The Conjugate System: Phase 1 of the Beginner Powerlifting Workout

Have you been thinking about competing in a powerlifting competition? The conjugate system is a proven way to boost your strength. Start with this program!

Workout Summary

Increase Strength
Split
Beginner
4 weeks
4
60-90 minutes
Bands, Barbell, Bodyweight, Cables, Dumbbells
Male & Female
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Workout Description

For several decades, Westside Barbell has been the strongest gym in the world.

They have set more world records than any other gym, and have helped more lifters reach Elite and Pro status than any other gym.

I was lucky enough to train at Westside and learn from Louie Simmons, and several of the veteran lifters like Josh Gutridge, Joe Bayles, Chuck Vogelpohl, and Luke Edwards.

Training with these lifters made me realize a few things:

  1. I was weak.
  2. There is a mentality that they possess that I have never seen before.

Since then I have become a strong believer in the conjugate method more than any other training program I have ever used. Let’s explain a few definitions before we get into a beginner workout program to push your strength.

  • Conjugate: A system that constantly rotates the volume, intensity, and exercises.
  • Max Effort: Lifting a maximal load against a maximal resistance.
  • Dynamic Effort: Lifting a non-maximal load with maximal force.
  • Repetition Effort: Lifting a non-maximal load to failure; during the final repetitions, the muscles develop the maximum force possible in a fatigued state.
  • Volume: Amount, total.
  • Supplemental Lifts: Movements that closely mimic the three main lifts (Squat, Bench, Deadlift).
  • Accessory Lifts: Movements that are performed with the goal of building muscle for hypertrophy. These don't mimic the competition lifts.
  • Beginner: The beginners using this program are younger lifters who are new to a strength training template and might be looking to enter their first powerlifting meet. Training history will be 0-2 years.
  • Competitor: A competitor is someone who has three to five meets in powerlifting for experience. They are closing in on an Elite total, but have not yet hit Elite status. Training history will be 2-10 years.
  • Advanced: These are the lifters who have achieved Elite or Pro status in powerlifting. They are in the top 50 current lifter list. Training history will be 10+ years.

These definitions will help over the next three articles as we lay out a beginner strength program using the Westside Barbell principles.

This program is designed for lifters in the beginner category or someone who has never tackled this type of strength/powerlifting program. Beginner lifters will need to build a large base of muscle and a strength base. But seasoned lifters who need to increase work capacity or recover from a competition can also use this template.

12 Week Beginner Powerlifting Program Complete Overview

This will be a complete 12-week guide to get a new lifter ready to take on the platform. Please note that this is a program using the principles we have used at Westside Barbell and Showtime Strength & Performance. I highly recommend for more information on conjugate training and Westside Barbell to visit their website, www.westside-barbell.com and read the articles and Louie’s books.

In this program, we will train four days a week. The layout will be the following:

  • Monday: Max Effort Lower
  • Wednesday: Max Effort Upper
  • Friday: Dynamic Effort Lower
  • Saturday: Dynamic Effort Upper

With the program laid out like this it will allow time for recovery between max effort training sessions. This template will include three blocks of training broken up into four weeks at a time.

After the three blocks of training, there will be two weeks of prep for a meet or if you are planning to test in the gym. These two weeks are crucial to help finish off a great training cycle. In that time, you will not get stronger, but you could get a lot weaker if you don't recover.

Remember that the only numbers that count are on the platform.

There will also be two drop sets after main movements on max effort training days. The reason for this is to build hypertrophy in the lifters. This is something we have used with great success with our beginning lifters.

Weeks 1-4: 12 Week Beginner Powerlifting Program

This first 4 week block is designed to help lifters get used to dropping reps and really gauge their max effort movements. Max effort training is the greatest training method because it teaches your body to strain for longer periods of time. Once the body learns how to maintain position through straining it will lead to big PRs.

Max effort movements will be for three reps this block except deadlift, only to reduce fatigue while deadlifting and avoid injury.

The accessory movements are critical and will help push the main movements. Dont neglect these and take them just as serious as main exercises.

Most of these exercises will likely be new to lifters, but these are the lifts that build some of the strongest lifters ever.

Week 1

Day 1
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. 10 inch Box Squat 1 3RM Max
Drop 15% 1 5-8 reps -
Drop 15% 1 8-14 reps -
2a. Glute Ham Raise 3 15 Bodyweight
2b. Back Extension 3 15 Bodyweight
2c. Lat Pull Down 3 20 -
3a. Sit Up 3 10 Bodyweight
3b. Side Crunch 3 10 Bodyweight
3c. Plank 3 1 Min Bodyweight
Day 2
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. Close Grip Bench Press 1 3RM Max
Close Grip Bench Press 3 15 -
2a. Dumbbell Flat Bench Press 3 20 -
2b. Band Pushdown 3 20 -
2c. Band Pull Apart 3 20 -
3a. Dumbbell Side Raise 3 20 -
3b. Dumbbell Bent Over Side Raise 3 20 -
3c. Dumbbell Serrano Press 3 20 -
Day 3
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. Box Squat 10 2 75% of max
2. Deadlift 10 1 75% of max
3a. Banded Good Morning 3 20 -
3b. Seated Row 3 20 -
3c. Banded Leg Curl 3 20 -
4a. V Up 3 10 10lbs
4b. Wide Straight Leg Sit Up 3 10 10lbs
4c. Russian Twist 3 20 10lbs
Day 4
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. Bench Press* 9 3 75% of max
2. Chin Extension Press 5 8 Heavy
3a. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press 3 20 -
3b. Elbows Out Dumbbell Extension 3 15 -
3c. Underhand Pull Apart 3 20 -
4a. One Arm Dumbbell Row 3 15 -
4b. Dumbbell Front Raise 3 15 -
4c. Band Pushdown 3 30 -

*Utilize all 3 grips during your sets.

