My Mind Is Boggled - How Does the Conjugate System Work so Well?

I’m an early intermediate lifter, successfully running 5/3/1, and i’ve recently started getting interested in stuff i’ve no business being interested in yet - stuff like Conjugate and Smolov.

Only in the recent few months or so, I stopped doing a major stupid thing i’ve been doing for a long time - going near max effort too often. Obviously, when I was a beginner, I maxed out every week, and spun my wheels for close to a year. Ofc there were other reasons as well. Then when I hopped on 5/3/1, I used joker sets WAY too often. I fixed that; my lifts are now going up relatively smooth and steady.

Thing is, I would’ve never thought I’d need so little near-max effort to progress. Everyone says “to get stronger, lift heavy. Lift HEAVY.” And that’s what I did for two years; I lifted heavy, did it often, and got literally nowhere. Muscles were fatigued and shaky every single workout and squat stayed at 260lbs for over a year straight, not going up a single gram.

Now… how is it possible that the guys at Westside are able to squeeze out a grindy 1RM every single week, and still keep progressing?? I understand that they’re doing different variations every time, but still - If I maxxed out on low-bar squat this week, front squat the next, hack squat the week after that, then high-bar with chains… My legs would still be fried.

Am I missing something huge here?

Just out of curiosity have you actually done that before?

Here’s some good reading on the topic


Well, i can come up with 3 points on this…

1)When you pick such different lifts, some of them being hard to do at max effort(like good mornings) and you havent actually practiced them, you are very far from actual max, even when you max. Idk if you have noticed it but for me, for example, if i wouldnt have done front squats for a year and then i decided to do em, i would be able to add like 5lbs every training session to the bar, doing same reps always. We progress on new lifts very easy at start because there is a component of technical adaptation. So with this in mind, if you have never done a good morning, or a zercher, and now you max it, you max on it is limited by your technical co-ordination, not as much as actual strenght. So most of their maxes might actually be like 85%…

2)The theory behind conjugate maxing is that if you rotate lifts you dont get fatigued as much. Idk if that is the actual case or the truth is in what i mentioned in my first point, but Louie really believed that if you add a chain or a band to the lift, its a different lift and doesnt do the same damage as just maxing the same lift.

3)Now, when you say “conjugate” its one thing. When you say - Westside, its a different thing. Guys at Westside are the Mr.Olympia version of powerlifting. The Crossfit Games athlete version of powerlifting, etc. They are genetic elite, training in a specific enviroment where everything is based on their godlike genetics. People like you or me dont even get to carry water bottles in Westside, so…lets not mix conjugate and westside as the same thing, because there are 99% of dorks doing conjugate and still not even deadlifting 4 plates.
Every method done by a genetic elite will provide good results. The same method done by average Joe, will provide most likely the same results as the other methods.
It is not the program, it is the individual.
Its like when people used to be amazed why Crossfiters look so jacked. The answer is - they dont. The individuals in Crossfit Games look like that, but 99% of people doing crossfit look like they have never lifted anything. You take an elite level person and put him in any sport, and on any popular program or method and he will compete in top 10 very soon.

There is a dude in Wendlers group on FB, who has done basic variations of 531 for like 10+ years and he lifts in his living room and is in his late 30s or early 40s and outlifts most conjugate dorks, and i believe, he could also compete with some Westside guys

So the tl:dr version of the answer is - the conjugate system does work just as well as any other system, provided it is done by a genetic elite level specimen.


Conjugate bros do the Correct amount of heavy lifting.

Sure they lift big weights, but they only take like 3 total reps over 90% each week.


Nobody using the conjugate system intelligently would pick these four exercises for four weeks of ME lower body days. Rotating exercises for lower body ME on conjugate would consist of squat variations, good morning variations and some deadlift variations.


There’s a pretty extensive guide on setting up a Westside style conjugate system here as well, Dave Tate and EliteFTS are absolute goldmines of information on this stuff, and so much of it is available free:

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Careful personal guidance from one of the greatest strength coaches of the modern era.

Theres no “one thing” that they do or did at Westside that makes the difference.

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@SkyzykS haven’t “seen” you in a bit! Is all well?

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Still have my hands pretty full, but not for today.

:+1: :us:


The true meaning of independence!

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I see. Thanks. I’ll definitely listen to those guys some more.


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Fair points. Yeah, I didn’t take technique into account.

Thank you!

Not really. And seeing some of the replies here, that would’ve been a misguided approach.

IMO, conjugate can be summed up in this: Intensity and building weaknesses.

You do that, you’ll succeed.

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Oooh, I like this game. Jim Wendler summed it up like “there’s one day where you go “grr” and grunt hard, one day you go “woooph” and go fast, and after both you bodybuild”, haha.


Simple enough. Until you have to start deciding which lift to do which week, how many reps, to go all-out or leave just a bit in the tank… all without a coach. I’ll probably wreck myself and stall hard. And i’m not sure there is enough different kinds of equipment in the gym I go to… there most definitely aren’t any bands or chains and such. I think i’ll rather continue with 5/3/1 for a while before I maybe try out wests- I mean conjugate.

All this tells us is that you don’t understand conjugate. Read those articles, watch YouTube videos, and keep doing your research dude.