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Conjugate CrossFit by Chris Mason - CrossFit Journal

Conjugate CrossFit

By Chris Mason

In CrossFit, Powerlifting

November 15, 2010

PDF Article

The conjugate system is a cornerstone of Westside Barbell training. Chris Mason suggests ways for CrossFitters to incorporate the method into a CrossFit program.

I believe it is an immutable fact that an increase in absolute strength for any CrossFitter would make him or her a better CrossFitter assuming said strength is not accompanied by a big increase in total body weight (or a detraining effect on endurance or strength endurance). Louie Simmons’ Westside system of strength training is for my money the most effective strength-building system ever developed.

That said, CrossFit is its own modality with specific goals: “Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.” It is not realistic to expect a CrossFit practitioner to adopt the Westside system wholly and fully because he or she would, by definition, no longer be a CrossFitter. So, the question is how to incorporate some of Louie’s principles into a CrossFit-based program, and it is a question I’ve carefully considered.

To be clear, the ideas presented in this article are therefore not Westside ideas. Westside is a unique system developed by Louie, and it is a system he does not believe in altering or bastardizing in any way. The training methods and techniques presented here are snippets of the total Westside system, from which I am borrowing in order to help CrossFit practitioners continue to build their CrossFit abilities while simultaneously increasing their absolute strength. The ultimate goal, of course, is improved CrossFit performance.

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35 Comments on “Conjugate CrossFit”


wrote …

Chris says that, while he was suprised by how strong the cross-fitters at the cert ended up being, he still didn't think they were strong enough. How strong does a top-level CrossFit athlete need to be? Guys like Dave Lipson and Rob Orlando have exceeded whatever level of strength is necessary to win the games, possibly to their own detriment. Past winners like Mikko and Graham have some freaky explosive strength with their respective 265 Power Clean and 275 Push Jerk but they both still only Deadlift around 500.

Cross-fitters looking to dash in a taste of Westside might also be interested in the good 'ol Westside For Skinny Bastards program:

Or Louie's article on what he would do if he coached Olympic-Style weightlifting:§ionID=3&articleID=57


Tom Seryak wrote …


Thanks for writing the article. I agree with most of your reasoning (especially about isolation training weaknesses and not going heavy during metcons) with one rather big exception. I disagree that dynamic effort/speed strength training be removed from the program if someone wants to incorporate Westside principles into their training for two reasons:

1. speed strength is it's own "ability" and people that don't train for speed strength (almost everyone outside of the powerlifting community) are usually slow. i believe that it absolutely transfers into max effort strength, but even if you disagree, people still need to learn how to produce force quickly. being "able" to produce force quickly is a very important skill that has a high level of transferability and is missing from most training programs.

2. speed strength is NOT trained during crossfit metcons. crossfit metcons cannot replace the training effect of doing dynamic effort work. it would be like saying someone could get faster at the 100 meter sprint by doing "helen".

so, by removing dynamic effort training from your hybrid program and progressing max effort lifts for 3 weeks before rotating, your suggested program looks pretty much like max effort black box (minus olympic training and add isolation training) or a smarter version of CrossFit Strength Bias (lifting heavy 2 days versus 4, add isolation training).

we are currently 6 weeks into a planned 12 week strength focus. it is going VERY well so far using a similar template to what you have suggested, only inclusion of dynamic effort work:

Day 1: speed bench plus conditioning (designed to not interfere with Day 2 training)
Day 2: max effort lower body plus supplemental and assistance repetition work
Day 3: max effort upper body plus supplemental and assistance repetition work
Day 4: speed squats and/or deads plus conditioning (designed not to interfere with recovery from Day 3)

i guess to me the speed work incorporated by Westside training is the biggest thing separating it from other programs. do you have any other arguments for excluding this from your suggested program?



replied to comment from Penn Tarleton

You are using a similar version of the argument that people use to say that a bigger muscle isn't necessarily a stronger muscle. In other words, you are not comparing an individual to themselves, you are simply referring to guys that are strong. I am stronger than any CrossFitter, but any decent one would destroy me in 99% of the WODs. Why? I don't train for that kind of endurance. With that said, take a super fit high level CrossFit athlete and add 10% to their absolute strength without reducing their endurance capacity and you have someone that will do better.

EVERY CrossFitter should endeavor to increase their absolute strength WITH THE CAVEAT THAT THEY DO NOT COMPROMISE ENDURANCE AND OR STRENGTH ENDURANCE IN DOING SO. I'm working with a very good CrossFit athlete to do just that as I type this.

