Part 2; how and why I train the way I do.
As a relative beginner with only a year and half of training under my belt, I’m sure an experienced lifter reading this may flame me for the system I run. They may say I’m over complicating things, and I simply need time under the bar and steady progress will come. Perhaps they’re right, but I’m making faster and stronger strength gains on this program in 6 months than I have on the two ‘basic beginner’ programs I ran for the first year (6 months spent on each). I personally see no reason changing back to a progressive overload linear ‘beginner’ program when I’ve put on 50kg onto my total in 6 months, with only 50kg put on in the previous year when I ran both Stronglifts 5×5 and 531 for 6 months each. I must add, these programs do work. They just haven’t worked specifically for me. So onto my program.
I currently run a ‘learning through doing’ basic conjugate system. It follows the basic fundamentals of the training protocol of Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell. I do own the Westside barbell book of methods ebook and from there I set up the basics of my training template.
Each training cycle lasts approximately 12 weeks long (which often has 2 deload weeks included when and if I need them. This means 10 weeks out of 12 of the cycle are training weeks. 2 out of the 12 are reserved for rest, re/prehab and mobility work). This essentially ensures each training cycle roughly lasts 3 months in total. After each cycle if I’m feeling good I may take a heavy weight on each of the 3 lifts and maybe also go for a PB. Alternatively I may just take a deload as I said, and then move immediately onto my next 12 week cycle. The reason I look at training in the medium term is so each cycle I can try and tweek my training with a new idea and see if it works. 12 weeks allows me to properly assess if this idea really is making a difference or not. Through this I can add what works and subtract what doesn’t from my training as I get more and more cycles under my belt. This is how I build my training Philosophy and tests what works for me. At the moment my tweek is implementing the strength protocols set out in Prilepins table (All to be explained) for my supplementary work on max effort days (again all to be explained).
So each cycle lasts 12 weeks. 10/12 training weeks. 2/10 deloads.
My conjugate method
Monday – Max effort (ME) Upper
Tuesday – Rest/Mobility
Wednesday – Max effort (ME) Lower
Thursday – Rest/Mobility
Friday – Dynamic effort (DE) Upper
Saturday – Rest/Mobility/Conditioning (Occasionally strongman type work)
Sunday – Dynamic effort (DE) Lower
Max effort – In basic terms, this involves lifting to maximal effort whereby I will look to hit a 5 rep max, 3 rep max or 1 rep max personal best in the chosen exercise. So if in the last training cycle I hit a 75kg x3 floor press, next floor press day I’d try and hit 77.5kg x3 for example. When going for a 1 rep max I usually look to work up to 90% (of previous 1rm), then 95-97.5%, then if I feel good I’ll go for 102.5-105% PB attempt for example. However, I do feel it’s important to minimise as much as possible regular complete failure or ‘maxing out’ with ME work. Try and hit as close to you PB or beat it then shut it down. Westside encourages lifters to try and not go above 3 reps within the 90% range, anything more may in fact be detrimental. Personally I’ve found this 3 rep rule works great for me, any more and I get beat up very quickly after a few weeks.
Dynamic effort – This involves utilising sub-maximal weights that are lifted as fast as possible. This requires that in the concentric part of the lift, one must explode and lift the sub-maximal weight as if the weight was in fact maximal. These days build explosiveness and speed – strength. On these speed days I often use accommodating resistance (bands and chains) to aid in this development of speed and explosiveness. Although accommodating resistance is often seen as something used by experienced lifters only, I’ve seen my speed improve immeasurably which has carried over to my overall strength gains. My lockouts are now also a real strength of mine in the 3 lifts. It is important to remember however that accommodating resistance especially for a raw lifter is just a tool, and as such should be used intelligently so.
Repetition method – This is implemented on the supplementary and accessory lifts (eg Dumbell bench) This is essentially the classic bodybuilding protocol of higher reps to failure. This can be done to a certain number of reps or for time.
Monday – Max effort Upper
ME exercise – Exercises implemented include Paused bench, board presses of differing heights, JM presses, Close grip bench, Reverse band bench, Military presses, Floor press, Incline etc. done to 5rm, 3rm or 1rm (80% of the time I try to hit done 3 or 1 rm). This ensures lots of Max effort days are done in 85-90%+ (of 1rm) ranges which is basically the recognised range required to build strength gains.
Supplementary – In my last cycle as mentioned I’m implementing Prilepins protocol for strength gains. On Max effort upper days I pause bench for 8-10 reps at 80-89% of 1rm. On Max effort lower days I pause squat for 8-10 reps at again 80-89% of 1rm. I also try to wave this by increasing the weight by 2.5%-5% each week for 3 weeks. Then I start over. You’ll notice my rep range is at the very lower end of the chart. This is because it’s done after my max effort exercise and so I’m already fatigued. However it is manageable as I am a beginner and my lifts are likely not a true representation of my true rep maxes (This is often observed with beginner – immediate lifters who haven’t learnt to utilise maximal muscle recruitment that ensures elite lifters are lifting much closer to their actual true 1rm’s).
