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BUSY MAN CONJUGATE TRAINING

My life recently took a turn for the best with the birth of my firstborn. Jayden Thibaudeau was born on August 30th, 2018 at 17:17. He came to life the same way he was conceived: coming a bit too early. But despite being premature by 4 weeks and kept under observation for 3 days, he came home in good health.

He seems to already be pretty smart. The first day home he was tucked in in his blanket and dropped his pacifier. He untucked himself, grabbed the pacifier, brought it back to his mouth and held it there not to drop it again. I know that every parent in the world sees every random gesture of their newborn as a sign of intelligence but let me live my dream!

I’m thinking he has his mother’s intelligence because I still have mine (lucky for me she doesn’t read my articles).

Don’t worry, you can keep reading this isn’t gonna be a puff piece about how great kids are.

Well, they are, but they also change your life. As in drastically reduce your sleep as well as your free time.

And while not everybody has that specific “problem”, a lot of you find yourselves in a similar situation because of your job or life in general. Maybe you don’t have as much time as you once did to hit the gym. Maybe because of financial, work, relationship stress, you aren’t sleeping optimally either.

Does that mean that you can’t hit the gym and progress? No, it doesn’t, but it changes how you should approach your sessions.

I want to present you how I am handling my training at the moment and why I am using the structure that I am.

WHAT I NEED

If you’ve been reading my stuff for some time you know that…

  • I crave variation, using a fixed program kills my motivation
  • I need a combo of performance and “pump/mind-muscle connection” work
  • I prefer to train at a fast pace
  • I have to use various methods/contraction types to keep training interesting
  • I need “some” structure otherwise I wing it and feel like I’m spinning my wheels and lose motivation too
  • I can’t get bored. If I do, I train like a wuss and without any focus

That’s why I always like the conjugate approach to training (which is what a lot of people call “Westside training” but I believe that if you are not training at Westside, you aren’t doing “Westside” training. You are doing conjugate programming. And since I like to give things my own twist I feel more intellectually honest that way.

Conjugate training provides a basic structure, a template (e.g. Monday you do X type of workout, Tuesday you do Y type, etc.), but it is the system that has the most variation:

  • The “main work” is trained using 2 different approaches (the traditional Westside system uses the dynamic effort/explosive work and maximum effort/heavy lifting, but other versions use a combination of the maximum effort method and repetitive effort method/higher reps/reps record).
  • The maximum effort lift changes every 1-3 weeks
  • The assistance work can change every week. Either the exercises, loading schemes or methods

As long as you select the assistance work to fix your weaknesses in the big lifts, it will work.

WHAT I CAN’T DO

I used to be a total physical machine. Not so much performance-wise (although I was no slouch with a 445lbs bench press, 585lbs squat, 485lbs front squat, 600lbs deadlift, 315lbs snatch, 275lbs military press, 395lbs snatch high pull, etc.), but in work capacity.

I could seemingly do an endless amount of neurologically demanding work and recover; I once did 100 sets of bench press with 85-100% (granted they were sets of 1-5 reps, but still) in the morning, 70 more in the evening and hit a personal best the next day!

But it’s something I simply cannot do anymore. My nervous system is a lot more fragile. And now with the lack of sleep, nervous drain from taking care of my kid, handling my business, giving seminars, the less neurologically demanding work I do, the better off I am.

Note: neurologically demanding work refers to either heavy, explosive or high skill

Let’s look at things I can’t do anymore.

  • I can’t do neurologically demanding work 4+ days a week. 2-3 is my current limit.
  • I can’t do as much volume as I once did. I notice that as I got older, my capacity to tolerate volume went down. Now with the lack of sleep, and faster paced life that leads to a higher cortisol level, it’s even worse. And it sucks because I’m a stimulus addict and love to do volume.
  • I cannot train more than 4 days a week and feel good. I might be able to pull-off 5 days a week if one of those days is very low stress (like biceps, abs and calves). This also sucks because I was once a 6-7 days a week guy. I’m addicted to training: it makes me feel good. And even though I know better, not going to the gym one day makes me feel like I’m losing all my gains.
  • I need to be more careful with exercise selection, especially for my upper body. Years of abuse left my shoulders tender and many upper body pressing movements make things worse. And when they do the inflammation seems to create nerve compression which leads to a decrease in my capacity to recruit several muscles and I atrophy rapidly.
  • I can’t justify training more than 45, maaayyyyybe 60 minutes. We have to feed the baby every 3 hours and I would be signing my death warrant if I left my wife to do all the work. On top of that I still need to write articles, take care of the dogs, answer questions, prepare seminar material, coach, give seminars, etc. and my recovery capacity is much lower than it used to be.
  • I can’t do a lot of crazy beyond failure sets. Last year when I prepped for my photoshoot I used a low volume of training but a lot of beyond failure methods like rest/pauses, drop sets, mechanical drop sets and the like.

