-Limited Conjugate Method
When I began to delve into the sacred texts (sorry, I really love Louie) of Louie Simmons I began to realize that if programmed with intent, CrossFit could be directed in such a way that it would look very much like a high intensity version of the Conjugate Method. I’ll give you an example…
We run 4, 6, and 12 week cycles at my gym. We do these with our general population clients because it give us something to focus on and gives every new wave of clients a chance to learn the focus of the cycle when it comes around again. Mostly we focus the 6 weeks on a main lift (Clean and Jerk or Snatch), a main gymnastic (ring work, HS work, or bar work), and some sort of squat percentage wave. Then I program at least some of our met-cons to help develop any of the things we’re working on. If it’s a HS Walk cycle, I might program Shoulder Touches as part of a daily WOD, or if it’s a Snatch wave, I might program Muscle Snatches as part of the metcon or something along those lines. Anyway, back to the example…
Recently I programmed a Clean & Jerk cycle with a different goal in mind. We had a group of about 15 folks (anyone I’m talking about here is a general gym member – no competitive CFers) who started a 12 week Wendler cycle, and I decided I wanted to see how big of a difference a specific PL cycle vs. a specific “Limited Conjugate” cycle made. To throw even more excitement into the test, I decided to try something I’d been wanting to do for a while, which was program ZERO Deadlifts, only Power Cleans and Cleans for pulling off the floor and heavy Back Squats for skeletal loading. We did a ton of Hang Cleans – with a full stall – to get everyone stronger in spinal extension with weight hanging below the scapula and held pretty close to Prilepin’s Table for loading.
I’m sure you get where this is going. We tested 61 people at the end of the concurrent cycles. Of the 12 Wendlers that tested the average PR was just under 18# with – in my opinion – the numbers being skewed a bit by a couple 80+ pound PRs from two people who had rarely Deadlifted before the initial test (one of which who gained nearly 15# during the cycle). There were SIX of the 5/3/1 group who UN-PR’d, and a few others who tested the exact same. Of the “Limited Conjugate” group EVERY SINGLE PERSON PR’d by an average of 40# on the men’s side and 18# on the women’s side. The average male Deadlift, of the 33 men who tested from the LC group was 396 pounds… That’s the fucking AVERAGE. These are normal people. Not a single one of them was from our gym’s group of competitive CFers. We had FIVE dudes pull 500+. My gym is not huge and we didn’t have a bunch of ex-Division 1 athletes testing.
Just in case you’re wondering; I believe the LC group was more successful because the nature of the 5/3/1 program does not allow for any speed development to break the floor with the Deadlift. On the other side, if you look at barbell speed tests, the BB travels about 40% faster off the floor on a Power Clean than it does on a similarly weighted Deadlift (you can find the tests, we’ve tested also). Therefore, if the majority of your pulling off the floor is done as a Power Clean (or Clean), and it’s in the same percentage range as your Deadlift rep work would be (50-70), then you’re producing MORE FORCE every time you pull the barbell off the ground, which is the holy grail of Westside’s Dynamic Effort days. While the 5/3/1 group was pulling heavy reps, they were getting slower rep after rep, or at least they were not getting faster. The LC group, even when missing Cleans (this is sort of mind-blowing if you think about it), were getting faster off the ground and therefore, when testing a 1RM single, were able to have more productive application of force.
It is my strong belief that if pointed in the right direction a “Limited Conjugate” version of CrossFit is unparalleled in it’s ability to develop whatever the goals of the programmer and program are.
I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m calling it the “Limited” Conjugate Method. The main reason is the fact that generally, in CrossFit, we have a limited number of exercises. I am NOT going to program Board Presses or Tricep Extensions to help with Bench Press strength. I will program Bench Press to help with overall strength and lockout, but there is only so far, comfortably, that I can dive into the true Conjugate Method. I still like to program, as Coach would say, “mess you up” movements, and there is a limit to how far you can dive into a full Conjugate Method while sticking to this principle.
