Conjugate for Throwers—Putting Your Athletes on the Right Trajectory

TAGS: Jim Seratt, strength and conditioning, coaching, conjugate, strength

OutsideSubmission-3 columnist

Conjugate is literally made for track and field and knowing how to implement it properly can put your athletes on the right trajectory (it’s a throws joke, get it?) to success.

I’ve been using the conjugate method with my collegiate throwers for a semester now and have seen great success, at least in the weight room, with its adoption and implementation. One of the things that I always mention when it comes to running conjugate, whether for a lifter or for any athlete is knowing what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how a particular movement should look and/or feel. As a coach, if you haven’t done a movement, or don’t intend to do it at some point in the near future, then why are you asking your kids to do it? You don’t have to be the strongest strength coach or even stronger than your kids, but you better know what a max effort squat feels like if you’re going to ask your athletes to do it.


RECENT: Conjugate U for Collegiate Tennis


It is the very nature of what throwing is as a sport that makes it and conjugate such a well-suited match—throwing is about strength and power (ME) in addition to the ability to create or produce force at a very high rate over a very short period of time (DE). It’s also about having the capacity (after a period of recovery) to produce the same amount of, or more, force over multiple attempts (DE/RE). Again, the demands of throwing are identical to the structure of conjugate and, when coupled with the mentality and work ethic that most throwers possess, can produce fantastic results and build up some monster athletes.

box-squat

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, I’ve been using conjugate with my throwers (and all my other athletes) for the whole of a semester now and will never use any other methodology again. Why? Because conjugate works, and it works well. It truly is the most superior way of training.


My throwers lift four times per week, which is, again, perfect for the structure of conjugate. Here’s a brief outline of how we go about our training:

Day 1 (Monday) – ME Lower

Pre-training/activation

  • Jumps/posterior chain

Squat or deadlift variation

  • With or without accommodating resistance
  • Squat variations are always to a box
  • Deadlift is typically sumo, but will go conventional
  • 1RM

Secondary movement

  • Compound barbell movement
    • Goodmorning, RDL, front squat
  • With or without accommodating resistance
  • Typically, higher volume
    • 3-4x5-8
    • RPE 7-8

Accessory 1

Accessory 2

Accessory 3

Accessory 4

Day 2 (Tuesday) – ME Upper

Pre-training/activation

  • Throws/scap/press

Bench press variation

  • With or without accommodating resistance
  • Flat or incline
  • Grip variations
  • Full or partial ROM
  • 1RM

Secondary movement

  • Compound barbell or dumbbell movement
  • With or without accommodating resistance
  • Typically, higher volume
    • 3-4x8-10

Accessory 1

Accessory 2

Accessory 3

Accessory 4

  • Band, dumbbell, or kettlebell movements
  • Uni- or bilateral
  • Row, press, ab, shoulder
  • For volume or for time

Day 3 (Thursday) – DE Lower

Pre-training/activation

  • Jumps/posterior chain

Speed Squat

  • Bands or chains
  • 3-week wave; 8x3@50%, 8x3@55%, 6x3@60
  • Wide stance to box
  • :30 between sets (great for pushing GPP/conditioning)

Speed Deadlift

  • Bands or chain
  • 3-week wave; 10x1@50%, 10x1@55%, 8x1@60%
  • Sumo stance
  • :30 between sets

Accessory 1

Accessory 2

Accessory 3

Accessory 4

  • High-volume movements
    • Posterior chain
    • Ab
    • Row

Day 4 (Friday) – DE Upper

Pre-training/activation

  • Throws/scaps/press

Speed Bench

  • Bands or chain
  • 3-week wave; 9x3@35/40/45%
  • 3-grip sets; close/med/wide
  • :30 between sets/grips

Accessory 1

Accessory 2

Accessory 3

Accessory 4

  • Stability/ISO, row, carry, press, triceps

After the initial and expected, albeit very brief, introductory/adaptation phase, my kids took to conjugate very well. We’re at the point where no variation, even the most foreign, phases them and they know what it means to push and strain. Our speed work, for the most part, looks like speed work and our max effort work, especially with my big boys, gets to the point where I start wondering if I need to shut it down or let them keep going.

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Now, some of the kids are more explosive than others and as such, their speed work looks speedier. Whereas some of the kids, even if I lowered their percentages, would still look less speedy. That’s just how they are, but they give me their best effort, which is all I ask. We’re always working on technique. I make sure to keep a close eye on those athletes whose technique still leaves something to be desired, while also making sure to shut them down before things get too squirrely—max effort work will expose technical flaws and weak points, but there’s no sense in letting a kid grind through attempt after attempt if his or her technique looks like a package FedEx or UPS just tossed over the fence into the yard and watched as the dog shook it to hell.


RELATED: 16-Week Beginner Conjugate Program


A topic I’ve touched on in the other articles I’ve written about utilizing conjugate in the collegiate setting is the ease with which one can over-conjugate things; something of which I am definitely guilty. No one likes exposing themselves, unless you’re a creeper in a trench coat, but I think it’s important that we learn from both our own and each other’s mistakes. I could have very easily picked a handful of variations for squat, bench, and deadlift and rotated through them over a few weeks, but, as with my baseball team, I got caught up in the fun of watching the kids excel at new things every week and kept putting new variations in. Now, not all variations are created equal and some are more appropriate for the collegiate environment than are others. One such example is an idea I had that on paper looked really good on paper, but failed to be as good when executed.

What was this idea, you ask? Why, straight bar box squats against ascending band tension, that’s what. Sounds like a lot, right? For a couple of my kids, it was a lot, if not too much. The idea, if you haven’t already gathered, was as follows—work up to a straight weight single at RPE 6-7 then, staying at that same bar weight for the rest of your sets, add band tension with every consecutive set, working up to a 1RM against maximal band tension. This sounded awesome and I was confident that my kids could handle it. A couple killed it, most struggled, and a couple had a real rough time of it. One girl had the bar shoot down off her back because she couldn’t brace hard enough to support the tension. Another girl ended up headbutting me in the nose because she stumbled walking out of the rack and tipped backwards. Fortunately, both instances had spotters involved, so no one was injured. But I decided then and there that we were never going to do that variation again. So, heed my words—keep things simple or make sure your kids can handle what you’re throwing at them.

As far as success and progress in the weight room, here are some examples:

  • Male athlete with a 405+ squat, 365 pin press vs 40 pound chain, and a 500 deadlift.
  • Female athlete with a 325 squat, 135 bench vs mini bands, and a 315 deadlift.
  • Female freshman athlete with a 265 squat, 155 football bar bench (elitefts American Press Bar), and a 205 vs Monster Mini band rack pull.

Obviously the real indicator of success here would be distances thrown, but I’m not the track coach and don’t have those numbers. If anyone is interested, I could probably “track” those down and share them.

To summarize, running conjugate with throwers is a great idea. It is ideally suited to prepare them for the demands of their sport and the structure of the method fits very well into the needs and requirements of successful competition. Track and field has a long history of strength and conditioning and throwers should be no different. Just keep things simple—get them strong, fast, explosive, and durable, and stick to the basics—press, pull, squat, deadlift, jump, throw. Anything beyond that is just icing on the cake, but remember, not every cake needs frosting.

Header image credit:  spotpoint74 © 123rf.com


Jim Seratt is a Division-I strength and conditioning coach at Oakland University. He has been coaching for five years, and is a 220/242 raw and multi-ply powerlifter. He is responsible for coaching baseball, softball, women’s soccer, swimming, and the throwers. He can be reached at jseratt@oakland.edu.

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