A problem with the articles you have referenced, and any other attempt I have seen to incorporate strength work with CrossFit is that they are complete programs which cannot be combined with CrossFit WODS and provide anywhere near good results for either program. My routine works WITH CrossFit WODs and will make you stronger AND fitter at the same time.



wrote …


I don't think there is a need for any other argument? An increase in absolute strength will automatically make the athlete more explosive with lighter loads. There is a limit to how much productive work can be done by anyone. That is a major problem I see with CrossFit when it comes to strength training. They try to do it all and suffer for it. In other words, absolute strength training is very trying to the body and doing a full strength program (such as Westside) PLUS CrossFit WODs will quickly lead to regression.

By the way, you misunderstood my point about the training effect of DE days. My argument is that it is primarily a form of active recovery from the 100% loads of ME days. I do not think that the explosive component has much carryover to anything (MY opinion) especially for a CrossFitter (a little different for a powerlifter). CrossFit WODs can and do function as a form of active recovery from ME days. We've done it in practice.


Zach Even - Esh wrote …

Chris, great stuff. I think Chris states it best by simply saying, do NOT compromise the conditioning of a CF athlete / competitor and simply improve their absolute strength and you'll see better

Regarding Dave and Rob, I think Rob asked Dave during the Tahoe Rogue VS Again faster, "when will you start working your weak areas"

Coach Glassman also said it often, the WOD you hate and dread most is likely what you need to focus on.

I used to use a 3 week mini cycle for my athletes, BUT, psychologically, as athletes, they are quite eccentric and found myself switching to 2 week mini cycles as they sometimes get bored, OR, along with their athletic training (off season specifically) I noticed them dragging during week 3.

With the 2 week mini cycles we seem to be doing better.

I'll keep experimenting with them and on myself to see the ways that work best.

Results Count!



wrote …


I think you there is a fundamental flaw in your assertion. You are declaring that strength is the key to success, and then providing the path to more strength.

I do not doubt that Westside methods will make everyone stronger.

I doubt that being stronger makes anyone more good at Crossfit than an improvement in any other aspect. You say "take a super fit high level CrossFit athlete and add 10% to their absolute strength without reducing their endurance capacity and you have someone that will do better".

Maybe that is true - but if you take a super fit high level Crossfit athlete and add 10% to his/her cardiorespiratory endurance without reducing his/her strength capacity and you have someone that will do better. You could take that same person, give them the full K-Star Mobility Extravaganza, and if they increase flexibility by 10%, they will be better. Which improvement is better than the other? The only answer is that all 10 are important.

Any improvement in the 10 components of Crossfit will improve an athlete. Perhaps, there is an argument to make that improving a person's weakest component will create the most improvement (it's likely, but impossible to prove). Even determining what someone's weakest component seems unpractical.

One component will not lead to the ultimate athlete. Strength is needed as much as accuracy or coordination. The only way to win is to do constantly varied, functional moves performed at high intensity over time.

As an aside, I think everyone picks and chooses what they really bring the intensity too. People who don't get strong on Crossfit (a common complaint) likely do not bring enough intensity to the heavy days. Other people skip the 5k run, and more people - myself included - skip the 15k. I'm no better because of it, but I don't plan on winning the Games, so I don't care.


wrote …

Thanks for the article, Chris! Interesting stuff. I am surprised that there is no dynamic effort stuff, but who am I to argue?

You've mentioned a high level CrossFitter on this program. I don't need names, but I'm curious if you have any numbers for us. CrossFit Strength Bias had a number of "crash test dummies" that they ran through to see their program in action and help them develop it and the program Tom Seryak did had his own numbers. While everyone's progress will be different, a community so focused on numerically demonstrable results would appreciate some examples of how the program has gone for people so far.

Thanks for your effort, Chris! The community appreciates you trying to help us build a better program.


replied to comment from Matt Solomon


When did I declare that strength is the one key to success??? As I already said, I am stronger than any CrossFitter out there, but I would do horribly at the games. I get it.

What I said is that if you keep other factors constant and increase your absolute strength you will perform better in CF. That is an immutable fact.

Does that mean improving strength endurance and endurance will not also help? No...

Guess what my specialty is in the training realm? That is why I write about it.



replied to comment from David Meverden


Said individual is about 5 weeks into the program and has already set PRs. I will have final figures and talk more about it when they are done.