I’ve always been a numbers guy. I’ve also got a pretty severe case of ADD. At one point, when I was a freshman in high school, I had a Rainman level knowledge of every NBA player’s stats for about a 3- or 4-season range. But… I couldn’t finish simple geometry homework or pay attention for more than 3 minutes while sitting in class. Bottom line: if you present me with something I give a shit about, I will obsess on it until I learn every minute detail.
When I first started writing WODs with a competition slant, I didn’t really have a system in mind. I just knew they should be things that HQ would program, and they should be hard. We had also been experimenting with some super-heavy metcons as a sort of a response to the 2008 Games WODs; especially the final heavy/squat Grace (which I got cockpunched by). I had just written King-Kong, even though that was sort of an aberration, and things like Transformers were starting to appear. I was also spending a huge amount of time talking training with my buddy Steve (last name withheld—yes, he does that kind of stuff) who was a former high-level powerlifter and was as big of a training nerd as I was. Steve had a sort of philosophy already established, which was “whatever is good to do, is good to overdo.” The first CF WOD Steve ever did was “Fran.” He didn’t know how to kip and had never done a thruster. His time was 3:06, with strict full ROM pullups, and he ran 2 miles afterward so he could “get some sweat.”
Steve gave me his full volume of training books to read one day when I was at his house. This included, you guessed it, the Westside Barbell Book of Methods. I had been a sort of Westside lurker for years and kept my distance because I considered myself to be an “athletic trainer” (read: smart guy) not a “meathead powerlifter” (read: dumb guy with a belt). When I started reading the Methods I realized how absolutely fucking genius it was (again—I’m a numbers guy), and I immediately started obsessing. I tried to program everything around Pripelin’s Chart and began to think about ways to employ Dynamic Effort principles into WODs without going crazy with bands and chains. We also started a tradition of “Max Effort Mondays,” which has become an absolute staple of our gym. Basically, I sort of fell into programming based on the Limited Conjugatemethod.
In the three plus years since I started programming for competitive CF athletes, I’ve basically maintained as much of what I learned from Westside Methods as I could. I’ve also added some Bulgarian Weightlifting Method, some traditional and non-traditional periodization waves focused on lactate threshold and volume tolerance, some Wendler style linear percentage work, a little Poliquin tempo training, and topped it all off with a metric shit ton of all versions of my personal favorite movement—the barbell Squat.
Let me also add, when it comes to the straight work capacity development part of this program, there will never be a more appropriate tool than the CrossFit.com-style metcon. These will be the bread and butter of the operation as we move further and further into the season. I dare you to show me something worse (in a good way) than “Fran,” “Helen,” or any other evil couplet/triplet that is just the right amount of work to not give you an excuse to stop but makes you question why the fuck you’ve done this to yourself. I am not and will not EVER try to reinvent the metcon wheel. It is impossible to do. A 5- 10-minute metcon designed well enough to not create any need for the athlete to rest is the most beautiful thing in the training world. I am merely trying to build athletes who will be prepared to move swiftly and with economy during whatever combination HQ throws into that 10-minute beauty.
When you plug the Limited Conjugate into all aspects of programming, you can begin to design daily WODs that will build to a bigger goal. The goal here is to be prepared for CrossFit competitions and CrossFit Games season. I would use the exact same design and template no matter what I was trying to prepare an athlete for, depending upon the demands of their season. The loading and volume of the program will change as we move closer to the season, then back to the off-season. A few weeks ago Brandon (Phillips) said to me, “It’s the off-season. We should only be doing enough metcon to keep us hungry.” I couldn’t agree more. Here are the basics of what we’re doing right now:
From 4 weeks after the Games until 4 weeks before the Open begins: This is when we build. If you’re worried about losing your “wind” because of a local competition, then you have your priorities wrong. I’ve moderated volume to ensure that strength/power/skill building will not be stunted. We’re working on the highest level (that we will need) of gymnastics skills as frequently as possible and are practicing to attain a virtuoso level with the Olympic lifts (for overall athletic development). Add in some good old-fashioned CrossFit.com-style ass-kickery, some traditional S&C Barbell and Bodyweight movements for overall strength gains, and govern it with a Limited Conjugate method that does a perfect job of keeping everything in order.
