After almost two decades in the fitness industry, I haven't come across many programs that blend both strength and conditioning modalities well. 

In fact, the term strength and conditioning is misleading because most coaches and facilities tend to leave a lot on the table when it comes to conditioning. 

Some may even argue that the word conditioning applies to sport-specific activities regarding energy demands on the field of play. While I wouldn't necessarily argue with that, I think there is more to the puzzle, and this definition is one-dimensional at best. 

If we were to continue to subscribe to this way of thinking, we would continue to perpetuate the cycle of avoiding modalities dissimilar to on-the-field requirements, such as slow steady-state conditioning. 

And the notion of avoiding the slow steady-state training because it makes you slow is outdated and has been since turned on its head, at least for many coaches I know. 

RECENT: How to Determine the Right Training Split in 5 Steps

Yet we often see training programs on the market that do a decent job of getting people stronger and gaining lean tissue but drop the ball when implementing various conditioning methods altogether. 

Let me explain.

For the better part of my early career, I spent an excessive amount of time looking at other coaches' programs—reading articles, hiring coaches I know and trust to handle my programming, to haphazardly buying a kettlebell program just to learn about modalities I’m not an expert in. I firmly believe this is an incredible way to learn how to become a master in program design. While most of these experiences were positive, they did help me fine-tune my eye when viewing other coaches' programs. 

My experience with CrossFit helped drive the point home on energy system development. It was clear that many of the programs I followed either completely neglected conditioning or threw in some 'finishers' to provide the illusion of 'conditioning.' Not only is this form of programming devoid of meaning, but in terms of adaptations, it's lackluster at best and leaves the programming up to the interpretation of the user.

It's a skill to be great at programming conditioning work. Coaches simply don't dedicate time to improving their conditioning program design skills like they do their strength programming skills. 

If this is the case for you, you've come to the right place. I don't believe in using the excuse "I'm a strength guy" anymore. A firm grasp of energy system development is key to becoming an elite coach.

After more than a decade of going down the energy systems' rabbit hole, it amazed me to find out the answer.

It was right under my nose the entire time: The Conjugate Method.

Of course, when most think of conjugate, they think of max-effort or dynamic effort training. Yet, conditioning work is just as much a focus of the system. 

Conditioning was the missing piece of the puzzle even when I was a young athlete, though the coaches I was training under were fully immersed in the conjugate way. 

So while the answer was right under my nose, it was not obvious. It would be a few years until I figured out how to achieve the best of both worlds.

Refining the System

Over the last ten years, I've constantly looked to refine how I program. Starting off, I was much closer to classic conjugate, borrowing many key principles from Westside Barbell and Louie Simmons and using all the bells and whistles of that system. You can't argue with the results that WSBB has produced in the last 30 years. And to its credit, "classic" conjugate method training is truly a perfect system for a particular goal: building the squat, bench, and deadlift. 

My clients are very similar to myself: over 35, busy professionals, love to train, and hate to feel like shit. I like to call these people everyday athletes. They still want to scratch the competitive itch, make gains with their lifts, and look like they train when they take their shirts off at the pool. 

As everyday athletes sought my help, it also became apparent that a more flexible training method would benefit them. Their goals tend to revolve around how they look and feel while still being athletic and hitting a few PRs here and there. 

Sounds modest, right? 

It certainly is, and getting strong AF without prioritizing maximal effort training is realistic. 

Let me show you how. 

Conjugate Training vs. Concurrent Training

Let me preface this by saying that while concurrent and conjugate are closely related, if you were to look at wide range of studies (such as this), you'd notice that most of the information out there says that strength training and conditioning work interfere with each other. This stance is very different from what I'm proposing. 

To be clear, I'm proposing:

  • Maximal strength development methods train the force and velocity portion of the force-velocity curve.
  • High-intensity aerobic methods use mixed modality methods with roughly 1:1 to 1:3 work/rest ratios.
  • Low-intensity aerobic methods train contractility of the heart and seek to improve things like your resting heart rate (which in turn has a number of positive benefits.)
  • Hypertrophy work with bilateral and unilateral movements in the 8-15 rep range.
  • A week of training with more hours of recovery between higher-threshold training days.
  • 6-Phase Dynamic Warm-up and 3-Phase Cooldown use for every session.
  • Training is organized in three-week blocks. The same variations are run for three weeks with adjustments in volume and intensity each subsequent week (I've given you a three-week guide for cluster training and dynamic effort work).
  • An even balance of strength sessions and conditioning sessions (three of each).

How Is This Different From a Classic Conjugate Split? 

Well, for starters, the max effort will NOT be utilized weekly (more on that in a minute). Second, the conditioning work has one overarching goal: to improve aerobic function, which we know will carry over to gains in strength and body composition by having a large impact on our ability to recover between sets and sessions (this is KEY). Third, plyometrics are used daily during phase six of our 6-Phase Dynamic Warm-up. And finally, this programming is organized with three main strength sessions vs. the traditional four in a classic conjugate split. 

