olympic weightlifting

Westside Barbell: The Conjugate Method

Westside Barbell: A Brief History

Maligned by many and achieving cult-like status by others, the Conjugate Method was set up by the great Louie Simmons and his gym – Westside Barbell is known as ‘the world’s strongest gym.’

As a world renowned lifter himself, he squatted 920lbs after reaching his half century, which we can all agree isn’t anyone’s physical peak. Imagine squatting over 900lbs anytime, let alone 50+.

Louie pays for all of his athlete’s in competition and is said to lose $50,000 a year or more by doing so. This isn’t a profitable business for him, but his genius comes in ways of making it all possible. But it’s easy to fall in love with powerlifting.

Louie’s greatest invention is arguably the reverse hyper machine and this patented effort is his way of funding this gym of monsters. Multiple deadlifts and bench press over 800lbs, with one man deadlifting over 1,000lbs and 19 athlete’s who have reached this mark in the squat. Insanity.

I’m not a fan of the imperial system, but these numbers are even more extraordinary when you realise some people aren’t a fan of his system. You can more about Westside Weightlifting Record’s here.

So what is the Conjugate Method?

The Conjugate method is the core principle upon which Westside Barbell is based. Through history the old eastern bloc countries have primarily produced the top weightlifters.

Special assistance or not their record and training principles are extraordinary and their programs are designed so that only the best can survive. By weeding out the ‘weak,’ only the strong survive. And they are strong.

Before anyone else in the Western world it appears, Louie recognised how advanced these lifters were. He used data and learnings from hundreds of the top Bulgarian lifters of that era and created this Conjugate system, later known as Westside.

His research led him into creating 3 week mesocycles based around 2 types of workouts; a low-volume max effort day and a higher- volume dynamic effort day, whose core principles of speed strength and absolute strength build exceptional explosive potential in his athletes.

Your traditional Conjugate Method training week is based on a 4 day cycle and will take shape like the below:

How to Program the Conjugate Method

Day 1. Lower Body Max Effort

Day 1:

  1. Begins with a lower body max effort day where the lifter will work up to a 1RM (100% or more) in a variation of the squat
  2. Traditionally this is a box squat
  3. This could also be a deadlift variation, like the banded deadlift or snatch grip deadlift.

Day 2. Upper Body Max Effort 

  1. Is your final max effort day of the week and focuses on the upper body lifts.
  2. These could include incline / decline bench press or shoulder press as the core lift of the day.
  3. These max effort days are finished off with 4-6 ancillary movements to improve weak points.

Day 3. Lower Body Dynamic Effort

  1. Is the first of your dynamic effort days which focuses on lower body speed strength.
  2. The lifter will use bands or chains with lighter weights on deadlift / squat variations to train their fast twitch fibres.
  3. Remember, nobody lifts a big weight slowly.

Day 4. Upper Body Dynamic Effort 

  1. Your second dynamic effort day which focuses on upper body speed strength.
  2. Again, Bench Press variations that incorporate accommodating resistance in the form of bands or chains, coupled with 4-6 ancillary movements that have a hypertrophy focus.

Day 5. Additional Weak Point Work

  1. Is a day solely focused on your weak points.
  2. It’s not designed to fry or beat up the athlete any more as the other days all incorporate some variation of the main lifts.
  3. This is solely for isolated movements to improve the athlete’s strength composition.

An Olympic Weightlifting Program Example based on the Conjugate method

The below is an example program I designed for myself using the Westside method for Olympic Weightlifting performance.

The black marker signifies your more traditional strength moves, the blue is for Olympic weightlifting variations and the green is for more bodybuilding style hypertrophy and plyometrics to improve your weak points.

Days 3 and 4 require bands and / or chains to be most effective. However if you have no bands / chains and your gym doesn’t supply them, then just use 70-80% 1RM, but it’s not as it’s easier to slack in the peak of the lift – bands and chains force continued power production.

An example olympic weightlifting program for the conjugate method and olympic weightlifting
An example Olympic weightlifting program for the conjugate method and Olympic weightlifting

Day 1 and 2 are your max effort days, I usually front load the week and run them on Monday and Tuesday.

Days 3 and 4 are your dynamic effort days to improve speed and explosiveness.

Day 5 is more of a technique work day where Snatch and cleans at 60-80% are complemented by things like single leg work (pistol squats) and handstand push ups for example.

Max Lifts:Working up to an improved PR for a triple, double then single over the 3 week period.

Clean / Snatch Variations: On max days you work up to your heaviest singles, on technique work, you work between 60-80% for triples, looking to get 8 – 10 sets in.

  • Hang Clean / Snatch
  • High Hang Clean / Snatch
  • Low Hang Clean / Snatch
  • Power Clean / Snatch
  • Hang Power Clean / Snatch

Jerk Variations:

  • Split Jerk
  • Push Jerk
  • Banded Jerk
  • Squat Jerk

Hypertrophy: Usually consists of 3 sets of 10-12 reps per exercise except for the plyometric work like box jumps, pull ups and their variations.

