Q: What do you think of the conjugate method of training, does it carry over well to athleticism in sports or is it more suited for powerlifters?
Yes, I like the conjugate periodization method for any purpose but there has been a lot of confusion as to what conjugate periodization is so I need to clarify that. Chances are what you think is conjugate really isn’t conjugate. A lot of people think it’s one of the following:
A: A periodization setup where you switch exercises every 2-3 weeks.
B: A periodization setup where you train all the necessary strength qualities at the same time without getting away from any of them. For example, you’d train maximum strength, reactive strength, explosive strength, and endurance with equal volumes during the same training week so as to address every quality.
Ok, now let’s talk about what conjugate periodization REALLY is.
There are essentially two main systems of organising long term training:
A: The concurrent system
B: The conjugate sequence system.
The concurrent system involves the simultaneous training of several motor abilities, such as strength, speed and endurance, over the same period of time, with the intention of producing multi faceted developments in fitness. Sound familiar?? Although research has corroborated the effectiveness of this system, the subjects used in these studies were generally conducted on athletes of lower qualification. While the negatives of the concurrent system are not apparent with less advanced athletes, they become very noticeable with elite athletes. It produces only average results in higher level athletes simply because when you try to train everything at the same time you limit the amount that you can focus on any given quality. Advanced athletes need more focus on a given quality in order to improve that quality, thus, when they try to do everything at the same time it doesn’t work as well.
To evoke a more powerful training effect in advanced athletes it is necessary to use intense phases with a singular focus in an order that produces a sum greater then it’s parts. This is precisely the purpose of the conjugate sequence system.
The conjugate sequence system involves successively introducing into the training program separate, specific phases, each of which has a progressively stronger training effect, and sequencing them in a way that creates favorable conditions to grasp a greater cumulative effect of all the training loads.
The conjugate sequence is characterized by a concentrated focus on developing individual specific motor abilities (strength, speed, strength endurance etc.), each of which is confined largely to a given period and sequencing them in such a way that each phase builds off the next producing a sum greater then it’s parts.
Research has shown clearly that training using a specific system of different means and methods produces a significantly greater effect than the separate random use of different training methods. This advantage is also achieved even with a smaller volume of work.
So each phase builds off the next and because of the concentration used, each phase has delayed effects, which carry over into the next phase. To give you an example, for someone in a speed dominant sport the sequence of phases would look something like this:
Gpp (4-6 weeks---->Strength-(4-12 weeks)---->explosive strength (4-12 weeks) (shock/plyometric/speed)---->competitive
Gpp builds a base of basic fitness by using a higher volume of low intensity work. This leads into a strength phase which uses a high volume of strength loading. This leads into a shock phase where strength is further intensified and explosive strength, plyometric capacity, and speed are developed to a much greater extent. During this phase the total amount of work is lower but the intensity is higher. Not only will the body be adapting positively to the shock loading itself, but it will also be supercompensating positively from the previous phase of high volume strength work. So you get the long term delayed effect of the previous strength work therefore you’re getting stronger, faster, and more explosive at the same time.
It should be noted that reversing the order of the training sequence will not often produce the same “summation” of training effects. Therefore if you focus on explosive strength followed by strength it’s likely you’ll reach a quicker stagnation at an earlier plateau then otherwise.
It’s also worth noting that some phases can be lengthened, that’s just a general outline. Simple enough!
Now does that mean that when you’re “focusing” on one quality that you totally avoid the other qualities?? No! It just means that those other qualities would be addressed at a much lower volume and intensity. If you were a speed athlete and you were in the strength phase, then your speed workouts might consist of performing low intensity technical drills. If you were in a speed phase your strength work might consist of lifting done as infrequently as once or twice per week consisting of 3 x 3 at 80-85% for a few movements.
Now that’s conjugate periodization!