T Nation

Conjugate & Complex


Hey Everyone,

In the past 2 weeks, there has been a "hot topic" on the conjugate method/periodization and complex training.

After reading up on it, I find myself a little more lost in this realm of training. I thought I would post these emails for feedback or enlightenment on these subjects.


<<but "complex training">>>

***I don't think there is one generally accepted definition of
either complex' orconjugate' training. Ask 10 people the definition of Westside training and I'm sure you'll receive 10 different answers? A popular belief is that complex training is simply the combination of high loads prior to light loads in a given training session. `Conjugate' training is a method of 'complex' training but it is an extension, whereby a number of means of training are utilized concurrently in different ""proportions"" at any given time (more info in Supertraining). (""Emphasise) Each method has certain benefits and limitations depending on the level of qualification of the athlete (the sport?).

As Jon mentioned the verb conjugate means to unite (usually
pairs). Dictionary.com:
[Latin coniug re, coniug t-, to join together : com-, com- + iug re,
to join (from iugum, yoke. See yeug- in Indo-European Roots).]

Based upon the latter definition Westside' training could,
therefore, considered to be
conjugated training.'

<<basically all about the differences between complex
and "unidirectional" training. He is saying that the Russians used to
feel that complex training was the way to go but that this viewpoint
was being replaced by unidirectional loading. (conjugate sequence)>>>

As far as I am aware Dr Verkhoshansky is not familiar with the term
conjugate, he refers to 'block' training.

<all about sequencing different training parameters in a series (not
together) so that the effects are cumulative.>>

***When performing a 'block' primary emphasis is given to a certain
ability(ies?) which may lead to 'the brink to the collapse of adaptive capacities'. At the same time other abilities are trained,
but one does not force the growth of these.' One hopefully then
profits optimally from the phenomenon know as the
delayed effect of
long term training.'

A number of authors including Professor Mike Stone, Steven Plisk,
Verkhoshansky, Tschienne, Kelly Baggett, James Smith, Christian
Thibaudeau have written extensively on this subject area, hence it may be worth reading through some of their work. Furthermore, many of the Soviet Sports Reviews (translated by Dr Yessis) are particularly helpful in helping one to understand this topic area.

This may or may not answer your question, I think I may have confused myself now:-)

What have you found to be the benefits and limitations of the Sheiko
and / or Westside systems?

I've actually been doing a lot of thinking about this subject
recently. The answer I've come to is that the Westside Barbell
standard template is conjugate because it trains with the same means
all the time. Week after week after week - the maximum effort method
is used for the squat/dead lift and the bench - the exercises are
rotated, but the means stay the same. The year round maximum effort
work is what defines it as conjugate sequencing, or training with
unidirectional means. The same can be said of the dynamic effort
method with the squat & bench. Year round dynamic training is used,
and things like types of bars, use of bands, chains, or weight
releasers allows some variation for additional training stimulus.
I believe the Westside Barbell standard template is also an example of
concurrent sequencing because separate means are trained during the
same microcycle (strength (max effort), strength-speed (dynamic
effort), and hypertrophy (repetition method)).
As I understand it, multi-directional training describes linear
periodization - which features separate phases of training each aimed
at developing one particular strength component, and tending to move
from high volume/low intensity to low volume/high intensity. In other
words, the hypertrophy phase is a direction, the strength phase is a
direction, power a direction, etc. - multi-directional. Whereas
Westside is max effort all year...unidirectional; dynamic effort all
year...unidirectional; repetition method all year...unidirectional -
their status as all being trained in the same microcycles...concurrent
sequencing. I don't know if I'm right about this, but these are my
As Jamie, I would catagorize Westside as conjugate, multiple strength qualities are trained during the same cycle. Simmons does this by training ME (Maximum Effort) one day and DE (Dynamic Effort) another day.

The definition of complex training has to do with pairing two or more different strength movement together. A strength exercise with a power exercise, or a strengh with a speed would be complex training. These exercises are basically super sets. A strength set of an exercise is executed, a short rest period is taken, then a power (or speed) set is performed, then a rest period is taken. The sequence is repeated.