    But because of my higher mental fatigue I find that I just cannot push as hard, I often “fake myself out”. And when I do use the same level of effort as in the past, I feel like life has been drained out of me. This is also a big blow because I used that higher intensity to compensate for my drop in volume.
  • I can’t do upper body dynamic effort. Because of the 5 months I spent training exclusively on gymnastic rings years ago, my right elbow doesn’t fully extend and both AC joints are loose. When I try to press explosively it just doesn’t work, the body protects itself and prevents maximum acceleration. And I used to be super explosive! But I can still do lower body dynamic effort without any problem.

Because of that I cannot do a typical “Westside conjugate” program.

I got my strongest training using the exact Westside template. In fact, that’s when I snatched 315, even though I was snatching like once every 2-3 weeks. When I trained specifically for Olympic lifting my best was 285lbs.

But when I tried to get back to a pure “Westside template” last year, I crashed within 2 weeks.

WHAT I AM DOING

After careful analysis I came to the conclusion that the only approach I could use was a conjugate template. Anything that feels even remotely like a highly structured plan makes me feel miserable and kills my desire to train.

But as I explained, I cannot do a typical “Westside-inspired” conjugate program.

Here are the modifications I had to make:

        1. I dropped the upper body dynamic effort and replaced it with a repetitive effort day. This also removes a neurologically demanding day. What I do is that for the bench press I must do 100 reps in 4 sets (so an average of 25 per set).

          I start with around 50% and when I can do the 100 reps in 4 sets I add 10-20lbs. This is likely to help strengthen my tendons which could help regain shoulder stability and strength.
        2. I changed the order of the workouts a bit. Doing the lower body max effort then upper body max effort day (like the traditional Westside template) is too draining for me. I did what Jason Brown did (he was in the exact same situation as I am in: having a kid and moving at the same time) and switched the order to:

          – Lower body max effort
          – Upper body repetitive effort
          – Lower body dynamic effort
          – Upper body max effort

          My schedule is:

          Monday: Lower body max effort
          Tuesday: Upper body repetitive effort
          Wednesday: OFF
          Thursday: Lower body dynamic effort
          Friday: OFF
          Saturday: Upper body max effort
          Sunday: OFF

          Of course, when I give seminars away from home I will need to adjust the schedule a bit.

        3. The assistance/remedial/hypertrophy work is done as a circuit to save time.
        4. I do most of my maximum effort pressing from pins. I find that even though this doesn’t transfer as well to powerlifting performance (which isn’t my goal anyway) it is what allows me to use the most weight without pain

    WHAT MY TRAINING LOOKS LIKE

    I don’t use a “program”; I go with a template. The difference is that a program is pretty much fixed while the template provides you a skeleton, a structure with a few programmed elements.

    It looks like this:

    MONDAY – LOWER BODY MAX EFFORT

    1. Squat or deadlift max effort lift (a squat variation one week, a deadlift variation the next). I ramp up either to a 2RM or a technically solid (not all out) “training maximum” single.

    2. Main assistance lift: This is a multi-joint exercise to fix the weak point in the squats/dead. What I do is that if my main lift is a squat, this will be a deadlift assistance (e.g. Romanian deadlift, pin pull, etc.) and if the main was a deadlift, I do a squat assistance. This is normally done for sets of 6-8 reps. II like to do 8,6,8,6 trying to use more weight in the second wave, something like 200 x 8, 210 x 6, 210 x 8, 220 x 6

    3, 4 and 5 Hypertrophy work: I pick 3 exercises and do them as a circuit. I do a quads, an upper back and a posterior chain exercise. I have roughly 45-60 seconds between exercises and 90 seconds between sets. I prefer to use exercises with a low neurological demand (isolation work or machine/pulleys).

