selected special exercises are addressing the identified weaknesses and to gather the training data required to know if we have correctly identified the weaknesses.

If our competition-style lifts and special exercise variations improve simultaneously, we know we are on the right track. This is the correlation we are looking for that gives us the confidence to know we are on the right track. After the eight weeks have passed, we would then evaluate current weaknesses. 

If the weakness is solved, we will change exercises accordingly. That means new competition lifts and variations for the next eight weeks. If the weakness is improving, we will change the competition style lifts and continue with another eight weeks of the same variations. If we have made no improvements, we will keep the competition lifts as is and replace the current variations with new variations. 

However, it is important to remember the exercises you formerly used to address particular weaknesses. You will likely encounter the same weaknesses in the future. You can reapply these exercises knowing you respond well to them and have a good idea of what to expect as far as the correlation between your special exercises and competition lifts go. 

Tracking Progress Leading to Competition

At Westside, we have no "off-season." This is because the Conjugate Method allows us to continue simultaneously improving multiple strengths without experiencing the excessive fatigue or detraining experienced by our linear counterparts. We use exercise variations and targeted accessory work year-round to address weaknesses and issues constantly.

However, as competition approaches, you want to ensure your training data is as accurate as possible. Once the final ten weeks of training hit, it is recommended to select two exercises that will best address your currently identified weaknesses, along with two exercises that hold you to competition standard. 

Here is an example of proper max effort upper exercise selection leading into a meet:

Week 1 - Close Grip Bench Press (competition-relevant lift)

Week 2 - Floor Press vs. Quad Minibands (special exercise)

Week 3 - Bench Press (competition lift)

Week 4 - Pin Press (special exercise)

As you can see, two exercises will develop skills in the competition lifts, while the other two will address currently identified weaknesses

Avoid using specialty bars during competition-relevant exercises during the final ten weeks of training. This will provide you with accurate training feedback you can rely on to select attempts as you go into your final few weeks of peak programming. The only exception is the bow bar for squats if shoulder pain becomes an issue. 

No Better Method

When applied correctly, you will not be able to find a method that better addresses the weaknesses and improves an athlete's abilities faster than the Conjugate Method. To reap these benefits, you must have a solid understanding of the methods and how they are applied to different athletes in different situations. 

What makes Conjugate training so effective is its ability to improve the sports performance of any athlete regardless of sport. Combined with effective sports practice, Conjugate Method training will develop the strengths necessary for success in your sport while addressing and strengthening lagging muscle groups that otherwise could cause injury. 

The Conjugate Method accomplishes all of these feats without the need for phases and without worrying about any loss of skill or strength between phases. Instead of the peaks and valleys pattern experienced with most programs, Conjugate training creates a stair-step pattern where an athlete is never regressing. 

Professional athletes and strength coaches have been using the Conjugate Method to train for a long time. Why? Because actual careers and money depend on it. Powerlifters have been slower to adopt the methods due to dogmatic beliefs perpetuated by individuals who wish to maintain their fiefdoms and cults of personality.



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.

Burley Hawk

Burley Hawk

Burley Hawk is the Digital Content Manager at Westside Barbell and a Conjugate Method strength coach. Training and studying under Louie Simmons over the past decade, Burley has attained the experience, knowledge and understanding necessary to master the Conjugate Method.

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