This article will serve as a basic summary of the Westside conjugate system applied to the in-season programming of rugby players. I have drawn on the excellent article, Make Combat Athletes Strong, written by Chad Faria. The key to this program is to continually change the exercises so that you avoid the body's adaptive mechanisms coming to a halt, or at worst, going backward—referred to as the Law of Accommodation.

In the in-season program, there are two main sessions per week. These are both full-body programs but emphasize upper and lower body changes in each workout.

Day 1 (Game Day +2) (Monday): Max Effort (ME) Lower, Dynamic Effort (DE) Upper

Day 2 (Game Day -2) (Thursday): ME Upper, DE Lower

These are referred to as the big movements. After you have worked on the big movements, you need to complete two to four movements from the following categories. We will call them the smaller, more isolated exercises. These exercises build volume into the program and work on specific weak areas for each player. Do not train the exercises you like; train the exercises you need to get better.

Squat: Hamstrings, Glutes, Lower Back, Abs

Bench: Triceps, Lats, Delts, Upper Back

The key to the program is to never accommodate to movements and exercises. Change some aspects of your training every time you train.

Prilepin's Chart

When considering sets and reps for the accessory movements, ensure that you adhere to the guidelines of the Prilepin Chart, which ensures bar speed does not slow excessively. Remember, we are developing athletes, not just building muscle, so speed and moving the load with intent are key. 

Maximal Effort Training

With ME training, you should change the exercise each week and work up to a maximal 5, 3, or 1 depending on your level of competency and the type of exercise used on ME day. I would rotate through a squat, deadlift, and good morning option each week for the lower body and a bench press, incline bench press, and overhead press for the upper body. Some examples of options are included in the table below.  

SquatDeadliftGood MorningBench PressIncline PressOverhead Press
+Anderson Squat
+Front Squat
+Zercher Squat
+Trap Bar Deadlift
+Decrement Deadlift
+Rack Pull
+Zercher Good Morning
+Cambered Bar
+Safety Bar
+Swiss Bar
+Cambered Bar
+Earthquake Bar
+Swiss Bar
+Earthquake Bar
+Cambered Bar
+Swiss Bar
+Earthquake Bar
+Cambered Bar

If you prefer a more prescriptive approach, I recommend rotating through the following three weeks. It is a variation of the wonderful Jim Wendler program 5/3/1, but instead of staying with the same exercise, change it each week and change the rep structure simultaneously. For example, here's a first three-week block for both the lower and upper body:

Weeks/EmphasisLower BodyUpper Body
One: Ramp 5's
Two: Ramp 3's
Three: Ramp 1's
Good Morning Option: Zercher Good Morning
Deadlift Option: Decrement Deadlift
Squat Option: Low Box Front Squat
Incline Press Option: Earthquake Bar Incline Bench
Overhead Press Option: Cambered Bar Shoulder Press
Bench Press Option: Swiss Bar Bench Press

Dynamic Effort Training

With DE training, select a box squat with bands, chains, or weight releasers for the lower body and the bench press with bands, chains, or weight releasers for the upper body. Perform a three-week pendulum wave with increasing bar weight (50%, 55%, 60%) and 25% band tension at the top of the movements for specific sets and reps as detailed below. You have to ensure that the bar speed on DE day is approximately 0.8 metres per second (range 0.75 – 1.00 m/s) because you are training strength speed in this session. If you are not moving the bar at this speed, then the load is too heavy and you are best to reduce the load (40%, 45%, 50%) as a guide.

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Speed of movement is the key to success on this training day. Also, if you are above the speeds, then adjust the load upwards (60%, 65%, 70%) to ensure you are within the range of speed required. DE training is not a grind session. Take no more than 45 seconds between sets. Take extra time if you need it, but no longer than 60 seconds. Also, ensure you are conditioned well enough to do this session justice, increase your GPP, and you will be amazed at how this transfers across to all aspects of your training.

Box Squat: Wk1 – 12 x 2, Wk2 – 10 x 2, Wk3 – 8 x 2

Bench Press: Wk1: 10 x 3, Wk2 – 8 x 3, Wk3 – 6 x 3

Supplemental Lifts

After completing the two main exercises on a given training day, perform two to four as listed above as supplemental lifts. These can be done for two to four sets by six to twenty reps, depending on whether you need an increase in hypertrophy or strength. The program will change every training day. 

HamstringsGlutes & HipsLower BackAbs
Glute Ham RaisesPull ThroughsBack ExtensionStanding Crunch
Reverse Hyper®Good Morning45-Degree Back ExtensionRoman Chair Sit-Ups
Box JumpsBox JumpsKB SwingsRussian Twists
Good MorningGlute Ham RaiseReverse Hyper®Hanging Leg Raises
Leg CurlsRDL’sZercher GM + SquatRollouts

TricepsLatsUpper Back & TrapsDelts
DipsPulldownsShrugsZ Press
Close Grip Bench PressChinsFace PullsLateral Raises
JM PressBench PullCleansBent-Over Laterals
Rolling DB ExtensionsOne Arm DB RowSnatchBand Pull Apart
Floor PressLow Cable RowPullsKB Shoulder Press

Core Accessory Rehab Exercise (CARE) Program

You should also include a number of small workouts each week. These should only be 20-30 minutes in duration. I would focus on the CARE program, a pre-habilitation/rehabilitation inspired program specific to each athlete's position injury potential, and previous injury history. There are many options to use, but in the example below, I have just listed two in each category. These will be done for two to three sets and ten to twenty repetitions and can be done in a circuit-style fashion.  

When you are not preparing to play a game, you can utilize the normal four-day-a-week Westside protocol, ensuring the 72-hour recovery time between extreme or 48-72 hours for hard workouts is adhered to.

The week plan for these workouts will resemble the following:

ME Lower BodyME Upper BodyDE Lower BodyDE Upper Body

If you are programming other training concurrently, you may consider changing the training days slightly but still adhering to the recovery times. The week plan may look like this:  

ME Upper BodyME Lower BodyDE Upper BodyDE Lower Body

Players are encouraged to train year-round to continually improve all fitness and strength levels. If players are fatigued, they can substitute a sled dragging workout instead of the listed program, or they can use the repetition method as a break from the intensity of the maximal effort method for a workout periodically. The caveat here is that the maximal effort method is the best method for increasing strength, so it is a priority in your training program, especially when you are not preparing for a game each week.

The repetition method is a hypertrophy-based program, where you train muscles, not movements, and take each set to the point of near concentric muscle failure. This is a volume-based program, requiring repetitions in the six to twenty range with rest periods between sets less than sixty seconds. Training time will be less than forty-five minutes and often closer to thirty minutes due to the short rest periods and the use of sub-maximal loads. Exercise selection is similar to the table above (supplemental lifts). It will also include biceps, pecs, and calf work (examples in the table below) and overall physical development.

Hammer Curls
EZ Bar Curls
DB Twist Curls
DB Bench Press
Chain Fly/Press
Seated Calf Raise
Donkey Calf Raise
Single Leg Standing Calf Raise

I recommend you familiarize yourself with Louie Simmons' work at the Westside Barbell website for greater clarity around the methods I have touched on briefly in this article. Also, if you can afford to purchase a velocity-based training unit such as the Flex by Gym Aware, you will have an excellent tool to monitor your training on dynamic effort days. This tool will ensure you know you're bar speed, so you're training for the adaptation you've programmed for.

Header image credit: willowdog ©

Ashley Jones has worked in three professional sports across 30 years and four continents. He was awarded the NSCA's Professional Coach of the Year in 2016. Ashley has held his CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) since 1988.