My defintion of complex training is stated in "Building Strength and Power With Complex Training. [http://strengthcats.com/complextraining.htm].

I would catagorize complex training as conjugate training, since multiple strength qualities are being trained during the same cycle. However, while Simmons Westside training is conjugate, it is not complex. As I defined it above. Complex training has to do with pairing a two or more different strengths.

Here is an example. Think of conjugate training as a rectangle. Think of complex training as a square.

A square is a square and a rectangle. A rectangle is only a rectangle, not a square. Thus, conjugate training is only conjugate training. While complex training is complex training and a form of conjugate training.


I would catagorize Westside as a multi-directional cycle because two different strength qualities are being trained, strength and power.

Uni-directional training would be training only one strength quality at a time. Thus, a periodization cycle of working only on maximal strength, nothing else.

However, Simmons Westside method contains uni-directional training days within his multi-directional cycle. ME (Maximum Effort) days focus on pure strength while DE (Dynamic Effort) days focus more on power. Thus, with Simmons' multi-direction cycle has uni-directional training days.

Complex training is a multi-directional cycle with multi-directional training days. Each training session (day) pairs two different strength qualities. An example would be deadlift super setted (so to speak) with a power clean. Strength is trained with the deadlift while power is developed with the power clean.

No matter how we define these two method, both evoke different trainng responses. Simmons Dynamic Effort days would be like the color yellow. Maximum effort being like the colour blue.

Complex training would be the color green, since both yellow and blue are mixed together in one training session. While green is blue and yellow, green is a completely different color.

Slightly wrong there dave..

the week looks more like this...

Max effort Sq and dead are trained on the same day followed by an exercise for your weak points reverse hypers and abs. The max effort exercise is generally a varient of the squat or dead or an exercise that will greatly help it (Good Morning). It very rarely is the squat or dead.

This is followed by a speed squat and deadlift day. The actual contest style bench and squat lifts are done on the speed day but at reduced loads. Squat speed day is normally sets of 2 reps, bench speed day sets of 3 at roughly 50-60% of the persons load. This is manipulated in a 4 week wave depending on the time of year etc etc..

Max effort bench - could be floor pressing, benching of chest boards or whatever. Followed by 1 or 2 tricep exercises and rear delts for balance of the internal and external rotators. Light abs and hypers can follow.

Speed bench day - benching, 1 tricep exercise and very little delt work.

Normally a max of 4 exercises per session, with assistance and supplementart exercises done for more bodybuilding type reps (hypertrophy being a goal sometimes) of 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps - this is the repeated effort method as these moves are taken to failure and max muscle tension is developed in the later reps.

A good complex training example may be a wall squat followed by squat jumps and is often used to develop rate of force production - a quality westside develop via the speed bench and speed squat/dead day. So is west side strictly comples when such a time difference (72hrs) is present between Max effort and dynamic effort days???
Louis simmons defines Conjugate as a complex method of rotating exercises that are close in nature - the Good morning is close to the deadlift, a low box squat is close to a sumo dead - thus alowing them to train continously heavy on ME days..

Hope this clears things up a little.

"The conjugate sequencing system uses unidirectional means,
integrated by separately developing individual, specific motor
abilities (e.g., strength, speed, etc.), which can be an invaluable
method of organizing special strength training for more advanced
athletes" (Supertraining 2000, pg. 290)

"The concurrent system involves the parallel training of several
motor abilities, such as strength, speed and endurance, over the same
period, with the intention of producing multi-faceted development of
physical fitness" (Supertraining 2000, pg. 290)

It seems to me that Westside is a combination of these two things.
They separately develop absolute strength, strength-speed, and
hypertrophy all the time.
Hehe, I will be honest...these terms "conjugate" and "complex" dont
seem to have concrete definitions as far the exercise world is

Louie Simmons says his training system is "conjugate periodization".
But when I read the Russian manuals he used as his source I dont find
the same exact meaning. I find the "conjugate sequence system" which
seems to be something different.

