In Coaching, Powerlifting, Videos

December 17, 2010

Video Article

“A pyramid is only as tall as it’s base, mathematically,” Louie Simmons says in answering a question about the age-appropriateness of the conjugate system.

Simmons explains that he often starts working with athletes in their teens, and he’ll give them a steady diet of box jumps, sled dragging for general physical preparedness, and lifting technique, all with the goal of eliminating weaknesses and preparing athletes for dominance as they mature.

“You’ve got to bring the base up … as a youngster,” Simmons says.

Simmons answers more questions and along the way explains why so many athletes overtrain and make the mistake of getting bigger instead of stronger and faster.

7min 51sec

Additional video: Roundtable in Tahoe: Ideal Body Weight, originally aired Dec. 3, 2010.

Free Download


35 Comments on “Louie Simmons on the Conjugate System: Part 3”


wrote …

This is the best one yet.

There are probably numerous people (myself included) who do not do enough reps with lower weights to eliminate weaknesses and improve technique. I guess it's hard because the benefit isn't as immediate.

I'm sure there are people that read the CFJ that know better than I do, but I remember something by Jeff Martin saying when he started training his kids (as the prototypes for CF Kids), he made them only do body weight moves and low-weight weight lifting. Essentially to re-enforce over time the correct movement patterns. Sounds very similar!


wrote …

love this stuff! go louie and westside and freakin go CrossFit!


wrote …

Out of interest, is anyone else out there using these ideas to scale your WOD? For example, on the "3rnds Deadlift x10, GHD x30" WOD, did anyone use 60% their 1rm for the DL portion.

Likewise, anyone trying this with max weight pull-ups where 1rm is BW plus the weight, then using 75% of that total for speed days (likely use a graviton).

It was the benefit of scaling smartly, and therefore not over training but training optimally that just been piquing my interest in this conjugate method. Brand X is good and all, but it's generic scaling not tuned to any one person. Using 1rm where once I used to scale based on my CrossFit Total makes even more sense.

Oh yeah, keep these videos coming. Outstanding amounts of information packed into so little time.


wrote …

What ever happened to Dave Tate?


wrote …

CrossFit is the greatest gpp program out there but I believe the one major fault in CrossFit's programming is the generic weight prescribed for many wods. Obviously the "named WODs" are testers and require a prescribed weight, but everything out of our box is based on a percentage of the athletes 1RM.

Example: 2 Power Cleans on the minute for 15 minutes with 185lb barbell means absolutely nothing to the athlete who can not yet Power Clean 135lbs or to the athlete that can Power Clean well over 365lbs. Base it on a 1RM and it levels the playing field and eliminates (or at least narrows) the guesswork on how much to scale.

Keep the Louie videos coming!


wrote …

Considering the use of 1RM % for metcons (or DE days) and scaling, I have found Ottawa's breakdown the absolute best:

Percent of 1RM/ Rep Range
20-35%/ >60
40-50%/ 30-50
55-65%/ 20-30
70-75%/ 10-20
80-85%/ 5-15
>90%/ 1-10


Rob McBee wrote …

Charles #3,

We follow this approach to scaling in my gym and it works as you described. Its an easy way to scale that is more customized/specific to each person. 1rm's are kept on the whiteboard so they are at-a-glance and can be set up quickly.

I originally got this idea from an article by Jon Gilson. He was discussing Zatsiorsky's 'power law' if I remember correctly but it made the conjugate method and Louie's stuff even easier to dive into. This has all been very educational, effective, and just a blast to experiment with in training. i.e. Push Press w/chains = Handstand pushups on a boat during a storm

Kind regards,



wrote …

"If you got a million dollar body and a ten cent mind, you're finished"

I think that's what brought down Tyson...


wrote …

I'll eventually have to attend a powerlifting cert. These small snippets are priceless. Keep the videos coming!


wrote …

Louie -

Great stuff! What is the list of books you recommend from the Soviet Union?

All my best -



wrote …

A lot of the books are on his website for sale. That would be a place to start.



replied to comment from A C

The "Rx" weights used in widely across CrossFit are based off of a 170 lb. man. It's actually the first part of the FAQ and the following quote pulls directly from it...

"Use a weight that's manageable to you, or use a percentage of the weight prescribed. Assume the "generic" male crossfitter weighs 175 and the prescribed weight is 95 lbs. Thus, you'd pick a weight that's approximately 55% of your bodyweight."

