Building strength is a science, and few gyms that science better than Westside Barbell. The Ohio-based “training factory” has been pumping out some of the world’s best powerlifters for more than 30 years, so when one of their top training strategies goes viral and starts being discussed and practiced devotedly in other gyms, you’d be smart to take notice—and perhaps even incorporate it into your own program. Case in point: the conjugate method.
What Is the Conjugate Method?
Although not invented by Westside Barbell, the conjugate method is attributed to the esteemed training facility because of its founder, Louie Simmons, who adopted it, refined it, and made it a cornerstone of Westside programming starting in the 1990s. Since then, countless other gyms and strength coaches have embraced and tweaked the protocol to suit their own ends, but the basic strategy remains the same: Rather than organizing your training calendar into a periodized format that emphasizes one skill at a time (e.g., strength, power, muscular endurance), you train all of them each week.
In that sense, the conjugate method (derived from the Latin word coniugāre, meaning “to join together”) quite literally lives up to its name. Each week consists of four workouts, each of which is built around one or two of powerlifting’s “big three” lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift) and focuses on either maximum effort (strength) or dynamic effort (speed/power) training.
Each workout also includes exercises that emphasise accessory muscles with “repetition effort” (lighter weight, higher rep) training. The result is a weekly routine that helps you avoid plateaus and maximise strength and muscle gains while minimising your risk of injury.
How to Practice the Conjugate Method in Workouts
The conjugate method is an advanced training strategy that is difficult to employ effectively on your own, but a typical training week breaks down like this:
- Monday: Max effort squat or deadlift variations (~90% 1RM), plus up to four lower body assistance exercises that target your glutes, hamstrings, lats, traps, lower back, and core.
- Wednesday – Max effort bench press variation (~90% 1RM), plus up to four upper body assistance exercises that target your triceps, upper back, lats, shoulders, and core.
- Friday – Dynamic effort squat and deadlift variations (30 to 70% 1RM), plus up to four lower body assistance exercises that target the same muscles as Monday.
- Saturday – Dynamic effort bench press variation (30 to 70% 1RM), plus up to four upper body assistance exercises that target the same muscles as Wednesday.
Notice how much rest is programmed between the first and second max effort days, and between the second max effort day and the first dynamic effort day. That rest is key.
This training schedule is very challenging when done correctly, and it’s critical that you give your body sufficient time to recover between workouts. Fail to do that, and you’ll increase your odds of overtraining instead of the intended goal: making big-time strength gains and packing on size in record time. Want to learn more? Check out Westside’s own materials on putting the conjugate method into practice.
This article was first published in Men’s Health US.