Concurrent Strategies in Strength Training, Part 1

TAGS: jovanovic, conjugate, Louie Simmons, periodization, Sports Training, WSBB, training

This is part one of a three-part series.

Concurrent training by definition means training to achieve multiple training goals at the same time. Concurrent training in the iron game was made popular by the Westside Barbell Club and Louie Simmons, who erroneously called it “conjugate’ (which is a term coined by Yuri Verkhoshanski to describe a method that utilizes a delayed training effect, training residuals, and other fancy adaptational terms) instead of concurrent. Parallel and mixed training are synonymous with concurrent.

Why is concurrent training such a hot topic lately? Because, in theory, when you utilize sequential training (traditional or linear training), you constantly move away from the qualities you’ve just developed, and going by the rule “use it or lose it,” you start detraining those qualities (if there is no maintenance work aimed at maintaining those qualities).

Block training (conjugate training or the conjugate sequence system), which was developed by Yuri Verkhoshanski, is a special form of sequential training organized into blocks. Each block is aimed at producing strong, delayed training effects by utilizing concentrated loading (which induces overreaching). The blocks are “conjugated” into specific sequences so the training residuals and delayed training effects are maximally used at the most important time of the year (competition period, meets, matches, etc.).

On the other hand, concurrent training tries to develop all important qualities at the same time. This approach, as any other, has its own pros and cons. The biggest advantage of the concurrent approach is the parallel development of all qualities. The biggest disadvantage is after some time (or with the most advanced athletes), you simply can’t develop all of the important qualities at the same time without risking overtraining and limiting potential training effects.

This is where a modification of concurrent training comes into play. The modification is simple and is based on training emphasis. You still train all of the qualities, but you emphasize only a few of them while maintaining others. Then you switch. In my previous articles, I confused this modification of concurrent training (emphasis methods) with the conjugate sequence system and block training. That was my mistake. Although it is very similar to block training, it is not block training, nor is it the conjugate or conjugate sequence system. It is modified concurrent training.

This little rant of mine is aimed at “solving” (or confusing you even more) this concurrent versus conjugate problem, which is the topic of this article—concurrent strategies in strength training. So stay with me because the fun is just about to start.

Basically, there are numerous goals that can be achieved with strength training. Depending on the author, there can be a different number of goals with different names for them. For the sole purpose of this article, I will define those goals, mostly relying on Westside terminology.

Maximal and relative strength

  • The goal is the development of maximal strength.
  • The method used for developing this motor quality is the maximal effort (ME) method.

Explosive strength

  • The goal is the development of explosive strength or the ability to produce great force in the least amount of time.
  • The method used for developing this motor quality is the dynamic effort (DE) method.

Muscular hypertrophy

  • The goal is the development of muscular hypertrophy (without going into the debate about sarcoplasmatic versus myofibrilar hypertrophy).
  • The method used for developing this motor quality is the submaximal effort (SE) method (mostly for functional or myofibrilar hypertrophy) and the repetition effort (RE) method (mostly for total or sarcoplasmatic hypertrophy).

Muscular endurance

  • The goals are muscular endurance development, fat loss, anatomic adaptation, and sarcoplasmatic hypertrophy (depending on the context). Some also put vascularization, glycogen depletion, and mitochondria development as goals for this method.
  • The method used for developing this motor quality is the repetition effort (RE) method.

As you can see, even in this classification, there are conflicting areas regarding the goals and methods used. I know this classification can be criticized, broadened, and reduced, but it’s useful for the purpose of this article, which is to describe how to use the different concurrent schemes to develop all of those goals at the same time. (And time is a very relative term. Just ask Einstein.)

Achieving these four goals (and thus motor qualities) is based on utilizing the different loading protocols (weight, reps, sets, tempo, rest) or methods. Each of the four methods (ME, SE, DE, and RE) utilizes different loading protocols. This is based on the repetition continuum or the idea that different goals can be achieved utilizing different reps per set. There is a dynamic interaction between the variables of reps, sets, and loads. The load used (percentage of 1RM) ultimately determines how many reps per set are done. The reps per set used (or set time) ultimately determines how many total sets must be done. The interaction between the three will affect what adaptation is realized. Although not all authorities agree, some believe that there is a continuum of adaptations, which may occur with different repetition sets. This continuum is called the repetition continuum.

According to Christian Thibaudeau (one of the coaches who’s had much influence on my philosophy), this repetition continuum changes as the athlete advances. Here is the modified table from The Black Book of Training Secrets—Enhanced Edition.

Beginner

Intermediate

Advanced

Strength (ME)

5–9 reps/set

3–7 reps/set

1–5 reps/set

Functional hypertrophy (SE)

10–12 reps/set

8–10 reps/set

6–8 reps/set

Total hypertrophy (RE)

13–16 reps/set

11–14 reps/set

9–12 reps/set

Strength endurance (RE)

17–24 + reps/set

15–22 + reps/set

13–20 + reps/set

Another repetition continuum is presented by Lyle McDonald. Here is a modified classification of loading protocols (motor qualities) from his article, “Periodization for Bodybuilders.” (It can be downloaded from Lyle’s website at www.bodyrecomposition.com.)

Type of training

Reps (%1RM)

Rest

Tempo

Time under tension (TUT)

Strength training (ME)

1–5 (85% +)

3–5 min

3/0/X

20 sec or less

Intensive bodybuilding (SE)

4–6 (80–85%)

2–3 min

3–4/0/1

20–30 sec

Extensive  bodybuilding (RE)

6–8 (75–80%)

10–15 (70–75%)

1–2 min

1–2 min

3/0/2

3/0/2

30–40 sec

40–60 sec

Really extensive bodybuilding (RE)

n/a (60–65%)

1 min

2/0/2

60–120 sec

Here is the repetition continuum from James Smith, author of High/Low Sequences of Programming and Organizing Training.

