The Westside Barbell Conjugate System!


The Westside Barbell training program is one of the most popular powerlifting programs in the world.

It uses a novel form of periodization called conjugate periodization where you train to get bigger, stronger and more explosive all at the same time.

If you want to learn Westside Barbell conjugate periodization then this article is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Westside Max Effort Workouts
  • Part 2: Westside Dynamic Effort Workouts

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you how Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell powerlifting team use conjugate periodization to break powerlifting world records.

Conjugate periodization is a training method where you try to get bigger, stronger and more explosive all at the same time. Each week you have separate workouts where you train for maximal strength, explosive strength and muscular hypertrophy.

Louie Simmons believes it is a waste of time to use separate blocks of training because then you have to spend time just to get back to 100%. Louie thinks a better strategy is to use the conjugate system so you can be at 100% year-round.

Here is Louie Simmons talking about why the conjugate system is superior for powerlifting:

The Westside Barbell conjugate system uses 2 different types of workouts. Check it out:

The Westside Barbell Training Split

  • Sunday: Dynamic Effort Bench Press
  • Monday: Max Effort Squat / Deadlift
  • Wednesday: Max Effort Bench Press
  • Friday: Dynamic Effort Squat / Deadlift

With the conjugate system you have 2 max effort workouts per week and 2 dynamic effort workouts per week.

Here is Louie describing the conjugate system:

“The Westside conjugate system is the best of two advanced training systems: the Soviet system and the Bulgarian system.

The Soviet system is where several special exercises are used to advance the training of superior lifters and athletes and the Bulgarian system is where near-max lifts are performed every workout.

The Westside system is a combination of the two.”

The max effort workouts are designed to help you build maximal strength and to teach you how to strain.

For each workout you are going to work up to a 1-rep max on some type of special exercise for the squat, bench press or deadlift. These special exercises should be different from the competition lift so you can attack your weak points and prevent your body from getting used to your workouts.

Here is the Westside guru Matt Wenning talking about the max effort method:

Matt Wenning says that the main benefit of the max effort method is it teaches you how to strain.

In other words it teaches you how to keep pushing yourself when you are lifting a 1-rep max and the bar starts to slow down. Check it out:

“The max effort method’s real ability is to teach you how to strain. Straining for most of us is not a learned process.

When we reach our maximum our body will tend to want to slow down, not speed up.

If you train with the max effort method for a while, you will find the max effort method teaches you how to strain and how to not shut down as you reach that breaking point.”

The max effort method is a powerful training method. In fact Louie Simmons says that it is the most important part of the entire conjugate periodization system.

The max effort method is so effective because it improves your intra-muscular and inter-muscular coordination.

In other words it teaches your central nervous system to recruit more motor units and to better coordinate those motor units to perform an exercise.

Here is Matt Wenning explaining this concept:

“The max effort method does not build a lot of mass. Max effort training is neurological. It changes the nervous system more than the muscle fibers.

It teaches you how to coordinate the spark plug from your brain to the muscle tissue that you already have.

The max effort method is the most neurologically fatiguing method you can use.”

The max effort method is used to build the squat, bench press and deadlift. For your max effort workouts you work up to a 1-rep max on some type of special exercise for the squat, bench press or deadlift.

After your primary exercise you perform a bunch of assistance work using the repetition effort method.

The repetition effort method just means that you are performing sets in the 5-20 rep range to build muscular hypertrophy and attack weak muscle groups.

The other main conjugate method is called the dynamic effort method.

Here is Matt Wenning explaining this training method:

The dynamic effort method is all about training explosively to build maximal strength. You are going to lift weights that are around 50-60% of your 1-rep max and perform those sets as explosively as possible.

You want the bar to practically fly out of your hands or off your back in the top position!

The dynamic effort method is absolutely critical for increasing your rate of force development and increasing work capacity.

Here is Matt Wenning sharing his thoughts on the dynamic effort method:

“The dynamic effort method is one of the greatest ways to get super strong because you can get to that maximal force output quicker.

It’s not about how much weight is on the bar, it’s about how fast I can move it.”

Louie Simmons believes the dynamic effort method has other benefits including building maximal strength and improving your exercise technique.

On the dynamic effort training days you start out by performing speed sets for the bench press or for the squat and deadlift. Then you perform several assistance exercises using the repetition effort method.

Don’t worry, I will explain all of this in more detail as we go along. I hope you found this overview of the Westside Barbell conjugate system helpful.

Now let’s take a deeper dive into the conjugate system.