The book "Programming and Organization of Training" by Verkhoshanksy
is basically all about "unidirectional training"....in other words
training one quality at a time...specifically in that book he is
advocating having a large "block" of focused strength training (high
volume, med or lowish intensity) at certain points in the
year....during this phase you arent really working on speed or
perfect technique etc...it is just a large volume of strength
training. Then later of course there would be a "pre-competition"
phase where you worked on technique/speed etc.

As I understand it the "conjugate sequence system" is all about a
SEQUENCE of different unidirectional training phases....or a SEQUENCE
of phases using exercises that start easy then get more and more

an example of this would be the following sequence

1)jumps (but NOT depth jumps)
2)barbell exercises
3)jumps with weights
4)depth jumps

ok, this is a SEQUENCE....these exercises are NOT being trained at
one time...nor are they trained in the same week (unless I am
misunderstanding things but I dont think so)...each has its own
little phase

If you tried to train these in some different order..such as depth
jumps first, it would not be nearly as effective.

So a conjugate sequence is all about sequencing things so that you
get a cumulative effect.....this is DEFINITELY not Louie Simmons
usage of the word "conjugate"

With the word "complex" it gets more confusing, lol. The trendy
definition is the thing where exercises with different emphasis are
supersetted or done in the same workout. Ok, I have not seen this
definition in any of the Russian manuals....to me this must be a
later usage of the word. In the book "Programming..." Verkhoshansky
is contrasting "unidirectional" training with "complex"
training.....from what I gather he is defining "complex" as what
Louie calls "conjugate", lol....hence my original question. Verkho
seems to be defining 'complex' as training different abilities
(explosive speed and endurance for example) in the same workout OR
same microcycle.

In his definition in the front of the book he says:

"Complex training==The simultaneous (within one workout) work on
several aspects of an athletes preparation. For example working on
strength, speed, and technique in the same session."

but then later in the book he seems to be saying that even if they
are NOT trained in the same workout that the body cant seperate their

For example he shows a study where they take 3 groups...one does
barbell exercises for 3 month, then depth jumps for 3 months in that
order....then the next group does the reverse order...then group 3
does both exercises together...he said group 3 did the
exercises "complexly" (together)....but it didnt say if they did them
in the same workout or not...I suppose they did. But even if they did
barbells one day and depth jumps on another day it would obviously
still be "complex".....it would OBVIOUSLY not be the same thing as
the first two groups where the exercises were done in DIFFERENT
microcycles. In a nutshell that is why I see westside as "complex".

In Zatsiorskys book he says "fitness gain decreases if several motor
abilities are trained simultaneously during one workout, MICROCYCLE
OR MESOCYCLE." Therefore it not a good idea to have more than 2 or 3
main targets in one micro or mesocycle"...then...."if the training
targets are distributed over several mesocycles in sequence, the
fitness gain increases"

So in Zatsiorskys mind it doesnt matter if the exercises are done in
the same workout or just in the same week....they would still be
considered to be trained "simultaneously"

In the Verkho book it says "for the development of explosive strength
the positive cumulation is acheived through a SEQUENCE where
voluminous loading with submaximum resistance is employed first; then
means which stimulate the display of explosive effort.......The
mechanism of sequential cumulation is appropriate only if the
training effect of the previous work has become relatively stable
(requiring no LESS than 4-6 weeks)."

He goes on to say that if you trained one ability for two weeks only,
then switched to another, that the body isnt able to differentiate
and in effect the results are just "summed" (my word, not his)...he
says in that case it wouldnt matter if you did the low intensity
loading or the explosive loading first because either way the body
just reacts to both of them as one. So OBVIOUSLY if you do westside
and you seperate the Max effort and the Dynamic effort by only a few
days the body will still see that as "simultaneous" training...hence
to me it is "complex" training.

In another quote one of the Russian manuals says somethign along the
lines of the body not being able to "differentiate and accomadate" at
the same time....so if the training of different abilities is done
together, same workout or same microcycle etc then basically the
effects are "summed"....a little of one, a little of the other etc.

