The Conjugate System for the Competitive CrossFit Athlete

by Jason Brown

At more and more CrossFit boxes there are regular people moving extraordinary weights on a weekly basis. At CrossFit 781 we certainly do not neglect our strength training and have solidified ourselves as one of the strongest boxes around. Some people may think we have a strength bias or that our conjugate training leans more towards people increasing their training maxes rather than their conditioning. I definitely think there is some truth to this, but I’m going to tell you why we are able to cover all our bases on a weekly basis as well as outline a basic week of training and the structure we use to achieve multi-dimensional training perspectives in balanced and efficient way.
The conjugate system by definition is a system that has features that are inverse in nature. To further demonstrate the basis of the conjugate system, there are multiple perspectives to this system that make it so successful. One being Max Effort Work. Max effort work occurs twice per week for both lower and upper body. Here the loads are high and the training volume is low. The variations rotate weekly preventing accommodation, burnout, as well as consistent improvement of training maxes. Louie Simmons developed the conjugate system from the Bulgarian system where lifters would hit a max for the day regularly. The conjugate system utilizes a long list of variations where maxes for the day are hit. More times than not people are hitting new records for a particular movement. The benefit of moving large loads is intra/intermuscular coordination but also psychological in the sense that you become accustomed to continuously hitting personal records albeit they may not be with the classic lifts. Typically we only test the classic lifts every 12 weeks where new maxes are almost always achieved.
The inverse to max effort training is dynamic or speed training which occurs 72 hours after its counterpart max effort work. Here the loads are light (50-60% of 1RM) and the training volume is high. Dynamic training is consistent for 3 weeks at time; the percentages increase by 5%, but the movements stay the same. The use of accommodating resistance (bands/chains) are a mainstay in this program allowing us to add resistance without slowing down the bar speed. Dynamic weeks, even with our competitive level CrossFitters have a similar focus to that of a powerlifter in terms of improving rate of force production.  The most obvious difference in our conjugate training for a competitive CrossFitter compared to a typical powerlifter is specificity which coincides with the demands of a competitive CrossFitter. For example, our powerlifters dynamic days will more than likely include a box squat variation as well as speed pull deadlift variation, whereas a competitive CrossFitter will see the box squat pretty regularly in their training, but deadlifts will be run less frequently due to the fact our training time is limited with so many skills to cover on a weekly basis. In most cases there needs to be time dedicated to proficiency with the olympic lifts and their variations. In these cases though, the use of accommodating resistance is still prevalent even with the olympic lifts. I’ll elaborate more on this in my next article and share with you some of the most effective variations for CrossFitters.
Accessory work or special exercises are constantly changing on a daily basis.  There is large emphasis on bringing up lagging muscle groups through the use of accessory work. In fact, this accounts for roughly 40-50% of our training! For this reason, special exercises are an integral part of the program and are directly connected to the success of our athletes. With that said, there is a lot specialty pieces of equipment that are not as common in most CrossFit boxes (reverse hypers, specialty bars, belt squat machine) but there are plenty of viable options for scaling if need be. Below I’m going to outline the structure of our Conjugate Training.
Typical Training Template for a Competitive CrossFitter and Sample Week:
• Max Effort Lower Body Movement
• Secondard submaximal left 
• Accessory Work: 2 Exercises 
• Accessory Core Work
• Energy System Work
• GPP Work
• Accessory Work
• Max Effort Upper Variation 
• Secondary submaximal Movement
• Accessory: 2 Exercises
• Accessory Core: 1 Exercises
• Active Recovery work: sledpull powerwalking, belt squat walking, individual non-invasive work, tissue work 
• Or Aerobic Work @Z1
• Dynamic Effort Lower Body: 2 Movements 
