The Westside-Barbell Conjugate Method: A Users Guide
A Brief Disclaimer
Before I begin it’s important for me to clarify what I aim to accomplish through writing this article:
In writing this article I solely aim to provide a reliable source of information which outlines how to use The Westside-Barbell Conjugate Method.
This article will not be devoted to explaining the science or methodology behind Conjugated Periodization. I will not discuss other forms of periodization (i.e. linear/non-linear, undulating, etc.), nor will I give my opinion on any of these periodization models as an “effective” or “ineffective” means of training. If you’re looking for a description of why this method works or how it compares to other methods of training I suggest you stop reading here.
This article is exclusively meant to be used as a guide/resource for those intending to learn how to make use of The Westside-Barbell Conjugate Method. Period.
As I am sure many of you know, Westside’s methods are anything but common knowledge. While some professionals have tried (and failed) to create mock-Westside templates, the reality is very few people have even the most basic understanding of Louie’s system never mind fully comprehend it. Therefore, each and every one of you should be asking yourselves, “What qualifies Jordan as a knowledgeable resource in regard to Westside’s training methods and why should I trust him?”
Well, I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked, trained, interned, and competed under Louie. I have taken The Westside-Barbell Certification and am currently Westside Barbell Certified. While I in no way, shape, or form claim to be a leading expert on Louie’s methods (seeing as I consider Louie to be the only expert) I do have an extremely good understanding of his methodology and how to use it.
Finally, I’d note this article is significantly longer than any of my previous work. This article is not meant to be read once with immediate comprehension as I fully expect my readers will need to read, re-read, and read this article again in order to understand all of the material provided.
Now that I’ve gotten my disclaimer out of the way, here is The Westside-Barbell Conjugate Method: A Users Guide.
What Is Westside-Barbell?
For those of you who don’t know, Westside Barbell is the strongest gym in the world.
It’s difficult for me to express the significance of this in one line so allow me to reiterate while using italics (we all know italics emphasize importance):
Westside Barbell is the strongest gym… in the world!!!!
To give you a better understanding of how strong Westside really is, here are some concrete numbers to work with.
Westside is currently home to:
- 33 men who have bench pressed 700+lbs
- 8 men who have bench pressed 800+lbs
- 2 men who have bench pressed 900+lbs
- 17 men who have squatted 1000+lbs
- 6 men who have squatted 1100+lbs
- 18 men who have deadlifted 800+lbs
- and 13 men totaling 2500+lbs, 7 men totaling 2600+lbs, 2 men totaling 2700+lbs and 2 men totaling 2800+lbs
So, yea…they’re pretty damn strong.
Louie Simmons, the founder and owner of Westside, is the driving force behind the gyms’ success. Louie himself is 1 of only 5 lifters in history to total Elite in 5 different weight classes and the only person over 50 years old to squat 920lbs, bench press 600lbs, and deadlift 722lbs.
To say that Louie is a freak of nature would be an understatement.
While Louie has, and continues, to make innumerable contributions to the strength industry, perhaps his greatest achievement to date is his creation of The Westside-Barbell Conjugate System and the subsequent world-wide attention that has been given to understanding the benefits of Conjugated Periodization.
Those who have researched and investigated Louie’s methods are likely aware that he makes available numerous articles and products specifically geared towards explaining The Westside system. In spite of his efforts it seems the majority of people are absolutely clueless on how to correctly and efficiently implement his methods into their training. As a result, I figured I’d do my best to outline a “simple” and straightforward guide designed specifically to instruct the masses on how to properly use The Westside-Barbell Conjugate Method.
The Westside-Barbell Conjugate Method
It’s important to understand the Westside system is, first and foremost, designed to develop strength. It was not created for optimal fat loss or to improve general health. Plain and simple: Westside trains for strength. If this doesn’t fall in line with your goals/area(s) of interest this may not be the optimal training system for you.
Frequency + Methods
The Westside System adheres to a 4-day per week training schedule and uses an upper/lower split. More specifically, as Westside is a powerlifting gym the upper/lower split can be more suitably defined as a Squat and Deadlift/Bench Press split.
Westside’s training schedule can be further broken down into two distinct categories based on two of the three principal methods of training: The Maximal Effort Method and The Dynamic Effort Method.
The Maximal Effort Method is defined as “lifting a maximal load against maximal resistance,” and “should be used to bring forth the greatest strength increments,” (Zatsiorksy). Westside devotes 2 training sessions per week to focus on Maximal Effort Training: One Max Effort session for the Squat/Deadlift and another Max Effort session for the Bench Press.