"Conjugate sequence system==An appropriate succession and strict
sequence of inculcating loading of different primary emphasis, into

So to me that is NOT what Westside is, lol....there is no
sequence..there is just max effort, then explosive effort, then max
effort, then explosive effort etc back and forth...there is no
logical building of intensity in the means

Its all quite nebulous I know....and the other book by
Verkhoshansky "Fundamentals of special strength training in sport"
makes it even cloudier, lol.
It seems to me that the posts on this subject show
that labels are not as useful as plain descriptions of
what is being done in a program. One man's
unidirectional is another man's parallel.

We have a description or two of what Westside actually
does. To the extent that it is not a pure conjugate
sequencing system, could someone give a description of
what such a system would look like in comparison to
the Westside method.
<more different strength movement together. A strength exercise with
a power exercise, or a strengh with a speed would be complex
training. These exercises are basically super sets. A strength set
of an exercise is executed, a short rest period is taken, then a
power (or speed) set is performed, then a rest period is taken. The
sequence is repeated.

My defintion of complex training is stated in "Building Strength and
Power With Complex Training.
[http://strengthcats.com/complextraining.htm]. >>>

***Kenny, I was under the impression that any two training means
within a microcycle could also be considered `complex' training. For
example, Dr Siff mentioned that the use electrical stimulation and
weight training within a given training session could be considered
complex training (combination). Another example:

""Russian athletes were the first in the world to employ the complex
method of training in which a single training session is broken into
several components, in which the athlete uses different training
loads. For example, an athlete does a general and special warm-up,
then perforrns a certain number of throws, then performs strength
exercises, then throws again, then executes strength work or jumping.
This type of rotation enables one to vary the training process and
accomplish a large training volume.""

(Bondarchuk, 1994 p.109)

Below are a few short excerpts on complex training
from "Supertraining" (Siff MC 2000, Ch 6):

Complex Training

Complex training, which involves concurrent (during one workout or
microcycle) and parallel (prolonged stages of training, up to a year)
use of several training tasks and loads of different primary
emphasis, is usually regarded as the most effective form of training
construction. This is a direct result of considerable early research
that supported the principle of complex organisation of training. The
results showed that the athlete achieves balanced and multi-faceted
physical fitness, that development of one motor ability contributes
to the development of others and that multifaceted loading improves
strength, speed of movement and endurance to a greater extent than
unidirectional exercise (Krestovnikov, 1951; Letunov et al., 1954;
Zimkin, 1956; Korobkov et al, 1960).
I agree with Randy that it is all rather nebulous.
Different people mean different things when they use
terms that have no accepted meaning. Just to muddy
things more, conjugate sequencing as described by
Verkho sounds an awful lot like periodization.

Periodization may be a slightly more encompassing term
since it takes into account rest and de-training
phases, and slightly less encompassing in that it may
just describe shifts in load from light, medium and
heavy, but Bompa's books on periodization and strength
describe the same basic flow from anatomical
adaptation (his term) to max strength work, to
hypertrophy (if needed) transitioning to power and
speed. Do we really need to deal with two ill defined
terms with a lot of sub-terms (unidirectional, micro,
meso and macro cycles, etc.)that are also confusing if
we are talking about essentially the same thing? We
all know what days, weeks, months and years are so why
do we talk about micro cycles (which I take it means a
minimum of 2 days, or is it two sessions which could
take place in one day) or any of the other cycles?
Why did we switch around the meaning of meso and macro

What I really find interesting is that Verkho has in
recent years declared classic periodization as dead.
What does this then say about the conjugate sequence
Well conjugate sequencing is DEFINITELY not linear
periodization....Linear Periodization is just the same means
(exercise) sort of cycled from high vol/low intensity to low vol/high
intensity in a linear fashion......whereas "conjugate sequencing" in
changing the means themselves going in a strict sequence from least
intense to most intense

I think the terms are just too limited....trying to catagorize
infinitely adjustable variables with a only a few terms.