• Accessory Work: 2 Exercises
• Accessory Core Work: 1 Exercise 
• Dynamic Effort Upper Body: 2 Movements
• Accessory Work: 2 exercises 
• Accessory Core Work: 1 Exercise
By now you may be wondering where the conditioning fits into this. In a perfect world, you would be able to separate your training modalities although that usually isn’t the case for most people. So how do you get the best of both worlds? Typically conditioning is fit in between max effort work/dynamic work and accessory work. Usually the conditioning piece will coincide and compliment training objectives for the day in a manner that try’s maximize our training efforts. Below I’m going to outline a typical week for our competitive CrossFitters. Keep in mind this is for an advanced level athlete. This system is actually quite easy to adapt to an all level class program and we actually use a similar template our regular classes. Check it out.
A) Max Effort Lower
1) EMOM 8: 1 Squat Snatch. Add weight each set.
2) EMOM 8: 1 Squat Clean & Jerk. Add weight each set.
*Goal of the Day: Work up to a heavy set with no misses.
3) Cambered Bar Box Squat w.chains: Work up to a Heavy 3, then 3 attempts at 1RM. Rest 3:00
4a) DB Front Foot Elevated Split Squat: 3 x 10 ea. No rest. 
4b) Reverse Crunch to Deadbug: 3 x 12. Rest 1:00 
B) Conditioning
4 RFT:
5 Squat Clean Thrusters (155, 105)
10 Burpee Box Jumps (24, 20)
*Goal of the Day: Burpee Box Jumps in 1:00 or less per set.
A) Conditioning
1) Assault Bike: 10 x 10 seconds. Rest 2:00
*With a 5 Second lead-in
Guys: Try to keep wattage over 1500.
Ladies: Try to keep wattage over 800.
2) 45 seconds on Erg holding a 1:34 guys/1:50 pace ladies x 3 Sets. Rest 4:00
1a) Sledpull Powerwalk: 4 x 60 yards @1.25-1.5x BW. Rest 30s.
1b) Farmers Carry: 4 x 60 yards @88, 70. Rest 30s.
1c) Ball Slam: 4 x 10 @30, 20. Rest 30s.
A) Max Effort Upper
1) Weighted Vest Grapple Grip Pull-ups (or fat grip neutral grip pul-up): Accumulate 20 total reps, AHAP. Rest 1:30.
2) #6 Board Press: Heavy 3/1 Max. Rest 3:00.
*Work up to a heavy triple then 3 attempts at a 1RM. 
3a) Chest Supported DB Rows: 3 x 12. No rest.
3b) Seated DB Cleans: 3 x 15. Rest 1:00
B) Conditioning
5 Rounds, Rest 4:00
Row 400 meters
10 Strict HSPU
10 C2B Pull-ups
10 Power Snatches (95, 65)
10 Overhead Squats (95, 65)
Goal of the Day: UB Sets for HSPU, C2B, and OHS. Try to maintain your splits ea. round.
C) Core
DB Bent Presses: 3 x 6 ea., AHAP.
A) Active Recovery 
1) Belt Squat Walk x 4:00 or Sledpull @1/2 BW x 400 meters.
2) Individual Work: Spend 20:00 working on something you feel needs work. This shouldn’t be taxing but more of a time to help reinforce good technique or if you feel like your limiting factor is more endurance related feel free to add in some easy aerobic work.
3) Tissue Work/Static Stretching x 10:00
A) Dynamic Effort Lower
1) Safety Bar Box Squat with bands: 10 x 2 @50%, every 45s.
2) Banded Speed Pull Deadlifts: 8 x 1@50%, every 60s.
B) Conditioning
1 Deadlift (135, 95)
1 Power Clean (135, 95)
1 Front Squat (135, 95)
5 T2B
2 Deadlift
2 Power Clean
2 Front Squat
5 T2B
And so on continuing in this fashion.
C) Accessory
1a) Belt Squat Pull-Throughs: 3 x 20. No rest.
1b) Reverse Hyper: 3 x 15. No rest.
1c) Stir the pot on physioball: 3 x max ea. direction. Rest 1:00
A) Dynamic Effort Upper
1) Bench Press with bands: 9 x 3 @50%, every 45s.
2) Push Press with bands: 3 x 3 + 1 x AMRAP, adding each set. Rest 1:30
3a) Bar Muscle-ups: 10 x 3, No rest.
3b) Double Unders: 10 x 30 UB, Rest 1:00.
4) Trap 3 Combo: 3 x 10-10-10, AHAP. Rest 1:00
B) Conditioning (3-4 hours later) 
3 x 1 mile runs. Rest 5:00 between sets.
*Goal of the Day: Consistency on all sets. Try to stay within 45s of your best mile time.
In short, I hope this helps gives you a view into how we’ve adapted the greatest system in the world to not only competitive CrossFitters, but for the general population in balanced, progressive, and efficient training system that allows us to train and improve multiple modalities simultaneously. I do believe Louie Simmons’ conjugate system of training is going to become more and more prevalent in CrossFit boxes as well as with competitive CrossFit athletes as time passes. The real challenge is balancing training in a manner that does not burn your athletes out. Sometimes less is more.
Jason Brown is the owner of CrossFit 781. He’s trained with Louie Simmons several times, and sells programming for gyms and individual athletes through and our Programming Marketplace. 

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