Lots and lots of fixie riding over the weekend, with a couple of iron sessions tossed in for good measure.  I have no idea how many miles in total I put on the ol’ fix over Friday, Saturday and Sunday; let’s just say it was a sh*t ton 🙂

Friday Night Iron Works –

Another “unusual” Friday night iron session; in fact, though, this may actually turn into a usual thing.  The nice long days allow me to get home from work, saddle up the fixie, hit the gym and get back before dark.  Gotta love summer.  An hour of saddle time, then this:

bent-over row + snatch grip low pull: 225 x 5, 4, 4, 4
feet-elevated ring flyes: bodyweight x 10, 10, 9, 8 (4/2/x/0 tempo)

The bor + snatch-grip low pull was performed like this: take a clean grip on the bar and perform a bent-over row with as little cheat as possible, return the bar to the floor under control, then immediately slide the grip out to an approximate snatch-grip width and perform an explosive low pull from the floor.  Make sure the bar travels higher than the belly button on each rep.  Each of these combos counts as a single rep.  The glutes and hams get a good deal of work here, as you tend to forget that the PC is in constant iso contraction during the performance of the BOR.  Then the PC is immediately called into action to perform the explosive low pull.  Give this pairing a shot, and see what you think.  In the ring flyes, I maintained an off-90 degree arm angle throughout — think “Vitruvian Man” at the bottom-out position; at the top of the motion, my hands met at a position just above my navel.

The big thing to remember her is to not let your hips drop and thus assume a “saddle back” position.  This is easier said than done in the last reps of the later rounds.  Positioning was such that my feet were higher than my chest in the bottom-out position.

I finished things of with some Nautilus 4-way neck machine: front, side, side >> 50 x 10 each, rear >> 60 x 10 (tempo 5/0/1/0).

The Conjugate Method?  Hey, Isn’t That for Power Lifters?

I speak to the “Conjugate Method” quite often in describing various aspects of my workouts, and, indeed Louie Simmons’ work with his Westside Barbell Club athletes has greatly influenced my understanding of exercise prescription .  Mention “Conjugate Method”, though, and even people steeped in physical culture knowledge will immediately think “power lifter”.  And yes, it’s true that Louie has molded his Conjugate Theory specifically for power lifting, but this in no way negates the efficacy of the theory — if properly tweeked and applied — to other fitness/sporting applications.  A few of the biggest misunderstandings, or wrong-minded assumptions, surrounding the Conjugate Method are (1) that it can only be incorporated by drugged power lifters, (2) that it is a “set” and largely non-mailable lifting “program”, and, as a correlate to #2, (3) that it can only be implemented with with barbells and dumbbells.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Conjugate Method (writ large) is a theory of strength acquisition developed by the most underrated (in my opinion) Strength and Conditioning coach in the United States — dare I say the world? — today; Louie Simmons.   The “Conjugate Method”, though, in common vernacular, refers to the specific protocols employed by strength athletes (and increasingly now, power and skill-oriented athletes) for developing strength and power.  I am reminded here of my south Texas youth, were “coke” was a blanket term referring to every soft drink available under the sun.  Same here with the term “Conjugate Method”.  I’ve come to refer more to “Conjugate Theory” when speaking outside of pure power lifting applications, but, in my mind, the two terms really are interchangeable.

Now power lifting is certainly not at all my game, but I utilize the Conjugate Theory every time I workout.  In fact, if someone were to ask me what my encompasses my overall physical culture philosophy — an idea, a theory, that unifies all that I do, from the weight room to the training table — my immediate answer would be Conjugate Theory.

In fact, it’s not too hard to see how Conjugate Theory is just a step or two removed from Power Law.  And it may be that the proportion by which Conjugate Theory is removed from pure Power Law is the ratio by which the resultant athletic prowess is removed from optimum health.  This is the play of the directed and systemized variance of the Conjugate Theory vs the pure fractal nature of Power Law.  More on that, though, at another time.

Conjugate Method/Theory in a nutshell?  Well, in Louie’s own words:
“When lifters repeatedly use the same simple method of training to raise their strength level, they will eventually stall. Like the scholar who must utilize many sources of information to achieve a higher level of knowledge, the lifter must incorporate new and more difficult exercises to raise their standards.”

Our aim, then, is to avoid that dastardly point of diminished return on effort.  And that, my friends, equates to longevity.

Now Louie was specifically referring to strength athletes in the above quote, but the same can be (and should be) said for any pursuit.  The trick is to deconstruct the sport (or skill, or goal) into it’s constituent parts, then apply Conjugate Theory to the methods used in the development of those constituent parts.

Piece of cake, right?  Well, truly, it is!

