Conjugated System Approach to High School Strength

TAGS: conjugated system, powell, high school, sled, football, strength

This story goes back to the Pennsylvania State Football Coaches Association Clinic of 2004. I accompanied my football coaching staff to Hershey, Pennsylvania, in search of weightlifting knowledge and adult hydration. What I came back with was a new perspective on weightlifting for football and athletes in general. This led to a paradigm shift in the way that East Syracuse-Minoa athletes would train for sports.

The clinic is where I first heard of the Russian conjugate system, Westside Barbell, the max effort method, the dynamic effort method, and the wonderful world of Elite Fitness Systems. A prophet by the name of Buddy Morris completely changed the way I looked at weightlifting. His approach and how it translated to athletic success and football strength made perfect sense. After hearing the way Buddy explained it, there was no way we could be training any other way. I started using the conjugate method to train myself, and I learned how to work the training into my programs for my high school athletes.

So here at East Syracuse-Minoa high school, we have been using the conjugated training method ever since the spring of 2004. This past season we won our first ever sectional championship and berth in the state playoffs and won our second league title in a row (the first since 1980). Our two losses this season were both to eventual state championship teams. This group was 16-4 over the last two years after a varsity record of 4-14 over the previous two years. We were clearly the stronger and more athletic team in every win this year, and we were even stronger in the losses.

This year’s seniors have been lifting using the conjugated training method for three off-seasons. There’s no question that our utilization of the Russian conjugate method has translated into success on the field. We are quicker, more athletic, and less injury prone than in previous seasons. There was some luck involved, no doubt. However, we didn’t have any time loss injuries, and we didn’t have any players sitting out over the final five games of the season, including playoffs this season. That will sell almost any head football coach on the program.

The basics of our program are as follows. Every high school will have its own set of challenges such as facilities or staffing. However, using the basic methods of max effort, dynamic effort, and repeated effort along with a little Charlie Francis-inspired speed work, East Syracuse-Minoa football has become a winning program, not just a team who won a few games once.

Basic lifting split

Monday: ME bench

Tuesday: DE squat

Wednesday: make up day or a day to do pulling, core work, or extra work

Thursday: DE bench

Friday: ME squat

We do our “core” or main lifts—the bench, squat, deadlift, and clean—and then add 3–4 assistance movements. We also train the abs, obliques, and low back every lifting day. Sets and reps are as prescribed. Unfortunately, running doesn’t receive as much attention as I’d like due to space issues. However, we do emphasize running in our summer program.

Early off-season (end of season through the beginning of December), 3–6 weeks

We employ mostly repeated effort lifting. Our goals are to dial in perfect technique with our squat and deadlift. Time is spent on core strength, specifically the low back for safety and because you can’t squat big numbers without a very strong back. We spend some time here teaching the hang clean, which is used throughout the training year. We tweak the bench technique focusing on arched back, lower ribcage descent, and the push away. We try for a three day split with a little of everything mixed in each day.

We also teach a variety of posterior chain movements because these will provide the foundation of what we do the rest of the year. Our athletes make friends with the glute/ham bench very early in their training lives.

Off-season (early DecemberJune)

We now introduce max effort and dynamic effort methods. We switch to a four day split—an upper body ME day, a lower body ME day, an upper body DE day, and a lower body DE day. We use various tools including bands and chains and employ various movements including the bench press—specifically the straight bench, the floor press, and 2- and 3-board presses. Squat variations include low, medium, high boxes, front squat, and safety bar squat. We do good mornings but not with max effort unless we have an advanced lifter. We do a max effort deadlift once every several weeks. It tends to shred their bodies and central nervous systems for a few days afterward. We use a hip bar, sumo stance, or squat/lunge machine for deadlift reps once a week, and we deload on vacation and short school weeks. These also serve as max weeks when the boys can attempt new maxes. We get new maxes on max effort days, but we only count them if it was part of the workout. These weeks show up every four weeks or so.