Give this program a roll. Follow it to a "T" and I am very confident you will be a better CF athlete for it.



wrote …

Hey Chris

First of all, great article. My question is, in the template you gave how would you program CF WoDs during the week? I know you said choose wods carefully, could you please give some examples (i.e. the log of your CF athlete)? is it along the way of:

Monday: Upper body strength
Tuesday: Lower body dominated WOD
Wednesday: rest
Thursday: Upper body dominated WOD
Friday: Lower body Strength day
Saturday: rest
Sunday: Interval running/sprints
(program from fitasfuck)


wrote …


Programming as you presented it would be fine. The timing of the WODs during the week is not terribly important as I see them as active recovery for the ME days.



wrote …

Thanks for the article Chris, I always enjoy reading what you have to say.

I hate to ask this, but I'm a very visual learner: do you (or anyone) have a spread sheet version of the template? I think that would help me visualize the 9-10 weeks better, but I would have a hard time making sure that I put the spread sheet together.

Sorry for the trouble!

Also, I do not have a reverse-hyper, but would like to add something that mimics what it does. What are the best exercises for that?


replied to comment from Adam Carlson


Thank you. I am actually not much of a spreadsheet kind of guy (I might pay someone to do it for me :)). I don't have it on one, but I give anyone who wants to do it my permission.



wrote …

Good read. Since you are recommending using a Westside Max Effort Program to increase strength and not just one's powerlifting total, would you recommend mixing in upperbody pulling movments into the ME days, like pullups/rows etc.?

Would you recommend working up to a single for all ME days for most trainees or would your recommend 5's and 3's for beginners/intermediates?

I've been mixing CF and Westside for a while and enjoy the dynamic days. I feel I've done heavy barbelllifts on a regular basis similar to ME days, but not until I added the dynamic day did I notice a qucik boost in my bench and squat.

I think the dilemma, is where do you cut when you blend the 2 programs to maximize progress and avoid overtraining. The answer for me is based on ones training goals. If training for the games, then ditching the dynamic days might make sense if one's weakness is strength.

Currently, I do the skeleton of Westside, so 2 ME days, 2 dynamic days. Then I do 1 or 2 assistance exercises of 1-2 sets and then a traditional CF workout. At times, I've noticed some fatigue so I might drop some CF workouts on occasion or scale them down so that they are shorter in duration. But, I feel a lot of the CF workouts hit the key areas of Westside's assistance work.

Ironcially, CF has a lot of crossover with the Conjugate method in principal. Constantly varied, different levels of intensity and belief that building GPP with create a base to improve all athletic endeavors.




Shoot me a PM or email if you would like to collaborate on a spreadsheet version of this (I'll send you a draft, you suggest improvements).



replied to comment from Robert Fabsik


If you look at the assistance exercise table in the article you will see rowing movements?

In terms of the program, I think you do the program exactly as outlined and you will get stronger and build your WOD ability in the process.

I recommend max singles for all levels of trainees.


wrote …


Just email me at



wrote …

In regards to ME, I asked about pulling movements as a Max Effort Movement not just as assistance work. If the goal is to build maximal/absolute strength why neglect the pulling muscles of the upper back? I assume the typical Westside Program doesn't do max effort pullups, rows etc. because those aren't powerlifts. But for general fitness/strength would it make sense to rotate in pulling movements with the pressing movements for the primary max effort exercise, not just as assistance work?

If so, would you do a Max Effort Pressing Movement and Max Effort Pressing Movement in the same cycle or Rotate one after the other?

ME Bench and Pullups for weeks 1-3
ME Press and Barbell Row for weeks 4-6 etc

ME Bench for weeks 1-3
ME Pullups for weeks 4-6
ME Press for weeks 7-9
ME Barbell Row for weeks 10-12



replied to comment from Robert Fabsik

Ok, gotcha. Sorry I missed that.

You know, there is validity to your thought process and it is probably just the ingrained Westsider in me that feels the assistance work will be sufficient to do the trick. I would thus still be inclined to not add upper back ME work, BUT if you did, then I would not replace the pressing ME movement, I would do it in addition to on the pressing days.



wrote …


How familiar are you with the CrossFit Strength Bias Program that Jeff Martin and Darrell White put together? Seems like the goals are the same...