We can look to Louie’s work with power lifters as an exceptional, empirical model, though we’ll have to tweek those methods utilized to fit our own, n=1 needs.  So what can a Paleo, all-round athlete (which is what I consider myself) learn from guys who specialize in conquering the three “big lifts” (bench, squat, and deadlift)?  In a phase, contained, directed, and systemized variety.

The first principle of the Conjugate Method, as applied to the training of a strength athlete, emphasizes the ability of that athlete to handle maximum loads, frequently, while still providing for ample recovery — in other words, side-stepping the ol’ C.N.S. (Central Nervous System) overtraining bugaboo.  So far, so good; I’m totally on board with the getting strong part.  But specialization isn’t my game, and I want to be good at very diverse endeavors — sprinting and cycling, as well — and, too, I wanna look good nekkid; lean and muscular, yes — but well proportioned.   Not to fear; with a few simple tweeks to the power lifting model of Conjugate Theory application, I can create a “Conjugate Method” for the all-around athlete and, more specifically, for this, n=1 all-around athlete.

So just how does the Conjugate Method go about allowing for a high frequency of maximal effort work while at the same time avoiding the overtraining issue?  It does so by employing a systemized method of rotating special exercises that are close in nature to the movement patterns of the big three power lifts, but that are not exactly the big three lifts themselves. In other words, the aim is to increase strength relative to the classic lifts (squat, bench and deadlift), while avoiding burning-out on the competition lifts themselves.  This is akin to training a 100 meter sprinter while never actually running that exact distance in practice; competition being the only time that exact distance is covered.

Sound crazy?  Not so fast.

Ever notice how, at a certain point in skills acquisition training, strength development, body composition refinement (or whatever the target goal), that a certain level of accomplishment, a point of diminished returns per unit of input effort is reached?  This is just as true a phenomena as — and, in fact is the yang aspect of — the 10,000 hour principle.  In a Linear Progression mindset, the answer would be to “endeavor to persevere” and push on through.  This, though, will only lead to overtraining, injury, mental fatigue/disgust and, eventual abandonment of the program and/or goal.  While I think this is more applicable in high-demand CNS endeavors (lifting, sprinting for example) than in low demand endeavors (hitting a baseball, archery), I do believe that low demand effort training should be ceased for the day when output quality diminishes.  This is simple another facet of the same idea; if you’re thinking now in terms of “auto-regulation” and “drop-off method” you’re on the right track.  This is the idea behind frequently rotating the highest CNS demand/maximum effort exercises.  How frequently?  Well, that’s largely an n=1 consideration.  For instance, I rarely do the same maximum effort exercise (for a particular movement pattern) twice in a row.  In other words, if I choose to do a behind-the-neck push-press for my max effort, vertical push movement pattern, the next time I hit a max effort in this particular movement pattern, I’ll make sure to choose a different exercise (or a different modality) — a strict front military press, or maybe a palms-in db press.  Or, maybe I will do the btn push-press — but this time with bands.  Get the idea?  Be patient, it’s a lot to take in.  It’s the workout equivalent to a “calorie is not a calorie”, in that it takes a bit for the mind to wrap around an idea contrary to what we’ve been brought up to believe.

The second principle of the Conjugate Method is the systematic training of all the constituents that comprise “strength”.  One might also consider these aspects of athleticism; they are (in no particular order of importance):

  1. Quickness
  2. Explosiveness
  3. Speed-Strength
  4. Strength-Speed
  5. Absolute Strength

Once again I’ll defer to Louie, who states:

“This is much like a five-speed transmission in a car. We all know what happens if you miss a gear, or take off in the wrong gear. Your car doesn’t run very efficiently, and neither will you. One must learn many methods to develop special strength, and when to use them. You must also know your sport’s goals. In some sports, speed is foremost and absolute strength is secondary. Both are more closely related than you think.”

I would also add endurance to this list, as kinda the odd-duck out.  Depending upon your chosen goal and/or the demands of your particular sport, some directed energy system training is certainly in order.  What everybody and every athlete requires, though — regardless of goal or the specifics of the sport — is strength.  Yes, even endurance athletes need that “strength with which to endure”, and the elderly need to be strong to remain stable, self-sufficient, and to prolong quality of life.  Strength is, shall we say, a basic element of life; the platform from which all else springs.

Is it possible, though, to train heavy continuously, without crossing over the dreaded Rubicon of overtraining?  In basic terms, how would one go about doing that?

Again, we’ll let Louie answer in his own words:

“…pick several special barbell exercises for a particular lift, for example, the deadlift. The good morning is very similar in motion to deadlifting. A conventional deadlifter will, no doubt, bend over. Therefore, bent over good mornings will increase the deadlift. But remember, when doing the good morning, in your brain, you must duplicate the action of your deadlift precisely. It is not so important to raise your good morning, as to raise your deadlift by performing the good morning. We do many types of good mornings, for example, with a Safety Squat bar suspended from chains. But remember to use the same body mechanics as you do in the deadlift.”