Max Effort Squat/Deadlift: One day per week is dedicated to Maximal Effort training for the Squat and/or Deadlift. On this day the trainee must choose either a Squat OR a Deadlift variation and work up to a 1-3 repetition maximum (1-3 RM). I’d note the use of a Good Morning variation is also acceptable but almost exclusively in the form of a 3RM. This is known as the “Main Move” and must be the first exercise of the day.
Max Effort Bench Press: One day per week is dedicated to Maximal Effort training for the Bench Press. On this day the trainee will choose a variation of the Bench Press and work up to a 1-3RM. This is known as the “Main Move” and must be the first exercise of the day.
Max Effort Accessory Work: Following completion of the Main Move the trainee must focus on improving her/his individual weaknesses through the use of special exercises. No two people will have the exact same accessory work as each and every person requires specific and individualized programming to improve her/his specific limitations. As such, set and repetition schemes are highly variable and entirely dependent on the situation. The absolute best advice I can provide you with is: Find what you suck at and do it over and over again; once you’ve perfected it, find another weakness and repeat the process again. To quote Louie directly, “Do it until it hurts too much.”
Max Effort Day Guidelines:
1) Frequency: 1 session per week for Squat/Deadlift and Bench Press respectively
2) Main Move:
- Work up to a 1-3RM in a Squat OR Deadlift OR Good Morning variation for lower body days and a Bench Press variation for upper body days.
- Take as much rest as you need between attempts (3-5 minutes should be plenty)
- Do NOT psych yourself up before a max lift; be as calm as possible. There is a huge difference between a training max (TM) and a contest max (CM). Save the craziness for competition.
3) Variations: The concept of variation is where much of the confusion stems in regard to Westside’s Conjugate Method. Without going into excruciating detail, in order to prevent a lifter from adapting or suffering from The Law of Accomodation it is absolutely essential to constantly vary the stimulus being placed upon the body. Therefore, in order to utilize The Maximal Effort Method as often as possible without overloading the central nervous system (CNS) and/or causing adaptation to ones training, you must choose a different variation of the squat or deadlift and bench press every single week.
The most important things to keep in mind when choosing variations are:
- Variations can be slight and should closely resemble the move you are attempting to replicate. A variation can be as simple as changing the width of your grip/stance or reducing/increasing the movements’ range of motion (ROM).
- A variation should not be repeated for at least 4-6 weeks. Sometimes I won’t repeat a variation for almost a year! When you finally do repeat a variation be sure to attempt a new 1-3RM personal record (PR). However, DO NOT get impatient and try to break your previous record by a substantial amount of weight. Remember, a 5lb PR is still a PR! Make small/appropriate jumps to ensure your continued success.
- Anything and everything works! Many people spend entirely too much time trying to come up with the “perfect variation.” Believe me when I tell you that’s a waste of time and effort. Choose a variation which you haven’t done for a while (at least 4-6 weeks) and hit a 1-3RM. As long as you’re handling maximal weight you’re getting the job done.
4) Accessory Work: As I said, it’s impossible to give precise directions for accessory work as each and every person has different restrictions, needs, and goals. For example, one person may need to gain mass (in which case they would program higher repetition/volume work into their training) whereas someone else may be need to lose weight while maintaining strength (in which case they would lower the volume and increase the intensity). However, in spite of the vast differences between individuals I do have some standard guidelines to follow:
- Max Effort Squat/Deadlift Accessory Work: Following the main move be sure to incorporate exercises for each of these muscle groups: Glutes, Hamstrings, Low Back (Erectors), Lats, Traps, and Abs.
- Max Effort Bench Press Accessory Work: Following the main move be sure to incorporate exercises for each of these muscle groups: Triceps, Upper Back, Lats, Shoulders (Anterior/Medial/Posterior), Traps, and Abs.
- Specific movements should be used for a maximum of 1-3 weeks. For example, if I decide to perform weighted dips as my first accessory move following Bench Press I would progress on weighted dips for a 1-3 week period and then switch to another movement.
- Attack your accessory work as hard and heavy as possible. You should aim to get stronger in all of your accessory exercises just as you aim to get stronger with your main moves.
- Find exercises you suck at and do them until you’ve perfected it. You suck at it for a reason, likely because you’re weak. Build up your weaknesses and watch your strength skyrocket.