Sometimes the effect you're going for in a workout has nothing to do with how much you can lift maximally, more of the accumulative affect it will have on your entire body (i.e.- Decreasing lactate, localized muscular stamina, ability to coordinate movement under severe cardiovascular duress).

I think going off your 1RM for certain workouts is fine, some of the time. We should all be practicing variance in every way we can manage.

Just my thoughts...


replied to comment from Andrew White


I tried that scaling of using a 175# man as the baseline. It did not feel right based on the scaled WODs I was doing back then. Then Rippetoe's CFT total came out in addition to his chart on what are expected levels for various body weights. Scaling based off my CFT versus the 175# guy's CFT felt much better and made for a more realistic workout when I compared times.

Now, with this conjugate concept combined with what Donna Connelly mentions in #5 (which happens to mesh with what I found), it seems you have a much better way to scale your client or yourself that plays to all the strengths and weaknesses.

Trust me, try Linda with 50% your 1rm in DL, Cleans and Bench (or a CFT version of DL, Squats and Press). It should take 20 minutes on all types.

PS: These are meant to improve training, as Louie points out in video 2. Doing a scaled Fran or Linda off 1rm does not mean one competes against another. And yes, we should try variance which might involve set weights. However, on the heavy end of things, scaling based on actually strength levels seems the smartest way to go about it which helps reduce or remove the chance of over training.


wrote …

Prilepin's chart which is the basis for rep counts and percentages in Louie's ME and DE lifts really isn't applicable for CrossFit WOD training. Louie's ideas are applicable to strength training.


replied to comment from Chris Mason

Hey Chris,

Haven't watched the above vid yet, however the Prilepin charts make perfect sense with regards to reps vs 1RM.

The Guide to Relative Intensity by Pierre Auge(Please forgive any incorrect spelling) sets out an extremely convinving and logical argument for using Prilepin chart as a basis for weight selection in WOD's along with biases for developing strength orientated WOD's etc.

If you haven't read it already I'd love to know if it changes your thoughts about applicability of Prilepin's charts with WODs.

Warm regards



wrote …

First, thanks for chiming in about this topic. It's always good to see your name pop up during discussion. However, I am confused by your last comment regarding Prilepin's chart. In your article "Conjugate CrossFit" you indicate that "met-cons can serve a similar function to DE days" and in so doing we should avoid "heavy, low-repetition movements." Wouldn't using Prilepin's chart or Pierre Augue's percentages serve that function? Correct me if I'm wrong, please, and thanks, again.


replied to comment from Robert Fabsik

Thanks Bob - will def check 'em out!


AJ Roberts wrote …

I'll have to disagree with Chris here and state that I think Prilepins chart is perfect for figuring out exactly what weight should be used for individuals on there WOD's.

Several things must be taken into account though as to use the chart you'd need to know your 1 rep max on the lift. Obviously you could figure out a perceived max but chances are you'll have to adjust as you as typically they are not accurate.

The other thing you must take into account is the total sets you will be performing. Prilepin lists out the optimal set ranges and so if the WOD is for time or outside the prescribed range then some adjustments would have to be made.


replied to comment from Peter Evans

Do you have a link for this?


wrote …

WODs are work done for time. Prilepin's chart talks about the correct number of repetitions to be performed at a given training intensity level when one is trying to build absolute strength. WODs have very little to do with building maximal strength, so the correct and optimal number of reps to be done to build absolute strength will not translate to the correct or optimal number of reps to be done for building WOD endurance.

Do you see my point? You are trying to use a formula for one adaptation by the body to elicit a very different adaptation and the SAID principle precludes that from being viable.

My point about DE days and WODs in my article was ONLY referring to the reduced intensity/active recovery aspect, NOT the building of explosive power.

By the way, for anyone who doesn't know AJ he is a VERY good member of Louie's powerlifting team with a 2,600 lbs total to his name. AJ is also a pretty smart guy when it comes to training and he knows Westside better than just about anyone.


replied to comment from Donna Connelly

I found this to be extremely helpful Donna. I'm definitely going to save it and apply it when I start getting back into the heavy Metcons.


wrote …

Chris try this link -

Not sure if WFS....


wrote …

A couple thoughts on doing Rx'd weights.

1. The Rx'd WOD is designed for a 170 pound *elite* athlete. If you are not an elite athlete then the Rx'd weight was not designed for you.

