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When it comes to strength training, the term periodization can cause a great deal of confusion, especially among those new to weights. Between conflicting definitions and various training methods and applications, it has become difficult to understand its true meaning.

Photo by Ben Draper

In layman’s terms, periodization is the division of a training program into distinct training blocks, with each block focusing on specific, pre-determined athletic qualities. Whether you’re a powerlifter looking for increased maximal strength, a sprinter aiming to improve speed, or a pickup basketball player interested in dunking, incorporating this type of training will allow you to develop all necessary strengths without regressing in other athletic qualities.

While there are many forms of periodization, this article covers just one, and how lifters new to the concept can incorporate it into their training: The Conjugate Sequence System.

The Conjugate Sequence System

Unlike other forms of periodization, The Conjugate Sequence System (CSS) utilizes various training methods designed to improve numerous athletic qualities, all at the same time.

These athletic qualities include (but are not limited to):

  • Absolute Strength
  • Explosiveness
  • Speed
  • Agility

Today, the most widely recognized and effective version of the CSS was developed by Louie Simmons, founder and owner of Westside Barbell.

Westside’s CSS revolves around incorporating the three basic methods of strength training. As outlined in Vladimir Zatsiorsky's The Science and Practice of Strength Training:

  1. The Maximal Effort Method: “lifting a maximal load against maximal resistance,” and “should be used to bring forth the greatest strength increments.”
  2. The Dynamic Effort Method: “Lifting (throwing) a non-maximal load with the highest attainable speed.”
  3. The Repetition Method: “Lifting a non-maximal load to failure; during the final repetitions the muscles develop the maximum force possible in a fatigued state."

Westside’s micro-cycle (short-term planning) runs on a 7-day sequence in which they adjust the volume and intensity of training according to the method emphasized each day.

As I explain in detail below, this pattern is based on fluctuations of volume and intensity throughout the week. Simply, as volume (number of sets and reps) increases, intensity (how heavy the lift is) will decrease, and vice versa.

In doing so, Westside’s lifters can train and improve upon numerous strength qualities at once. This simultaneous improvement is what separates the CSS from other forms of training which focus on the development of one athletic quality at the expense of others.

Westside’s Wave

Westside’s system of varying volumes and intensities is based on two distinct periods of training:

1. Maximal Effort: High Intensity/Low Volume

Days devoted to high intensity/low volume training are focused on the development of absolute (maximal) strength.

On these days, lifters will work up to a 1-3 repetition maximum (RM) in a variation of the squat, deadlift, or bench press. Specifically, Monday is dedicated to a Max Effort squat or deadlift and Wednesday is dedicated to a Max Effort bench press.

As a result of the high intensity (heavy loads) on Maximal Effort training days, Westside reduces the total volume in order to, among other things, spare the central nervous system (CNS). Through appropriately training and monitoring the CNS, lifters can lift maximal weights on a weekly basis without backtracking or failing to progress.

2. Dynamic Effort: Low-Moderate Intensity/ High Volume

On the other end of the spectrum, days devoted to low or moderate intensity and high volume training are focused on improving the rate of force. On Friday, lifters perform roughly 10-12 sets of 2 repetitions in a variation of the squat followed by 6-10 sets of 1-3 repetitions in a variation of the deadlift. On Saturday, lifters will perform roughly 9 sets of 3 repetitions in a variation of the bench press.

Most importantly, each of these movements are completed with sub-maximal weight (approximately 50-60 percent of a lifter's one rep max), performed as quickly and explosively as possible, and with minimal rest periods (30-60 seconds) between sets.

Basically, as training volume decreases, the intensity increases. Consequently, as the intensity decreases, the volume increases.

Accessory Work

Following the main movements on Max Effort and Dynamic Effort training days, each lifter will use a variety of special exercises geared towards strengthening her/his individual weaknesses.

This individualization is perhaps the most important aspect of the CSS. There is no one-size-fits-all program; there are only athletes and their specific needs/goals, which can be tailored to beginners and advanced lifters alike.

While all Westsiders follow the general wave-like system of varying volume and intensity, each lifter adheres to a separate and distinct program designed specifically for her/him.

To illustrate:

  • Lifter A needs to gain strength but wants to maintain her/his current weight. As such, this lifter may increase the overall intensity of their accessory work while reducing the volume to prevent unnecessary weight gain from muscle hypertrophy.
  • Lifter B wants to gain weight. However, he/she also has a hamstring injury and is unable to perform certain movements. Therefore, this lifter may reduce the intensity while increasing the volume of their accessory work, in addition to rehabbing her/his hamstring through the inclusion (as well as avoidance) of specific exercises and drills.

Wrapping Up

The Conjugate Sequence System is a form of periodization used for the development of numerous athletic qualities at once.

When using the CSS, various methods are combined to produce the greatest results. Of course, the system can be tailored depending on individual needs. For those looking for a starting point, here's an example training week using the Westside Barbell Conjugate Sequence System:

Monday

High Intensity/Low Volume

Wednesday

High Intensity/Low Volume

Friday

Low-Moderate Intensity/High Volume

Saturday

Low-Moderate Intensity/High Volume

Squat or Deadlift variation: Work up to a 1-3RM. Do either the squat or the deadlift for three weeks, then switch exercises.

Bench Press variation: Work up to a 1-3RM

Squat variation: 12 x 2 @ 55% 1RM (as explosively as possible) Bench Press variation: 9 x 3 @ 50% 1RM (as explosively as possible)
Rack Pull: 3 x 5

Incline Bench Press: 3 x 3

Deadlift variation: 8 x 2 @ 75% 1RM (as explosively as possible) D-bell Bench Press: 3 x 20

Glute Ham Raises: 3 x 6

Dips: 3 x 6

Good Mornings: 3 x 12

Tate Press: 3 x 12

Chin-ups: 3 x 8

Seated Cable Row: 3 x 5

Reverse Hyper: 3 x 15

D-Bell Row: 4 x 15

Ab Wheel: 3 x 10

Lat Pull Downs: 3 x 8

Standing Abs: 3 x 20

Lat Pull Down: 3 x 15

Shoulder Raises: 3 x 15
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