Part 1: Westside Max Effort Workouts

The Westside Barbell powerlifting team performs 2 max effort workouts per week. They perform a max effort squat / deadlift workout on Monday and a max effort bench press workout on Wednesday.

Let’s start by looking at the max effort bench press workouts.

Here is a training template for the max effort bench press workout. Check it out:

The Max Effort Bench Press Workout

  • Exercise #1: Bench press special exercise, 2-3 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #2: Chest assistance exercise, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Triceps assistance exercise, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Back assistance exercise, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #5: Shoulders assistance exercise, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps

Louie Simmons always starts his max effort bench press workouts by working up to a 1-rep max on some type of special exercise for the bench press.

Then he performs assistance exercises using the repetition effort method for his chest, triceps, upper back and shoulders.

Here is a very normal looking max effort bench press workout. Check it out:

For this workout the Westside Barbell powerlifting team works up to a 1-rep max. Then they perform accessory exercises for their chest, triceps, upper back and shoulders using the repetition effort method.

Louie Simmons says that you should perform about 80% of your total training volume using the repetition effort method. These accessory exercises will help you attack your weak points and build your main lift.

When you are using the conjugate system you want to rotate your max effort exercise every single week. This helps you to avoid training plateaus.

Louie Simmons says you can hit a new personal record 52 weeks a year as long as you change the max effort exercises weekly. Check it out:

“The Westside system makes it possible to lift a max each week all year long. I know of no other system that can do this.”

Here is how you might rotate your exercises:

Sample Max Effort Bench Press Exercise Rotation

  • Week #1: Floor press with chains
  • Week #2: 30 degree incline bench press
  • Week #3: Pin press (6 inches off chest)
  • Week #4: Foam press
  • Week #5: Reverse band bench press with slingshot
  • Week #6: 70 degree incline pin press (forehead height)
  • Week #7: Floor press
  • Week #8: Bench press with bands

And so on. You just keep rotating the max effort bench press exercise every single week. Louie Simmons says you should rotate through as many different exercises as possible.

You can add bands, chains or reverse bands to all of these exercises to make them more challenging and overload your muscles in a different way.

Louie will use all different kinds of bands and chains for the max effort exercises. For example Louie will set records using doubled mini bands, doubled monster-mini bands and doubled light bands.

If you are creative enough there are almost an endless number of variations that you can perform. This is the strength of the conjugate system.

Now let’s look at the Westside Barbell max effort squat / deadlift workout. Check it out:

The Max Effort Squat / Deadlift Template

  • Exercise #1: Max effort squat or deadlift, 2-3 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #2: Posterior chain accessory exercise, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Posterior chain accessory exercise, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Posterior chain accessory exercise, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps

Louie Simmons starts his max effort squat / deadlift workout by working up to a 1-rep max on some type of special exercise. Louie really likes to use different variations of squats and deadlifts but he will also use good mornings for sets of 3 reps.

After the max effort exercise Louie performs 2-4 accessory exercises for the posterior chain. He likes to include at least 1 exercise for the lower back and at least 1 exercise for the hamstrings.

Some of Louie’s favorite squat / deadlift accessory exercises include reverse hyperextensions, the back attack machine, inverse leg curls and belt squats.

Here is what a typical max effort squat / deadlift workout looks like. Check it out:

A Typical Max Effort Squat / Deadlift Workout

For this workout the Westside Barbell powerlifting team works up to a 1-rep max on the rack deadlift with bands. This is an absolutely brutal exercise… the band tension at the top of the deadlift is enough to make your head explode!

This is the conjugate system so you are going to rotate the max effort exercise every single week.

Louie likes to perform deadlift variations about 50% of the time and squat or good morning variations the other 50% of the time. Check it out:

Sample Westside Barbell Max Effort Squat / Deadlift Rotation

  • Week #1: Rack pull against bands
  • Week #2: Safety squat bar box squat with chains
  • Week #3: 2 inch deficit deadlift
  • Week #4: Cambered bar squat with bands
  • Week #5: Chain suspended good morning

And so on. You just keep rotating the max effort exercise every single week.

If your conjugate training program is set up correctly then you will be able to hit personal records every single week throughout the year. The key is to constantly change the exercises.

For example you could perform deadlifts from the floor, from a deficit, from blocks, from the rack or even while standing on foam. You can also use straight weight or many different band tensions on all of these exercise variations.

The more you mix things up to attack your weaknesses the faster you will make progress.

Part 2: Westside Dynamic Effort Workouts

The Westside Barbell powerlifting team performs 2 dynamic effort workouts per week.

The dynamic effort bench press workout is performed on Sunday and the dynamic effort squat / deadlift workout is performed on Friday.

