On Conjugate Training
Strength is never a weakness
Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. — Zen Buddhism
The conjugate training method is a weightlifting program that’s primarily designed to build strength. It’s sometimes referred to as the Westside-Barbell Conjugate Method or Westside’s Conjugate Method.
This advanced approach for athletes, bodybuilders, and weight lifters was developed by Louie Simmons, the owner of Westside Barbell Gym in Columbus, Ohio. It helps build strength with a varied and individualized routine. Aside from building strength, it also aims to enhance muscular endurance and improve weaker areas.
A lifter must raise his mental and emotional limits, or he won’t raise his weights. - Louie Simmons
To fully maximize these benefits, one must consistently follow the correct structure of the training sessions. This essay covers the conjugate method, how it works, and what its main benefits are.
A brief overview on the history of the method; It’s a system were one constantly rotates exercises, first coined the "conjugate system" in 1972. The program was first ran at the Dynmo Weightlifting Club in the Soviet Union (now Russia). The system didn't have a name back then at the club. When it was first programmed they used 25-40 rotating exercises to a group of 70 qualified weightlifters. After a phase of training using this method they reviewed it and feedback from the weightlifters showed 69 wanted more exercises 1 was content with the program.
Everyone was doing some form of conjugate training back then e.g. bodybuilders training at different gyms using different equipment. An important point when running the conjugate system on the max effort days is if one handles weights at 90% or more for three weeks one will regress. This is why every three weeks one switches exercises on the training days so there will be no regression. The system allows athletes to max out most weeks 100% or more depending how far they are from a meet without burning themselves.
It is similar to the Bulgarian Method, this system required athletes to lift near max weights every day. Both systems want to beat previous bests but if one doesn’t it’s not an issue, simply try again next time. This conjugate system involving maxing out every week is one of the many reasons to why Westside Barbell is the strongest gym in the world. If one doesn't have a meet in 3 weeks one is maxing out with the people that do.
One’s level of preparedness isn't what it should be for a contest, one is still maxing out and one’s body only knows it is maxing out. From that one’s body will react to demands it is placed upon it and adapt (progressive overload principle). So, if one trains with heavy weights one will become a strong person.
Strength is measured in time not weight, a struggle is a struggle. Each struggle is a unique event that needs to be overcome. There is no easy way to avoid the pain associated with the path to strength. Don’t avoid, push through. OVERCOME.
Monday: Max Effort (lower body)
Wednesday: Max Effort (upper body)
Friday: Dynamic Day (lower body)
Saturday/Sunday: Dynamic Day (upper body)
Max Effort means working up to a one rep max on particular exercise. So, for lower days a 1RM squats, upper days 1RM bench press.
Dynamic day's training runs on 3 week pendulum wave (each 3 weeks one changes the exercise used). This only applies to the lower dynamic days not the upper. The Upper dynamic days changes on a weekly basis.
Lets use the Cambered Bar Squat as the exercise and base the percentages of its 1RM. 1st Wave of Dynamic Lower Body would be:
- Week 1: 12 sets of 2 reps at 50% with 25% of chain or band (accommodating) resistance
- Week 2: 12 sets of 2 reps at 55% with 25% of chain or band (accommodating) resistance
- Week 3: 12 sets of 2 reps at 60% with 25% of chain or band (accommodating) resistance
If band's or chains aren’t available one can start the 3 week wave with 75% of one’s 1RM for that particular exercise, use this calculator.
- Week 1: 12 sets of 2 reps at 75%
- Week 2: 12 sets of 2 reps at 80%
- Week 3: 12 sets of 2 reps at 85%
At Westside Barbell they always box squat on their dynamic lower body days. Any lower body exercise can work but squats are the preferred choice. One example would be doing front squat for 3 weeks, cambered bar next 3 weeks then using a regular bar the closer it gets to the competition.
Saturday/Sunday for Dynamic Upper body;
9 sets of 3 reps at 35% of your 1RM for a particular exercise plus 25% of band or chain (accommodating resistance). The main difference between the lower and upper body dynamic days is the upper body doesn't follow a 3 week wave like the lower body. Each week it changes exercises.
No one can lift a heavy weight slow. Lifting heavy builds speed.
Below is a layout for 3 weeks of wave 1 Conjugate training.
Monday Wednesday Friday Saturday
Lower Max Effort Upper Max Effort Dynamic Lower Upper Dynamic
Cambered Bar Squat Bench Press Parallel Box Squat Floor Press1RM 1RM 12 sets of 2 @ 50% 9 sets of 3 @ 35% 12 sets of 2 @ 55%
Assistance Work (bodybuilding style 3 sets of 12 reps/ Repetition method)
The days which assistance exercise follow work the same muscles but each day use different exercises. For the glutes on Monday box squats may be used but on Friday the glute exercises may be kettlebell swings.
Glutes Shoulders Glutes Shoulders
Hamstrings Triceps Hamstrings Triceps
Lower Back Chest Lower Back Chest
Abdominals Upper back/Lats Abdominals Upper back/Lats
One will notice between each lower body session it is 72 hours which is for optimal recovery.
The system is centred around 3 basic pathways to strength development.
1. Maximal Effort Method
Heavy lifts upwards of 90%+ of 1RM to improve maximal strength.
Weight is undetermined for the day. It is the heaviest weight one can lift for 3 reps. 3RM.
2. Dynamic Effort Method (Compensatory Acceleration Training)
Lifting submaximal weights as quickly as possible.
Example: they’ll take a low % (E.G.60%) of their 1RM squat and do 2 reps as fast as possible.
Doesn’t just have to be with barbells – can incorporate with more athlete specific movements such as med ball throws, plyometrics, box jumps.
3. Repetition Method (Body Building Method)
Lifting submaximal weights but for higher reps closer to failure.
8-20 reps to create muscle mass.
These are 3 methods Louie Simmons uses to help his power lifters gain massive force, get strong, and develop size all while keeping them explosive.
The ability to train multiple abilities simultaneously. As long as they compliment each other it makes more sense. Strength, power and building muscle all working hand in hand instead of in large separated blocks.
One remains closer to peak when one trains using the Conjugate method which allows one to only be a few weeks from peak at any one time.
It gives one more room for auto regulation to work around life’s unexpected problems. If an athlete is having a great day one can increase intensity or add another exercise. Or if one is having a bad day taper it down for the day and cut something. Conjugate gives one flexibility because there are no hard set rep/set schemes.
It allows one to work with athletes to improve multiple abilities within a strict time frame. Perfect example: preparing an athlete for an NFL combine/summer athletes preparing for college season.
The conjugate training technique offers many benefits in terms of strength, which is the main goal of the program. It’s not designed for fat loss or to boost health or fitness ability, though one may still experience some of these benefits. Gaining strength is the main aim of the training system. The conjugate method is a good option for athletes and coaches who want to create an individual program to target their exact requirements.