Starting Conjugate: Training Walkthrough
Choosing to utilize the Conjugate Method when constructing a strength and conditioning-focused training plan is one of the most intelligent choices a coach or athlete can make. The Conjugate Method is the only training method that provides an athlete with adequate stimulus year-round to continuously make gains in absolute strength, explosive power, muscular endurance, and physical composition.
Unlike linear training, where specific athletic traits are the sole training focus for extended periods, the Conjugate Method trains all strengths relevant to athletic performance each week.
No matter how well-written or scientifically sound a linear program may be, it will always suffer from the same issue - detraining. Detraining occurs due to extended training phases focused on one special strength, leaving formerly developed special strengths to decay due to a lack of proper stimuli. When detraining occurs, athletes begin to experience "peaks and valleys" regarding strength and athletic performance.
At Westside, we use the Conjugate Method to achieve a "stair-step" pattern of improvement. This means we simultaneously develop multiple strengths relevant to sports performance, leading to consistent overall improvement provided our intensity, volume, frequency, and recovery time are appropriately planned.
Simply put, instead of taking three steps forward and two back, we take five forward and one back for recovery. Once recovered, we typically find ourselves stronger, more explosive, and in better overall shape. What would take a linear-based athlete multiple blocks to achieve can be achieved monthly using a Conjugate-based training plan.
However, for our training to be most effective, all coaches and athletes must understand the intent and focus behind each of our training days. Knowing the basic idea behind each training day and how to execute these training days will help athletes have higher quality training sessions and make more significant gains for the time put into training.
Below is a walkthrough discussing the intent, strategy, and execution of each training day at Westside Barbell.
At Westside, we use max effort training twice weekly for both lower and upper body training. Max effort training intends to develop absolute strength while improving work capacity and physical composition of lower and upper body muscle groups. To begin this training day, we will typically warm up with sled drags, reverse hypers, KB swings, belt squats on lower days, and banded press downs, push-ups, pull-ups, and pulldowns on upper days.
After warm-ups, the first exercise we will perform will be the main exercise of the training day. We typically rotate between three basic exercises - squats, deadlifts, and good mornings for max effort lower training. For max effort upper training, we usually alternate between four basic exercises - flat bench, floor press, close grip bench, and incline/overhead press.
We can formulate many exercise variations from these basic exercises to address specific issues on an athlete-to-athlete basis.
When performing max effort training, it is vital to understand how to properly work up to the top set of the training day. The goal of max effort training is to lift the heaviest weight possible during that specific day, with training volume taking a back seat. So, we want to reach the top set of the training day with as much energy in reserve as possible to ensure we can produce adequate force.
Here is what working up to a top set of 800lbs x 1 in the barbell squat would look like:
Set 1 - 135lbs x 8-10 reps
Set 2 - 225lbs x 5-8 reps
Set 3 - 315lbs x 3-5 reps
Set 4 - 405lbs x 3-5 reps
Set 5 - 495lbs x 1 rep
Set 6 - 600lbs x 1 rep
Set 7 - 700lbs x 1 rep
Set 8 - 800lbs x 1 rep
Here is what working up to a top set of 500lbs x 1 in the barbell bench press would look like:
Set 1 - 135lbs x 10 reps
Set 2 - 225lbs x 8 reps
Set 3 - 275lbs x 5 reps
Set 4 - 315lbs x 3 reps
Set 5 - 365lbs x 1 rep
Set 6 - 405lbs x 1 rep
Set 7 - 455lbs x 1 rep
Set 8 - 500lbs x 1 rep
As you can see, we perform an adequate warm-up to ensure the athlete is prepared for the top set while wasting as little energy as possible. The end goal of any max effort work-up scheme is to ensure the athlete reaches the top set with as much energy in reserve as possible. Not only does this guarantee we can achieve our training goal of the day, but it also guarantees athletes do so without excessive risk of injury due to improper execution caused by fatigue.
The dynamic effort method is used to increase explosive power and an athlete's rate of force development. With max effort, an athlete can produce significant amounts of force. With dynamic effort, an athlete can reach that level of force production in less time.
At Westside, we use training waves when programming dynamic effort training. This means that we will escalate the training intensity over three weeks while maintaining or lowering the training volume. Once we reach the third and most intense week, we recycle through the wave back to the first week's intensity and volume levels to ensure adequate recovery is achieved week to week.
