I understand this article might not “connect” with everyone, but I hope you can take away from it that there are a number of training methods, systems and ways to help folks achieve their fitness and performance goals. If you’ve been stuck with the same training routine and are looking for a change, there are ways to adapt, change and maybe even improve what you are currently doing. The key is to see what is out there so you have more choices on what you can do to help you be the best you available.
So, the other day I had some folks talking to me about training and asked “What is conjugate training and should I begin doing it?” So, to help them out and add some understanding to Conjugate Training — here we go!
The Conjugate Training System (CTS) — also known as the “Westside Method” because it was devised by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell gym in Columbus, Ohio — has its roots in powerlifting. A simple way to explain CTS — you utilize the same movement pattern over and over (push, pull, squat, hip hinge), but frequently varies how you train that pattern. So while you may know that the “main” lift in a given workout will be a squat, it could be a Front Squat, Goblet Squat, Back Squat, etc. This constant variety keeps things from getting boring and dull.
Here is some basic information to help you better understand CTS.
CTS breaks training down into 4-5 weekly training sessions:
• maximum effort upper (Bench Press)
• maximum effort lower (Squat and Deadlift)
• dynamic effort upper
• dynamic effort lower
• one extra day for posterior chain and weak point training
Let’s say we’re training the Bench Press for max effort. You’ll begin with a quick warm-up routine followed by lifting a Bench Press variation until you reach a one-rep max. As soon as the max is reached (without failing), you’ll move on to accessory training. Accessory movements should make up roughly 80 percent of your session.
Here’s a sample max effort for an upper training day in the conjugate training system:
• Barbell Floor Press x 10/8/6/4/2/1/1
• Strict Pull-Ups 4x8
• Rope Face Pulls 4x12
• Tricep Skull Crushers 4x10
• Bicep Hammer Curl 3x15
As you can see, only 20 percent of the workout is barbell-specific work used to train the main lift. The remaining 80 percent is made of specialty exercises trained for volume to help build the supporting muscles of the main lift. Repeat in similar fashion for the lower body max effort day, remembering to rotate through variations of the main lift and accessory lifts.
How do you train on the dynamic effort days?
Dynamic effort is training with a load that is less than your one-rep max for maximum speed. In similar fashion to the max effort, you’ll train a barbell lift followed by accessory movements. The barbell lift will vary similar to max effort, but you’ll choose a percentage of your max to train as fast as possible while maintaining good form.
It’s important to note that the separation of max effort and dynamic effort should be 2-3 days. Train max effort lower body on Tuesday, dynamic lower body should be on Thursday or Friday to allow for proper recovery (keep in mind — some experts say at least the 3 days to see best results — but you need to look at your workout model and times, which is what we do). Dynamic training and effort is key in building explosive power in athletes, because it forces the athlete to move a sub-maximal weight with the highest rate of force possible. In order to continually progress, the percentage should raise roughly 5-10 percent each training session until a new max is established.
Here is an example:
• 400-pound squat max
• Week One — Squat 50 percent (200 pounds)
• Week Two — Squat 55 percent (220 pounds)
• Week Three — Squat 60 percent (240 pounds)
These percentages can be changed up or down, but the key is to make sure the bar is moving with max force (not slow and strong, fast and powerful).
Another important key to CTS is that it places a high priority on physical preparedness. So with our lower body example, we would do band work, sled work, lunges, jumps and carries for movement prep before we get into the lifting part of the program.
The system is also easy to scale for folks that are novice to training. If a person isn’t able to bench with proper form, Push-Ups or dumbbells can replace the barbell lift. For lower body; swings, jumps and bounds can replace the Squat and Deadlift.
The conjugate system is great at allowing yourself, coaches and athletes or trainers working with clients to design a program that fits the person’s specific needs, age and sport or activity. Instead of opting for a one-size-fits-all training system, the conjugate method can easily accommodate any group, individual/athlete, or group of athletes. Say you have a person with a weak low back or weak or tight hips. Exercises can easily be changed or swapped that would address training issues and individual needs.
Here’s a sample week of the conjugate program:
• Monday: Max Effort Upper
— Incline Barbell Bench up to a 1 rep max
— Lat Pulldowns 4x12
— Shrugs 4x8
— Tricep Rollbacks 3x20
— Planks 3 x 45 seconds
• Tuesday: Dynamic Lower Body
— Box Back Squat (using 50 percent of Back Squat 1-Rep Max) 8x2
— DB RDL 3x15
— Goblet Squat 3x12
— Box Jump 30 total reps
— Palof Press 3x10 each side
• Wednesday: Off Day
• Thursday: Dynamic Upper Body
— Barbell Bench Press (using 50 percent of 1-Rep Bench Press max) 6x3
— DB Floor Press 4x12
— 1-Arm DB Row 4 x 8 each side
— DB Hammer Curl 4x12
— Close Grip Push Up 3 x Failure
• Friday: Max Lower Body
— Sumo Deadlift up to a 1 rep max
— Heavy DB Lunge 4x8 Each
— Band Hamstring Curl 4x15
— GHR 3x10
— Ab Wheel 3 x Failure
The next time you’re searching for a system that’ll take away boredom, make training exciting while also catering to specific needs you might have, consider a conjugate training system.
Mark Roozen, M.Ed, CSCS,*D, NSCA-CPT, FNSCA is the owner/director of Coach Rozy Performance — Powered by AVERA Sports. He can be reached at 817-219-2811 or you can email him at email@example.com for more information on this article or programs that he offers.