We change training modes every 2–3 weeks and use bands, chains, weight releasers, boards, and inclines, all manipulated to avoid adaptation.

Lifts used

Bench: bench press, 2-board bench, 3-board bench, floor press

(We’ll use straight weight, bands, chains, and weight releasers for variety.)

Squat: parallel squat, low box, high box, front squat

(Again, we’ll use straight weight, bands, and chains. We also use suspended squats on dynamic days.)

Deadlift: straight bar, hip bar, squat lunge machine, suspended deadlifts for speed

Sample week during the winter

(We do abs, obliques, and low back daily.)

Monday:

ME bench, 5s to 3s to 1s

Dumbbell bench variation, 4 X 12

Pull-ups, five sets, may do assisted pull-ups with bands

Triceps, 4 X 12

Shoulder auxiliary, four sets

Tuesday:

ME squat, work up to heavy singles

Posterior chain movement, one of the following—band pull-thrus, stiff leg deadlifts with dumbbells or a barbell, or reverse hypers

Single leg movement—single leg squats, single leg S-ball squats, variety of split squats

Glute ham raises, 3–4 sets, body weight or with bands or plate resistance

Wednesday:

off or make up missed work

Thursday:

Hang clean

DE bench, 8–12 sets of 3–4

DB bench variation, 4 X 12

Pulling, 4 X 12

Pull-ups, assisted pull-ups, some type of rowing motion

Shoulders, 4 X 12

Push press, Bradford press, shoulder box, two or three way shoulder raises

Triceps, 4 X 12

Friday:

DE squat, on various boxes—low, medium, high

Jump training, two movements—squat jumps, split jumps, box jumps (body weight or very light resistance), 10–20% body weight or just body weight

Single leg movement—single leg squats, split squats, lunges, stable and unstable

Glute ham raises, 3 X 10-15

Summer workouts

For summer workouts, we do two-week waves and change up the bench and squat variations every two weeks (straight weight, bands, chains, 2-board, 3-board benches, low, parallel, high box squats). We have about a six-week block from the end of school until double sessions start again.

Three-day split

Monday: ME bench, chest and shoulders, sprint speed work

Wednesday: Clean and deadlift, DE bench, sprint speed work first

Friday: ME squat, good mornings, single leg, and glute hams

Tuesday/Thursday: tempo running for technique, make up days or pulling, core and extra work, CNS recovery

Summer running

Monday/Wednesday:

Speed development—sprint work, accelerations on the track, 95–100% intensity, short sprints of 10, 20, and 30 meters with full recoveries

Tuesday/Thursday:

Tempo running—focus on good technique, distances vary by day from 50–200 meters

Friday:

Heavy sled dragging, forward, backward, pulls

(Fridays are not running days. Generally, they lift heavy and burn out the legs.)

Here are some of my observations from 30 years of training and coaching:

  • I believe that coaches should be training and using the methodologies that they’re imposing on their athletes. I don’t ask my athletes to do anything that I haven’t tried. As a coach, you need to know what each exercise feels like and how the body will react to it before unleashing something on your athletes.
  • Find the money and space for a glute ham machine. Our athletes love it (when they aren’t cursing its existence). The hip stability gained from this one exercise is awesome. In my mind, the glute ham raise is the number two exercise behind the squat for developing the high school athlete. We do reverse hypers, back extensions, and other core work on the machine.
  • Buy or find someone to build some dragging sleds. This is another piece of equipment that my kids either have a love/hate relationship with. The challenge of loading up the sled and dragging super heavy is hard for the boys to resist. It promotes triple extension and leg drive without DOMS. This is also invaluable for the upper body-injured kids who can’t squat or grip a bar. But they should be able to drag a sled.
  • There’s so much information out there. Take some time each week to read and grab something new. Introduce some new lift or variation every so often. You’ll get results and keep the kids fresh. If you’re doing the same things that you’ve done for years without variation, your kids will get bored. They might not say it, but they’re bored. There are thousands of ways to get strong. Use a couple hundred of them…

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.

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