Conjugate Training (sort of)

Note: I wrote this several years ago when I was just as unclear on the topic of conjugate training as everyone else. Simply put, the way that conjugate training is being used by lifters it not the way it was meant by the original Russian sports scientists. What the below really describes is a) a concurrent system b) what I hope is a little insight into the logic of planning training.

Introduction

Well, since the topic seems to keep coming up recently, this seems as good a time as any to give an example of how I go about training someone other than myself.

In this case, my two victims are two female personal trainers at my gym. Both have good musculature and drive and I had approached one of them about competing in something. Given the choice of bodybuilding and powerlifting, they chose powerlifting, mainly because they both hate to diet (one would like to bodybuild and I told her that the type of training I’d have them do would help her towards that goal). They both have potential and good drive in training (one has too much of an ego and I’m going to have to hold her back a bit) which is why I’m working with them.

I tested their 1RM about a week ago to get an idea of their strength. I did make one mistake: I took them at their word for their previous lifts, instead of knowing to lower the poundages significantly when they did it correctly. The ego driven one was quite pissed that she couldn’t put up as much weight doing it the right way.

Actually, I consider there to be three ways to do things in the gym: the right way, the wrong way, and the Lyle way. They are training the Lyle way. Which is, basically, the right way^3. Badly done reps don’t count in my world, and I already had to yell at one for RUNNING (!) on the treadmill for 30 minutes before the squat workout. There’s more to it than that but let’s just say that if my athletes don’t hate my guts for being a dick, I’m not doing my job right.

In any event, I got a rough idea of their current form, weaknesses (technique mainly) and approximate strength levels. I designed the following routine towards a couple of goals:

a. consolidating/perfecting technique: until they get perfect technique down, worrying about poundage will do nothing but harm. This also explains my reliance on slower speed movement. We can argue until the cows come home about slow vs. explosive lifting in terms of training effect but, for motor learning and technical work (olympic lifts excepted), I think slower speeds are better. It reduces the weights that can be used and gives the lifter time to think about what they are doing. it also makes it easier for me to give my cues (big breath, head up, tight back, etc.) which I give more or less constantly in the initial stages. Once their form is where I want it to be, I will have them working more explosively/dynamically during the concentric portion of the powerlifts (I may or may not stick with slower speeds on the assistance work).

b. Building strength and/or size in the prime movers for the three powerlifts. Since the lifts themselve are being done submaximally, I picked assistance work to build up the muscles involved in each lift. This can be worked more heavily as form is less technical. This also keeps them from feeling they are wasting time doing so much submax work. More specific assistance work in terms of targetting specific weak points will come later.

This more or less represents a conjugate approach to training, there are multiple capacities being trained (technique, general strength/size, speed) in varying proportions depending on what’s needed by the athlete. I’ll make some more comments on how that will change as they progress at the end.

For each lift, squat, bench, deadlift, I set up a heavy day and a light day (noting the significant overlap between squat and DL). For upper body, it actually ends up being one day of heavy chest/light back and heavy back/light chest. Each day’s workout with some comments on why I chose what I chose appear below. You might also note that it’s more or less symmetrical in terms of the content of each training day and hwo the workouts oppose one another.

Monday: Squat + assistance/light DL

Squat: 5 sets of 5/3-5′ rest. 3 seconds down, no pause/smooth turnaround, 2 seconds up (3/0/2 notation from here on out). I picked weights that were about 75-80% of their tested 1RM so this is submaximal. The goal is technique and there are lots of details to work out of their form.

RDL: 3 sets of 6-8/2-3′ rest. 3/0/2. Posterior chain work.

leg press with squat stance: 3 sets of 6-8/2-3′ rest. 3/1/2. Basic strength for prime movers used in squat, pause is to start building starting strength out of the hole.

Speed DL: 10X2/45″ rest. 80% of the weight used on Thu. Right now, they are NOT doing these quickly. This represents more technical/form work. After 6-8 weeks, they will work on more acceleration during the concentric.

Calf raise: 3X6-8/2′ rest. 3/1/2. It’s calf work, how much commentary do you expect. BTW, they were screaming by the end of this, because of the slow speeds.

Tuesday: heavy bench, light back

Bench press: 5 sets of 5/3-5′ rest. 3/1/2. Again, technique is the goal here. Learning to stay tight during the pause and generate power from that position.

T-bar row: 2X10-12/2-3′. 3/0/2 To balance out bench work, build a big back, keep shoulders healthy.

Incline DB press: 3X6-8/2-3′. 3/0/2. To get some more volume for the chest, get some unstable work for rotator cuff.

Pulldown: 2X10-12/2-3′. 3/0/2. To balance out inclines, build a wide back.

DB lateral raise: 2-3X8-10/1-2′. 3/0/1. Delt work but since triceps are trashed, I picked an isolation exercise.

CG bench alternated with biceps curl: 2X10-12/2′ rest. 3/0/2. Arm work, duh. Since neither girl is getting much out of the CG bench, I’m switching to one of my favorite triceps exercises: decline nose breaker (Hi John).

Rotator cuff on cable stack: 1-2 sets of 8-12. Duh.

Thursday: Deadlift + assistance/light squat

Deadlift: 5 sets of 5/3-5′ rest. 3/0/2 I picked weights that were about 75-80% of their tested 1RM so this is submaximal. The goal is technique and I am a form nazi.

Front squat: 3X6/2-3′ rest. 3/0/2. Quad work.

Leg press with DL stance: 3X6-8/2-3′. 3/1/2. Basic strength for prime movers used in DL, pause is to start building starting strength out of the hole.

Speed squat: 10X2/45″ rest. 80% of the weight used on Thu. Right now, they are NOT doing these quickly. This represents more technical/form work. After 6-8 weeks, they will work on more acceleration during the concentric.

Calf raise: same as Monday.

Friday: heavy back, light bench

Speed bench: 10X2/45″ rest. 3/1/X (3 seconds down, 1 second pause, accelerate concentric). 80% of the weight used on Thu. Since their form is good on this, I went ahead and let them go fast on the concentric.

Pulldown/chin: 5X5/2-3′. 3/0/2. Back work.

Shoulder press: 3X6-8/2-3′. 3/0/2. Delt work with dumbbells, same rationale as incline DB above.

T-bar row: 3X6-8/2-3′. 3/1/2. Midback work.

CG bench alternated with biceps curl: 2X10-12/2′ rest. 3/0/2. Arm work, duh. Since neither girl is getting much out of the CG bench, I’m switching to one of my favorite triceps exercises: decline nose breaker (Hi John).

Rotator cuff on cable stack: 1-2 sets of 8-12. Duh.

So that’s where I started them. Each workout is taking about an hour and 15 minutes and so far they both love it and hate it (the going slow is kicking their asses). As above, the first 8 weeks has as its main goal technique consolidation, some general strengthening, a little speed work, and some hypertrophy. Weights on the main lifts will go up as long as technique is perfect, weights on the assistance stuff can go up faster. Speed work will stay submaximal since it’s speed work.

After that, I’ll start pushing the main lifts a little heavier, with repeat triples to get them used to being under heavier weights. Assistance work will change as true weak points are identified and will be worked heavier. I’ll still include some general hypetrophy work and the speed work will become more speed oriented. This will be another 4-8 week cycle.

At that point, the goal is to pick a competition and train specifically towards that. I like wave loading for the main lifts with specific assistance work picked to train weak points, and trained heavier. Speed work will be maintained but with far less emphasis on hypertrophy training. They will probably compete in USAPL using basic gear and I will introduce them to that at a time point sufficient for them to get used to it.

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