End of the Line?

By Chris Mason

In Reference, Rest Day/Theory

September 24, 2010

PDF Article

Is linear-progression strength training optimal for CrossFitters? Chris Mason doesn’t think so and offers up a different method for building strength.

Linear progression is a system utilized by many CrossFit practitioners for the strength-training component of their overall regimen. Linear progression as it relates to resistance training involves the progressive increase of loads in a straightforward manner, hence the name “linear.” In other words, for a given exercise and prescribed number of sets and repetitions, the trainee will strive to regularly increase the loads used for his or her work sets.

Linear training is a proven and effective method to increase one’s strength, but is it the most effective method, and in particular, is it the most effective method for CrossFitters?

The short answer is no, and the balance of this article will address why and offer an alternative system for optimized strength-training results.

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50 Comments on “End of the Line?”


wrote …

Good article. I do feel however that since linear progression is very effective for beginners (as you note), and it is very simple, it just makes since to start with it.

Why bother with bands, chains, and boxes when you can add 100 pounds to a beginner's squat with just a bar and some milk? Once you hit the wall, by all means switch over.


wrote …

Maybe I am missing something here but Crossfit is based on completing different exercises all the time. I have not done anything like linear progression. In fact, Crossfit seems to be the most non-linear way to strength gains as one can imagine.


john mcevoy wrote …

Nice article Chris. I agree with Sid in what he was saying.
I know that a lot of boxes have adopted MEBB and 5/3/1 protocols and get quite a lot of success with them as have I.
I think louies system works really well (obviously) but don't we adopt those protocols in xfit already?
Power lifters are only judged on 3 lifts. Obviously if they just train in those 3 lifts they will hit a plateau very quickly but when you take a crossfitter and they are doing front squat, overhead squat, back squat etc etc - barbells dumbells kettlebells etc are we in essence not doing this already ?
I understand where you are coming from and if anything I think this article could perhaps make people change the implement they use. For example do your 5 x 5 squats with dumbells this week etc.
just my thoughts but your article def has got me thinking.



Tom Seryak wrote …


great article! i completely agree especially with how you ended the article. it kind of reminds me of the folks that argue they should do p90x or something to get in shape first before starting CrossFit for example. Or, people that argue they should lose weight first before they attempt to get in-shape. we use linear progression with new clients only until they have attempted/reached a legit 1 rep max, then make the switch. This gives them the opportunity to master technique first. The time it takes to learn technique and linearly progress to test 1 rep max varies from client to client depending on training background, how quickly they pick up the technique, mobility restrictions, etc. I'm glad you wrote this article,

Tom Seryak


wrote …

Ha, I agree with both what the article is saying and also what Sid wrote - CF kind of use this method already yet not only for sole strength development but for anything else. There is also an effort to have PR almost every WOD as one would be fresh from CNS point of view.
But this is what I've put on my Facebook today. My overall condition and work capacity suffered a bit (that was to be expected) by my strength numbers are much better now (plus some other benefits as well :).
So for last two months I did only Westside-like program - no CrossFit, just two very short metcons. Plenty of heavy squats, DL and bench presses though and PLENTY of isolation exercises for triceps, shoulders, back, yes even biceps curls :)
Yesterday my score with Cindy was 17 (not my PR by any means, but decent) and today I did my first muscle-up on bar ever.
Talk about benefits of being bit stronger :), love it.


wrote …

This conversation needs more more more from knowledgeable sources. Crossfit does do something like westside, but there are stark differences. To change crossfit to mirror a westside approach to fitness would be a huge change. Maybe for the better. Needs more discussion.


wrote …

I agree with Michael. Why make things more complicated than they need to for beginners? There is no faster way to become stronger during the novice phase than a straight linear progression using compound, functional movements. I'm sorry, but I don't see why we should throw chains and bands at someone who is having trouble squatting 135. They just need to squat some more. With enough work and recovery they can easily add 20-30 lbs to their squat each week.

But after the linear progression is exhausted? Then by all means, bring on the conjugate method and periodization.


