The “Conjugate Method” Made Simple
“When lifters repeatedly use the same simple method of training to raise their strength level, they will eventually stall. Like the scholar who must utilize many sources of information to achieve a higher level of knowledge, the lifter must incorporate new and more difficult exercises to raise their standards.” – Louie Simmons (of Westside Barbell)
The purpose of the Conjugate Method is to handle max lifts while allowing still being able to have ample recovery, in turn avoiding overtraining the C.N.S. (Central Nervous System).
The “Conjugate Method” does this by using a complex method of rotating special exercises that are close in nature, (for purposes of staying true to Westside) to the power lifts.
Doing this method will increase strength relative to the classic lifts (Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift) and help perfect coordination, will in turn advances one’s technical skills.
First step, the most important, is to select exercises that attack your muscle weaknesses (lagging muscle groups), and bring them up to par to surpass your sticking points as well as strengthening your “special strengths”. Special strengths are classified in categories as starting, eccentric, or accelerating strength.
The Starting is how you start the lift, simple enough. For example: unracking the bar while squatting, unracking the bar before bench pressing, breaking the bar off the ground while deadlifting.
The Eccentric portion of the lift is essentially the decent/lowering phase of a lift (involves stretch reflex).
The Accelerating portion of the lift is the rates at which you can make the bar accelerate, or simply think bar speed. (Just think of how fast Olympic lifters are while performing the snatch or clean and jerk)
The Conjugate system/method consists of many methods that are combined and rotated. Combining the speed (Dynamic Effort) and Max effort days in which 5 elements of strength are trained:
- Absolute Strength
Lou Simmons says: “This is much like a five-speed transmission in a car. We all know what happens if you miss a gear or take off in the wrong gear. Your car doesn’t run very efficiently and neither will you. One must learn many methods to develop special strength and when to use them. You must also know your sport’s goals. In some sports, speed is foremost and absolute strength is secondary. Both are more closely related than you think.”
But is it possible to train heavy continuously, without overtraining? Lou Simmons answer:
“Is to pick several special barbell exercises for a particular lift, for example, the deadlift. The good morning is very similar in motion to deadlifting. A conventional deadlifter will, no doubt, bend over. Therefore, bent over good mornings will increase the deadlift. But remember, when doing the good morning, in your brain, you must duplicate the action of your deadlift precisely. It is not so important to raise your good morning as to raise your deadlift by performing the good morning. We do many types of good mornings, for example, with a Safety Squat bar suspended from chains. But remember to use the same body mechanics as you do in the deadlift.”
Another answer to that question is because the Conjugate Method is used in a Pendulum Wave Periodization method, basically 3 weeks at a time. Once again I will let Lou Simmons answer why this work, I am only here to simply simplify his answers as much as possible.
“Speed strength work is done for a 3-week cycle. The weight with bands, chains, or both is changed each week, normally increasing each week for the 3 weeks. On the fourth week, the load is decreased or changed, and again another 3-week wave is started. Why do we start again after 3 weeks? We found that after 3 weeks, one cannot become faster or stronger. That is exactly why a 3-week wave is used. Dr. Mel Siff informed me that Vasily Alexeev used a similar wave system for his remarkable training.”
Ok, so what exactly is the Conjugate Method then? Simply put it is choosing similar/supplemental exercises to the lifts you wish to increase and rotating them weekly as not to do the same exact motion over. Using the bench press as an example: you would use floor press, narrow grip bench press, board presses, etc…
The Origins of the Conjugate Method
Lou Simmons constructed the Conjugate Method based on training methods used by the Bulgarians and Soviet Union.
The Bulgarians would use max effort days, in which they would lift as much as they could lift for that day and did this with the classical lifts (Competition lifts).
The Soviet Union has formed the “Dynamo Club” consisting of 70 highly skilled Olympic lifters. They had a training system of 20–45 special exercises grouped into 2–4 exercises per work out and were rotated as often as necessary to make continuous progress.
The Westside Conjugate Method combines both strategies in which the lifter will max out week by week on a different exercise.