The Dynamic Effort Method is defined as “Lifting (throwing) a nonmaximal load with the highest attainable speed,” (Zatsiorsky). Westside dedicates 2 training sessions per week to focus on Dynamic Effort training: One Dynamic Effort session for the Squat/Deadlift and one Dynamic Effort session for the Bench Press.
Dynamic Effort Squat: One day per week is devoted to Dynamic Effort Squat training and it runs on a 3-week pendulum wave. The trainee must choose any type of Box Squat variation and perform 10-12 sets of 2 repetitions at 40-60% 1RM for geared lifters or 70-85% for non-geared/raw lifters. The trainee will use this same variation for 3 weeks in a row while slightly increasing the weight each successive week. This is known as the “Main Move” and must be the first exercise of the day.
Dynamic Effort Deadlift: Dynamic Effort Deadlift training can run on the same 3-week pendulum wave as Dynamic Effort Squats or it can be changed every week. The trainee must choose any type of Deadlift variation and perform 6-10 sets of 1-3 repetitions using 60-85% 1RM. This move always comes *after* Dynamic Effort Squats
Dynamic Effort Bench Press: One day per week is devoted to Dynamic Effort Bench Press training and it runs on a 3-week pendulum wave. The trainee must choose any type of Bench Press variation and perform roughly 9 sets of 3 repetitions at 50% 1RM. The trainee will use this variation for 3 weeks in a row while maintaining the same weight on the bar. This is known as the “Main Move” and must be the first exercise of the day.
Dynamic Effort Accessory Work: Dynamic Effort Accessory Work is largely the same as Maximal Effort Accessory Work with the only major difference being Dynamic Effort days tend to be higher volume/lower intensity than Maximal Effort days. The trainee still must focus on improving her/his individual weaknesses through the use of special exercises and must constantly aim to improve her/his accessory work. Additionally, the same muscle groups trained on Maximal Effort days must be trained on Dynamic Effort days.
Dynamic Effort Day Guidelines:
1) Frequency: 1 session per week for the Squat/Deadlift and Bench Press respectively
2) Main Move
- Perform each and every repetition as fast and explosively as possible
- Take :30 – :60 seconds (maximum) between sets
- Perform the prescribed number of sets/reps at the appropriate percentage of your 1RM:
Dynamic Effort Squat:
- Geared Lifters: 10-12 sets of 2 reps at 40-60% 1RM
- Raw Lifters: 10-12 sets of 2 reps at 70-85% 1RM
Dynamic Effort Deadlift:
- All Lifters: 6-10 sets of 1-3 reps at 60-85% 1RM
Dynamic Effort Bench:
- All Lifters: 9 x 3 repetitions at 50% 1RM
- Use the same variation for 3 weeks in a row while simultaneously increasing the weight in each successive week. When 3 weeks have been completed choose a different variation and cycle back down to the appropriate starting percentage of your 1RM
3) Variations: The variation guidelines are more or less exactly the same for Dynamic Effort as they are for Maximal Effort. However, I suggest you use the following information to help you make educated decisions.
- Choose any variation but always squat onto a box!
- Use a wide stance and low/parallel box to build up the hips
- Use a close stance and low box to build up the low back
- Use a slightly above parallel box to help with the “normal” sticking point
- Choose any variation
- Use a sumo stance to build up the hips
- Use a conventional stance to build up the low back/erectors
- Choose any variation
- Use a close grip to build up the triceps
4) Accessory Work: As I said before, the accessory work for Dynamic Effort and Maximal Effort is more or less exactly the same. Target the appropriate muscle groups (listed below) but focus on your individual weaknesses. Find movements you suck at and do them until you’re proficient.
- Dynamic Effort Squat/Deadlift Accessory Work: Following the main move be sure to incorporate exercises for each of these muscle groups: Glutes, Hamstrings, Low Back (Erectors), Lats, Traps, and Abs.
- Dynamic Effort Bench Press Accessory Work: Following the main move be sure to incorporate exercises for each of these muscle groups: Triceps, Upper Back, Lats, Shoulders (Front/Medial/Rear), Traps, and Abs.
- Perform specific accessory movements for a maximum of 3 weeks and then switch to a different move.
Battling Accommodation through Accommodating Resistance
The use of accommodating resistance such as bands, chains, weight releasers, and different specialty bars is one of the key components to Westside’s success. Using these varying tools as added resistance allows one to incorporate more variations into their training while simultaneously targeting specific weak-points. Unfortunately, explaining how to use/set up these forms of accommodating resistance is well beyond the scope of this article. Since the majority of you have insufficient means to use bands, chains, weight releasers, or specialty bars (i.e. don’t train at a powerlifting gym), in addition to the fact that this article is already atrociously long, I’ve made the executive decision to stress the importance of accommodating resistance but exclude explicit directions on how to use them. You can be sure a future article will cover this topic in detail.