Carey Wheeler wrote …

For beginners I feel that for motor pattern learning the best way to learn how to squat is to squat, to learn to deadlift; deadlift. Linear is the best method for teaching that because you are performing the movement more regularly than you would with a conjugate method. I also feel that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that not everyone who walks through our doors wants to be freakishly strong as well as being a fire breather. Most people can't commit enough time to their training for that. Also, in a group setting, linear is much more easily implemented. Most crossfitters will not likely reach a level of strength that would justify anything more than a simple approach. On an individual or case specific basis, conjugate would be great, but I think it's a bit unrealistic and unnecessary in most boxes and most circumstances. More than happy to be proven wrong though!


wrote …

Ok, first, thank you for the positive comments.

Next, I wasn't addressing CrossFit WODs in the article. I thought that was pretty clear? I was addressing strength specific training programs such and the linear progression model a certain individual promotes and other similar programs that a lot of CrossFitters tend to use at one time or another. I agree that CrossFit incorporates a LOT of variety in its WODs and that is one of its great strengths. I suppose it is a bit of a paradox that so many in CrossFit see that benefit in their WODs, but don't see it when it comes to strength training.

The concept that linear progression is easier really bothers me. How difficult is it to warm-up to a one rep max? How hard is it to do sets with a set percentage of your 1RM max of a given exercise? Is it a monumental task to switch major exercises with some frequency?

The idea that some inordinate amount of repetition is required to learn to squat, bench, etc. is also quite odd. I will grant that Olympic lifts requires quite a bit of learning, but the powerlifts are not that difficult.

I also never intimated that a CrossFitter should change their routine to fit a Westside template any more than they might to include 5-3-1 etc. Specialized strength training is just that.

Yes, linear progression works, but Louie's Westside system works better - for all levels.


wrote …

One other point, bands and chains are not the what defines conjugate training. They are a part of Louie's Westside system, and they are very effective, but they are only a component of a program that is still very efficient and productive even without them.


wrote …

Great article Chris.

The conjugate system is great but I feel that most CrossFit affiliates will be limited to basic barbells and may not have the boards for board presses, safety squat bars, buffalo bars or cambered squat bars, bands and chains. This should not disuade people from using the max effort days in any way. Simply using a different grip each time when benching or overhead pressing, or using different bar positions while squatting (high bar, low bare, front squats, Zercher squats, box squats), or deadlifting with different stances can make a difference.

I love the conjugate system especially the dynamic effort days. I have a quick question though. In the westside system the max effort (ME) days you are always building to a 1RM. How does the ME days translate to muscle endurance for a crossfitter who rarely lifts for single reps in competition or even day to day?



replied to comment from A C

I'm not Chris but... :)
I believe part of the success of Westside is learning how to "grind" twice a week. It's not chains, bands, board presses. Just once a week do something very hard on upper body (press, bench press, weighted dips, weighted pullups etc) and something very hard on lower body (front squat, wide squat, DL variations, good mornings etc.).
That's it, it's teaching you very regularly how to suffer under the weight. Often and with different exercises.
And of course there is repetition method and speed and timed exercises as well but those one could actually get from WODs right ?
As for ME benefits - Mark Rippetoe wrote about it in length, plenty of other people as well, also I believe we all noticed that there all other systems in CF how to gain more strength - strength biased programs, ME Black Box method etc. IMHO simply by being stronger smaller weight for reps is just more easier as suddenly it's not 80% of your max, but 60% of your max as you get stronger in time. And as you don't neglect other aspect of condition, you work on your speed and do repetition workouts (in other worlds CF WOD's...you are NOT doing only 1 rep max, that would be silly and CF nor Westside would do that) 1 RM is just helping you everywhere along the board.
My opinion.


wrote …

I DO think the complexity of this training is an impediment for CFers.

Sure, it's easy to switch up exercises but does implementing WestSide methods really take no skill? If that was true then wouldn't every powerlifting gym be getting results like Louie's? If a CFer who has never used these methods before just randomly picks new exercises every week or two will that really give him/her better results? I have to believe that there is a lot of art behind exercise selection and really wonder if much of the benefit will be lost if someone who has no idea what they are doing gives it a try.

The ME, DE stuff is more straight forward, except that we have little advice for how to integrate it with CF conditioning workouts, or how to choose exercises if we want to improve, not just on bench, deadlift, and squat, but also cleans, snatches, and presses.

