Conjugate : my re-birth into powerlifting
When June, 1992 rolled around I already had almost two decades of powerlifting behind me. During that time I was, at best, an average+ lifter and did “ok” in most meets with the occasional win and usually placing in the top three at regional level and state meets. I loved training, I loved the sport, and I was 3 months away from 40 years old and considering entering my first meet as a master. I was content. I trained. I lifted. Life in powerlifting was good for this not-so-elite lifter. All I wanted to do was maintain a 600 squat, mid-3 bench and something close to 6 on the deads and have some fun as a master lifter. No goals. Just train, compete, recover, repeat.
“Watch this and tell me what you think. It’s a guy named Louis Simmons from Westside Barbell back in Columbus Ohio. These guys never do competition lifts in training. They squat off boxes. They do doubles on squats, triples on bench and ‘like’ 15 singles for deads. I’ve never seen anything like it…all kinds of supplemental exercises. You gotta watch this.”
One day, my friend Roger Davis brought a pirated video tape (yep, video tape) to the gym and said, “Watch this and tell me what you think. It’s a guy named Louis Simmons from Westside Barbell back in Columbus Ohio. These guys never do competition lifts in training. They squat off boxes. They do doubles on squats, triples on bench and ‘like’ 15 singles for deads. I’ve never seen anything like it…all kinds of supplemental exercises. You gotta watch this.” That night I watched the tape. Rog’ was right. I had never seen anything remotely like this. That night my life in powerlifting changed.
The problem was, everyone used the Western Periodization Method of training because …well…just because! Gradually working up to your meet weight and ending your training cycle hitting somewhere around 95% of your goal OR hitting your actual competition numbers for three singles in training so you “would know you could get it in the meet.” I didn’t even know how to begin with conjugate. But Rog’ and I put together a training program based on what we thought was right (from the video) and started preparing for a meet scheduled for March 1993, just a few months away.
Meet day eventually came and I ended the day with 617, 352, 562 plus tearing my bicep at 584 on my third DL attempt…oh well, first of many injuries and surgeries to come, but that’s another story. Not a bad day, considering I never touched a weight over 475, 245, 455, in training during this cycle, using what I thought were proper conjugate methods. Leaving a huge part of the story out for brevity’s sake, let me just say that I was sold on conjugate training. I was not beat up from lifting near 90% competition lifts and I felt better…except for my torn bicep. My lifts were not PR’s but remember, my goal was “just to have fun as a master”. I couldn’t have cared less about the numbers per se. I just wanted to see if I could train sub-90% and not have to do endless sets of 8’s, 5’s and 3’s, followed by a “I hope I hit “x” at the meet”. Bottom-line, conjugate worked and I was hooked!!
After several years of continuing to “just have fun” competing in the master’s division, I decided to set some goals and see if I could reach a dream total of 1800 including a 700+ squat. Because of shoulder injuries and a deadlift that just would not move much over 6, the 1800 was never to be. I did total over 1700 many times and set several “old man” records along the way, but my greatest achievement occurred on April 14, 2012, when I would become one of the oldest and lightest lifters ever (58) to squat over 800 pounds (365 kilos) in competition. I had never done that in competition OR even in the gym before…because in conjugate, you don’t go for broke in the gym, you save it for meet day…the ONLY place where it counts.
Because the meet was only regional level, my existing USPA master’s world record of 755 could not be increased on the books. 804 would be a USPA national record for the 55-59 age group, 242# (110kg) class. And it remains unbeaten to this day.
Conjugate. If you are training any other way, you are missing a lot of gains. Re-think your goals and make the change for the better. Good luck. kw
Brief ending comment:
As I mentioned above, I have left out a lot of details for the sake of brevity, but I will gladly answer any questions about my training if anyone is interested. Just send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll get back to you asap.
Coach Ken Wheeler USPA Multi Ply/Vice-President/HogPit Powerlifting