by Jarret Barsanti
Conjugate Periodization – What is it?
Periodization refers to the long-term planning of training to create an optimal ('peak') performance.
The two most common types of
periodization in Western culture are linear periodization and
conjugate periodization. Proponents of a conjugate model argue that
it produces athletes who are always ready to compete, by integrating
exercises for General Physical Preparedness (GPP) and Sport Specific
Preparedness (SPP) throughout the entire program.
Louie Simmons, who is a long-time
professional powerlifter produced some of the strongest power lifters
the world has seen through adoption of a conjugate method. Simmons
states that there are three pathways that form the backbone of
conjugate periodization: Max Effort, Repetition and Dynamic Effort.
When these pathways are grouped together, conjugate periodization allows
individuals to develop maximal strength, speed, and power. Simmons' original program advocated three rest days and four days of work per
week, year round. Simmons' programming is commonly referred to as 'The Westside Method,' after Westside Barbell, which is Simmons' gym.
In Westside, athletes are required to perform two
Max Effort (ME) days per week; one of those days is used to reach a 1RMon an upper body lift, while the latter is used to attain a 1RM on a
lower body lift. The goal of this weekly session is to achieve
strength by maximum recruitment of muscle fibers. The athletes of
Westside Barbell use a different ME lift every week to avoid Central
Nervous System fatigue and regression.
The Westside method also incorporates
two more days each week. Referred to as Dynamic Effort (DE) days, these are
designed to train speed strength and explosiveness. Similar to the
ME pathway, there are two days designated for DE exercises, one for
upper body and the other for lower body, which are slightly changed
every one to three weeks to avoid muscular accommodation. While ME exercises are chosen to improve maximal recruitment of muscle fibre, DE exercises are used to improve the efficiency with which those fibres are recruited. These are two of the three components of Rate of Force Development (RFD,) a large determinant of success in sports where bodyweight-to-power ratio is important.
The third pathway advocated by Simmons (repetition) is present on both ME days and DE days. Repetition exercises, in Westside, are movements that are similar to the competitive lifts. These always performed after the ME or DE lifts with
the ultimate goal of improving specific strength. Exercises that improve GPP, like sled drags, are done at the end of the session. The work capacity of a powerlifter is vastly different than a CrossFitter. We need maximal strength to help our GPP (around which CrossFit is built); they need GPP to help them recover between maximal lifts.
Why do we need to know
about the conjugate method? The two approaches to training are quite
similar in that there is no off-season: the athlete is always
prepared to compete. However, as Chris Mason states, if a
CrossFitter were to adopt the Westside Conjugate Method wholly,
he/she would be giving up his/her generalist abilities.
CrossFitters sometimes mesh the two methods
of training to reap the benefits. Essentially, Chris Mason has
replaced DE days with CrossFit METCON since they support ME
training, while maintaining general conditioning. Similarly, Mason’s
method incorporates repetition exercises after ME exercises to assist
in strength development.
method popularized by Louis Simmons is effective at developing
maximum strength, speed and explosive power. However, as I discussed
above, if a CrossFitter wants to remain a
generalist, the athlete include both CrossFit-level work capacity with their strength sessions..