The Conjugate Method

Joey Scafidihealth, instruction, programmingLeave a Comment

There are so many strength programs out there, where are you to begin with making a choice?

Mike Hedlesky, an accomplished American powerlifter and coach, wrote a great article where he talks about how you should choose a strength program. His 3 criteria for making that choice are:


  • Is this going to make me stronger?
  • Can I change things up (variation) when training stalls?
  • Most importantly, is this something that I can follow for 10 years straight?



Our current program, the Conjugate Method answers yes to all three of those.

The conjugate method is the name of the strength program that we’re currently following at both of our gyms. And it looks much different than the more standard, linear structure that we’ve followed in the past. By the looks of it, it sometimes may seem that we’re not following a system at all! I can assure you though, that there is a method to the madness. I’d like to explain a bit about it, where it came from and how we’re implementing it at CrossFit Committed and CrossFit Committed South.

The Conjugate method was originally designed by Louie Simmons, the owner of arguably the strongest gym in the world, Westside barbell. It’s a 4 day a week program with 2 days being max effort days upper/lower body and 2 days being dynamic effort or speed days also upper and lower body.

Maxing out every week!?

…is defined as “lifting a maximal load against maximal resistance,” and “should be used to bring forth the greatest strength increments,” (Zatsiorksy).

Yes! (Well, sometimes just working low reps at a higher percentage of your max will be used instead of a true max.) However, the key is that you’re never maxing out on the same lift within 4-6 weeks. There are SO MANY different movements available to us. Ensuring that you’re strong throughout a broad range of them will ensure that any weaknesses that can and do occur are being addressed.

I was just asked about why we did the Zercher squat this week. And the benefits are many, even though it’s an odd and uncomfortable movement. The Zercher squat is a great upper-back strengthening squat, which will improve your front squat if your upper back is the weak link. It engages your core more than any other. If your core is weak while squatting that is definitely going to hold you back. The ability to get very low in the Zercher squat will target the quads and glutes even more than in front squats. And you get the added benefit of a little bicep pump from that long isometric hold during the squat!

Here are just a few of the other types of lower body movements that you’ll see us doing in the gym.

  • Low box squatPaused back squats
  • Clean grip deadlifts
  • Front squats
  • Wide stance high box squats
  • Sumo deadlifts
  • Overhead squats

And the list goes on and on.

Here are just a few of the variations of our upper body lifts that you’ll see in our programming.

  • Bench press
  • Shoulder press
  • Close grip bench press w. pause
  • Jerk (any style)
  • Supinated grip barbell rows
  • Weighted chin ups

We can rotate through these lifts, maxing out on different versions throughout the year, never testing our classic back squat, deadlift and press. And then, when we do, I’m confident that we’ll hear our PR bell ringing quite a bit all while we’re ensuring that we’re well rounded and addressing all of the weak portions of our upper and lower bodies.

It’s this great amount of variance that allows us to train heavy, often, stay injury free and ensure that our numbers keep inching upwards.

What the heck is Dynamic effort!?

…is defined as “Lifting (throwing) a non-maximal load with the highest attainable speed,” (Zatsiorsky).

Or possibly better understood as speed work is moving moderate weight quickly. This is another key part of the conjugate method. Learning how to be fast with lighter weights will transfer over to your heavier lifts as well. How many times when you’ve failed a lift did the bar just kind of slow down and grind you into oblivion? Ok, yes. You’re lacking some strength there as well but learning to be more explosive under heavy weights will definitely help.

Do not shrug these sessions off! Think about moving the weight violently. If the bar speed isn’t fast enough then drop some weight until it is. And if you need to drop much below 50% of your max to make the movements explosive then sticking with box jumps and throwing movements and working on building some base strength level

Accessory Movements

  • Seated box jumps
  • Banded pull throughs
  • Leg curls
  • X walks
  • Hip thrusts
  • Ab wheel rollouts

All of these movements and lots more are generally found in our Extra Credit parts of the lesson! There is a purpose to the movements selected for extra credit work. They generally compliment the muscle groups used during the strength portion of the lesson.

Hopefully this helps to shed a little more light on why you see lots of different lifts in our strength programming that can sometimes seem random. Know that this program is anything but random and is one that you can follow for years to come without outgrowing it and needing to start the search for a new strength program all over again.

Jason Brown, the man behind our programming, has also written an article outlining how he incorporates the Conjugate method into our CrossFit programming. Give it a read, here!



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