As always, we will begin the training day with a light warm-up. Considering this work is meant to get the athlete moving and some blood flowing, we perform the same warm-ups for max and dynamic effort training. Exercise variation and new stimuli are not a concern when executing a warm-up. After warm-ups, it is time to get on with the main exercise of the training day.
Dynamic effort lower training will feature two main exercises: the box squat and deadlift. Dynamic effort squat will call for using the competition squat bar, SSB, bow bar, and giant cambered bar. Dynamic effort deadlift will call for the use of both competition and opposite stances.
When performing a dynamic effort lower training wave, we will adhere to the following three-week wave schedules:
Week 1 - 12 x 2 @75%
Week 2 - 10 x 2 @80%
Week 3 - 8 x 2 @85%
Week 1 - 5 x 5 @70%
Week 2 - 5 x 5 @75%
Week 3 - 5 x 5 @80%
Dynamic effort upper training will feature one main exercise using three different grips. At Westside, we use the competition, wide, and close grip bench press during dynamic effort upper training. We will alternate grips set to set, week to week, or wave to wave. We recommend sticking to competition and close grip, alternating wave to wave for most.
When performing a dynamic effort upper training wave, we will adhere to the following three-week wave schedule:
Week 1 - 9 x 3 @70%
Week 2 - 9 x 3 @75%
Week 3 - 9 x 3 @80%
The most important aspect of dynamic effort training, whether upper or lower-focused, is barbell velocity. Athletes must be explosive during each set for dynamic effort work to be effective. At Westside, we aim to maintain an average velocity of .8m/s when performing dynamic effort training.
At Westside, the repeated effort method comes into play each training day during our accessory exercise training. Can you use the repeated effort method when programming main exercises? Yes. However, we will not be covering that in this article. Most commonly, repeated effort work will appear in a Conjugate-based program through accessory exercises.
Whether we are performing a lower or upper body training day, the intent of our accessory training remains the same: build muscle and eliminate weakness. The main focus of accessory training is to improve the athlete's muscle mass and physical composition, targeting the development of the muscle groups involved in the squat, bench, and deadlift.
The secondary focus of accessory training is to perform special exercises constructed to address specific weaknesses identified during main exercise training. This process is simple - we identify the weaknesses and muscles involved and specifically target those muscles. For instance, an athlete struggling with quad weakness may add in the Bulgarian split squat, while an athlete with triceps weakness may add in the JM press.
Here is an example of lower body accessory exercise selections for an athlete dealing with issues related to hamstring weakness:
Exercise 1 - Romanian Deadlift, 5 x 5
Exercise 2 - Leg Extension, 3 x 12-15
Exercise 3 - Glute-Ham Raise, 4 x AMRAP
Exercise 4 - Reverse Hyper - 4 x 15-20
Exercise 5 - Standing Abs - 5 x 15-20
Here is an example of upper body accessory exercise selections for an athlete dealing with issues related to upper back weakness:
Exercise 1 - JM Press, 4 x 5-8
Exercise 2 - Barbell Row, 4 x 8-10
Exercise 3 - Rolling DB Tricep Extension, 4 x 10-12
Exercise 4 - Hammer Curl - 3 x 10-12
Exercise 5 - Lateral Raise - 3 x 12-15
Exercise 6 - Face Pull - 4 x AMRAP
Remember, accessory exercise volume will increase on max effort training days and decrease during dynamic effort training days. This is due to the main exercise volume associated with each training day. Since dynamic effort training will always feature higher training volume levels, accessory exercises are expected to drop from 3-6 total exercises to 2-4 total exercises.
No Better Method
The Conjugate Method is the premier training method for all athletes. No matter the training goal or circumstances, a Conjugate-based plan can be constructed to consistently improve strength, speed, work capacity, and durability. Instead of going through training block after training block focusing on individual aspects of athleticism, why not choose a method that simultaneously focuses on all aspects?
When it comes to barbell training, we want training to be efficient. It makes no sense to spend unnecessary amounts of time focused on one sole aspect of athletic performance when a method exists that gives you maximum return on the time you invest into your training. In terms of effectiveness and efficiency, no method matches the Conjugate Method.
As time passes, the strength and conditioning world will continue to realize what we have long understood at Westside - Lou is always right. The Conjugate Method is the best method to utilize when seeking to improve strength and conditioning; there is no competition. No matter the athlete, the circumstances, or the timelines, we can always construct a comprehensive plan to deliver results.
As far as strength and conditioning methods go, no better method exists.
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