Here is another look at the Westside Barbell training split:

The Westside Barbell Training Split

  • Sunday: Dynamic Effort Bench Press
  • Monday: Max Effort Squat / Deadlift
  • Wednesday: Max Effort Bench Press
  • Friday: Dynamic Effort Squat / Deadlift

You don’t have to perform your workouts on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday like the Westside Barbell powerlifting team. These are just the days that they have chosen to train on.

Louie Simmons says that the dynamic effort workouts are so important because they act as a contrast to the max effort workouts.

The max effort workouts feature low volume and very heavy weights. The dynamic effort workouts are the opposite: they feature high volume and moderate weights.

This is the conjugate system. By alternating between two different types of workouts every 3-4 days you prevent accommodation and allow your body to catapult to new levels of strength.

Let’s start by talking about the speed bench press. Here is Louie Simmons giving a perfect demonstration of the speed bench:

“Drive! Drive! Drive!”

With the speed bench press your goal is to lift the weight as explosively as possible. You want to feel like the weight is going to fly out of your hands!

The dynamic effort method works because you can still produce maximal force with lighter weights as long as you lift the weight as explosively as possible.

Just take a look at the following equation:

Force = Mass x Acceleration

With the max effort method you produce maximal force by lifting a ultra-heavy weight. The dynamic effort method is the opposite: you produce maximal force by accelerating a moderately heavy weight as fast as possible!

Louie says it is essential that you accelerate the bar all the way to lockout. If you get lazy and slow the weight down halfway up then you lose.

Louie Likes to use chains and bands for the dynamic effort bench press because they force you to accelerate the bar all the way to lockout. If you get lazy and slow down halfway up then the bands and chains will rip the bar back down to your chest!

Louie likes to cycle the dynamic effort bench press using 3 week waves to avoid accommodation.

Here is what the waves could look like:

3-Week Wave: Chains

  • Week #1: 8-10 sets of 3 reps @ 50% of your 1-rep max
  • Week #2: 8-10 sets of 3 reps @ 55% of your 1-rep max
  • Week #3: 8-10 sets of 3 reps @ 60% of your 1-rep max

3-Week Wave: Bands

  • Week #1: 8-10 sets of 3 reps @ 40% of your 1-rep max
  • Week #2: 8-10 sets of 3 reps @ 45% of your 1-rep max
  • Week #3: 8-10 sets of 3 reps @ 50% of your 1-rep max

3-Week Wave: Bands And Chains

  • Week #1: 8-10 sets of 3 reps @ 30% of your 1-rep max
  • Week #2: 8-10 sets of 3 reps @ 35% of your 1-rep max
  • Week #3: 8-10 sets of 3 reps @ 40% of your 1-rep max

Chains are the least stressful form of accommodating resistance. If you use chains then you can probably handle a weight that is around 50-60% of your 1-rep max on the bench press.

On the other hand if you are using bands or bands plus chains then you should probably keep the weight around 30-50% of your 1-rep max on the bench press.

The exact amount of weight you have on the bar is not super important. The important thing is that you can accelerate the bar as fast as possible.

Remember, this is the conjugate system. You need to have one heavy bench press workout and one speed bench press workout per week. If your speed bench press workout turns into another heavy bench press workout then you lose.

The Westside guru Matt Wenning says that he almost never uses more than 185 pounds for his speed bench workouts and he is a 600 pound bench presser! Check it out:

“For me as a 600 pound bencher it’s 185 pounds bar weight plus bands and / or chains.” 

Now let’s look at a typical speed bench press workout. Check it out:

A Typical Speed Bench Press Workout

  • Exercise #1: Speed bench press with chains, 10 sets of 3 reps
  • Exercise #2: Standing military press, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Rolling DB extension, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Band pushdowns, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

For this workout the Westside Barbell athlete performs 10 sets of the speed bench press with chains.

I don’t know the exact percentages that he was using but I can tell you that he is exploding the weight all the way to lockout. This is what you want!

After the speed bench press he performs some accessory exercises for his shoulders and triceps.

Now let’s talk about the dynamic effort squat / deadlift workout.

The Westside Barbell powerlifting team trains the speed squat and deadlift on Friday. They perform 6-12 sets of speed squats, 5-10 sets of speed deadlifts and then their accessory work.

Here is a perfect demonstration of the speed squat. Check it out:

Louie Simmons almost always performs his speed squats using the box squat. Louie likes the box squat because it breaks up the eccentric / concentric chain and it teaches you to rely on your glutes and hamstrings rather than your quadriceps while you squat.

