T Nation

Conjugate System - Your Thoughts?

Hi coach, sorry for posting twice today.

I know that you recommend practicing a lift multiple times a week if you want to get “good” at it.

The conjugate systems used by the westsidebarbell guys seems to be the exact opposite though: constantly use variations of the same lift to avoid the “law of accommodation” and neural fatigue.

My question is, how would one effectively progress on a system like this if the lift is constantly being changed? How do you know if you’re even making progress since you’ll be able to use more or less weight on different lifts? And lastly, what is your opinion on this type of training for strength? Doesn’t this go against everything that we know about why too much exercise variation is bad for gaining strength?

I’m not a huge fan of the Westside version of conjugate training. I say that it’s their version because it actually isn’t the true application of what is called a conjugate system. A more appropriate denomination would be concurrent training (maximizing several capacities at the same time).

Anyway that is just semantics.

I just want to say something beforehand:

  • Westside has enjoyed a very high level of success in the sport of competitive equipped powerlifting. I believe that they do many things right. For one thing they are masters at fixing weak links. While technical and neural efficiency on a lift are important to maximize performance, fixing weak links is even more important. And that is something that Westside do very well. LISTEN when people think about Westside they mostly think of the max effort method of rotating lifts every 1-2 weeks and maxing out… well that is less than 2% of their total weekly volume!!! The second think people think about is the dynamic effort method… again this is about 10-15% of their training volume. About 80-85% of their volume is spent on special exercises to strengthen the muscles involved in the big lifts… THIS is the real Westside secret IMHO.

  • I also believe that the no.1, 2 and 3 most important elements to reach a high level of achievement in strength sport are: hard work, hard work and hard work. Note that I mentioned HARD work not A LOT of work. Many people “train a lot” but do not show much in terms of results. Training hard is the secret. It supersede any science, principle, theory and method. You can use the most logical, scientific program know to man and not get results… you can follow a dumb program and get good results… EFFORT, hard work is the key.

  • Believe me, most people who think they train hard really don’t. While I have not trained at Westside, I have trained at Dave Tate’s compound on a day where more than 10 elite lifters were there. At that point I had been involved in coaching for over 10 years and had seen my fair share of athletes but NOTHING compared to the intensity in that place. The competitiveness between lifters, the willingness to go beyond what you think you can do, the sheer adrenaline in the air… for 3 years my bench had been stuck at 425 … when I lifted at Dave’s place, the morning after 10 hours on planes or airports without eating much I lifted 445! And that’s just from the energy and competitiveness of the place.

  • While Westside produced some very good lifters from scratch, most of their lifters moved to Westside after years of powerlifting training. This means that their technique on the main lifts was likely automatized already. When technique is automatic you do not need to practice it as often and you can get a lot stronger by doing mostly “other lifts” and assistance work to build key muscles.

  • I personally believe that it is best to train your key lifts more often. But I also believe that to reach maximum performance, most of your training should be invested in fixing weak points. And that is best done with assistance work…


Trust me, we know a heckuva lot less than we think we do!


Very interesting. I appreciate the detailed response. What are some good concurant systems? Any on t nation or have you written any yourself?

Christian, do you have any thoughts on a heuristic approach or similar for how to find your weak links? Off topic, but related to why you think westside is popular.

I have found that many people, including myself, have been confused over the years when finding weak-links, and actually correcting them. I think it was very messy at one point because a lot of the advise that was given (and working) to individual GEARED powerlifters, was applied to raw lifters, body-builders and athletes in general. In recent years we have seen the popularity of raw powerlifting exploding, and subsequently, albeit slowly, the specifics in general advice has changed. One example could be that traditionally everyone banged on about if you fall forward and end up doing a good-morning of the back-squat you need to work your posterior chain and lower back. That might have been applicable to some geared lifters, but many of the new breed of raw lifters have instead focused on their quad-strength - making their hips rise in conjunction with extending the leg.

Anywho, interested in hearing if you have any good advise on how to problem-solve one-self.

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