    Note that I shoot for a time under tension (TUT) of 40-60 seconds per exercise. I don’t really care how I get there…. Slower tempo, isometric holds, rest/pause, drop set as long as I reach it. I do 3 sets.

    TUESDAY – UPPER BODY REPETITIVE EFFORT

    1. Bench press 90-100 total reps in 4 sets (add weight when I can total 100 reps) using no more than 2 minutes between sets (normally 90 seconds).

    2. Vertical pressing exercise. I know that the traditional Westside template calls for more of a triceps-dominant press, but because of my shoulder instability, my delts are a bigger weakness than my triceps. And my goal is to look good and gain some strength, not to perform optimally in powerlifting

    3, 4 and 5. Hypertrophy work: same as for Monday (circuit with a TUT of 40-60 seconds per exercise, 3 sets). I do one exercise for the following: pectorals or deltoids, upper back, triceps

    THURSDAY – LOWER BODY DYNAMIC EFFORT

    1. Squat, 8 x 3 using a 3 weeks wave: 70% / 75% /80%. Note that I am not using bands or chains at the moment, hence the higher percentages. And I find that my bar speed (as measured with The Beast Sensor) is still in the proper range (1.0 m/s) with 80%.

    2. Main assistance exercise: This is a posterior chain exercise done for sets of 6-8 or a time under tension of 20-30 seconds. I do 4 sets. Similar rule to the vertical pressing on Tuesday.

    3, 4, 5. Same structure as Monday but with different exercises

    SATURDAY – UPPER BODY MAX EFFORT

    1. Pressing max effort lift (bench variation one week, overhead variation the next). I do mostly lift from pins of various heights. Note that I include all incline bench press variations in the “overhead” week. Ramping up to a 2RM or a technically solid training maximum for a single.

    2. Main assistance exercise; Same rule as Monday; if my max effort lift was a bench press, I use an overhead lift. If the max effort lift was an overhead, I do a bench variation. 4 sets of 6-8 reps, although I might sometimes go up to 12 reps per set.

    3, 4, and 5. Same structure are Tuesday but with different exercises

    These workouts normally last between 45 (Tuesday and Thursday) to 60 minutes (Monday, Saturday). I will sometimes add abs or remedial work (band pull-aparts for example).

    SOME TRICKS FOR THE BUSY PERSON

    • Gradually reduce your rest intervals. You can actually train your body to perform at a very high level even with short rest periods. When I was at my strongest I rarely took more than 90 seconds between sets even when I was bench pressing over 405 and squatting over 500.

      Heck, even during my Olympic lifting session, my rest was around 75-90 seconds most of the time. If you are used to taking 3-5 minutes of rest, don’t drop it down directly to 90 seconds: your performance will drop. But if you gradually decrease it you will find that your performance should not go down.

      If you can reduce your rest intervals from 3 minutes to 90 seconds on average we are talking about saving at least 15 minutes per workout, and up to 20-25!
    • If you want to do extra volume like abs, calves, forearms, external rotators, etc. consider using a staggered approach. This means doing a set of this minor stuff between sets of the main exercises in your workout.

      Arnold did that for his calves and it allowed him to fix that lagging body part and I used it for my abs and had my most impressive 8-pack with that method. It also has the benefit of not extending your workout.
    • Do the hypertrophy work as a circuit. By combining my 3 exercises in a circuit, it takes me around 18 minutes to get my 9 sets in. If I were doing all 3 exercises individually it would take me roughly 25-30 minutes.

      Not a huge difference, but if you are busy every minute counts. If you learn to reduce your rest intervals and use the circuit approach for “minor” stuff you can easily save 35-40 minutes!

    -CT

Christian Thibaudeau

Written by Christian Thibaudeau

Christian Thibaudeau has been involved in the business of training for over the last 16 years. During this period, he worked with athletes from 28 different sports. He has been “Head Strength Coach” for the Central Institute for Human Performance (of…