So the elevator pitch for the Conjugate Method, then, is simply this: choosing  similar/supplemental exercises to the lifts you wish to increase, and rotate theses exercises frequently so as not to perform the exact same motion/modality from workout to workout.   Now, that is admittedly painting a very complex theory with an exceptionally broad stroke — but it is, however, a place from which to begin the discussion.

Lots of talk about barbells and dumbbells here, what about machine-based protocols?  Is Conjugate Theory applicable to HIT and/or Super Slow type workouts as well?

100%, without a doubt, yes.  One simply needs to adopt the underlying theory to the chosen protocol and available tools (free weights,machines, bodyweight, etc.).  Simple as that.
Training the Five Aspects of Athleticism; Meet the Methods (broadly speaking) –

  1. Maximal Effort method – for instance, simply taking a maximal amount of weight and lifting it for no more than 3 reps while keeping the weight at or about 90% of your 1RM.
  2. Repeated Effort / Sub-Maximal Effort method – as an example, 8 to 15 reps, and, in some cases, into the twenties.  Time under load considerations.  Mainly influences hypertrophy, tendon health.
  3. Dynamic Effort method – speed of movement and power development is critical, here.  Low reps spread over numerous sets.

The above can also be considered in light of varying Time Under Load (TUL) applications within the HIT protocols, where intensity and TUL are inversely proportional (for the most part).

“…Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun
Oh but mama that’s where the fun is…”

Ah, yes; so this is where the real alchemy takes place.  Using varying aspects of the above-mentioned training methods, in a contained, directed, and systemized manner, to positively affect the five aspects of athleticism.   Barbells, dumbbells, machines and protocols are simply tools to choose from, with each tool being better suited for a particular application.  Is the goal power lifting?  Then of course the proper tools are barbells and dumbbells, and a power lifting specific Conjugate protocol.  Simply want to be strong, fit-as-a-fiddle, and melt away fat — but you also want to invest as little time in the effort as possible?  The equipment and protocols of such outfits as Efficient Exercise or Dr. Doug McGuff’s Ultimate Exercise are what you’re looking for.  These two examples are simply ends of a continuum; your task is to locate your particular n=1 home along that continuum.   Don’t be afraid to branch out and experiment.  You can be the master of your own body; first, though, you must learn your own body’s ways and particulars.  That’s the journey.

Saturday Iron Session –

Again, this session took place following an extended fixie huck:

behind-the-neck jerk: 135 x 3; 185 x 3; 195 x 2, 2, 2 (4/2/x/0 tempo)
reverse lunge + single arm shoulder press combo: 40 x 4, 50 x 4, 4, 4, 4 (i.e., 4 reps each “side”)

5 rounds of that, then:

front box squat (very low, 12-inch box): 135 x 3; 155 x 4, 3 (3/2/x/0 tempo), explode off the box.
reverse grip pull up: bodyweight x 15, 15, 15 (3/0/x/0 tempo)

Yeah, legs were toast following the bike riding and that first devilish combination of jerks and lunges, which made the front squats a tough go.  Another instance, and example of, the proper use of auto-regulation.  155 lbs isn’t a lot of weight for me in this movement (even off of a low box), but on this particular day, in this particular place in the exercise grouping and given the day’s particular circumstances, this was the most load I could handle.  Kick the ol’ ego to the curb.  The weight doesn’t matter; what matters is the proper stimulus.

Reverse lunge + db press combo –
Couldn’t find a good clip for this one, so I’ll see if I can explain it.  Snatch a db into the overhead position, and hold it there.  Now, kick back into the reverse lunge position with the same side leg as the arm in which the db is held.  As you’re stepping back, lower the db into the “catch” position on the shoulder; time the movement so that the db is “caught” exactly when you hit the bottom-out of the lunge.  This is a quick, fluid movement.  At this point, immediately reverse direction and explode into the upright position — the db should reach the lock-out position in timed unison with the top of the lunge.  Think “shot put” motion.   Immediately drop back into the next rep.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Now this is a really great post! There’s a lot of information in here. And I agree with most (which probably means I’ve been reading your blog for a long time).

    Thanks Keith!

    • Yeah, this is a wide-ranging topic — probably better chewed-over in a discussion/forum venue, as the application of Conjugate Theory is very nuanced depending on the sport. Louie Simmons is the man. And no long string of initials following his name means he’s beholden to no one’s thoughts but his own. I can appreciate that. Freelance knowledge is where it’s at; absorb what is useful, discard what is not.

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