As a result of my guilty conscience for skimping on this section I’ve decided to include this video of Dave Tate from Elite Fitness Systems demonstrating how to use bands. Additionally, while I understand the majority of gyms don’t supply this type of equipment, a good set of bands are not only relatively cheap but are a fantastic investment. Therefore, I’m also going to provide you with this link to Westside’s store which sells numerous bands of varying strengths.
If you want to experience the full benefit of The Westside-Barbell Conjugate Method I highly recommend you invest in a set of bands as the carryover to improved performance is honestly astounding.
A 6-Week Sample
I understand this system is extraordinarily complicated and I’ve thrown a ton of information at you. In an attempt to make the programming aspect somewhat easier I have created this 6-week sample program outlining the Main Move variation on Max Effort and Dynamic Effort days respectively. Below the 6-week program I have provided you with several examples of which type of accessory exercises are commonly used at Westside. Keep in mind these are only some of the hundreds upon hundreds of exercises. As long as you remember anything can work then you will truly begin to understand the Westside program.
|Week||Monday: Max Effort Squat/Deadlift||Wednesday: Max Effort Bench||Friday: Dynamic Effort Squat/Deadlift||Saturday: Dynamic Effort Bench|
|1||1) Close-Stance Below Parallel Box Squat. Work up to a 1RM||1) 2-Board Bench Press. Work up to a 1RM||1) Wide Stance Below Parallel Box Squat: 12 x 2 @ 75% 1RM||1) Close Grip Bench Press: 9 x 3 @ 50% 1RM|
|2||1) Rack Pull from Pin 1. Work up to a 1RM||1) Close-Grip Bench Press. Work up to a 1RM||1) Wide Stance Below Parallel Box Squat: 12 x 2 @ 80% 1RM||1) Close Grip Bench Press: 9 x 3 @ 50% 1RM|
|3||1) Wide Stance Above Parallel Box Squat. Work up to a 1RM||1) Floor Press. Work up to a 1RM||1) Wide Stance Below Parallel Box Squat:10 x 2 @ 85% 1RM||1) Close Grip Bench Press: 9 x 3 @ 50% 1RM|
|1||1) Good Morning Variation. Work up to a 3RM||1) DBell Bench Press. Work up to a 3RM||1) Conventional Stance Parallel Box Squat vs. Bands: 12 x 2 @ 75% 1RM||1) Floor Press: 9 x 3 @ 50% 1RM|
|2||1) Sumo Deficit Pull from a 2” Mat. Work up to a 1RM||1) 1-Board Bench Press. Work up to a 1RM||1) Conventional Stance Parallel Box Squat vs. Bands: 12 x 2 @ 80% 1RM||1) Floor Press: 9 x 3 @ 50% 1RM|
|3||1) Zercher Squat. Work up to a 1RM||1) Rack Press. Work up to a 1RM||1) Conventional Stance Parallel Box Squat vs. Bands: 12 x 2 @ 85% 1RM||1) Floor Press: 9 x 3 @ 50% 1RM|
Sample Accessory Work Movements
|Squat/Deadlift Days||Bench Press Days|
|All Good Morning Variations||DBell Press Variations(incline/flat/standing)|
|45 Degree Back Extension/Reverse Hyperextension||Pushup Variations (close grip, clap pushups)|
|Cable Pull Through Variations||Tricep Specific Movements (extensions/press downs)|
|Glute Ham Raise/Hamstring Curl Variations||All Rowing Movements (cable/d-bell/barbell)|
|Sled/Prowler Pulling/Pushing||Lat Specific Movements (lat pull down/chins)|
|Lat Specific Movements (lat pull down/chins)||Shoulder Specific Movements (rear delt/front/side raises)|
Rather than conclude with a clever anecdote or inspirational statement, I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to end this article other than with a quote by Louie Simmons, himself, regarding The Westside-Barbell Conjugate Method. So, without further adieu, here is a clear and concise bit by the man who created perhaps the most effective multi-year strength training system in history:
“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. Many have the theory that to squat, bench, or deadlift more, you simply have to do the three lifts. If it were that simple no one would need special exercises, machines, or systems of training. But we know this is not true.”