Westside and Conjugate Periodization Part III - Max Effort Method

Trendkill

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One of the most important aspects of the Westside system is that all phases of strength are trained continuously on a year-round basis. Traditionally, strength training programs have been built around different phases. A lifter usually starts with a hypertrophy phase, moves into an explosive phase and then finishes with a strength phase. Lou always felt that this didn’t make a lot of sense. Why would you sacrifice hypertrophy for strength and vice versa? He sought out a way to combine or conjugate all of these phases together into one program. This is where the name conjugate periodization comes from.

In order to understand the Westside system and properly implement a training program it is important to have a solid understanding of some key concepts. The training is built around three foundational elements: The Maximum Effort Method, the Dynamic Effort Method and the Repetition Effort Method. Each of these elements serves a specific purpose and all 3 are incorporated into the program on a year round basis. Each of these methods is outlined in detail in the book “Science and Practice of Strength Training” by V. Zatsiorsky. This post will focus on the Maximum Effort Method.

The Maximum Effort Method

As you might have guessed from the name this is the method of lifting maximal loads aka working up to a 1RM. This method’s primary purpose is to enhance intra (within) and inter (amongst) muscular coordination. What the hell does this mean? It means it teaches the brain to recruit the maximum number of motor units within the muscle and to have those fire in a coordinated sequence across all the different muscle groups involved in the lift. Strength training is as much neurological as it is physiological meaning training your central nervous system is just as important as training the muscles involved in the lift. The more efficient your brain becomes at recruiting the maximum number of motor units within a muscle the stronger you will become even if there is no increase in muscular size.

In the Westside system, 2 days per week are dedicated to the maximum effort method, one for the squat/deadlift and another for the bench. To properly utilize this type of training you must work up to a 1 rep max for your first exercise of the day. This will be a compound movement and will be some sort of squat, deadlift or good morning for the Maximum Effort lower body day and some type of bench or overhead press for the Maximum Effort upper body day. It is important to not that this must be a true 1RM. Ideally, this will result in a new PR for the variation used but that is not always possible. The important thing to understand is that you should work up to the maximum amount of weight you are capable of lifting on this particular day. Of equal importance is understanding that this is a training max and not a competition max. Zatsiorsky goes into great detail about this in his book. A training max will lack the extreme psychological aggression and associated adrenalin surge that occurs during a contest lift. It is ok to get psyched for a training lift but you should not be going into “the void” as Dave Tate calls it and having training partners psych you up, slap you around, talk shit in your face, stick an ammonia cap up each nostril, etc. like you might at a contest. Doing this during training will simply burn you out and you will go backwards quickly.

To properly utilize the Maximum Effort method, you need to perform 2-4 singles with weights at 90% and above of your 1RM for the particular exercise you are using on that day. Think back to Prilepin’s chart in the previous post. Here is the data for weights at 90% and above:

Percentage of 1RM
Reps per Set
Optimal
Total Range
90+​
1-2​
4​
10​

The chart was originally developed for Olympic lifting so Louie modified it over the years to meet the needs of powerlifters. I’ll use a 500lb box squat as an example for how the Max Effort lift progression would work:

Bar x 10

135 x 8

225 x 3

315 x 1

405 x 1

455 x 1 (approximately 90% of 500lb 1RM)

480 x 1 (approximately 95% of 500lb 1RM)

505 x 1 (new PR established)

This equals 3 lifts at or above 90% which Lou found to be an optimal number for powerlifters. The goal is to work up as efficiently as possible. Don’t waste reps and energy on warm-ups. Get loose with the lower weights but start doing singles as quickly as possible. The volume for the remainder of the training session will be accounted for using assistance exercises which we will cover later.

Here is another example this time focusing on the importance of doing the maximum amount possible on any given day. I’ll use the same 500lb box squat max as an example:

Bar x 10

135 x 8

225 x 3

315 x 1

405 x 1 (shit, feels heavy today)

455 x 1 (approximately 90% of 500lb 1RM)

470 x 1 (approximately 94% of 500lb 1RM)

485 x 1 (approximately 97% of 500lb 1RM)

A new PR was not established but that is ok. Three lifts at or above 90% were still performed and the Maximum Effort method was properly utilized. A personal record should be achieved on a regular basis. If you find that you are not consistently hitting a small PR then other areas of your training need to be addressed or you may have been using the same variation of a particular lift for an extended time and it needs to be removed from the rotation for several months.

As a final note the 3 lifts at or above 90% is not set in stone. Sometimes 2 lifts are perfectly acceptable. On the rare days when everything feels light and fast a lifter might perform 4 lifts and hit a huge PR. A more experienced lifter may need fewer lifts as well as they are used to taking larger jumps in weight.

