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Louie Simmons on the Conjugate System: Part 1 by Louie Simmons - CrossFit Journal

In Powerlifting, Videos

December 02, 2010

Video Article

“Tomorrow, I have no idea what I’ll be doing (in the gym),” Louie Simmons says during this special lecture.

He’s talking about the conjugate system, which has athletes constantly changing the exercises they do to prevent accommodation and overtraining. The conjugate system is one of the cornerstones of Westside Barbell training, and Simmons has used it to produce a host of top powerlifters who are constantly getting stronger and breaking records.

In Part 1 of this five-part series, Simmons introduces the conjugate system and talks about max-effort and dynamic-effort days, speed-strength, and pendulum waves, as well as changing intensity with various pieces of equipment.

Of course, Louie does it all in his inimitable style developed over a lifetime under a bar loaded with big iron.

12min 54sec

Additional reading: Unleash Your Power by Mike Warkentin, published Jan. 20, 2010.

Free Download


43 Comments on “Louie Simmons on the Conjugate System: Part 1”


wrote …

Please post the next 4 parts of the series!


wrote …

can someone please comment/clarify on when we use 50-60% waves and 75-85% waves? in other articles, it says that DE days are done at 50, 55, and 60%, but in the video he says that's for people who use gear? So if we're not using gear, should crossfit DE days be done at 75, 80, 85%?


wrote …

I agree with Anderson. it all went completly over my head.


wrote …

Who is currently following the CS, I'd like to experiment for 3-6 months along with metcons.

My gym is bringing in full cages, bands, chains, platforms, etc
so I'd like to utilize it to its fullest.


wrote …

Anderson - that's correct, though in other places he's cited as saying 50-60% calculated off of a geared max and 60-70% off a raw max. The figures in this video which you've extracted are probably more accurate, which is heavier than what I've been using.


wrote …

Can anybody help break down some of these definitions?

Louie was very clear defining the conjugate system. I think I get it - constantly changing exercises to avoid stalling and overtraining.

Dynamic effort days, a little less clear - 50% of the weight at faster speeds? 75% for athletes with non-gear records?

Pendulum waves - He just said we do them. What is a pendulum wave?

Anybody? Thanks!


Frank DiMeo wrote …

Louie's book, The Westside Barbell Book of Methods" will be a big help


wrote …

Charles, when he says Pendulum Wave he is referring to increasing the percentages used on the dynamic effort days in waves. If you are using back squat for your dynamic effort day you will perform 12 sets of 2 reps at 50% of gear 1RM (75% non-gear 1RM), week two would be 12 sets of 2 reps at 55% (80%), week three 12 sets of 2 reps at 60% (85%). Each wave lasts three weeks.


wrote …

Louie's website has a bunch of articles he has written that can give you a good idea of the program. Also, there's a few threads on the message boards that will explain things pretty clearly.


replied to comment from Erich Anderson

The pendulum wave is used for DE squat. You are correct, with gear it is 50, 55, and 60% over 3 weeks. Training raw he said to use 75, 80, 85% respectively.


replied to comment from Jennifer Sumner

Jennifer, correct except usually the week with 60% will drop to 10 x 2. DE work should consist of 20-24 post-warm-up lifts.


wrote …

By the way, I am happy to try to answer questions here.


wrote …

Chris, thanks for helping us out here! We are very fortunate to have someone such as yourself to answer our questions.

Do you suggest folks go and read the older articles from PL USA for reference?

Can you give us a list of books to help those of us trying to get new folks started? I have the older videos, books, and "Supertraining" by Dr Siff, but feel as though I'm trying to speak physics to folks who are just now trying to learn addition. Guess I'm not as good of coach as I thought.

As for DE days with Crossfit. Are all squats still done on boxes? Do you think most of us need to utilize bands, chains, foam, etc? I know Dave Tate, Wendler, Chuck V all got real strong without them. Do you personally think that we are missing out by not using them, or should we just follow the basic ME, DE, RE work of the Conjugate Method?

Thanks yet again, for the help.


wrote …

Actually, take a look at the following books if you like:

Any and all of them are great reads for someone looking to increase their knowledge of strength training.

You don't have to box sqaut, but it is a great movement. I think bands are a must for virtually any trainee looking for increased strength and or size.

