The following is based on what I did for 12 weeks to improve my strength for the squat, bench, and deadlift as a raw powerlifter. I based it on a conjugate framework, utilizing max effort, dynamic effort, and repetition effort exercises. I rotated my max effort work with exercises I’ve found to benefit my raw lifts. I rotated supplementary exercises in four-week blocks and kept most of the other smaller assistance work simple with a few variations here and there. Keep in mind, that this doesn’t account for the time right before a meet, so everything will need to be adjusted accordingly within a few weeks of competition. Also, note that the supplementary and assistance exercises are designed in a way to help me with my weaknesses—they will vary from person to person. This program isn’t a Westside template that you might find somewhere online. Instead, this is a conjugate program manipulated to suit my needs and goals, so it will differ from a standard template.

Areas of Weakness

These are areas I needed to focus on. Remember everything needs to get stronger as you look at any program.

  • Glutes/hips (deadlift lockout/mid-squat)
  • Shoulders/triceps (bench lockout)

Notes Regarding Max Effort (ME) Work

The ME lifts I chose are what I’ve seen benefit my raw numbers so far. Yours may be different.

As you'll see in the program, I rarely worked up to ME singles two weeks in a row. I either switched back and forth from triples or added some sort of accommodating resistance or specialty bar. I found that this kept me from stalling or beating myself up too bad. I used a similar concept with my supplementary work on overhead presses and deadlifts, only working up to a max single or triple every few weeks. I’ve found the most success recently by only pulling ME deadlifts every few weeks.

Notes Regarding Dynamic Effort (DE) Work

In this 12-week cycle, I primarily used jumps and medicine ball throws for the beginning of my dynamic days. In the previous 12 weeks, I used standard barbell DE work. I’ve found the most success for myself through alternating barbell DE work (speed squats/deads and speed bench w/ accommodating resistance) with jumps and throws. This allows me to work on my explosiveness without aggravating some injuries that tend to bother me when I overdo it with barbell speed work. This is my personal setup and will vary from person to person.

Don’t overthink the jumps or throws, or overdo it with them. They are in this particular 12-week cycle simply to prime the nervous system and help improve explosiveness before training. If you aren’t explosive enough with the prescribed work for that day, you'll need to use a lighter ball/lower box, or adjust volume.

I made sure to still utilize CAT (compensatory acceleration training) in my program. I worked on this with my main lifts, but particularly when using accommodating resistance like chains, as well as on supplementary or lighter work.

Notes Regarding Repetition Work

I chose supplementary exercises based on my weaknesses or things that would help improve technique flaws. Again, these will vary from person to person. Even things like the height of the board presses (2 board) are chosen specifically because that is the level right below my sticking point for bench.

Don’t overthink accessory exercises. They were chosen to keep balance, prevent injury, and gain muscle mass. They can easily be modified from person to person.

Note: When an exercise is noted as a ‘moderately heavy set of _,’ it means between 7-9 on RPE scale, depending on how I felt that week.

Box Jump Progression

Week 1 – Test

Week 2 – 6 sets of 4 jumps @ 75%

Week 3 – 5 sets of 3 jumps @ 85%

Week 4 – 4 sets of 2 jumps @ 95%

*After week 4, re-assess and start at week 1 again

Med Ball Throw Progression

Week 1 – Chest Pass against the wall, 2-3 sets of 5 throws

Week 2 – Step and Chest Pass, 2-3 sets of 5 throws

Week 3 – Start at week 1 again, and adjust intensity/volume accordingly to how explosive you were (or weren’t)


ME – Max Effort

DE – Dynamic Effort

OHP – Overhead Press

RB – Reverse Bands

BW – Bodyweight

Wtd – Weighted

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Joe Schillero has competed in both powerlifting and strongman with an elite total in the 220-pound weight class. He has his master's degree in exercise physiology and is currently the General Manager at the Mandel JCC in Cleveland, Ohio. In this position, he oversees fitness, membership, and aquatics operations. He has also overseen student fitness and wellness programs at multiple Universities. He can be reached at