Week 2

Day 1
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. Good Morning 1 3RM Max
Drop 15% 1 5-8 -
Drop 15% 1 8-12 -
2. Sumo RDL 3 15 -
3a. Lat Pull Down 3 20 -
3b. Incline Dumbbell Shrug 3 20 -
3c. Standing Cable Twist 3 20 -
Day 2
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. 3 Board Close Grip Bench Press 1 3RM -
2. JM Press 5 8 Heavy
3a. Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 12 -
3b. Barbell Bent Over Row 3 10 -
3c. Seated Dumbbell Shrug 3 20 -
4. Vogelpohl Sit Up 3 10 -
Day 3
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. Box Squat 10 2 80%
2. Deadlift 10 1 80%
3a. Glute Ham Raise 3 10 -
3b. 45 Degree Back Extension 3 10 -
3c. Reverse Hyper 3 20 -
3d. Decline Sit Up 3 20 -
Day 4
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. Bench Press* 9 3 75%
2. Close Grip Bench Press 4 8-12 Heavy
3a. Seated Cable Row 4 20 -
3b. Lat Pull Down 4 20 -
3c. Rope Face Pull 4 20 -
3d. Band Pushdown 4 20 -

*Utilize all 3 grips during your sets.

Week 3

Day 1
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. 2.5 Inch Deficit Deadlift 1 3RM Max
2. 10 Inch Box Squat 3 10 -
3. Barbell RDL 3 10 -
4a. Sit Up 3 10 25
4b. Wide Leg Sit Up 3 10 25
4c. Side Crunch 3 10 25
Day 2
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. 2 Board Close Grip Bench Press 1 3RM Max
2a. Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 3 15 -
2b. Bent Over Dumbbell Side Raise 3 15 -
2c. Overhead Band Tricep Extension 3 20 -
2d. Standing Band Crunch 3 20 -
Day 3
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. Box Squat* 8 2 70/75/80/85 %
2. Deadlift 6 1 75%
3a. Banded Good Morning 3 15 -
3b. Lying Single Leg Band Curl 3 20 -
3c. Reverse Hyper 3 20 -

*Do 2 sets at each weight.

Day 4
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. Bench Press 9 3 80%
2a. Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench Press 3 15 -
2b. One Arm Dumbbell Row 3 15 -
2c. Lat Bar Face Pull 3 20 -
2d. Band Pushdown 3 30 -

Week 4

Day 1
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. Front Box Squat 1 3RM Max
2. Good Morning 5 10 Moderate
3a. 45 Degree Back Extension 4 10 -
3b. Glute Ham Raise 4 10 -
3c. Lat Pull Down 4 20 -
3d. Standing Band Punch 4 20 -
Day 2
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. Floor Press 1 3RM Max
2. Close Grip Floor Press 3 10 -
3a. Elbows Out Dumbbell Extension 3 12 -
3b. Chest Supported Row 3 15 -
3c. Band Front Raise 3 20 -
3d. Hanging Knee Raise 3 10 Bodyweight
Day 3
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. Squat 10 2 75%
2. Sumo Deadlift 10 1 75%
3a. Barbell RDL 3 10 -
3b. Seated Band Leg Curl 3 20 -
3c. Standing V Bar Row to Chest 3 20 -
4. Push Up Plank 3 1 Min Bodyweight
Day 4
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
1. Bench Press 9 3 75%
2. Close Grip 3 Board Press 3 15 -
3a. Underhand Barbell Row 4 10 -
3b. Pull Up 4 10 -
3c. Dumbbell Shrug 4 20 -
3d. Band Pushdown 4 25 -

Training Guidelines

  1. Hit 5lb PRs: If you have a personal record on an exercise, beat it by five pounds and move on to the next thing.
  2. Max Effort: Very hard, learn to strain and keep form with heavy weights.
  3. Dynamic Effort: Very fast and no more than 60 seconds rest between sets.
  4. Compete: With your training partners and yourself. Push for bigger numbers each workout.
  5. Record: Your training sessions and numbers in a notebook. This will be crucial for hitting personal records.
  6. Weakness: First find your weak area, and then do exercises to eliminate it and make it your strong area.
  7. Eat: You will need to eat more food to keep up with the demands of the program. You will need it to recover and grow stronger.
  8. Rest: Train on the days prescribed and rest on off days. If you train hard, you need to recover hard. Remember, medals are given to the strongest, not to who trains the most.

Real results can be achieved from the program laid out in front of you. What is required is a level of intensity most don't know exist, brutally hard exercises, constant progression, and a fuel deep inside burning for more.

For any questions, feel free to email me at [email protected] and I will help with any technique or programming issues.

Coming Soon: Phase 2 of the Beginner Powerlifting Workout (Weeks 5-8)

2 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Mon, 12/04/2017 - 07:55
Frédéric C-Proulx

To hit the 3RM im guessing its better to climb the weights til 3RM rather than hit the max right away ?

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Posted Tue, 12/05/2017 - 07:50
Nick Showman

Correct-work up quickly and hit a solid 3RM