I don't mean to insult the intelligence of this community, but what we need (myself included) is someone to hold our hand and say THIS is how you can lay out a lifting schedule integrated with CF (there was another journal article that gave a few possibilities there), THIS is the exercises you should choose from, and THIS is what you should use if you don't have boards and bands. And if the reply is that generic guidance CANNOT be created because the program needs to be custom tailored for the individual then that tells me it's probably too complicated for a newbie to program himself.


replied to comment from A C


Thanks for the compliment and I agree with your points about not really needing all of the special equipment. Having an arsenal of 4-5 squat and press variations that you can alternate through in mini cycles is perfect and very doable in any CrossFit gym.

Absolute strength builds strength endurance. In other words, if you can squat 400 lbs you can squat 135 lbs for a LOT more reps than if your max was 200 lbs. Does that make sense?

Now, increasing your absolute strength while still working on your strength endurance and endurance via CrossFit WODs will lead to and even greater transfer to CrossFit work (i.e. you don't want to detrain your CrossFit abilities for prolonged periods and you CAN combine both forms of training - my next article :) ).


replied to comment from David Meverden


You needed the same guidance incorporating linear progression into your CF training as well, no? That guidance came in the form of a certain coach's books and articles.

The point of the Westside certs is to help trainers learn the system so they can go back to their boxes and begin to incorporate components of it.

In addition, that is part of why I am here. My next article is going to be a specific recommendation as to how to incorporate some of the Westside principles into your CF training. I am also going to make some recommendations along those lines to a very high profile CF competitor and we will then (if they agree to use my suggestions) have an excellent example of how well these methods can work for CFers (not to mention the boxes that have already has success with it).



wrote …

Appriciate the article, the past 3 weeks ive been following the 4 days dynamic,ME methods and have already seen great gains. looking for more guiadance too programming for optimal strength without sacrificing too much conditioning


wrote …

Rather than further dance around this discussion:

Mark Rippetoe's methods have yielded very good results for many novice athletes, including many in the CF community. That's why people use them, not because the man has a nice bubbly personality or is some kind of fitness rock-star.

Let me pose this hypothetical from sports. Youth baseball. When you have a young man who wants to be a pitcher, do you teach him how to just throw the ball for a strike first or do you try to teach him the differences between a fastball, slider, and curve? You can apply that to nearly any sport or activity where you learn something. It's called the KISS principle and it works very well because when you have a novice it does not take a whole heck of a lot of work to get them to improve, and adding unecessary complication into the program at that point only muddies the waters for someone who's so new to the sport of strength training.

Your argument that linear progression provides some kind of false sense of hope because eventually it runs out is not valid. Yes linear progression runs out at some point based on your age, gender, recovery habits, etc...that has never been disputed by Mark Rippetoe or anyone else. Yes, eventually neural adaptions can't keep up with the training. But you can add a significant amount of strength in a relatively short period of time before that happens.

Chris, I have a lot of respect for your advice and thoughts on nutrition. But if CF is going to trot out someone to shoot down Mark Rippetoe's methodology, they need to be someone with 30+ years of experience in training for human performance and strength training (e.g. Louie Simmons).

Even then the vast majority of Simmons experience is with athletes who are at the advanced level of strength training. I'm somewhere between the novice and intermediate stages of my training and I would be laughed out of WSBB. There is a big difference between training people who are already squatting 800 and benching 500 and training people who are struggling to squat 225 with correct form. Trying to apply the same cookie cutter programming template to both of those populations is going to have sub-optimal results for one of them.


replied to comment from Nicholas Kirkland

You wrote, "But if CF is going to trot out someone to shoot down Mark Rippetoe's methodology..." Chris approached us with this article, not the other way around. This article, like the overwhelming majority of the CrossFit Journal articles, are the opinions of the author's. We think he has some compelling points, so we published the article. It doesn't mean that we wholeheartedly agree with him or find other approaches less valid (see my next comment as an example).

As a CrossFit trainer, I'm eager to read about successful training from all different fronts. Clients have such different needs (one from another, and at different stages of their development). I want as many tools in the chest as possible.

If you and your clients are getting good results from your training, stick with it. If there's room for improvement, keep experimenting!


replied to comment from Chris Mason

Love the debate here. I think you've provided good fodder for the general strength discussion. Keep up the great work.

I do want to disagree about one point. Absolute strength and strength endurance do not necessarily correlate. We see this all the time in CrossFit. In the 2008 CrossFit Games finals, Jeff Tincher had one of the lowest 1RM clean and jerks yet one of the fastest times in the final event (30 reps of 155lb squat clean and jerk). At a few Regionals, they had max reps of a fixed weight deadlift. Those results didn't correlate to 1RM either. In fact, with your 135lb squat example, I'd bet that Chris Spealler (max squat under 350lbs) could out rep anyone in the world that has a 700lb squat.