Accessory – On ME effort upper days this is always some kind of back exercise, most specifically Lats. This can include Rows (all variations, I like Dumbell bent over rows and meadow rows the best. 3-5 sets of 5-12 reps
Extras – This is reserved for any weaknesses or added extras that I’d like to hit. This can include Dips, extra upper back work, triceps such as extensions and delt work. I usually pick 2 exercises and one mobility (band pull aparts or rotator cuff stuff is a favourite); I usually then superset through rounds of these 3 exercises at 2-4 sets at 8-20 reps each exercise. For example. a) Rolling DB tricep extensions, supersetted with, b) Band pull aparts, supersetted with c) Dips. Then repeat 2-4 times round.
Wednesday – Max effort Lower
ME exercise – My favourtes include; Squats of varying stances, Paused squat, box squat of varying heights and stances, Good mornings (suspended or free and arched back or normal), Reverse band, Front squat, Zercher, Block pulls, deficit pulls, Sumo pulls (opposite to how you pull), Snatch grip deadlifts.
Supplement – As described above I free squat using Prilepins guidelines here.
Accessory – Hamstrings; Glute ham raises, Stiff legged deadlifts variations, band leg curls etc
Extras – I often super set as described using light Good mornings (general back work like reverse hypers or back raises), calfs and abs work.
Friday – Dynamic effort upper
DE excercise – I do this by taking 65%-75% of my 1 rep max for the bench. Then following Prilepins chart I usually hit 8 sets of 3 reps concentrating on speed. Accommodating resistance and free benching is alternated each week. Free benching is kept around the upper 75% limit, and using chains and bands, bar weight is kept nearer the lower end of the range.
Supplement – On Dynamic day I utilise the Repetition method using Dumbell work on flat/incline/military press.
Accessory and extras – As above
Sunday – Dynamic effort Lower
DE excercise – Each week I alternate box squat and free squat. Accommodating resistance is utilised as above in the upper DE day with the same percentages.
Supplement – My supplement work on DE days is always done as speed deads. Accommodating is used every 3 weeks. I generally don’t go over 10-12 reps in order not to fatigue too much with one eye on Wednesday’s ME. These are generally used to keep the form of my deadlift healthy as ME days rarely include regular deadlifting from the floor.
Accessory – Lower back, Reverse hypers, back raises and Good mornings are used extensively here.
Extras – As before
This may seem very complicated at first reading. With all the percentages I’m sure you’re thinking what the hell is this guy talking about. I was the same, but after thinking it through this program is very simple.
The beauty of the conjugate method is that you can utilise the ME method weekly by changing up the exercises. This means you won’t CNS won’t fatigue like it would if you were to squat to failure each and and every week. By changing the exercise your body is able to recover, but still put in maximal effort. At the moment, each week I change the exercise. So week one upper ME I will 2 board press for a 3rm. Week 2 I will change to a Floor press for a 1rm for example (Next cycle my tweek will be changing ME exercises after every 2 weeks to see how that helps me).
The conjugate method also enables a lifter to implement a range of bars in their training. I personally own a Texas power bar, Texas squat bar (Thick), Safety squat bar and a swiss bar. Again changing the bar type alongwith rotating exercises in this way helps address certain weaknesses in my training, and also allows me to implement the max effort method weekly to the best of my ability without fatiguing.
Note – This method can and is done without the use of accomodating resistance. It is not a requirement.
I enjoy this training because each week you have to go in and bust your ass. Plain and simple. You aren’t limited by a given rep and set scheme to hit like some programs. You go in there and bust your balls. It’s all on you. It does require a strong mental fortitude, and an unwavering motivation each and every week to step into the gym and lift as heavy as you can. Some people simply can’t do this, and prefer a more linear progression, especially in the beginning stages of lifting. This eventually for almost everyone will eventually stall and progress in this linear fashion will no longer work. It just so happens that linear progression from the start didn’t really work for me. Instead, this conjugate method has given me the best results of my albeit very short lifting career under the bar. I’d be stupid to change my training now, just because some people say this method should be consigned to advanced lifters only. Why should it be consigned for advanced lifters? It incorporates all of the recognised fundamentals required to get any individual strong, and as long as I’m still spending time not neglecting form work, I believe it can only make me a better, stronger lifter.
I should add, I do not believe this program is for absolute beginners. I believe time spent on basic programs such as Starting strength and 5×5 are needed in order to learn squatting, benching and deadlifting. I would not encourage a beginner to look into the system above or WSFSB (see programs that work) unless they, like myself, after a year of trying the linear beginner programs had found their progress was slow.
And there it is. That is my training in a nut shell. I hope reading this you understand the general template and fundamentals of this system. If you don’t drop me an email (see contact email on homepage). The links below may also help you.
A useful article on using the conjugate method by Westside.
If you are interested in running this method, I’d encourage to purchase the Westside book of methods ebook.
Strong body. Strong mind.