Why I felt like giving up on powerlifting after using the conjugate system | powerlifting,conjugate method, overtraining

Always looking for something new in terms of increasing the effectiveness of my workouts, I decided to try the Conjugate Method.  For those of you who don’t know, the Conjugate is a training system is one of the most widely known and revered powerlifting programs out there.  It was developed by the legendary Louie Simmons who has trained some of the strongest men on the planet at his famous Westside Barbell gym.

Directly from Louie Simmons’  Westside Barbell website

“He has trained 36 men who have benched over 700 pounds, 10 over 800, and 2 over 900 pounds. In addition Louie has 19 athletes who have squatted over 1000 pounds, 6 over 1100 and 2 over 1200”.

Those are some serious numbers.

Now, Louie has forgotten more about weight training than I will ever know, but I wanted to put this piece together to give my perspective on what that type of conjugate system did for me; what I liked, what I did not like and the effect it had on my max lifts as well as overall well-being.

Being that I was and still am quite green when it comes to powerlifting, I knew nothing of this type of conjugate training prior to last April.  In April of 2015 I had joined a powerlifting gym and was really focused on just adding strength or at the very least maintaining my strength as I edge ever closer to 40.  Prior workouts consisted of basically a bodybuilding routine where I would lift 3-4 days per week, alternating either upper/lower body splits or pairing two to three bodyparts per day.

I will not go into tremendous detail about what this system involves, that can be found Here.  I will however give you a brief overview of what is involved in this type of training. Even a brief overview is kind of complicated as you will see.   I will give approximations on numbers of sets and percentages.

The goal here is  strength, pure and simple.

  • 4 training sessions per week
  • 2 sessions are max-effort bench press or max effort squat/deadlift. I performed 8-10 sets, the last 3 sets being somewhere around 90-95% 1RM singles
  • 2 sessions are dynamic sessions where 60-80% of or a 1RM is used, often assisted with bands or chains for 25% of that total weight. These percentages will change based on exercise and based on where you are in your cycle.  Again, look Here for a detailed overview.  I did 8-10 sets of explosive 3 reps, very short rest time of 30 seconds to 1 minute between sets.
  • Each session also contains accessory movements where supporting muscles of the session are also worked. IE you might perform some tricep work on your bench day or some hamstring mobility work on you squat day, etc.  I had been choosing 2-3 sets of 2-3 exercises.
  • At Least 48 hours rest between max-effort upper and dynamic-effort upper.  Same can be said for max-effort lower and dynamic-effort lower body days.
  • I had alternated squat weeks with deadlift weeks on my lower body days.
  • Regarding accessory work I did my best not to repeat exercises for more than 3 weeks.  Regarding max-effort/dynamic-effort days, the variations will vary weekly.  IE on max-effort bench press week 1 I might do board press and week 2 I might do incline press.
  • A copy of my workout log can be found  here – My conjugate program


So how did I fare?

What I liked

High motivation early on.   I really enjoyed working in the 90% or greater range of my one-rep maximum.  It made sense to me that by using weights in the 90% or more of your 1RM you would condition your system to get very used to that load and you would grow stronger.

I also liked the break in workload by doing dynamic days.  This was lighter weight, explosion is the focus.

Variety was this plan’s greatest attribute.  Everything was constantly changing and that seemed to keep me interested and my motivation high.


What I did not like

Sounds like I basically loved all of it, right?  Not so much.There is one glaring problem I had with this program and it overshadowed all the fun I initially had on this program; overtraining was extremely easy to do.

Max-effort days began to wear me down by week 10.  I just had hit a wall and could not generate the motivation to train.  I stopped wanting to go to the gym.  I started having problems sleeping, concentration was limited and I started to get headaches and of course libido was way down.  Heart seemed to race for no reason, I was beyond fatigued.  These are all the classic signs of overtraining.  I not only wanted to quit this program by week 10 but I wanted to quit training altogether.

Being stubborn I did not quit at week 10.  I kept pushing on.  I thought I had to suck it up and push forward.  Regardless, I still made nice progress for the first 3 months.

  • Bench press Max:  280-305
  • Squat Max: I battled an injury and switched from high-bar to low bar so my max did not change. 315.
  • Deadlift Max:  365-385

At week 13 I decided to take a week off. I came back and still did not want to train.  I spent that first week back doing light work, nothing remotely close to failure and my interest and motivation grew.  I took a second week of moderate training and I really started to feel it again.  From that point on I decided that the conjugate program just was not for me.  Perhaps I am not tough enough, don’t have the recovery ability, I don’t know.

So I did get some results. It turned out that this is not a program that I can follow indefinitely, but I did learn a lot about powerlifting, my own limitations and I was able to break several plateaus.  It was worth the effort.




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