Box jumps I would usually run 4(5) set(rep) scheme and the variation would involve weight with more sets and fewer reps.

Pull ups either consist of a slow eccentric and explosive concentric for 4 sets of reps to failure or a weighted variation.

Each day I also add in some Good Mornings in the Hypertrophy section to help my lower back development as that’s a weak point, but you can find out everything you need to about hypertrophy here.

How to Use the Conjugate Method

The first point of consideration is around your max effort days. Firstly you’ll only max out on one lift as otherwise you’ll fatigue too much.

Secondly you’ll only have around 4-6 exercises you’ll cycle in these 3 week periods. On both max effort days for both lower body and upper body.

Then you must overreach your previous 1RM by 5lbs or so to promote positive adaptations in your body. This may seem daunting, but the number of variations means you’ll be PR’ing on lifts you conceivably haven’t done before.

When programming you must have 3 days between the max effort / dynamic days of the same body parts.

For your dynamic effort days, you’ll rotate variations of the main lifts (as shown below) by changing the bar height for a rack pull or depth on the box squat for example. These smaller changes help in creating a lifter with no weak points.

These dynamic effort days focus on speed with around 50-60% of the lifter’s 1RM paired with around 20-25% accommodating resistance (bands or chains).

For example, if you can Deadlift 400lbs, your dynamic effort day in week 1 would have 200lbs of weight on the bar plus 100lbs of band resistance at the top of the lift. The weight would rise by 5% each week in the 3 week meso cycles.

To best understand this form of training you’ll need an in-depth knowledge of Periodisation.

Why the Conjugate Method Works

This is the true genius of Westside. Not only does it improve upon all of your weak points by increasing your capabilities on the lifts around the main lift.

“But it keeps you mentally engaged because you’re hitting PR’s week in week out. Remember, weightlifting is a mindset and this method makes you fall in love with training again.”

Accommodating resistance in the form of bands or chains is crucial to speed days. If you don’t use bands and / or chains you will get lazy at the top of the lift as 50% of your 1RM alone can’t drive speed adaptations throughout the entirety of the lift. But if you have no bands or chains then use 70-80% of your 1RM.

After the main lifts on both days, the lifter will use 4-6 bodybuilding like ancillary exercises to further improve on weak points as highlighted in the list below, on the basis that to become stronger you must isolate each muscle alongside the ‘main’ lifts:

What you will also have probably realised by now is that you won’t be training the main lifts at all frequently. Louie recommends testing the bench press, squat and deadlift once every 6-10 weeks which gives you time to improve on your weak points.

*If you have no bands / chains and your gym doesn’t supply them, then just use 75% 1RM, but it’s not as effective

The Benefits of the Conjugate Method

  • The Mental Aspect of Consistent PRs Weightlifting is a draining sport and the PRs are the whole point. By hitting a 5lb PR each week on variations of the lift, not,only will your main lift improve, but your mindset will be continuously refreshed.
  • Overall Strength Development: By improving lift variations your weak points will improve and your overall strength will increase, alongside reducing the likelihood of injury
  • Speed and Explosive Strength improvements: By incorporating accommodating resistance (25% band or chains) with a 50-60% actual bar weight (of your 1RM) it’s a fantastic way to become more explosive and the simplicity of the training style makes it ideal for sports performance, as true Olympic weightlifting tends to be much harder to learn for an athlete focusing on their own sport.
  • Consistently training Absolute Strength: Absolute strength is an athlete’s true 1RM and in sports like crossfit, this tends to lack across all athletes. Training it week in week out improves the response and recovering ability of your CNS, so when competition comes round, you’ll always be ready for those grinding reps.
  • Promoting GPP (General Physical Preparation): Louie Simmons has trained NFL teams, rugby teams and athletes at the top level and his results speak for themselves. His style lends such immense development to the posterior chain and explosiveness of the athlete that primes overall sporting development. Even for a young age (he trains athlete’s as young as 13) when managed properly, the Westside method is ideal as it builds functional strength across a wide range of techniques.

Should you try the Westside Method?

So is the Conjugate Method right for you? If you’re currently plateauing in your lifts and feel exhausted from consistently deadlifting and squatting with limited variation, then Westside is worth a try.

It will help build your overall strength, GPP and speed with the bar, whilst letting you hit year round PR’s. It’s excellent hypertrophy work isolates muscles and in theory isolates any weak points the athlete in question may have.

Westside Barbell Logo
Westside Barbell Logo

If you’re looking to improve your sport performance, then it’s explosiveness and variety will improve your ability and it’s short rest times (for sports performance training it’s recommended rest period is 25-40 seconds) are incredible for conditioning.

However if you’re a beginner athlete who doesn’t have much experience with the main lifts or weight training in general, then a more basic program that focuses on linear progression with the main lifts will provide a solid base required to excel in a Conjugate style method.

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