The reason for this is I've found it more reasonable to ask people to adhere to three strength sessions per week vs. four (however, at certain times of the year, I still cycle in the four-strength-session x two conditioning sessions split). I've also found stress management to be a factor for the guys I work with. I've noted that the balance of having both strength and conditioning modalities is a great strategy to minimize stress.

Training Methods

There are a lot of different directions we can go. To keep things concise, I've narrowed it down to what I feel are the most beneficial and logical methods to utilize if your goals are to be strong, look great naked, all while feeling as good as you look. If, of course, your goals revolve around the big three, then you could certainly plug in different methods into this format. 

Wave Loading

This is a method I've since revisited and one I've found to be successful for a few reasons. First, it's easy to understand waves to prime subsequent heavier sets. Second, because you're priming later sets, there are benefits from both neural drive and psychological perspectives. 

While I've used other methods like cluster sets, I find the biggest limiting factor to be in the confusion that takes place. Delivering my programming 100% online, I prefer to remove any confusion (I still program cluster work though, in case you're wondering).

An example of wave loading could look like this:

ExerciseWeek 1Week 2Week 3
Front Box Squat Wave6-4-2-6-4-2
Rest 2-3:00
Rest 2-3:00
Rest 2-3:00

An example of sets:

  • 6 at 225
  • 4 at 275
  • 2 at 315
  • 6 at 275
  • 4 at 315
  • 2 at 365

The RPE for the FINAL set would increase each week, going from 8, 8.5, to 9. 

The Repeated Effort Method

The repeated effort method is premier for improving muscular imbalance and hypertrophy. It also provides rehabilitative or prehabilitative work to ensure you're constantly improving symmetry. This work is typically done through single-joint exercises and isolation work to target musculature limitations but is not limited to solely single-joint exercises. 

It's important to prioritize unilateral assistance exercises because you can dedicate time to improving limitations. Classic lifts such as the squat, press, and deadlift will improve by establishing symmetry and strength in lagging muscle groups. Because unilateral exercises are less demanding on the nervous system, you can add volume and frequency with the overall objective of improving deficiencies.

Explosive Strength Method

Jumping is an integral part of improving explosive strength for athletics and has value to those who simply want to look and feel better. It comes down to using proper volume prescriptions and plyometric variations for those without interest in actual competition. 

In terms of programming for general fitness, performing 20-25 jumps twice a week is more than sufficient to prime the sympathetic nervous system before a training session or as a stand-alone movement for explosive strength work. 

The benefits span beyond improving power and rate of force development. As we know, type 2 fibers deteriorate as folks age, which can be a powerful catalyst for maintaining those type 2 fibers. The return on investment is significant for a small investment of time (Potach, 2016). 

Dynamic Effort Method

The common misconception of lifting heavy in every workout is thinking that the effectiveness is judged by how hard it is. Remember, the human body isn't a gumball machine and doesn't spit out candy every time you put a quarter in (train hard). See, there is a point of diminishing returns. If you're not allowing for proper recovery between higher threshold sessions (maximal lifting), you'll eventually overtrain and start going backward with your progress. 

Or you'll get injured. 

The reality is that hard training sessions must mix with easier training sessions. Another component of this is utilizing strength methods that differ with regard to bar velocity.

When different methods are utilized, the potential of altering the force-velocity curve is realistic. The force-velocity curve examines the interactions between force and velocity. It suggests there is an inverse relationship where external resistance increases, the movement velocity decreases (cluster work), and where external resistance decreases (explosive strength work), movement velocity increases respectively (Bomba 2009.) 

What does this mean to the average person that wants to get stronger? 

It means that there is low-hanging fruit with methods such as the dynamic effort method that aims to improve the rate of force development (RFD). This method uses non-maximal loads with the highest attainable velocity. The primary objective is to improve RFD and increase the corridor of recruited and trained motor units (Zatsiorsky & Kraemer, 2006.) And even for those less concerned with gaining strength, I've found the change of pace is often well-received. Changing the emphasis on movement speed vs. movement loading is just the change of pace most people need.

Dynamic Effort Training Guidelines:

  • Utilizes high-threshold motor units and facilitates RFD.
  • High-intensity method that's demanding on the nervous system
  • There should be zero grinding. Each rep should be explosive and smooth with zero hesitation.
  • Works the velocity portion of the force-velocity curve.

In short, speed work can facilitate bridging the gap between utilizing the velocity component of the force-velocity curve while creating balance within your programming to prevent boredom and overtraining.

Maximal Effort Method

There are many benefits of maximal strength development. It is also safe when someone has great movement patterns and keeps the volume where it should be (3-4 singles over 90%). Still, I only program the ME method every 12-16 weeks, testing key indicator exercises like the Anderson Squat, Floor Press, and High Handle Trap Bar Deadlift, to name a few. 

Depending on the individual, this method could be used weekly, assuming you rotate the variations weekly. While I don't use the ME method as much now as I used to, I still have tremendous respect for it and would argue it's an irreplaceable method for the right person. Keeping ME variations in the rotation is a great way to ensure your programming is going in the right direction and keep things interesting.