From what I've seen, Westside training develops both strength and strength endurance. But that doesn't mean that absolute strength develops strength endurance.

Also, don't hear in this that I think strength isn't important. I just disagree with the assertion that it has a causative relationship with strength endurance.


wrote …

I have a ton of respect for Louie and love his work. You made a great point, one that a lot of self-coaches miss, that linear progression stops at some point and there is a need to switch it up. I don't see any evidence showing the West Side method being "superior" for the untrained novice.
Maybe that is my issue with the article. There is a tendency among coaches to declare their method, or the one they use, superior. The problem is there are a ton of great coaches getting great results doing vastly different things. Who's system is right or superior? Once we throw in that superior, better, wrong tag it goes from a great chance to learn and discuss to a debate filled with defensiveness on either side.
Once we decided we have the best way to do something we stop learning. If you already have the best way to do something are we really going to read a different view with an open mind? Are we going to read it at all? I really don't understand why we have to attach a moral component. This is what we do and this is what works for us seems a lot better than mine is better than yours. Especially when they both work.


wrote …


Thank you for your response to my post. Regarding that response (#15):

I really look forward to your future article(s) and guidance. I didn't mean to sound too negative in my post (#13). I do think there are great strides to me made here with these methods.


replied to comment from Tony Budding

"Jeff Tincher had one of the lowest 1RM clean and jerks yet one of the fastest times in the final event (30 reps of 155lb squat clean and jerk)..."

You're comparing different trainees with different levels of strength and different levels of cardiovascular endurance. The way that maximum strength affects maximum endurance is by increasing one person's PR, their submaximal metcon weight will be a lower percentage of their max effort. If you keep Jeff Tincher's cardiovascular endurance the same, but increase his max C&J, that 155lbs will be a lower percentage of his 1RM and would increase his performance.

And regarding the article, I think that the Westside method can get a trainee brutally strong, but the best way for a NOVICE to increase strength is through a linear progression. I know a lot of crossfitters who are NOVICES in the basic barbell movments and that is because of the variability in the crossfit programming. I have been crossfitting for over 3 years and have been doing a linear progression in the basic barbell movements because I have such little experience doing heavy reps of them. I continue to add weight, and hope I can keep it up for a few months.

When I stall, which I inevitably will, I will switch to some kind of intermediate programming involving more complex programming, assistance exercises, varying the number of workouts per week, etc. The Westside Method will not be ruled out during this time, but until then, I will happily continue my linear progression + crossfit.

If you read Practical Programming by Rippetoe, you would know that the linear progression is only recommended for novices, and that the Westside Method is one of the recommended intermediate programs.


replied to comment from Nicholas Kirkland

A couple of points:

a) How long do you think I have been training?
b) CrossFit isn't trying to do anything relative to Rippetoe. I am a proponent of Louie's system. It differs from that of said trainer. Having personally experienced both forms of training, and having worked with the best strength athletes in the world I KNOW Louie's system is better for all levels. I know of the popularity of linear progression in CF and that is why I had to make a comparison in my article.


wrote …

Oh, and the comparison to teaching someone how to pitch is ridiculous. They are two VERY different activities which require very different levels of skill.

Again, Westside principles are VERY easy. It is KISS in action.


replied to comment from Tony Budding

I'll take your bet about Spealler and repping the squat :).

You misunderstood me. Perhaps I did not properly articulate the point.

Absolute strength increases strength endurance for the reasons I mentioned. That does not mean it is the only means of increasing strength endurance. Training for strength endurance will obviously increase it, but interestingly enough, it will do very little for absolute strength.

My point was the CrossFitters already train for strength endurance with their WODs. A way for them to take things to the next level is to both continue their WODs and to increase their absolute strength, only then will they optimize their strength endurance.

You also can't compare individuals to determine what absolute strength will do for strength endurance, you have to compare intra-individually if you will (compare the individual to themselves). Using your example, if Chris increases his absolute strength in the squat he will be able to get even more reps with 135 lbs than he can now. Does that make sense?


replied to comment from Matt Wilmoth

I believe Louie's system is superior because he has the results to show for it.

