Athletes everywhere are being influenced by social media. Most of the questions that come my way via social media are in regard to the Conjugate system. Some love it, some hate it. Either way, most strength coaches incorporate some type of Conjugate sequence within their own periodization schemes regardless if they know it or not.
Over the next few weeks, I will be breaking down a practical way of implementing the Conjugate system for coaches and athletes. I will be discussing a wide array of topics in regard to the conjugate system as a whole, and how I implement it with my athletes’. My hopes for this blog series, is to shed light on some of the more confusing topics regarding the Conjugate system. What it entails, what it doesn’t, and how others could benefit from using it.
I will not be discussing Westside barbell in this series. As we all should know by now, you don’t know Westside unless you have trained at Westside. So that’s all the mentioning I’ll be doing about Westside here.
Developed in the Soviet Union back in the 60s and 70s, the original Conjugate system was actually called the Coupled Sequence System (CSS). This system was far different than what you hear about in the strength and conditioning world today. Athletes were required to pass specific qualifications during their development in order to progress through the system. Youth athletes were enrolled in physical preparation schools where they were prepped for their careers in sport. Through the course of their development, the athlete would progress from general prep to a more specific training means preparing them for competition called Special Physical Preparation or SPP. This was a multi-year training system that delegated classifications based on a plethora of variables including genetics. Yes, they would even consider the parents of the athlete they were classifying. This system would delegate which trainees possessed certain qualities that would allow them to excel at certain skills in sport. Thus choosing the athletes career along their route of development. This system was much more complex than this brief overview. I believe the origin of the CSS is important to understand, although understanding those intricacies is not necessarily needed in order to implement a Conjugate system of your own. If you would like to know more about the original CSS, feel free to research this subject as there is an infinite amount of research articles, books and blogs that can give you insight into the history of the original CSS.
The Conjugate system is NOT for EVERYONE
The word conjugate simply means to join together. When applied correctly a successful Conjugate sequence trains multiple qualities at once. The word system in this context was the organization of training means over a multi-year plan. It really goes without saying, but many coaches believe that as long as they train Maximal Effort and Dynamic Effort (or speed) then they are utilizing the “Conjugate system”. In reality, that is not a system. That is simply a template with no organization of training means over a period of time, let alone over multiple years. Although there is a weekly, monthly and yearly plan when executing the Conjugate system, for those in the private sector or college setting operating under a seasonal plan is usually the most a coach can plan for. The Conjugate style of training is not for everyone. An untrained, novice or intermediate athlete has many qualities to develop and skills to learn prior to entering into a Conjugate sequence that trains multiple qualities at once. The original CSS had their youth enrolled in schools designed to prep the athletes for the Conjugate system later on (many years later). Early prep phases were designed to progressively and systematically develop motor skills and movement efficiency. This assured that the athletes would be ready to handle the volume, intensity and stress of the Conjugate style of training in the years to come. More importantly, this prep assured that the athletes would not be specializing too soon. For their novice trainees the goal was to build a foundation and maximize their development.
Without a solid foundation, ME and DE work will 100% run a lesser qualified athlete into the ground.
One must first raise the athlete’s foundation or General Physical Preparedness (GPP). This will include enhancing aerobic capacity, general muscular endurance, general muscular strength, stamina, balance, coordination, force absorption and tissue quality, etc. The difference between a conjugate sequence and a linear scheme is that once you start ME or DE work, you can overlap GPP during any phase of training, without segmenting an entire block toward one specific quality. Although you do not have to take time away from ME or DE work in order to enhance the base… this is completely different then building a base that is not present. For example, all of our athletes undergo a disciplined GPP phase right after they finish their respective sport and begin their off-season training programs. The importance of understanding the demands of the athlete’s individual sport, what qualities need enhanced and when they need enhanced based on their calendar year will pay dividends when it is time to on-ramp an athlete into a Conjugate sequence and also peak the athlete for competition. A very general example is listed below, please note that this is example holds much less detail than it should. An athlete who goes through our individual assessment process has specific qualities they will need brought up more than others, movement issues, etc. However, if you work with larger groups and do not provide individual assessments, this may be extremely valuable for you.
Athlete: 26-year-old male
Classification: Professional – Advanced
Training age: 7 years (4 at a D1 college and 3 with a professional organization for a majority of the year)
Most recent training schedule: 2x per week
Time of year: Beginning of off-season
Main focus during GPP phase: Building a small aerobic base, building tissue resilience, increasing stability in all facets, and easier loads building in both volume and intensity.
Duration: 3-6 weeks, 3x-4x per week depending on activities outside of the weight room (on field skill development)
Based on the athletes training age and general history, it’s easy to assume he will be prepped to increase workloads in both volume and intensity after the first 3-week GPP phase. However, coaches must also be flexible with their training programs. When working with humans, there will always be outliers that really limit the picture-perfect scenario. The athlete’s nutrition, sleep schedule and life experiences could greatly affect his response to the first GPP phase, or any phase for that matter. It’s nearly impossible to account for a devastating life experience like suffering the loss of a loved one. Flexibility with the training schedule is paramount for success. At the end of the day what the coach wrote down isn’t set in stone. Things change.
Prep VS Enhancement
We have discussed building the initial foundation and raising GPP during the prep phase. In the next blog, I will discuss enhancing the current foundation and constantly raising the level of GPP after an athlete has already on-ramped into a Conjugate sequence of training. I will also introduce the methods used during ME and DE work and begin the initial dive into practical implementation of those methods.