Exercise Selection and Rotation

In order to use the Max Effort method on a year-round basis multiple variations of a lift will need to be performed. If a lifter performs a true 1RM every week on the same exercise progress will stop. Don’t believe me? Try maxing out in the bench 3 weeks in a row and see what happens. Week 1 might be a 10lb PR, week 2 might be the same weight and week 3 you will go backwards. This applies to intermediate to advanced lifters only. A beginner should not be maxing out every week but if for some hairbrained reason they did they would see progress every week for an extended period of time. This is because literally anything works when you first begin lifting and everything is a brand new stimulus for the lifter.

So, how does a more seasoned trainee avoid going backwards? By rotating the max effort lift every 1 to 2 weeks. An intermediate lifter could use the same lift 2 weeks in a row but an advanced lifter will need to rotate each week. This is why the Westside system does not rely exclusively on the competition style squat, bench and deadlift. Instead, a different variation of one of those lifts is used each week. A 1RM is established for that variation and the next time through the rotation of max effort lifts the lifter will attempt to beat that previous PR by a small amount. This adds up to consistent and sustained progress over the course of the year or the training cycle. A lifter will typically have 6-8 variations of a particular lift that are used to build the squat, bench and deadlift, respectively. Here is a sample rotation of max effort lifts for the squat and deadlift using readily available gym equipment:

Week 1: Close stance low box squat

Week 2: Wide stance arched back good morning

Week 3: Pin 2 rack pull

Week 4: Wide stance parallel box squat

Week 5: Close stance good morning off pins

Week 6: Deficit deadlift


Here’s is a sample 6 week rotation for the bench:

Week 1: Close grip bench

Week 2: 2 board press

Week 3: Floor press

Week 4: Press off pins set 1” above chest

Week 5: Seated press

Week 6: 3 board press

After the 6th week the rotation would repeat and new PRs for each variation would be attempted. The exercises are chosen to bring up weak points and to test the progress of the contest lifts. A non-competing lifter would go through this rotation 2-3 times and then take a new 1RM on the traditional squat, bench and deadlift to gauge progress and reassess new weak points. Maximum Effort work is also very taxing on the body and a lot of lifters will find it beneficial and necessary to take a deload week every so often. As a rule of thumb once every 8 weeks is usually a good place to start and as one learns how the body adapts to this type of training individual adjustments can be made as needed.

Up next, the Dynamic Effort Method.
 

silentlemon1011

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One of the most important aspects of the Westside system is that all phases of strength are trained continuously on a year-round basis. Traditionally, strength training programs have been built around different phases. A lifter usually starts with a hypertrophy phase, moves into an explosive phase and then finishes with a strength phase. Lou always felt that this didn’t make a lot of sense. Why would you sacrifice hypertrophy for strength and vice versa? He sought out a way to combine or conjugate all of these phases together into one program. This is where the name conjugate periodization comes from.

In order to understand the Westside system and properly implement a training program it is important to have a solid understanding of some key concepts. The training is built around three foundational elements: The Maximum Effort Method, the Dynamic Effort Method and the Repetition Effort Method. Each of these elements serves a specific purpose and all 3 are incorporated into the program on a year round basis. Each of these methods is outlined in detail in the book “Science and Practice of Strength Training” by V. Zatsiorsky. This post will focus on the Maximum Effort Method.

The Maximum Effort Method

As you might have guessed from the name this is the method of lifting maximal loads aka working up to a 1RM. This method’s primary purpose is to enhance intra (within) and inter (amongst) muscular coordination. What the hell does this mean? It means it teaches the brain to recruit the maximum number of motor units within the muscle and to have those fire in a coordinated sequence across all the different muscle groups involved in the lift. Strength training is as much neurological as it is physiological meaning training your central nervous system is just as important as training the muscles involved in the lift. The more efficient your brain becomes at recruiting the maximum number of motor units within a muscle the stronger you will become even if there is no increase in muscular size.

In the Westside system, 2 days per week are dedicated to the maximum effort method, one for the squat/deadlift and another for the bench. To properly utilize this type of training you must work up to a 1 rep max for your first exercise of the day. This will be a compound movement and will be some sort of squat, deadlift or good morning for the Maximum Effort lower body day and some type of bench or overhead press for the Maximum Effort upper body day. It is important to not that this must be a true 1RM. Ideally, this will result in a new PR for the variation used but that is not always possible. The important thing to understand is that you should work up to the maximum amount of weight you are capable of lifting on this particular day. Of equal importance is understanding that this is a training max and not a competition max. Zatsiorsky goes into great detail about this in his book. A training max will lack the extreme psychological aggression and associated adrenalin surge that occurs during a contest lift. It is ok to get psyched for a training lift but you should not be going into “the void” as Dave Tate calls it and having training partners psych you up, slap you around, talk shit in your face, stick an ammonia cap up each nostril, etc. like you might at a contest. Doing this during training will simply burn you out and you will go backwards quickly.