Another fellow mentioned why don't other gyms get the same results as Louie's (relative to his methods being difficult to employ). Actually, they do. The dominant percentage of the world's strongest men and women (in powerlifting, and to a lesser extent in strongman) use a variant of Louie's methods in their training.

In terms of being effective for beginners, I have seen him take teens and beginners and take them to crazy levels in extremely short order. Not sure what else to tell you.

Look, in the end, you can keep doing what you are doing and keep getting the same results. Alternatively, you can try something different for you and your clients and see what happens.


wrote …

You repeated that you know Louie's system is better for people of all levels. I won't argue that once linear progression is no longer effective that this is a true statement. If the program isn't producing gains it is not the correct program for that athlete. Beginners on the other hand are a different story. You assert that "know" the Westside method is better for new athletes. I assume you have some data to back this statement up. I have no doubt that with experienced athletes there is plenty of data to support your position but what about untrained subjects? I would love to see data that supports this or for that matter linear progression being the most effective means for a beginner to quickly gain strength. Unless anyone has data we are operating on opinions and hypothesis and absolutely nothing observable, measurable and repeatable. I am not attacking here. I would honestly love to see data either way.


replied to comment from Matt Wilmoth


Where is your data I am incorrect?

Please... What I was stating was obviously opinion as I seriously doubt there have been any viable studies to compare the methods. Of course, if you just want studies and data then you should be training in a HIT style as 'studies' have shown 1 set to failure to be equally or more effective than multiple sets...

Like I said, I have trained both ways. I truly wish I had trained like I do now from the beginning. I would have had less injuries and been stronger sooner.

Oh, and my training partner is a personal trainer and guess what he does? He firmly believes the Westside methods work better for his BEGINNER clients as well.


wrote …

Please reread my post. I would love to see everyone's data. Read what I wrote. I am not saying you are incorrect. You asserted that your system is better than another. If you make that assertion (a completely different thing than opinion or the system that works well for us) you need to show the data. As should everyone who wishes to assert the idea that linear progression is better for untrained individuals.
My point in the original post was that you do not "know" it is better. You believe it is the most effective way for you to train individuals. Comparing it to linear progression is fine, though you never did compare it for untrained individuals. What I take issue with is the claim that you know it to be superior with out presenting any objective evidence of this. I really think this is one of the problems that permeates this whole strength community. My way is the superior way even though I have little objective evidence to support it. Tell me why you prefer a method, that's fine. If you want to assert a method is better show me some sort of reasonable data. I am not anti westside or anti-innovation.


replied to comment from Matt Wilmoth

You make a very good and necessary point. Chris Mason has expressed his opinion clearly that the Westside method works extremely well for all individuals, both trained and untrained. After hearing the argument and examining the method, I also believe it to be true since it makes scientific sense. I do, however, also beleive that for it to be true beyond a reasonable doubt, data must be provided to support that claim.
This article [from what I gather] is not meant to argue that point. I took from this article the argument that anyone serious about strength conditioning should incorporate as much variance and as much of what works as possible. Judging from the responses in other comments, maybe that message wasn't worded as clearly as it should have been.
I think it is important for everyone to remember that CF is by design an all-inclusive method of fitness training. This means that WODs should include sub-maximal, near-maximal and maximal lifts for various movements. Does anyone remember Deadlift for 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1 or Squat for 3, 3, 3, 3, 3? Though most CFitters train in a box, let's continue to remember to think outside of it.


replied to comment from Antoine Washington

I completely agree that the Westside method makes sense both practically and theoretically for all lifters. We use a lot of it in our programming beyond raw beginners. I also agree that when a linear progression stops Louie's system is a much better way to go than just ramming ahead on the same program. Chris makes a great argument for this. I am not sure if the Westside method is the best way to go for untrained individuals. Maybe it is. All I am asking for is some sort of data. Even something like we found that the novices who used Westside were far stronger after 3, 6 and 12 months than when we trained novices with a linear progression then moved to a Westside. How about although with linear progression we were able to add 10lbs a workout to squats but with Westside we were able to increase the squat by 150lbs in the same time. I would even settle for a scientific theory of why this would be better for getting untrained individuals stronger than adding weight (getting them stronger) each work out).
Telling me that Louie gets people crazy strong is great but I am sure disciples of other training systems would say the same thing. So there must be several ways to get untrained novices strong. Show me with some evidence that it is more efficient for untrained individuals.
I would love to have a real discussion about getting untrained beginners strong and I am open to try anything that works. I will not however accept because "I know it is better" it is as a great reason to try it.


wrote …


My evidence is empirical and based upon the underlying theories of each style.

