MASTERING THE CONCEPT OF CONJUGATE TRAINING: A GUIDE FOR OLYMPIC LIFTERS

The Conjugate System has become a buzzword in the strength training community. However, due to a lack of proper referencing, widely varying opinions, and a surge in social media-savvy strength coaches, there is a disconnect between Westside Barbell and the system that Louie Simmons revolutionised for modern coaches and athletes. Louie has been writing about this system for over 30 years, continuously refining and updating it. To truly understand its principles, it’s best to draw your conclusions from the original sources, not third-party interpretations.

THE ORIGINS OF THE CONJUGATE SYSTEM

The Conjugate System was developed at Westside Barbell under the influence of pioneers such as Bill “Peanuts” West, George Frenn, and Larry Pacifico. It began as an unnamed system used by elite lifters in the 1960s and 1970s, evolving through continuous experimentation and integration of Soviet training methodologies. This system focuses on unidirectional loading and utilises a rotation of exercises to prevent staleness and promote continuous improvement.

THE PROBLEMS WITH PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD

Traditional progressive gradual overload, which dominated US strength training, often leads to plateaus. This method, divided into different training blocks, was found to be less effective compared to the more sophisticated wave periodisation techniques developed by Soviet and Bulgarian coaches. The Conjugate System, influenced by these advanced methods, incorporates the principles of wave loading to ensure continuous progress without leading to accommodation or overtraining.

THE WESTSIDE CONJUGATE SYSTEM

The Westside Conjugate System merges the best elements of Soviet and Bulgarian training methods. It combines various special exercises to enhance the primary lifts and employs near-max lifts regularly. To avoid physical and mental fatigue, core barbell exercises are rotated weekly. This system also utilises Prilepin’s chart to regulate volume and intensity, ensuring optimal training loads and preventing wasted effort on ineffective repetitions.

CORE PRINCIPALS OF CONJUGATE TRAINING

  • Maximal Effort (ME) Method: Lifting maximal loads to develop absolute strength.
  • Dynamic Effort (DE) Method: Lifting submaximal loads with maximum speed to develop explosive power.
  • Repetition Effort (RE) Method: Performing multiple repetitions to build muscle mass and endurance.
  • Constant Variation: Regularly changing exercises and training stimuli to prevent adaptation and promote continual progress.

APPLYING CONJUGATE TRAINING TO OLYMPIC LIFTING

Olympic lifting requires a unique blend of strength, speed, and technique. The Conjugate method can be tailored to meet these demands effectively.

MAXIMAL EFFORT (ME) FOR OLYMPIC LIFTERS

Maximal Effort (ME) for Olympic Lifters

Incorporate ME exercises once a week, focusing on variations of the snatch and clean & jerk. Examples include heavy singles or doubles in these lifts, heavy snatch pulls, clean pulls, and front and back squats. This approach significantly enhances the strength needed for Olympic lifting. Athletes like Lu Xiaojun and Ilya Ilyin have incorporated ME principles in their training, focusing on heavy singles and doubles to build maximal strength and enhance their competition lifts.

DYNAMIC EFFORT (DE) FOR OLYMPIC LIFTERS

Enhance explosive power by incorporating DE exercises once a week, lifting submaximal loads with maximum speed. Examples include snatch and clean & jerk complexes at 50-70% of maximum weight, box jumps, plyometrics, and other explosive movements. This training improves speed and power under the bar. Weightlifters such as Dmitry Klokov have been known to utilise DE methods to develop explosive power and improve bar speed.

REPETITION EFFORT (RE) FOR OLYMPIC LIFTERS

Build muscle mass and endurance with RE exercises as accessory work following ME and DE sessions. Examples include high-rep sets of squats, presses, and rows, along with assistance exercises like Romanian deadlifts, front squats, and lunges. This approach supports overall strength and stability crucial for Olympic lifts. Lasha Talakhadze incorporates high-volume accessory work to support his incredible lifting capabilities, showcasing the effectiveness of RE methods.

COMPARING CONJUGATE AND LINEAR PERIODISATION

LINEAR PERIODISATION

Linear periodisation systematically adjusts training intensity and volume over distinct phases, each focusing on specific qualities like hypertrophy, strength, or power. It is simple and structured, making it accessible for beginners. However, it can lead to plateaus and may not easily adapt to individual needs.

CONJUGATE TRAINING

Conjugate training develops multiple physical qualities simultaneously through varied exercises, intensities, and volumes. This method offers continuous progress and adaptability to individual strengths and weaknesses. It requires careful planning and a variety of equipment, making it more complex but highly effective for advanced lifters.

PRACTICAL EXAMPLES OF IMPLEMENTING CONJUGATE TRAINING

WEEKLY EXAMPLE

Monday (ME Day)

  • Heavy Snatch and Clean & Jerk
  • Snatch Pulls and Front Squats
  • Accessory Work: Weighted Planks, Back Extensions

Wednesday (DE Day)

  • Speed Snatch and Clean & Jerk Complexes
  • Box Jumps and Plyometrics
  • Accessory Work: Medicine Ball Throws, Plyometric Push-Ups

Friday (RE Day)

  • High-Rep Squats and Presses
  • Romanian Deadlifts and Rows
  • Accessory Work: Lunges, Ab Rollouts
  • Monthly Structure

Week 1: Base Exercises

  • Focus on standard variations of Olympic lifts

Week 2: Variation 1

  • Introduce pauses, hang positions, or different grips

Week 3: Variation 2

  • Incorporate different bars or unilateral movements

Week 4: Deload

  • Reduce volume and intensity to allow recovery

CONCLUSION

Conjugate Training offers a dynamic and comprehensive approach to Olympic lifting, promoting continuous improvement and addressing multiple physical qualities simultaneously. By incorporating the Maximal Effort, Dynamic Effort, and Repetition Effort methods, and embracing constant variation, you can prevent plateaus and achieve new heights in your lifting performance. While it may be more complex than Linear Periodisation, the benefits for advanced lifters are substantial. Consider your experience level, goals, and resources when choosing the best approach for your training.

By embracing the Conjugate System, you can elevate your Olympic lifting performance, drawing from a rich history of innovation and adaptation that has stood the test of time.

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