One thing for sure....ALL training systems are a compromise...there
are various principles that interact in various ways......for
instance there is the tension between specificity on the one hand and
varying the means to avoid adaptation on the other hand....many
other "tensions" exist...the various systems address these tensions
in different ways.

Sheiko uses the same exercises but "waves" the volume and intensity
up and down.

Westside does a max effort each week but on a different exercise.

I think the 'conjugate sequencing' idea is a wide open field waiting
to be explored....but I wouldn't use that confusing label, lol.

I can picture something like a system where you have 3 four week
phases in sequence leading to a meet or max day....

1)straight weight (high volume/med intensity)
2)straight weight with emphasis on partials
3)band phase also with negatives

So you have 3 phases sequenced from least intense to most
intense....and of course DURING each phase the volume and intensity
would wave a 'la sheiko with the last week of each phase being a

(obviously there could be other means than what I listed, I just
named them off the top of my head)

Another idea, which I might try myself this coming year....is to
structure the year like this (for a powerlifter).

Phase 1----weak point emphasis using alternative exercises (or a
modified westside approach perhaps)....this would be a phase to
strengthen weak point, build mass, and give the body and mind a break
from the "big three"...myself I want to strengthen my delts and also
use leg press some to strengthen the actual quads for deadlift
starting strength....probably one would use DB for flat press but
also decline/incline, floor press etc...the mass training might go
into "higher" reps such as 8-10ish.....even so there would be some
work done in the 90 percent or similar range to keep those motor
skills/abilities from being totally lost....but maybe it would only
be 10% of the volume.

Phase 2---this would be a modified version of a sheiko prep
phase...at this point you are looking at a contest date 8 or 12 weeks
away or whatever....so this phase would be 4 or 8 weeks...(leaving 4
weeks for peaking/tapering for the meet).....you would switch to
start using the "big 3" again...high vol/low to med intensity...but
you would also keep some of the assistance work going but at a lesser
volume....the "mass" portion of the assistance work would be sort of
in the 5-7 rep range.....and again there would be some 90% or
above "max effort" type work done...but still not a lot...maybe 15-
20% of the volume.

Phase 3---this would be the actual competition phase....assistance
would drop down thru this phase with maybe the last 2 weeks being no
assistance at all....the phase would be lowered volume with higher

These 3 phases could be done twice per year or whatever.

I know it's a long read, but some good info. Anyway, I was hoping for everyone who is interested, respond, or give their own perception on this.


-The Truth


Holy crap that was so long it gave my screen a tab to scroll sideways.


Damn, 87 views, no 1 response. lol. I know there are guys/ladies out there who know about this stuff.


Not really sure what it is you would like to have posted here...I read your entire post and it seems like you pretty much have your answer (from three different emails no less). Did all of those explanations not cover it?

Conjugate vs Complex...two different ways to accomplish the same goals. If you had a question as to what we thought worked better then maybe you would get a response, but this is mostly lots of words about semantics.


What he said...


i did not read your whole threat but I just want to say somthing to complex vs conjugate.

I see block training (conjugate) as a kind of periodisation which enables you to train heavy all year....

The term complex training describes one Training day for me, which trains one ability by two means.

Example Russian Complex sets!
Heavy Bench
3min rest
Speed bench
3min rest
Heavy bench

Westside is not using complex training!
The Max effort Method develops Max strenth, but the repetition method develops hyperthrophie!

If Westsiders would train Maxeffort Bench and Dynamic Bench at the same day it would be complex training!

Cojugate -> Pweriodisation
Complex -> Training mean


somewhat agree - i actually joined in the origional discussion on a yahoo group and most people were commenting when unaware of westsides training split/template.

Traditionally ive thought of complex training as pairs of exercises combined like a bench press and a plyo push up.

Siff defines complex training as "involves concurrent (during one workout or microcyle) and parallel (prolonged stages of training up to a year)use of several training tasks and loads of differsnt primary emphesis (Me and DE concerning westside), is usually regarded as the most effective form of training"

A complex "pairing" would fit my origional idea and the example i give but weside fits siff's definition of complex training also imo as he states that the exercises can be in the same microsysle...

i think...