One thing I CAN tell you is that Louie's methods are an amalgamation of older Russian and Bulgarian weightlifting methods (plus his own tweaks) which were supported by a LOT of science in that they employed a massive number of scientists to improve their programs. Louie tells a great story of either the Russian or Bulgarian teams and their first Olympic experience, it was not a team of lifters they sent, it was a team of scientists.


wrote …

One more thing Matt. I assume you use linear progression for your strength training based upon your statements? I also assume you have been training for at least a year? What results have you achieved? What can you press, squat, and deadlift?


wrote …

Again you are adapting a defensive posture when one is not needed. I am fine with your empirical evidence. I would just like to hear some more details about it regarding beginners. And in more than one or two instances. I am simply asking questions.
You clearly have not read my statements as I said I use some of the Westside concepts in my training. I actually did not start with a linear progression. I am not 100% convinced that either way is the best way. I am simply asking the for more of your experiences and you are not reading and just trying to attack. I am honestly looking for more info here. The trust me try thing is not for me.
as far as numbers, about three months ago I could deadlift 495, olympic high bar backsquat 450, and standing press 205. there are a lot of people stronger than me. I am not 100% concerned about that right now as I am training for a ultra marathon. Right now I couldn't air squat if I wanted too as I am recovering from a knee injury caused by me being an idiot outside the gym.
The real matter is that while I am interested in using West Side for beginners I get paid to do this. I know linear progression gets results for a month or two at least. I have no problem trying new things I would at least like to hear your empirical evidence before doing so. I assume you have kept records and training journals of untrained people you developed. Any data points from those would be great.
For sake of this not getting too ridiculous I will not comment any further. I really feel like we are getting nowhere here. Again Chris I am not attacking you I am asking for your help to understand why you believe this method to be superior. If you have anything I would very much appreciate it.


wrote …

How exactly am I attacking you?

Now you want training logs?

Actually, pretty much no one at Westside logs their training. At least not that I have ever seen. My training partner Justin Tooley who also attends the certs is a personal trainer for a living. I don't think he keeps logs for his clients either (and he uses Westside methods with them - after having trained in a more traditional fashion for years). I have personally never kept a training log and magically I have gotten pretty darn strong. It was never that hard to remember my personal bests or to figure out when something worked or did not.

As mentioned above, if you want science you can check out some of the books that have been so influential to Louie here: http://www.westside-barbell.com/books/

The Zatsiorsky book, Mel Siff's book, Medvedyev's book, and Verkhoshansky's book to name a few.

That should help to present the science behind the ideas.


replied to comment from Chris Mason

Attack was too strong a word. I did however feel that my numbers were not really germane to the discussion. Had I been lifting 6 months would it really have changed my question about training logs? I wanted to make clear that I was trying to just have a discussion and not attack your idea. I got the impression you thought I was attacking Westside. The internet seems to do that.
I have read almost all of the books listed on the site. (Those books by the way are all filled with a lot of data points) In fact I found several off them through that exact link some time ago. I understand the science behind Westside and I appreciate the efficacy of the system.
I was just looking for data from untrained individuals but if most Westside trainees don't keep logs it will be hard to find. This makes it nearly impossible to compare the Westside to any other beginner program (The results for intermediate and elite athletes are easily found). I guess in the end I am still bothered by the idea that you can know which program is better for the novice with out even being able to provide data on the efficacy of your own program with beginner's much less the efficacy of a linear progression model.Is westside effective? Absolutely. Is it better? There is where we need specific. One of the things that originally pulled me to CrossFit was the data. If it's better than we should be able to see it.
Having said all that I will look forward to your future article regarding intergration of Westside and CrossFit. Thanks


wrote …

Let me put it this way, my opinion it is better is based upon what I have personally seen with trainees of all levels, from conversations with Louie, from conversations with other strength coaches that employ the program, and from my personal experience. Contrary to what I think a lot of folks like to think, science relative to strength training is really only in its infancy and a lot of data points and studies that you might reference on the topic are replete with fallacious information.