Most powerlifters find they can sit back more and maintain a vertical shin position using the box squat.

Remember, this is the conjugate system. Louie Simmons uses many different exercises to strengthen the exact muscles you need for a huge squat and deadlift.

Louie Simmons says that you should almost always use chains or bands for your speed squats. These tools teach you to maximally accelerate the bar and will build strength faster than regular straight weight.

Here are some sample 3-week waves that you could use:

3-Week Wave: Chains

  • Week #1: 6-12 sets of 2 reps @ 50% of your 1-rep max
  • Week #2: 6-12 sets of 2 reps @ 55% of your 1-rep max
  • Week #3: 6-12 sets of 2 reps @ 60% of your 1-rep max

3-Week Wave: Bands

  • Week #1: 6-12 sets of 2 reps @ 40% of your 1-rep max
  • Week #2: 6-12 sets of 2 reps @ 45% of your 1-rep max
  • Week #3: 6-12 sets of 2 reps @ 50% of your 1-rep max

3-Week Wave: Bands And Chains

  • Week #1: 6-12 sets of 2 reps @ 30% of your 1-rep max
  • Week #2: 6-12 sets of 2 reps @ 35% of your 1-rep max
  • Week #3: 6-12 sets of 2 reps @ 40% of your 1-rep max

Louie Simmons says that you should perform 6-12 sets of 2 reps for your speed squats. The reason he likes sets of 2 reps is it mimics the amount if time it takes to perform a regular squat in competition.

In recent years Louie Simmons has started experimenting with sets of 5 reps for the speed squats. For example:

Louie Simmons says that performing 5 sets of 5 reps for your speed squats is a great way to build muscular hypertrophy and to move up a weight class.

If you have “chicken leg syndrome” then performing 5 sets of 5 reps for your speed squats is a great option.

With the Westside Barbell conjugate system you perform your speed deadlifts right after you are done with your speed squats. Here is what a speed deadlift should look like:

Talk about a fast deadlift! These guys are just ripping the weight off the ground!

Louie Simmons says that you should always use bands for your speed deadlifts. Chains are a poor choice because of the way they build up on the floor when you are performing deadlifts. Bands are just a better all-around choice for deadlifts.

Here is what a 3-week wave for the deadlift could look like:

3-Week Wave: Bands

  • Week #1: 4-6 sets of 1 rep @ 40% of your 1-rep max
  • Week #2: 4-6 sets of 1 rep @ 45% of your 1-rep max
  • Week #3: 4-6 sets of 1 rep @ 50% of your 1-rep max

Once again the percentages are not super important.

The important thing is that you are lifting the weight explosively all the way to lockout. If you find that your deadlifts are slowing down then lighten the weight!

The powerlifting bands add a ton of tension when you are using a deadlift platform and you may find that you need to use a lighter weight to maintain optimal bar speed.

Now let’s put it all together and look at a typical speed squat / deadlift workout. Check it out:

A typical Speed Squat / Deadlift Workout

  • Exercise #1: Speed squat with bands and chains, 5 sets of 5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Speed deadlift with bands, 4-6 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #3: Reverse hyperextension, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Glute ham raise, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

For this workout the Westside crew performs 5 sets of 5 reps on the speed squat with bands and chains. Then they perform several sets of singles on the speed deadlift with bands. Finally they finish up with some accessory work including reverse hyperextensions and glute ham raises.

This is a very normal looking dynamic effort squat / deadlift workout.

This workout features lighter weights than the max effort workout. This prevents accommodation because the 2 workouts are so different from each other.

Remember, this is the conjugate system. By rotating between max effort and dynamic effort workouts each week you can prevent accommodation and continue to make gains year-round.

Conclusion

The Westside Barbell conjugate system is an unbelievable way to train. You rotate through max effort workouts and dynamic effort workouts which prevents training plateaus and allows you to make progress year round.

Some people find that they cannot make progress using the conjugate system. Usually that is because they do not use the correct exercises to attack their weaknesses or because they do not include enough variety in their workouts.

Remember, every exercise must be chosen to attack a specific weak point. When you do this correctly your weak points become your strong points and your technical execution of the competition lifts improves.

When you choose the wrong exercises your weak points remain weak points and you are destined to fail.

If you are training with a powerlifting team then they will be able to identify your weak points in the squat, bench press and deadlift. If you are training alone then you must be able to identify these weaknesses on your own.

Here is one more quote by Louie Simmons to drive this point home even more:

“Everything has to be connected. This is the conjugate system. If there is one break in the chain, you fail.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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