Conjugate For A Little Old Man

TAGS: older lifter, westside barbell, Nate Harvey, reading, books, Jeff Guller, elitefts.com, education, programming, 5/3/1, donnie thompson, conjugate, conjugate method, Louie Simmons, Jim Wendler, powerlifting, dave tate, training

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I have been asked on a few occasions to write about my specific training. I have not done that because I think readers would find it boring. Because I am not a sponsored athlete, I do not post my daily training logs.

While it might be boring to read about my specific training, I thought it might make sense to tell you about how I arrived at training as I do, my thought process, and my experience with the conjugate method. I do not consider it to be the be-all and end-all. I’m sure I will continue to evolve as I learn more and experience more. So, with sincere apologies to Louie Simmons, Dave Tate, and Nate Harvey, my gurus of the conjugate method, here we go.

I was introduced to powerlifting training by Donnie Thompson. I trained with him once a month for about two years. Because of the infrequency of our training, we only did max effort work. He had me squat for about two hours, then a few bench presses or deadlifts followed by kettlebells. I was so beaten up, my eyes were glazed over, and Donnie feared for me to drive home.


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That became the only way I knew to train. I carried that mindset home and my training beat my ass. I never heard of things like deload, speed day, or off-season. As I often do with things that interest me, I began to read. I read articles online, bought books, and discovered articles on elitefts. Dave Tate’s articles on the three primary lifts were as instructive as anything I read. I entered meets and learned by watching and asking questions and getting advice. The most instructive and best thing I have done in powerlifting was becoming part of the elitefts team. In addition to meeting the best lifters in the country, I have learned from them at LTT seminars, individually, and from their articles, logs, and posts.

I read various programs and began to follow a program, which was a bastardization of what I had learned from Donnie, what I had read, and what I thought was best for me. I met and talked to Jim Wendler at an LTT seminar and listened to him speak, and eventually, bought some of his books. He is a compelling speaker and a very knowledgeable writer.

Soon, I was doing 5-3-1. In time, notwithstanding Wendler’s admonitions not to do it, I had modified it to suit my needs. I trained this way for a time and made quite satisfactory progress. I only trained three days a week and was making satisfactory progress but felt tired and beaten up. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept on keeping on. I had heard for a long time about the conjugate method employed first at Westside Barbell, and then around the country. I was not familiar with how it worked and whether or not it could work for me. I was satisfied with my adaptation of Wendler’s method.

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Then, as I said in my article “I Read a Book,” I read Nate Harvey’s book about the conjugate system. It gave me the clearest understanding I have had on the system and erased some myths about it. I decided to try it, and try it I have. I will say that increasing training to four days a week troubled me. Not to worry; I felt better training four days than I did with three. That is because there are only two days of max-effort work rather than three. That is not to say that I don’t work hard on dynamic effort days. I do, but it is with lighter weights and more reps and not as overall taxing.

Conjugate involves much more variety in exercises than I have previously done. In fact, there are those who create new and interesting exercises every day. I am still old school. I have nothing against new exercises, as long as I can see that they improve or otherwise assist the three powerlifting lifts. I am still of the belief that if you want to squat heavy, then squat heavy. Too often I find myself resorting to old tried and true exercises.

OK, old man, you have taken us around the block; what the hell is it that you do?

I train four days a week. Because of my client schedule and domestic situation, those days are Monday through Thursday. Sometimes I take Wednesday off and train on Friday. The order in which one starts is irrelevant.

I try and space my max effort days as far apart as possible. I begin with a max effort bench. I try to use five different exercises for my main exercise. In addition to a straight bar, I use a fat bar, a football bar, pin presses, and floor presses. I alternate each week and shoot for a true max effort and PR on each.


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For accessory exercises, I generally do three of the following: close grip bench presses, dumbbell presses, pushdowns, pushdowns with bands, push-ups, or over-head triceps pulls.

One of the things on which I concentrate is speed with sub-maximal weight. It is a pet peeve of mine to see a 325-pound bencher move 200 pounds slowly. The same applies to the squat and deadlift. Then, I sip my lemonade and go home.

When I come to the gym, I like to have a chat with the owner and greet everyone I know. Once I start, I try not to bullshit and then get on with the training. I am, however, always available to spot or help someone.

Tuesday is dynamic effort lower body day. As of late, I have used this day to do as much back work as I can. My main lift has been wide-grip deadlifts with as much speed as I can. It’s helpful to both my legs and upper back and is a lift many lifters ignore. I am confident it carries over to both my bench and squat. I begin a better variety for my lower body like good mornings, Romanian Deadlifts, lunges, and box squats.

My accessory exercises are three of the following: chest-supported rows, dumbbell rows, bent-over rows, chest pulls, and face pulls.

Wednesday is dynamic upper body day. I use the same bar as I did for max effort day. When those bars involve a bench (i.e. fat bar, football bar, or straight bar), I wrap an elitefts Mini band around one end of the bar, then under the bench and around the other end of the bar. I then add an appropriate amount of weight so that I can do ten sets of three reps with the utmost speed.

Thereafter, my accessory exercises are the same choice as max effort day except that I use a lighter weight and do 12 to 15 reps.

On Thursday, when I make it that far, I do my max effort lower body day. Generally, I squat to a box with either a Safety Squat Bar or a BUFFALO BAR™. I do not often use a straight bar. I shoot for a max effort or PR with whatever bar I use. It takes a while and beats my ass. It’s like a day with Donnie.

As the weight gets heavier, I am fortunate to have guys in the gym to spot me and keep my old ass safe. To be honest, I don’t always have the energy to do accessories after a very heavy squat day. When I do, I do calf raises, kettlebell swings, Romanian Deadlifts, or good mornings.

Lately, I have been using a belt squat. I rigged up some equipment that allows me to squat with a belly, work on my depth, and ease the problem of using a heavy bar on my terrible shoulder. We call this redneck engineering. I was going to try to describe it in words, but it would take too long. I have enclosed a picture that shows what I have done and how it works. I’m sure it’s not new, but it’s new to me. My shoulder thanks me every time I use it.


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Next week, I’ll see to what extent, if any, it carries over to my squat. With this device, I am able to do a great number of reps and sets and consequently, move a great deal of weight.

That is what I do for now. I am sure it will change in time, as I get older and wiser.

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