Accommodating Resistance

Accommodating-based resistance (AR) is a mainstay in my programming. There's an understated reason for using AR for its longevity abilities and keeping wear and tear on the body low. Not to take away from the benefits of using straight weight through a full ROM, but most of the guys I work with have a few bumps and bruises. AR allows us to train with less overall load through a full ROM. 

Aerobic Conditioning

Why do you need to improve your aerobic abilities? 

A couple of major reasons: 

  • Without an efficient aerobic system, your ability to recover between sessions and between working sets will not be what it could be.
  • Improving your aerobic system can extend how long you live (with numerous studies to back it up like this one here). 

Interestingly enough, you'll probably never see someone market a training program with the words "extend your life!" or "get a healthier heart!" 

Is there any goal more important than a long, high-quality life? 

In my experience, adding aerobic conditioning to my training was the most beneficial method. It took my conditioning to a level I didn't know existed.

The hardest part for most is that it's too easy (yes, it's easy to do), and it can be somewhat boring, but how we customize these sessions while still keeping the intent intact is key.

First off, let's discuss what cardiac output is. Cardiac output is the amount of blood the heart pumps through the circulatory system in one minute. In layman's terms, it's a product of heart rate and stroke volume. This training style influences the heart's ability to pump blood to the extremities. More importantly, it can increase the cavity volume known as eccentric hypertrophy, particularly in the heart's left ventricle. You can read all about The Lost Art of Conditioning and additional aerobic methods here.


Let's put it all together. Below, I've provided a training template, methods, and sample programming. The great part about having a training template is that you can easily plug and play and customize this for yourself or your clients. 

If you have a client that is not ready to perform any of the prescribed methods, no problem! For example, let's say you have a client that is still learning how to move with their foundational movement patterns. You could easily adjust the programming to match their needs. The same can be done with conditioning work. If an individual is not ready for mixed modality training, another cardiac output method session could be added. 

Training Template

Lower Strength SessionAerobic MethodUpper Strength SessionAerobic MethodLowerAerobic MethodActive Recovery

Training Template Methods

Strength MethodsAerobic MethodsStrength MethodsAerobic MethodsStrength MethodsUpper Body Biased Mixed Modality ConditioningActive Recovery
Wave Loading SquatMixed Modality ConditioningWave Loading Press or Vertical PullCardiac Output MethodDynamic Effort Method Hinge Emphasis  
Repeated Effort Method Repeated Effort Method Repeated Effort Method  

Sample Week of Programming

Day 1: Lower Squat Front Box Squat Wave

  1. Glute Ham Raises
  2. Single Leg Work
  3. Reverse Hyper® 

Day 2: Mixed Modality Conditioning

  1. Turkish Get-ups
  2. 8-10 Rounds of Air Bike Sprint + KB Cleans 

Day 3: Upper Vertical Pull

  1. Neutral Grip Pull-up Wave
  2. DB Floor Press
  3. T-Bar Rows
  4. L-Sit Hold
  5. Pushdowns

Day 4: Aerobic Conditioning

  1. 10 Minutes of light sled drags
  2. 10 Minutes of light Farmer carries
  3. 10 Minutes of easy Air Bike

*All work done at Zone 2 (60-70% of MHR)

Day 5: Dynamic Effort Lower

  1. Jumps
  2. Trap Bar Deadlift Wave
  3. Goblet Squat
  4. Back Raises
  5. Cable Facepulls

Day 6: Mixed Modality Conditioning

  1. Landmine Rotation to press for Speed
  2. EMOM 25:

Minute 1: 30s Push-ups

Minute 2: 30s Gorilla Rows

Minute 3: 30s Battle Ropes

Minute 4: 30s Landmine Thrusters

Minute 5: 30s KB OH Carry

Day 7: Active Recovery Circuit

1a. Shin Box

1b. Bird Dogs

1c. Bear Crawl

1d. Thoracic Rotations

A Middle Ground

Whenever people hear the word conjugate, it immediately conjures images of huge, sweaty powerlifters. Conversely, when people hear the word concurrent, they think of endurance athletes doing a few squats here and there. 

There is a middle ground here. 

Strength and endurance training can coexist and not interfere with each other. Now, I'm not telling you to go run a half-marathon on your conditioning days. What I'm talking about is strategically-used methods with the correct exercises for the right durations to ensure you improve recoverability while still getting jacked and strong AF. 

The best part is that this training style produces real-world results because it's dynamic and allows for variable change. 

What if your kids' daycare shut down without any notice? What if you had a terrible night of sleep last night and aren't feeling like doing doubles at 90% of your 1RM? 

Training must align with lifestyle. Far too often, I see coaches trying to force-feed a style of training down their clients' throats that is misaligned. Not only will that not produce the long-term results your clients are looking for, but it will leave you client-less. Remember that results are king, and if you can produce those long-term, you're already way ahead of the game. 

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Jason has been involved with the fitness industry for close to 17 years working with individuals and coaches. He is the owner of Jason Brown Coaching specializing in working with 35+ guys as well as providing education for strength and conditioning coaches to improve their programming. He has a Master's of Science degree in Exercise Science, is a CSCS, and is a Certified Special Strengths Coach through Westside Barbell.

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