Your program seems more detailed than CFSB, and CFSB revolves around 3x5 and 3x3 sets of lifting instead of 1 rep max ME days.

I guess an even more fundamental strength question is how essential are 1RM days? Can you become just as strong training a 3 rep max?

Thank you again for the article.



wrote …


For absolute strength nothing beats the 1RM. Why would you not want to do them?

I am not very familiar at all with the CF Strength Bias program, but my guess is it focused on linear progression etc. which, as you probably know, I find to be an inferior method of strength training.


wrote …

Hey Chris, another question for you:

For the MetCons, you were advocating lower weight, high rep type work. How would you gauge what is low enough weight?

I'll give you a for instance: 'Diane'


225# deadlift (men's weight)
handstand push ups

That's the Rx'd version. When would you say that an Rx'd weight is an appropriate weight? When you could do 15 or so reps straight without rest?

Thanks again for your time!


replied to comment from Adam Carlson


The examples you gave would be fine. You would want to avoid King Kong, for example, when on the program.



wrote …

Thanks for the quick response Chris!


Adam -

You wanted to see it on a spreadsheet, so I put together a template with the samples that Chris outlined in his article. It is in MS Excel format and can be downloaded here:

Those who are interested in a blank template without the sample program can download one here:

Those who don't have Excel (or who just don't like Microsoft) can download a pdf version here:


wrote …

Thanks Dane! I appreciate your work on this!


wrote …

Hey Chris

Hope you are still commenting, in regards for lower body ME. Are there any suggestions to dumbbell alternative? as i don't have accesses to a gym or a squat rack but do have heavy dumbbells.


replied to comment from Dane Thomas

Not having any luck with the excel spreadsheet


replied to comment from Dane Thomas

Thanks, that is some good shito!


wrote …

Much thanks and praise to you Chris. Great article. If you're still around I have a couple questions from a big fat guy who is almost all fast -twitch muscle.

1. Am I right in assuming that if I followed this template, and ate less calories then what currently maintains my weight, that I would eventually reach a healthy weight? Or would you suggest more long a slow stuff or just mainsite stuff? One thought I've have is to do strict WS methods and just take long walks on off days until I get to a healthy weight and then transition into more CF type stuff.

2. What do you think about performing one or two of those WODs explosively, without striving to go unbroken, planning some rest intervals to add some speed? I am little scared to vary from the DE day. Besides providing recovery, Louie seems to be saying that it provides the volume necessary to increase a lift. However, for general fitness, I think you have a point I'm willing to trust and try. I just wonder if this may be a little tweak to get both of best worlds.

3. I have another little tweak I am wondering about. As I consider later cycles or even the current one. Would you have any problems with working my gymnastic movements as assistance exercises? I've probably got 15-20 dips, 6 wall handstand pushups, 1 strict pullup, 5 pistols, and I'm sure you don't care to hear more. The volume I can do varies from only a couple reps to reps that fall in the range you've prescribed. As I get lighter and stronger some of those exercises may fall in a range of reps far above the 10 or so you have recommended. If I want to work on these movements, do you suggest using assistance and resistance, and variations that would keep me in that 8-12 rep range? I wonder if repping out handstand pushups at 345 lbs might be too taxing on an ME day?


wrote …

Is it advisable to add overhead squat as and ME primary lift? Also, would oly lifts work as ME lifts?


wrote …

Hey Chris, With regards to the ME primary lifts in your program... how many sets do you perform for this? It's not listed in the program, but sets for the assistance exercises are.


wrote …

I do crossfit at home 3 days a week and devote 2 days a week to strength. I do back on tuesdays and sat i do a push and leg day. I currently use a lenear system and just really do a few sets of 5. Was wondering if you thought on say back squat and front squat if I went sets of 5 on back squat while doing sets of 1 on front squat and rotate both of them with sets of 5, 3, 1, (bs, sets of 5, front sets of 1, then bs set of 3, sets of 5 on front squat)and then maybe on the 4th week do 5, 3, 1 on each would work better for raising over all strengh by variting the weight and stress on the nervous system or do you think i need to switch exercies everyweek to do that??

thank you for your time and help,



wrote …

Hi, there's some updated version of this, or it was proven along the years? Im curious about conjugate.


wrote …


Thanks for the article.

I assume that on the ME days, you suggest we don't do any WODs? Or, would it be safe to do something lighter and shorter? Just stick to the three metcons? Thanks.

- Ross

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