My Path To and Through Conjugate

Written by: Kevin Cann

In the beginning I was against conjugate for raw lifters.  I would say the same things that the internet says today about conjugate.  Bands are only for equipped lifters.  Conjugate is for people on drugs, that is how they can max out every week.  It was my ignorance matched with trying to be one of the group that was the USAPL cool kids.  When people say that “Westside” is outdated and doesn’t work for raw lifters, it is still ignorance speaking.  Fortunately, I grew out of my ignorance as I learned more and just paid attention.

The books that Louie recommends I had to read in graduate school.  In terms of training athletics, I felt conjugate was the way to go with a few small tweaks to the max effort work.  I had used bands and boxes with division 1 athletes all the way down to more experienced high school athletes.  Conjugate helped athletes get stronger and faster, not sure why I disregarded it so easily for powerlifting.  I think I wanted to be taken seriously from a group of people that had very little experience and lived on the internet.  This was around the time that I got Instagram.

I also had begun to work with Boris Sheiko, who had a very different system.  I think it helped my buy in to his system as well.  It became a Sheiko vs Westside thing in the gym.  I started coaching powerlifting after running his program for year and a half.  I had coached some friends for free before that and they all had lots of success.

The success continued.  We had lifters doing well at nationals every year and qualifying for the Arnold.  Due to this success the team began to grow.  I began to get complaints from lifters about how nervous they were to test their lifts.  The team’ strongest lifter, Kerry, even had those same nerves.  I watched lifters change into different people when they had to test and the nervousness at meets made those meets less enjoyable.

I decided to add in more heavy singles.  This definitely helped, but it was very difficult to do to maintain the volume levels and high frequency of a Sheiko program.  This became what I called “intensity intervals.”  It was just simple math really.  I allowed the lifters to go up on the weights at given spots, as long as they came down on the weights at other spots (I still didn’t see how this was getting closer to a Westside approach).  This allowed the average intensity and the volumes to remain unchanged for the week while getting in heavier work.

The higher frequency was still difficult for the ones that wanted to go heavier that lifted bigger weights.  Coaches today that talk about certain programs not working better than others and show client successes have beginner clients and a beginner mind.  We have a core group on PPS that have been lifting for 7 or more years and been on the team for 5 or more of those years.  We have had a lifter hit his first 700lb and 800lb raw squat with PPS and a female lifter hit her first 300lb and 400lb squats.  To get this type of continues improvement as the skills change requires quite the understanding of how strength development works.

I have 2 degrees in this field, and this was still something that I had to learn.  I had to pay attention to lifter progress, and I went back and reread and reread again all of my college textbooks.  I started back at the beginning with a linear approach.  This matched the starting points of powerlifting in America for most and the texts discussed the linear model quite a bit.

We saw some really good success here, but for a few, myself included, we could hit PRs at 5 reps down to 3 reps, but then my performance would degrade quickly.  I felt it would be better to use all singles for hard work and keep the volume as repetition work.  I was still very focused on getting the majority of the volume from the lifts themselves at this time.  Again, my ignorance to the training process 9Ironically this too is an argument on the internet, but again collective ignorance).

We began to run conjugate, but in a very solid phasic structure.  First phase would be upper lower split with only 1 max effort squats and no heavy deadlifts with 2 heavy bench press exposures.  This was performed in the classic upper/lower split.  Phase 2 we added in more heavy exposures and higher frequency work.  We would even pull heavy and squat heavy in the same week, but the following week would be lighter repetition work.  I had rea that Big Iron lifted heavy like this in a week, and Shane Hammond had said the same to me in a conversation on the podcast.

In phase 3 of this model, we would squat heavy every week, rotating the exercise weekly.  In previous phases they would hit a conservative max week 1, reps of that exercise week 2, and then beat week 1 by 5lbs in week 3.  Week 4 was a 3-day training week with a deload.  Classic periodization.  Phase 3 e would taper down the deadlift to a test.  Phase 3 was a comp cycle.

The problem with this is even with those deloads every 4th week and the 4-8 week phase 1 where the intensity fell off substantially, recovery was still an issue.  Recovery issues did not happen right away, but over time.  More nagging stuff pops up and even more injuries in general.  Through all this technique would get better, but I knew it wasn’t where it should be.  It was time to stop getting all this volume through the competition lifts.

I went out to Westside in the fall of 2020 after a few phone conversations with Louie.  This is where I learned a lot about GPP and dynamic effort work.  I brought this back and put in the GPP ideas immediately.  Understanding effort with them and how to adjust and program.  I ran dynamic work with myself, but I was reluctant to do it with the group still.

We would use bands with squats but use 70% of our best in that variation.  For example, we would take our best squat with light bands and use 70% of that for the volume on our secondary squat day.  This was repetition work, not dynamic work.  I was doing dynamic work until I abandoned it for more rep work as my competition drew near.  I struggled to just let go of the idea that I needed more rep work before a meet.

After the meet, with the pressure of nationals gone, I implemented it again and decided to commit to it.  I decided to use it with the group as well.  I measured my velocities and realized that I was going too heavy before nationals and helped the group find their best individual percentages for waves.

Once my dynamic effort weights were in the right spot everything else kind of fell into place.  I was more recovered for max effort work so I could free squat one time per month and deadlift one time per month.  I switched to all box squats for dynamic effort as well as they increase explosiveness and are easier to recover from.  One time per month of a max effort free squat was enough for me to remain comfortable without the box.

I removed all speed pulls.  The squats were enough for me to feel fast in my pulls, so I use this primary accessory slot to build up weaknesses with good mornings, RDLs, and even snatch grip stiff-legged deficit deadlifts.  This allows me to save energy for the things that matter to me right now.  The group rotates around as beginners and intermediates don’t need more speed work here either.

I am better at auto-regulating dynamic effort work these days.  I view it only as speed work to get faster.  I drop weights when I need to, cut volume when I need to, and when I feel good, I go heavier.  There is a flow with this now.  It fuels my max effort work which lets me know how my training is going every week and what adjustments I need to make.

I have had a very successful 6 months of training.  My training has never been this consistent in terms of progress.  I know it will end at some point, but I will enjoy it for now.  It took me over 7 years to get to this point where I can understand training enough to do this.  It takes time but figuring it out has been fun.

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The mission of Mass-Lift Powerlifting is to promote drug-free powerlifting competitions, training seminars, and fitness events throughout the country. Overall, our goal is to promote a healthy and active lifestyle that will encourage strength and fitness enthusiasts to compete at local, national and international level.