To properly utilize the Maximum Effort method, you need to perform 2-4 singles with weights at 90% and above of your 1RM for the particular exercise you are using on that day. Think back to Prilepin’s chart in the previous post. Here is the data for weights at 90% and above:

Percentage of 1RM
Reps per Set
Optimal
Total Range
90+​
1-2​
4​
10​

The chart was originally developed for Olympic lifting so Louie modified it over the years to meet the needs of powerlifters. I’ll use a 500lb box squat as an example for how the Max Effort lift progression would work:

Bar x 10

135 x 8

225 x 3

315 x 1

405 x 1

455 x 1 (approximately 90% of 500lb 1RM)

480 x 1 (approximately 95% of 500lb 1RM)

505 x 1 (new PR established)

This equals 3 lifts at or above 90% which Lou found to be an optimal number for powerlifters. The goal is to work up as efficiently as possible. Don’t waste reps and energy on warm-ups. Get loose with the lower weights but start doing singles as quickly as possible. The volume for the remainder of the training session will be accounted for using assistance exercises which we will cover later.

Here is another example this time focusing on the importance of doing the maximum amount possible on any given day. I’ll use the same 500lb box squat max as an example:

Bar x 10

135 x 8

225 x 3

315 x 1

405 x 1 (shit, feels heavy today)

455 x 1 (approximately 90% of 500lb 1RM)

470 x 1 (approximately 94% of 500lb 1RM)

485 x 1 (approximately 97% of 500lb 1RM)

A new PR was not established but that is ok. Three lifts at or above 90% were still performed and the Maximum Effort method was properly utilized. A personal record should be achieved on a regular basis. If you find that you are not consistently hitting a small PR then other areas of your training need to be addressed or you may have been using the same variation of a particular lift for an extended time and it needs to be removed from the rotation for several months.

As a final note the 3 lifts at or above 90% is not set in stone. Sometimes 2 lifts are perfectly acceptable. On the rare days when everything feels light and fast a lifter might perform 4 lifts and hit a huge PR. A more experienced lifter may need fewer lifts as well as they are used to taking larger jumps in weight.

Exercise Selection and Rotation

In order to use the Max Effort method on a year-round basis multiple variations of a lift will need to be performed. If a lifter performs a true 1RM every week on the same exercise progress will stop. Don’t believe me? Try maxing out in the bench 3 weeks in a row and see what happens. Week 1 might be a 10lb PR, week 2 might be the same weight and week 3 you will go backwards. This applies to intermediate to advanced lifters only. A beginner should not be maxing out every week but if for some hairbrained reason they did they would see progress every week for an extended period of time. This is because literally anything works when you first begin lifting and everything is a brand new stimulus for the lifter.

So, how does a more seasoned trainee avoid going backwards? By rotating the max effort lift every 1 to 2 weeks. An intermediate lifter could use the same lift 2 weeks in a row but an advanced lifter will need to rotate each week. This is why the Westside system does not rely exclusively on the competition style squat, bench and deadlift. Instead, a different variation of one of those lifts is used each week. A 1RM is established for that variation and the next time through the rotation of max effort lifts the lifter will attempt to beat that previous PR by a small amount. This adds up to consistent and sustained progress over the course of the year or the training cycle. A lifter will typically have 6-8 variations of a particular lift that are used to build the squat, bench and deadlift, respectively. Here is a sample rotation of max effort lifts for the squat and deadlift using readily available gym equipment:

Week 1: Close stance low box squat

Week 2: Wide stance arched back good morning

Week 3: Pin 2 rack pull

Week 4: Wide stance parallel box squat

Week 5: Close stance good morning off pins

Week 6: Deficit deadlift


Here’s is a sample 6 week rotation for the bench:

Week 1: Close grip bench

Week 2: 2 board press

Week 3: Floor press

Week 4: Press off pins set 1” above chest

Week 5: Seated press

Week 6: 3 board press

After the 6th week the rotation would repeat and new PRs for each variation would be attempted. The exercises are chosen to bring up weak points and to test the progress of the contest lifts. A non-competing lifter would go through this rotation 2-3 times and then take a new 1RM on the traditional squat, bench and deadlift to gauge progress and reassess new weak points. Maximum Effort work is also very taxing on the body and a lot of lifters will find it beneficial and necessary to take a deload week every so often. As a rule of thumb once every 8 weeks is usually a good place to start and as one learns how the body adapts to this type of training individual adjustments can be made as needed.

Up next, the Dynamic Effort Method.

This is gold Trend.
Thanks
 

nissan11

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I have two questions:

1. Are 6-8 variations needed? Why not 3 or 4?

2. How does a lifter's CNS become proficient at the three competition lifts before a meet if the lifter is not practicing them?
 

Trendkill

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I have two questions:

1. Are 6-8 variations needed? Why not 3 or 4?

2. How does a lifter's CNS become proficient at the three competition lifts before a meet if the lifter is not practicing them?
As a beginner you could get by with 3-4 variations. You will need more as you advance.

Part two detailing the dynamic effort will answer your second question....that's what you call a teaser. ;)
 

Slabiathan

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Dude, I keep rereading these. I ordered “Science and Practice of Strength Training” by V. Zatsiorsky. I appreciate you throwing the reference material in there on top of everything else!
 

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