2. Imagine a non-elite athlete that can do Rx'd weights but in non-elite times. For example, he can do Fran but it takes him 10 minutes. His times will regularly be 2 to 4 times longer than an elite athlete doing the same workouts. This leads out non-elite athlete to spend a disproportionate amount of time in the longer time domain. This violates the "... broad time ..." clause.

Point #2 is very important and plays a pivotal role in how we scale workouts at CrossFit Malibu. Our goal, is that all athletes finish the workout in 80 to 120 percent of an elite athlete time. For example, we scale the pull ups / thrusters of Fran so that our athletes finish in 2:30 to 3:30. (about 80 to 120 percent of 3 min).


AJ Roberts wrote …

Chris brings up a very good point, which I sort of touched on in my response with regards to WOD's being for time. It also matches the point Scott brings up when adjusting weight so athletes complete the workout in the same time frame regardless of readiness. The key to Prilepin's chart, and to what Louie preaches is that you must train optimally for maximum performance.


wrote …

I'm starting to "get" the whole westside program and loving the video's but the the question I'd like answered is on exercise selection on ME and DE days.
Do you use the same exercise on DE day as that of ME day for that 3 week wave?
Eg Wk 1 ME front squat 220 pnd 1rm
Would my DE day then be a front squat at 50% or 110 pnd and so on?
Or would it be 3 wks front squat ME day with say 3 wks Box squat on DE day.
If it's the latter type scenario how does one know what 50% of a weight is if they have not done the box squat for ME or if it was done maybe 6 wks or 2 waves ago?
I hope this makes sense.



wrote …

Here's the link to Pierre Auge's article on scaling CrossFit WODs from Catalyst Athletics Performance Menu:

More than worth the $2.75. I have been using this for a long time with clients to get the most out of mainsite WODs.



wrote …

Typically the DE and ME exercises are not the exact same movement. At times they might be or close variants, but it is not planned that way.

I would think from a conjugate approach, working both of them at the same time might make you burn out from an exercise sooner. One of the reasons the Westside Guys change ME work almosst weekly is to prevent the body from getting used to a stimulus because once it gets used to the stimulus it will no longer adapt (get stronger or faster).

In DE day they use the same exercise for 3 weeks then change either the exercise or set up (bands/chains/straight weight) to prevent getting used to the stiumuls but also use the %waves to create some change to the training stimulus.



wrote …

Is anyone else wondering if the people that are putting up these amazing numbers that Louie is telling us of are on steroids? I'm not judging them if they are or not, I could care less but I think that is an important point.


replied to comment from Robert Fabsik


Thanks for the reply.
Ok you cleared some things up but my question remains and I only want answers because so much emphasis is put on the right movements, loads, volume, percentages and intensity that I want to get it right from the getgo

So to get the 50% load figure on DE days must one have done the same movement for a ME. Now with so many different movements ie. Bars, grips, bands n chains it could be months before you see the movement you did for ME work incorporated into your DE work.
So this is the stickler for me do you calculate off an exercise that you may have done a month/months ago if so I would have thought one would be stronger in that movement by the time the DE work came around or do the waves maybe then follow each other with the 2nd DE wave the same as the 1st ME wave?

Also for someone starting out 50% of What if they've never done it?

Thanks Again


wrote …

To the best of my knowledge the guys at Westside (maybe AJ or Chris can clarify), use their meet records as well as their ME days to calculate their dynamic day percentages.

If you haven't done the movement for a while, your percnetage might not be as exact. So if I competed in a meet and squated 380lbs, and for a couple of months didn't do a typical squat on a ME day, my DE day might be a little off until I test the squat again in a ME fashion.

But, I also think that a lot of these guys know how their lifts carry over from one to the other. So if 2 months ago, I squatted 380 in a meet and on ME day the week later I front squatted 250, I'll base my DE off of the 380. Then, I decide on ME days to focus on front squats, good mornings and rack pulls to work my weaknesses, I might not do the regular squat for a while; but when I test my front squat max and it goes up, I know my squat will go up too. If I know how well they correlate, I might be able to adjust me DE days a little.

Remember DE day is to build speed, so your goal is to find a % that works for you to maximize speed which Louie finds between 50-70% based on the lift, lifter and gear they choose to use. Remember even if you keep your DE days pretty similar with weights until you max out again, you should be building the assistance and ME work so that you'll be ready to push the DE exercises up.