I also have quite a bit of experience with various training systems and have a pretty good understanding of what makes each of them work and not work. I have a reasonable working knowledge of anatomy and physiology and at the risk of sounding immodest I think my background and general knowledge base makes me better at discerning how things work than most when it comes to strength training. Do I know it all or even close? Heck no!

That is the best I can do for you.


wrote …

OK, OK, there is a lot of back and forth and focus on points of disagreement. That is distracting everyone from what there is to be gained here.

No matter what you think of linear progressions we are all in the same boat in that if we want to keep getting stronger then, at some point, we'll be looking for a non-linear program. Even if you don't want one now, you WILL want one later. Lets be supportive of the people that are trying to help us find that.

As for me, my interest is officially piqued. I'm picking up a copy of The Westside Barbell Book of Methods, and, I expect, will be more than happy in a few months to try implementing some of the structure that Chris will help the CF community come up with.


wrote …

I have had great personal success with the conjugate method. Over the past 4 months I've seen squat go from 405 to 445, deadlift go from 450 to 475, and press go from 175 (where I'd been stuck for 6 months) to 195. On top of that the apparent stress on my body seems to be much less than with linear progressions I have done in the past. I recommend the conjugate method to all my advanced athletes.

I believe that the conjugate method is the best published method for strength training for all experience levels. Louie has many examples in his book of both novice and skilled lifters making exceptional gains. That being said I do not recommend the Westside method to my novice clients. These are the two major reasons for my decision:

1) Attention to detail: I find that many novice lifters are just not that IN to strength training yet. When it comes to strength training they are just going through the motions to an extent. The dynamic effort days of the conjugate system require a level of attention to detail that my novice lifters do not, on average, exhibit. I have experiments with dynamic effort days and find that while I can tell a client that the objective is to develop maximum force by moving a lighter weight as fast as possible, the end results is often a medium speed lift and a look of, "was that fast enough?"

2) Attendance: The conjugate system follows a relatively rigid schedule requiring a minimum of 4 days a week. On top of that those 4 days have to be spaced out so that no two Upper days or Lower days are within 72 hours of one another to allow for proper recovery. I have found that my novice lifters have a much harder time holding to that set schedule than my advanced lifters do. Advanced lifters never miss workouts because they care. Many of our novice lifters have other priorities. Linear progressions tend to be more flexible and accommodating for the hit and miss clients.

Again, I believe that, when followed properly, the Westside method for strength training will produce the greatest results. However, in response to the 2 major issues above it has been advantageous for us to use a linear progression method for our novice lifters and allow them to change over to the Westside method when/if their interest level drives them in that direction.


Daniel Schmieding wrote …

I find the arguments within this forum very out of character and short sighted for individuals following a constantly-varied fitness program.

A couple of notes:

- Most of the arguments sound a lot like, "it's best to have a new lifter do linear progression until he hits a wall..."
Why? Do you imagine this lifter will not learn technique while learning variations of an exercise each week? Why is it okay to train his way until you hit a wall, rather than train with an explicit focus on not? Sounds like keeping your head in the sand, and your hands clasped.

- Chris, what gains do you believe are attainable for a "new lifter" who has just learned how to squat and press? We all understand this is further dependent on individual morphology, intensity, and a billion different things; but let's take me - 5'8", 175lb, gymnastics and sprinting background. I did not lift a weight until I was finished with both sports in college. Until recently I have only done what has amounted to Linear Progression training for lifts.

4 years ago - 235 Back Squat
Present - 335 Back Squat / 295 Front Squat
4 years ago - 305 Deadlift
Present - 425 Deadlift
4 years ago - 175 Press
Present - 190 Press

I am fully aware these are minimal gains over a long period of time. Effort toward increasing absolute strength numbers has never been a primary goal of mine, and most strength was clearly developed through gymnastic conditioning. IN YOUR EXPERIENCE, what approximate gains could I see with Conjugate training over the next 3 months?
For what it's worth, I believe my Gymnastics strength was unintentionally developed through a conjugate-like system; with 6 gymnastics events essentially training variations of the same skills every day, we would often return to a skill a week later and magically be strong enough for it.


replied to comment from Tony Budding

I have to agree with Tony that increased absolute strength does not directly result in increased strength endurance. During the past several months at CFLA we've seen quite a few long time CrossFitters put up disproportionate repetition numbers on back squats (while training under Wendler's 5/3/1 method) at high percentages of their 1RMs. A couple of our athletes (including Andy Petranek himself) were squatting 85% of their 1RMs 10-15 times. While this is certainly an anecdotal account and AP is a special athlete, I think it speaks to CrossFit's ability to condition athletes to do exactly as advertised: move large loads, long distances, quickly.