What you should follow depends upon your goals. If you are going to drop CF WODs for a period of time and concentrate on strength then follow Westside to a "T". If you want to continue with your CF training then give my program a try (published a week or so ago).



wrote …

Any explanation for the higher percentages for raw lifters on the DE days? I've been using 50-65% most of the time and I don't use gear. Subjectively, I feel the 70-85%, especially 85% doesn't move as explosively/fast and maybe would work more on strength speed instead of speed strenght.


wrote …

I so badly want to understaaaannd....


replied to comment from Robert Fabsik


The raw percentages could be tweaked a bit lower if you like. They are higher than geared percentages simply because of the way gear aids the lifter. For example, when Westside guys compete they wear briefs and a squat suit. The combination being quite potent. For speed work they normally only wear their briefs thus getting less assistance from the gear thus requiring a lower percentage of the fully geared 1RM squat. Does that make sense?


replied to comment from Jordan Derksen

Ok, what do you know thus far?


replied to comment from Chris Mason

What you said is what I was guessing at. In another words, the ideal speed percentages are around 70-80% for raw lifts and taking 60% of geared is about 70-80% of raw. I imagine if the Westside guys used gear on DE day, then they'd use 70% of that.

My experience has been a slow down at the higher percentages especially when I've used chains or bands, but then again, maybe I'm just slow.



replied to comment from Robert Fabsik


The speed is very important, but it's all relative. Google some videos of Westside on speed day to get a better feel for what is an appropriate speed.


wrote …

I like the idea of using percentages of 1rm. One of the problems I had with CrossFit was how to properly scale. Seems to me when I use a percentage of 1rm, or an estimate based on a 3rm or 5rm, then the proper scaling naturally followed.

Anyway, Chris, I prefer to do a starting strength 5x5 which I estimate as 85% 1rm. Based on this new info (to me at least) instead of using 50% 1rm (60% 5rm), I'll use my 5rm for 10x2 or 12x2 days. I'll reserve 50% 1rm for things like scaling Fran or Linda to my strength level.

Keep the videos and the explanations in the comments coming. Might not apply it in my own workouts for now, but it's good to have that knowledge for later.


wrote …

For the 75%, 80%, 85% is that weight at the top when using bands and chains. I believe varying the weight, band, chain resistance to produce different loads is the norm right? Thanks!


wrote …

Is there an actual document somewhere with which lifts and which percentages should be used across this 3 week cycle or even longer? Like a mock calendar to test out and follow for 3 weeks to know which day should be DE or Max, and which lifts should be done on which days? I'm understanding which percentages to use, but I'm not understanding the schedule, the tempo/rest durations, when to use DE days, and max days and when each should be incorporated. Clarification???


replied to comment from Josh Silvernail


Getting the Westside Book of Methods, going to the Westside website and reading the free articles there is a good start.

There is some variablity based on the athlete and over time Louie has even tweaked the percentages.

From a Westside only approach, they have 4 main workouts a week and then based on their fitness, weaknesses and goals may have several mini workouts or restoration sessions comprised of sled work, barbell work or other GPP.

A basic frame would be:
Day 1 Dynamic Bench 8-10 sets of 3 reps between 50-65% followed by tricep/upper back and rear delt work
Day 2 Max Effort Squat, get a 1RM max on a squat/pull exercise then do lower back/hamstring/ab work
Day 3 Rest/Sled Work
Day 4 Max Effort Bench, get a 1RM max on a press/bench variant followed by tri/upperback/shoulder work
Day 5 Rest/Recovery/Sled Work
Day 6 Dynamic Squat 8-10 sets of 2 reps between 50-65% followed by hamstring/low back ab work, Once in a while they do dynamic deadlifts 6-10 60% singles
Day 7 Rest/Recovery Work

Rotate the Max Effort exercises at least every 3-4 weeks, if not more frequently.
With the Dynamic Work they wave is used to manage volume and trainning response, therefore reset the wave every 3 weeks. My understanding, is that Louie feels after 3 weeks your body gets used to the stimulus and won't adapt, so you need to restart the wave.

Rest on Dynamic Days for the Dynamic exercises is between 30-60seconds.
Max Effort days rest as needed to get a PR. Tempo is fast on exercises.

I don't think Louie plans 8 weeks in advance. Instead, he has a basic framework something like above and then does his workouts based on his current status and goals. So if one is failing in the squat due to low back, they might work Good Mornings as the ME exercise. If someone is struggling locking out in the bench they might do a cycle of floor presses.

I don't know if this framework would be ideal if you want to continue CF work. Read Chris Mason's article on how to incorporate with CF.

Hope this helps.


wrote …

Helpful. Thank You. Helps make some sense of it some more. I'll try to cycle like that for my strength work for a few weeks and see how my body responds. I haven't plateaued yet, but this def caught my interest for increasing my power production and strength. We'll see how it goes.


wrote …

A great option to incorporate Westside Barbell's ME principle and crossfit style WODS can be found at Mike Rutherford has put together a template called the M.E. Blackbox. Once at the website open up "The Fitness Conduit"...Coach Rut programs the constantly rotating movement pools and rep schemes talked about in the video. His program consists of a full body lift (day 1- an oly lift), a lower body lift (day 2- some sort of squat: front, back, zercher, box, etc...), and an upper body lift (day 3- some sort of push/pull). 5 minutes after the lift you perform the conditioning WOD he prescribes. GREAT programming!