Hopes this helps.


replied to comment from ryan foster

Great question Ryan. Search the journal for "Dave Tate, Steroids" and you get a good idea of steroids in the powerlifting community.


replied to comment from Chris Bonner

From everything I have seen, researched, and heard, Louie's system of training by percentages for strength gains is incredibly effective. Yet, I don't think the same approach optimizes GPP.

The art of scaling CrossFit workouts is both subtle and profound. All attempts to systematize scaling with set rules or formulas fall far short of the inherent potential benefits. I cringe when I hear people say the WODs are supposed to be done in a certain time, or everyone should have a similar experience with a given workout. That's just plain BS.

It has been said many times that the main site CrossFit WODs as Rx'd are designed to challenge the world's fittest athletes. This is true. But I can assure you that most of the WODs challenge various elite athletes in different ways depending on their relative strengths and weaknesses. I believe it is arrogant and misguided to think anyone knows precisely what a given workout is for (again, talking GPP here). Optimizing human performance is incredibly complex.

I know this flies in the face of a lot of what people out there say. But look at the world's fittest athletes. In interviews after they won the CrossFit Games, each year's male and female champ has had a casualness in describing how they approached their training. None of the eight champs (in the year they won) described a meticulous system of formulas, percentages, or approaches for making gains. That said, most of the champs adopted a more systematic, thoughtful approach in the following year, and we have yet to see a repeat. Of course, the sport is brand new, the numbers are tiny, and there are tons of other factors. But my point remains: it is impossible to optimize GPP through finely calculated systems.

Instead, mix it up. And have fun with it. And then mix up how you mix it up. If you've never played with percentages, spend 6-10 weeks training by percentages. See what that feels like. Never done a bodyweight bias? Go a month without touching a barbell.

But if you have tried these things in the past, then you're more likely to see bigger gains mixing up the approaches with each workout. This is precisely what the main site WOD attempts to do. And scale with the same constantly varied approach. Otherwise, you're missing out.


AJ Roberts wrote …

I'll try to clear up some of the confusion as to the percentages for DE days as well as exercise selection.

For the DE percentages ideally you would have a max on each bar, box height, band combo, chain combo etc. Realistically this is never the case and so this is where training by feel & or guess work comes in. It's also important to note that some athletes may be more explosive than others and so percentages are a guideline but not an absolute.

As far as ME days go we typically rotate between deadlift variation, goodmorning variation and squat variation. Very rarely do we do the same exercise on DE day as on ME. So for example a 3 week cycle may look like the following.

Week 1
Mon - ME Lower - Deadlift off blocks
Wed - ME Upper - Reverse Band Bench Press
Fri - DE Lower - Straight Bar Box Squats w/green band
Sat - DE Upper - Speed bench

Week 2
Mon - ME Lower - Arched Back Goodmonrings with Safety squat bar
Wed - ME Upper - Floor Press
Fri - DE Lower - Straight Bar Box Squats w/green band
Sat - DE Upper - Speed bench

Week 3
Mon - ME Lower - Front Squats into giant foam
Wed - ME Upper - Football bar bench press
Fri - DE Lower - Straight Bar Box Squats w/green band
Sat - DE Upper - Speed bench

Now I know most crossfitters are not big on bench press or have multiple bars to choose from so a 3 week cycle may look something like this

Week 1
Mon - ME Lower - Deadlift off blocks
Wed - ME Upper - Seated over head press
Fri - DE Lower - Straight Bar Box Squats w/green band
Sat - DE Upper - Speed work using olympic lifts ie/ clean with band

Week 2
Mon - ME Lower - Goodmornings with straight bar
Wed - ME Upper - Push Press
Fri - DE Lower - Straight Bar Box Squats w/green band
Sat - DE Upper - Speed work using olympic lifts ie/ clean with band

Week 3
Mon - ME Lower - Overhead squats
Wed - ME Upper - Standing kettlebell overhead press
Fri - DE Lower - Straight Bar Box Squats w/green band
Sat - DE Upper - Speed work using olympic lifts ie/ clean with band

Hopefully you guys can see how easy it is to substitute in various exercises on the appropriate days.


replied to comment from AJ Roberts

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this all out. This is very helpful.


wrote …

I have been looking into the conjugate methodology in an attempt to increase pure power numbers, a severe shortcoming of mine. Coming in as a powerlifting neophyte does it fit the system to simply add the me and de days to my CF training(2-3 met cons per day) or is it necessary to scale down the volume to avoid overtraining?

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