Thanks for the article and the comments.


wrote …

"My opinion" and "my observation" is peppered throughout these comments. I'm relatively new to lifting in general (8 months crossfit and 4 months of 5/3/1 method), however, I am not new to science (bachelors in physics).

How hard is it, under the tutelage of an experienced coach, to investigate the claims of this article? I imagine it would be fairly easy to come up with a pool of novice lifters to collect data from and do an actual study.

Interesting studies are lacking in the exercise science world as they generally consist of exercise is good for you or 20 rep max leg extension is better than 1 rep max leg extension.

CrossFit being the open source movement that it is has an opportunity to do a lot of studies. These would only help to further legitimize our methods.


wrote …

Thanks for everyone's thoughts.

One additional point about Westside and CrossFit. I DO NOT believe that the Westside system in its entirety should be used by most CrossFitters as doing both Westside and CrossFit simultaneously in their entirety would most definitely lead to overtraining in short order (in my opinion).

If one wants to continue CF while getting stronger then there are components of Westside that can get incorporated for optimal results.

Alternatively, one could train purely Westside for a couple of months and then return to a hybrid.



wrote …

Daniel, you said:

"Why? Do you imagine this lifter will not learn technique while learning variations of an exercise each week? Why is it okay to train his way until you hit a wall, rather than train with an explicit focus on not? Sounds like keeping your head in the sand, and your hands clasped. "

Because training this way as a beginner leads to rapid, linear gains. If such a study was ever conducted, the proof would be in the pudding. Which method yields faster results? That's really the sticking point for me. If it could be proven that the Westside method yielded faster resutls for beginners than a linear progression, I wouldn't have an issue with it. But I don't "think" it does. Emphasis on "think" because I have no data, only anecdotal evidence and my own opinion.

Unfortunately most exercise science people are more concerned with knee angles on the leg extension machine, 1RM leg presses, and half squats.


wrote …

Any idea on when the article on incorporating Westside with CF might come out? I loved this article and am very much looking forward to the next. I'm about to finish up my 4th 5/3/1 + CF cycle and am looking to try the Westside method for the next. Currently reading through the Westside Book of Methods. I see great potential for combining it with CF conditioning, but am curious as to how better coaches than myself would go about implementing it.


wrote …


Probably not for at least a month. I am not yet done with the article. Thanks for the compliment!



wrote …

I would like to restate one point that seems to get lost in this conversation. Conjugate training does a better job of addressing weaknesses than linear progression programs by design.

Yes, EVERYONE to include rote beginners have weaknesses which will cause them to either experience injury if the imbalance is allowed to get worse via linear progression (repetition of the same movement thus strengthening the same relative strengths), or to at least retard progress.


wrote …

Very interesting article Chris greatly looking forward to the next one!

Poster is actually Tony Black (not graeme brown).


replied to comment from Chris Mason

Finally there is some meat to the discussion (post #47). I can think of two valid comparisons:

(1) Progress between the two systems for the duration of the novice phase (until linear progression is exhausted unless a better definition exists)

(2) The resultant impact the novice phase's training has on later training, as Chris most recently alludes to.

One might compare progress betweeen two versions of training conducted for one year (or two years.... whatever):
Linear progression (3-6 months?) followed by Westside
Westside only

This should get at the above considerations. I would be interested in people's predictions as to what would happen.


wrote …

Very interesting article Chris. IMHO the best part of the article is that it opens up our minds, whether he is right or wrong, to new ideas and thought processes. I have been doing the "linear" thing for awhile and while it has worked (off and on) the new conjugate way makes perfect sense to me. His point that we love crossfit because of the unknown and variety it forces on our body is awesome yet doing some type of strength training the same way is wrong or "not for me" is puzzling. I say try it. The worst thing that will happen is we don't gain as much strength as we anticipate. But on the other hand, what if the gains are incredible? I also believe he is saying that it is no more "complicated" than a linear system. Different exercises for ME, A percentage of 1 rep max for DE. Just my two cents as I feel bored mentally with the linear system.

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