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Not So Conjugate for Some
Most of you know that I am a Westside Barbell advocate. Well in some ways at least, I am an advocate for Louie Simmon’s Westside Barbell Club. I don’t train exactly like Louie my advocate, but I use a lot of concepts that he helped make popular. If we are all honest, most of us use concepts that we learned directly or indirectly from Westside.
The conjugate method is all about change. Louie Simmons advocated using special exercises in place of squat, bench, and deadlift like goodmornings, box squats, or using specialty bars. The theory is that a slight change will force the body to continue to adapt. Most of us have hit plateaus at one point in our training careers. The goal of the conjugate method is to avoid any such plateau.
I have found that a small change can provide big results. Whether it’s powerlifting or weightlifting, I want my athletes to perfect the movement of the competitive element within their sport. What I am trying to say is that if you are a powerlifter, then you need to squat, bench, and deadlift with the bars that you will use in competition. If you are a weightlifter, you need to snatch and clean & jerk with a needle-bearing bar.
However, a slight change will go a long way. In the back squat for example, we use pauses between 1-5 seconds. We also use low bar, high bar, Front Squats, and sometimes we add chains and bands. That’s as far as we go in the back squat. In the snatch and clean & jerk, we might pause at the knee or 2 inches off the floor. We also snatch, clean, and jerk off different heights of blocks.
You can see that we keep the same bars, but we simply manipulate tempo and range of motion. We don’t manipulate the bars yet, but none of my lifters are at the point that I can’t improve their squats with a regular bar. My number one rule is “get the most out of the least”.
Will I use specialty bars someday? I am sure that I will, but the average age in my gym right now is 19-years-old. They don’t need specialty bars. They just need slight changes to continue progressing.
Right now, I want to perfect their form. The studies that Louie Simmons sights are from the 1970’s Dynamo Club in the former Soviet Union that hosted 70 top-leveled Olympic weightlifters. The athletes in that club noticed that when they got stronger in the squats, goodmornings, back raise, or other specialty exercise, their snatch and clean & jerk would also increase. I have no doubt that this was true, but we are also talking about athletes that had been lifting since they were 11-years-old or younger. Their technique was perfect, and they were efficient lifters.
What do I mean by efficient? That means that they could efficiently use their strength as applied to the competitive lifts. If they could front squat 230k, then they could probably clean & jerk 205k or higher (about 89-91% of the front squat). That’s just one example of efficiency.
I use the conjugate method for some of my newer athletes, but I only use the minor changes that I talked about earlier. You might find that some people need less of a change than others. I have noticed this a lot more lately. Some people need to practice the competitive movement more than others.
One example of an athlete that needs to practice the competitive movement more often is my wife, Emily Drew Mash. Emily Drew is a powerlifter. Originally we had her mixing in high bar, front squats, and other variations, but we got much better results from sticking with low bar back squat. We still mix in pauses and chains, but not as much.
Some people respond better to practicing the competitive movement more often. This is where coaching comes in. I noticed that she wasn’t getting comfortable with the back squat, so we made the changes. The changes paid off big with a lifetime PR Back Squat of 310lb. Her previous back squat was 300# with knee wraps. She did the 310lb without wraps.
I am totally the opposite. I am sure that it has to do with training age. I have been performing the powerlifts for over 30-years and the Olympic lifts for over 20-years. I am not going to forget the movement. Not to mention that one of my athletic gifts has always been kinesthetic awareness. I simply understand how my body moves through space. I always have. That doesn’t make me a better athlete. That just means that I am good at that one element.
Understanding who you are as an athlete is the key. If you respond better to sticking closely to the competitive movement, then stick close to the movement. These are all just things that you will come to understand over time. Keeping a journal is key. If you keep a journal, you can note response to the different movements and elements of training. Over time, you will easily notice certain patters. The magic of training comes from addressing those elements.
The Junior Nationals are in four weeks. The Arnold Classic is a week later. Then Emily Drew and I are looking for a powerlifting competition for her. Looks like I am going into a highly competitive season. Let’s go!!!
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