Jesse Gray wrote …

Can someone explain to me why a Crossfitter would want to train using chains and bands? It doesn't seem to make any sense. I was under the impression that chain/band resistance is designed primarily to increase lockout strength. For a geared lifter, they receive assistance in the bottom of the lift from the suit but need to increase lockout strength at the top of the lift where the suit/gear doesn't offer much help. Now, for your average Crossfiter who does not lift in gear, the hardest part of their lift isn't going to be the lock out, rather, it will be in the bottom of the lift - which if you're training using bands/chains will be the part where you are training the least because the resistance is less when using those implements.


replied to comment from Jon Haase


No, that is bar loaded weight. So, if you squat 300 lbs as a raw 1RM you would load 225 lbs on the barbell AND THEN ADD BANDS TO SAID LOAD. So, at the top very likely would be exceeding your 1RM if you account for the band tension.


replied to comment from Jesse Gray


A couple of points. First, I am not a huge fan of chains simply from a hassle, availability etc. standpoint. I DO love bands and think every box should have them.

Bands do not work just lockout strength. If properly used, bands help to fight the inherent limitations of barbell training. In other words, due to leverage factors when you squat the involved musculature has to work less and less and the rep progresses to lockout. A band forces the muscles to continue to push at near maximal levels throughout the ROM thus making every rep more efficient. Bands also add a different dimension to the resistance such as allowing for overspeed eccentrics.


wrote …

Helpful. Thank You. Helps make some sense of it some more. I'll try to cycle like that for my strength work for a few weeks and see how my body responds. I haven't plateaued yet, but this def caught my interest for increasing my power production and strength. We'll see how it goes.


replied to comment from Jesse Gray


I felt the same way before I started using bands, then I realized how much momentum can carry you through a lift when you don't use bands or other forms of accomdating resistance. When you don't use 1RM's, you don't need all of your strength to move the bar, so often times you might have an initial drive in a movement that is enough to get it through lockout without using all of of your strength potential. Imagine lifting somewhere between 70-80% of your 1RM in a set, you might start off using 80% of your strenght to start the bar, then maybe as it progresses you only need 60% and by the time you make it to the top only 40%. The bands match this curve making your muscles work throughout the entire movement. Now as you near Max weights, this becomes less of an issue, but then you might be limited by your sticking point preventing you from training the stronger areas of your strenght curve.



replied to comment from Chris Mason

Thanks for your help. Squat question: when I squat I see Westside uses that monolift that lets you really get your feet wide. In a standard power rack this isn't possible, is this an issue or have you come up with some work-arounds? I am faster with my feet a little beyond where the rack allows when doing box squats.


replied to comment from Chris Mason

From what I have read from Dave Tate you are supposed to find out how much band tension you have when sitting on the box and subtract that from the bar weight so that the total weight on the box gives you your 75,80,85% or whatever. For instance if 75% of your box squat max is 300 and you have 25 lbs of band tension when on the box you would load on 275 lbs of bar weight. Has this advice changed? As far as my experience goes I find it doesn't really matter if you geek out on this stuff and get the percentages bang on. As long as you are +/- 10% and work your ass off you'll get results.
I know I also read some comments from AJ Roberts that guys are working heavier on dynamic days now and not even necessarily sticking with the same weight for all sets. Any input on this as someone who has eyes in the gym?


wrote …

As for bands: I think that the banded box squat,in my opinion, is probably the best movement you could ever do to increase explosive strength in the olympic lifts. All you have to do is a couple of sets with some heavy tension to see how it will translate into a powerful jump. Also, banded deads are crazy good for this. They FORCE you to accelerate the bar. Try a couple of banded deads and then take off the bands and try a set without. You'll find the bar just flies up. sells some short bands that you can just hook under your feet so you don't even need a fancy platform or anything.
As for chains: If you are a raw lifter (like most CrossFitters are) then chains are not necessary by any means but I totally think they are fun and look/sound badass and are another way to throw in some more "constantly varied" into your training.


replied to comment from Jon Haase


My training partner and I train most of the time at our local Gold's (we trek to Westside about once a month). We use a regular squat rack and can put our feet pretty wide. What kind of rack are you using? With that said, you don'e HAVE to use a wide stance squat, it is merely the preferred method for optimized absolute strength in the squat.


replied to comment from Jeff Chester


Let's clear something up. Dave Tate is NOT Westside. Louie Simmons is. Whatever Tate may have said if it disagrees with what Louie is teaching then I would tell you to disregard it. What I stated about loading is what is taught by Louie at the certs and is practiced at Westside.


replied to comment from Chris Mason

Chris, one point that I think is worth mentioning is that many CF'ers won't be ready for bands due to strength limitations. The overspeed eccentrics that you mentioned, may cause form to decline to the point of diminshed returns.