ME → (+ 90%) 1–3RM depending on strength preparedness

SE → (80–90%) 4–7RM depending on strength preparedness, 4–10 repetition range

RE → (<80%) + 8RM, >8 repetitions

DE → (up to 80% for Olympic lifts/derivatives; up to 70% for classic powerlifts/derivatives)

As I pointed out earlier, each author utilizes slightly different classifications. However, look for the common denominator. Every one of them classified the goal that they wanted to reach (motor quality), the method they used to reach it, and the loading protocol that determines that method (based on the repetition continuum).

But guess what? Different people respond differently to rep ranges. Some may “grow” by doing triples and doubles (three and two reps per set with 2RM and 3RM loads) and some may grow doing 15 sets. You won’t grow if you don’t eat though. The same goes for strength. Some may increase their strength by doing maxes while some may increase it by doing six sets. As coach Thibaudeau pointed out, those responses depend on the athlete’s level. However, I’d like to add that it depends on the athlete’s characteristics (muscle fiber dominance) and nutritional status (caloric deficit, maintenance or deficit level, amount of protein and carbs). You may grow doing 5 X 5 or you may not. It depends on how much you eat, what other training you are doing, how you are sleeping, and many other factors.

What is the point of this? The point is that I am NOT negating the existence of the repetition continuum, but rather I am trying to point out that it must be put into context (other training, athlete’s characteristics, nutritional status, recovery). With the concurrent approach to strength training, you are doing all of the mentioned methods (maybe not all of them depending on your philosophy) and you’re trying to develop all of the qualities at the same time. It is possible to develop muscular hypertrophy and strength, but it is nearly impossible (except for fat beginners and those coming from a long lay off) to develop strength and lose fat. And it’s even more impossible to lose fat and increase muscle mass.

This is why I said that things must be put into context and they must be goal oriented for a given athlete. These problems are universal to other methods as well (sequential, alternating). They don’t solely cause issues for just the concurrent method. The concurrent method solves some drawbacks of the sequential method (“use it or lose it” law) and utilizes the “crossover” effect between methods.

What I mean by the “crossover” effect is that doing ME training will increase the number of reps or weight used during RE and SE training, and RE and SE training will produce different stimuli to the muscles and central nervous system (variety) as well as increase muscle mass, which will in turn improve ME performance. The same thing goes for the ME and DE methods. However, this “crossover” may become negative if the recovery capacities of the athlete are exceeded, and RE/SE work may impair ME/DE performance and vice versa (as visible with advanced lifters). This is why smart planning with the concurrent approach is a must, and after some time (with most advanced athletes) a modified concurrent method must be used (emphasis on switch and maintenance loads).

If you are still reading this and you’re not confused or sleepy and because I described everything I needed to describe, I can start talking about different strategies toward implementing the concurrent approach in real life strength training. Based on my current knowledge, I’ve identified three groups of these strategies:

  • rep schemes
  • daily undulating periodization (DUP)
  • priority lifts

Rep schemes

The simplest method of utilizing the concurrent approach to training is simply to do the whole rep continuum on a given exercise. In the following table, there is an example of straight sets (or sets across), which are most commonly used in strength training.

Straight sets or sets across utilize the same number of reps with the same weight used. They are very popular and famous for their strength increasing and muscular mass building effects. Some of the variations of the straight sets may be a narrow pyramid, descending and ascending sets, narrow stages, and narrow waves. The only prerequisite is that the load and the reps done STAY in the SAME rep bracket (intensity zone) of the repetition continuum. This way the work is aimed at achieving only one adaptation effect (motor quality). Coach Charles Poliquin in his awesome book Reps and Sets proposed a “10 percent rule” where he suggests that the load used in a given exercise should stay within a 10 percent zone of your 1RM. This way you aim for only one adaptation effect and you avoid confusing the body.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that straight sets are pretty boring. I’ve also noticed that I have psychologically easier gains in strength when some kind of rep and load fluctuation (loading protocols) is used. But that’s just me. I also believe in Poliquin’s recommendation of a 10 percent intensity zone. Some people don’t. This is why they utilize most, if not all, of a repetition continuum on a given exercise. The most common methods to achieve this are wide pyramids, wide stages, and wide waves.

A great number of lifters have increased their strength and muscular mass utilizing straight sets (and being under the 10 percent rule without knowing it). However, a great number of them increased both their strength and muscular mass doing wide pyramids. Is their body confused? Hell, I don’t know!

The “wide” variations of stages, pyramids, and waves are based on utilizing all of (or most of) the repetition continuum (or more than a 10 percent load fluctuation). Basically, you do a couple of sets in the ME zone, a couple of sets in the SE zone, and a couple of sets in the RE zone. How you organize the stuff is actually what differs between those methods. However, the common thing is that you do all of the reps from the repetition continuum and aim at increasing maximal strength, muscular hypertrophy, and muscular endurance at the same time, which is the major idea of concurrent training. Some examples of wide pyramids follow.

Stay tuned for part two!

Elite Fitness Systems strives to be a recognized leader in the strength training industry by providing the highest quality strength training products and services while providing the highest level of customer service in the industry. For the best training equipment, information, and accessories, visit us at www.EliteFTS.com.

Loading Comments... Loading Comments...