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Improving Strength with the Westside Conjugate System

 Written by 

Damect Dominguez

 Last updated on 

Since I became involved in the CrossFit community five years ago, the number one remark I hear from athletes around the world is, ‘I need to get stronger’. That’s not to say that being proficient at all of the other components of fitness is not important, but in my experience, the foundation of all fitness for any athlete is strength. When an athlete raises his or her maximal strength, suddenly other skills become more

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attainable. And in today’s CrossFit environment, these skills are continuing to grow in number and difficulty. The days of the garage gym athlete and part-time CrossFitter making it to the Games are coming to an end. Today, elite-level CrossFit athletes are training full-time, multiple times per day. These men and women have several coaches in different fields of expertise, and their personal lives revolve around their sport. They are professional athletes in every sense of the term.

Fortunately, in terms of developing strength for CrossFit, there is a system of training that is ideal for athletes at every level—in my opinion. At CrossFit Conjugate, we follow the principles of the world-renowned Westside Conjugate System that are applied to CrossFit. The system was introduced at Westside Barbell, in Columbus, Ohio, home to the strongest powerlifters in the world. But make no mistake, the Westside Conjugate System is not a system designed solely for powerlifters. It is a system that has been used with world-class success for athletes ranging from NFL players to marathon runners. It is a system easily adaptable to any sport. CrossFit is constantly varied. Constantly varied is Conjugate. A match made in heaven.

The Conjugate system is comprised of 20% core lifts and 80% special exercises. Lack of special exercises, otherwise known as accessory movements, may be the biggest weakness we see in most CrossFit athletes. These movements directly target specific areas of the body. We emphasize the entire posterior chain, as this tends to be the most glaring weakness with the majority of athletes. With an increased volume of accessory movements and reduced volume of more traditional movements—such as the back squat, for example—these athletes are becoming stronger, well-rounded and significantly less injury prone. The perfect combination of high volume/low intensity (dynamic effort) work and high intensity/low volume (max effort) work will provide constant variation for the athlete. Dynamic effort, otherwise known as “speed work”, requires training with sub-maximal weights at maximal speeds, and is a key missing link in most athletes’ training protocols.

We have worked with thousands of athletes using this system with great success, both in regular classes and at the highest competitive level. This system is synonymous with longevity. Do you want a short, whirlwind career? Or one that keeps you improving as an athlete for as long as you’d like? I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t choose the latter.
This system is made up of four strength-training days. When incorporating the system into CrossFit training it looks something like this:


Max Effort Lower Body: Squat or Deadlift variation at max weight. Plus accessory movements.


Dynamic Effort Upper Body: Bench Press or Overhead Press variation at submaximal weight, typically adding accommodating resistance. Plus accessory movements.


Olympic Lifting and Active Recovery: Sled Work or other


Dynamic Effort Lower Body: Squat, typically to a box and Deadlift, both at submaximal weight, and typically adding accommodating resistance. Plus accessory movements.


Max Effort Upper Body: Bench Press or Overhead Press variation max. Plus accessory movements


Olympic Lifting and skill work


Rest or light active recovery

Sample Max Effort Lower Workout (Sets x Reps)
Conventional Stance Deadlift Against 25% Band Tension – 1 Rep Max
Glute Ham Raises, Weighted – 3×10
Seated Good Mornings with Safety Squat Bar – 3×12
Dimmel Deadlifts – 3×20
Reverse Hypers – 3×30
Decline Zercher Sit Ups – Heavy, 4×10

Each training day also includes a WOD or multiple WODs. We design the WOD to meet the day’s strength training emphasis. If it is a lower body day, we focus the WOD heavily towards lower body movements. Typically the volume is higher on dynamic effort days, so we often do longer or higher volume WODs on those days. Shorter and/or heavier WODs are saved for max effort days. Your schedule doesn’t need to follow the pattern listed above, but for proper central nervous system recovery, you must have 72 hours between your two lower body days, and 72 hours between your two upper body days.

The Westside Conjugate System is not only for the elite athlete. We have seamlessly modified and adapted this system into our daily CrossFit classes. Our athletes are as diverse as our programing, ranging in age from 18 to 70 and from individuals with no athletic background to former college athletes. Everyone makes progress. Everyone gets stronger and more athletic. Everyone is mentally and physically challenged. And most importantly, everyone enjoys the constant variety of training. Conjugate is rooted in history. It is the present. And it will grow and flourish with the future of CrossFit.

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