For example, when I started incorporating WSBB methods into my programming, I immediately jumped into DE days utilizing bands because they were what I had. I found that even the lightest bands (minis or micro minis) caused degradation of form and control. Using bands while squatting wide also caused me to become unbelievably sore (new stimulus, new response - I suppose).

Long story short... this year I started my first 3 waves using chains only. I developed control and refined form prior to moving towards bands and overspeed eccentrics. I would recommend that anyone thinking of diving into the WSBB programming pick a couple of sets of chains and use them for a bit first (my humble opinion).

Lastly, I have played with the squat percentages quite a bit over the last 5 months and have found 65%, 70%, 75% works very well and moves at appropriate speeds with the additional resistance. Louie's recommendation was very hard to move fast.

Hope this helps a bit,



Dane Thomas wrote …

Thanks to Matt, Chris and others for the clarifications. I can see that all of this makes perfect sense to Louie, but when he relates it in a presentation all of the good bits of information sometimes seem to be fighting to get out of his mouth first so it can be challenging for the uninitiated to assemble the bits into a cohesive whole.

I've got a lot of experience trainig people using elastic resistance for orthopedic rehab so I understand it pretty well from that perspective, but I have yet to incorporate it into powerlifting training. The problem is that my gym is a multipurpose space that must be reconfigured for other activites several times a week, so we bench and squat from moveable stands. I don't have the option of installing a power rack or permanent lifting platform to fix the bands at floor level. With that in mind it seems that chains might be a more realistic option. Chains don't decouple the effective resistance from momentum effects like bands do. I guess I need to get a couple of big flat metal plates with band-friendly hooks welded in the middle that I can stack plates on to act as attachment points.


replied to comment from Dane Thomas

Grab a few of the mini bands over at They are dirt cheap and ship quickly. You can use these for adding tension to your deadlifts, conventional or snatch grip. Place two over the shaft of the barbell, add you weight, loop each band under one foot. For band use with squats, a couple of 100lb or larger dumbbells with extra 45lb plates laid on each side can get you started with the lighter bands. Make sure your squat rack is secure. You don't want it moving or tipping over as the bands will be pulling forward on the barbell when you set it back in the rack.


replied to comment from Chris Mason

First, thank you for your help. I really appreciate you taking the time to offer your advice and share your experience. I use a Body Master squat rack. It is the heavy duty (3" frame I believe) and bigger than a typical garage gym squat rack. When my feet are just outside the cage I really can use my hamstrings and generate more speed off the box. I'm 6' 4" and wasn't sure if I can generate the same type of speed by moving my knees out more with a closer stance or do something else. Also, what is your opinion on Top Squat vs Manta attachments vs getting a full safety squat bar? Again, thanks for you help.


replied to comment from Dane Thomas

In response to your problem about the hooks, I've been using a barbell loaded with 70-100kg of weight between my feet and a stack of weights that i use as my box. It does require "hoarding" of some equipment for the sets, but its TOTALLY worth it. So far i'm incredibly happy with how my body is responding to the conjugate template. It's scary actually.

Email me and I can send you a picture if you don't really understand my setup.


replied to comment from Erich Anderson

You got it right! Non geared lifters use 75, 80, 85% on DE days. Gear lifters use 50-60%. If you watch some of the Westside videos you will notice that DE bench is done without gear. This means that the 50-60% of the geared max is actually approaching 75% of the lifters raw max. Same with squats, the raw lifters use 75-85% of their max while the gear lifters use 50-60% of their max.


replied to comment from Robert Fabsik

Robert, Jesse,

I did a couple of days pulling singles from the floor versus bands in June and worked up the weight to something like 65 to 70% 1RM. Band width and thickness was large, Im guessing that tension at the top was upwards of 100 pounds. Although I didn't measure it by standing on a scale with the band loaded barbell or anything, 315 straight weight + bands felt heavier than 455.

I distinctly felt that although the band tension forced me to work extremely hard at the top of the rep (I ripped my hands in a couple of places), one of the nicest collateral benefits of working with accomodating resistance is how it affected my starting strength. I had to maximally push, accelerate and recruit muscle from the very start of the lift to have any hope of getting through lockout. I suppose this is the flip side of the coin; I know momentum carrying one through the top was discussed earlier...what I also found was that with submaximal weights (and before working with accomodating resistance) I may have been taking it easy at THE BOTTOM. The supramaximal loads at the top prevented me from doing this as I needed maximal acceleration at the bottom to help me get through the top.

Every time I read/discuss/think about this stuff more, I learn something new. Can't thank you guys enough for your previous posts.



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