The Open through 4 weeks before Regionals: To be continued…
The mere practice of the Olympic lifts teaches an athlete how to apply large amounts of force. Part of the extraordinary abilities of an Olympic lifter arises out of his having learned how to effectively activate more of his muscle fibers more rapidly than others who aren’t trained to do so. This becomes extremely important for athletes who need to remain at lower body weights for athletic purposes but need to learn how to apply greater force. – Artie Dreschler
This is a powerful (no pun intended) quote. I love weightlifting – I love powerlifting. The problem, however, with gaining absolute strength through powerlifting is the fact that the CNS is loaded for far more time than it is when performing the fast lifts. Therefore powerlifting takes a greater toll on the lifter and simply causes more fatigue and is harder to recover from. So, we Olympic Weightlift – a lot. The practice of the lifts improves rate of force development, builds flexibility/mobility, and allows for a level of general coordination that is unparalleled outside of – you guessed it – actual sports. I can throw 20-30 ME (or 90%+) lifts – which is what we’re doing on a weekly basis – at athletes per week without significant CNS fatigue or even soreness. Our skill transfer and accessory movements are basically programmed to work on the issues I’ve seen in most lifters (snatch balance ring a bell?).
The other inherent beauty of WL is that it is used all the time in CF competitions. Have any of you EVER done a competition that didn’t have a single WL or WL accessory movement? Guess what Grace feels like when you have a 300+ pound clean & jerk AND you’re really fit – feels like you’re playing with the kids weights.
How many kettlebell swings have you done in your life? Is that a high degree of difficulty movement for you? Have you ever heard a single CF competitor say, “I really can’t get KB swings”? (no AJ Moore comments)
If there’s going to be something you suck at, it’s going to be Muscle-Ups, HSPU, HS Walks, etc. Unless you drill these things constantly you’re not going to get better. I simply try to put these together in clever ways so we’ll have hit them from every possible angle (weighted, unbroken, pre-fatigued, fresh) and I like to do them in every possible way you could see them in competition (strict/kipping HSPU, HSPU on plates, HSPU on rings, MU on high rings, MU with turnout, bar MU, etc.). By the time you get to competition hopefully we’ve already practiced whatever comes out, and hopefully we’re good at it.
I know you all love Murph, but you won’t see it here. In fact, if you see anything over 12 minutes, I screwed up. Why?
As I’ve heard Coach say a million times – “All positive adaptations come through intensity”. Intensity is incredibly hard to maintain past 8 minutes, much less out past 12. Also, and this is even more important to me, anything past 12 minutes tends to lend itself to a fuckload of reps. A fuckload of reps means one thing – you get sore and your body breaks down (I guess that’s 2 things, and you’re all coaches – you don’t need me to break down the science). When you start to break down, we stop making positive gains and start to lose the strength gains we’ve already made. Not to mention, general muscular fatigue/soreness detracts from your ability to perform high level movements, and that is a great deal of what the program is based upon. I monitor the amount of reps (in met-cons… heavy – light – accessory – push – pull) we perform every week very closely and use many of the same charts that Louie Simmons has used for years, which are the same charts that some of the greatest European S&C coaches in history developed.
This, in my opinion, is possibly the most important piece of this whole equation. I actually got away from this in getting Becky and Brandon ready for last years Games and I think they suffered because of it. Brandon set me straight on this after the Games, and after the numbers we’ve seen in the last few months, he was absolutely right in doing so. The point is; you’re all really fucking fit already. You don’t need to get monkey stomped every day to become a better CrossFit competitor, but you do need to be good at going ALL OUT for moderate to short efforts while maintaining the highest possible level of efficiency.
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