December Blog – Russian Conjugate Periodization or Westside Barbell Powerlifting

I really struggle with the concepts of periodization. Linear? Undulating? Concurrent? Conjugate?

Much of the periodization confusion comes from the fascination in our industry with the Westside Barbell philosophy. Westside advocates conjugate periodization, a term many, including me, don’t seem to truly understand. The one large differentiating factor for me is that training athletes is not like training powerlifters. This is the basic problem. Powerlifters are athletes, but athletes are not powerlifters. Trying to integrate the concepts used in training by elite powerlifters into the training of athletes is difficult. The Russian Conjugate Method’s foundation came from the Russian PASM, and is rooted in the research of A. Novikov, “the father of Russian physical education,”  and N. G. Ozolin’s research on the concurrent system of long-term training. We can trace the history of PASM back to 1949, but the Russian’s mastered their system in the late 60’s early 70’s. In fact, their system was very productive. Many world records were broken in the Olympics by Soviet & East German athletes from the late 60’s into the 80’s (1984 Olympics & The Friendship Games after the 84 Olympics).  

Is it a VALID system still today?  

I say NO.

Why?  DRUGS!  

Since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 coaches, athletes and government officials from the former Soviet Union or East Germany have stated so, and so does Louie Simmons (Westside Barbell, Columbus OH).  I know I’ve been out there and know several others who have as well and Westside admits to it.  More power to them, they are honest I give them that! So were is the validity in this system? Those results I would  say can be based on the drugs they used. Plain and simple drugs work!  But as far as I’m concerned there is definitely a better way! 

Conjugate is variant of concurrent programming and still trains multiple qualities but with an emphasis (greater portion of total training volume) on one while maintaining the others with limited volume in each training block. The point that I think a lot of folks miss is that each preceding training block of emphasis is designed to enhance the following which makes it conjugated or linked.

For example, if a high level athlete requires greater power output, a block emphasizing increased volume of maximal strength/maintaining power followed by a reduction in volume of maximal strength work and an increased emphasis/volume of power should raise power to a higher level than if both are worked on equally in consecutive training blocks.”

As I thought about these definitions, I realized why I was confused. In a sports training setting we are always concurrent or conjugate. We constantly, and out of necessity, train multiple quantities. But unlike powerlifters, we train more than strength quantities. A powerlifter’s end goal is always strength. They may add dynamic days to develop explosiveness but, at the end of the day, the goal is simply to lift more weight.

When I began to understand the concepts better, I realized that training athletes is always concurrent and sometimes conjugate. The reason I failed to understand the concepts was because I had been doing conjugate or concurrent periodization for 12 years, and I just didn’t realize it.

In the off-season we train for power at least three different ways. Olympic lifts use heavy loads to train for power, while plyometrics use primarily bodyweight. Medicine balls use small external loads in comparison to the significant loads used in Olympic lifting. While I am training my athlete for power, I am concurrently training my athlete for strength. At certain times ( notably pre-season) we will decrease the strength and power emphasis (are we now conjugate?) and have a greater energy system emphasis. Another concurrent thread?

I consider Al Vermeil to be a wise man (4 super bowl rings 49ers & 6 NBA rings Chicago Bulls) and Al simply said “keep a thread of everything in your program.”

I think if you had to pick what type of system we use at RSPF, it would be an Integrated System.  Which means every athlete/sport has many different demands so we must be willing to have a large tool box and not be married to one tool!

Take your pick, concurrent or conjugate.  Bottom line in sports training is, you can never train just for strength or just for power or, just for speed. We need to train concurrently for all of the above in the off-season and keep at least a thread of all of it in the program year round.