Amalgamation; The Workout as a Non-Dogmatic Experience

“In this age of specialization men who thoroughly know one field are often incompetent to discuss another. The great problems of the relations between one and another aspect of human activity have for this reason been discussed less and less in public…”

Richard Feynman

Specialization, though extremely important, inevitably leads, however (unless the specialist remains ever vigilant), to blinkered thought patterns.  We need erudite generalists to connect the dots, to see the inherent co-relations between what look to be, at ground level, completely disparate entities.  Only from the generalist’s 30-thousand foot view can the Venn-like associations be found. Check out the following, from big think: A Universal Cure for Cancer?



  1. To merge, to combine, to blend, to join.
  2. To make an alloy of a metal and mercury.

I’ve touched on the subject of the problems inherent to the dogmatic approach to Physical Culture many times in the past (most recently, here), but the sentiment bears repeating: no single method, protocol, or modality works for everyone, and no one can continue to make progress continually using the same method, protocol or modality.  Be prepared, my friend, for what has worked brilliantly over the last 6 weeks is, even as this is written, readying to dump your sorry ass without so much as a hastily jotted “Dear John”, or a dry kiss goodbye.  Once the body accommodates to a specific stressor — and it most assuredly will (and with some much faster than with others) — progress will abruptly cease.  This, of course, is the basis which underpins the Conjugate Method — a method many folks mistakenly assume is a powerlifting-only phenomena; wrong answer, my friend.  Yes, Louie Simmons has manipulated this idea and applied it specifically to the field of powerlifting, but the basic underpinnings can be tweaked so as to apply toward any training specificity, or to no specificity at all.  Case in point: I am a fitness generalist who employs the Conjugate Method; now, if I ever decided to specialize in any single event, or train toward a specific sporting goal, I’d simply tweak the parameters (specific exercises, modalities, etc.) of the Conjugate Method to better support those goals.  As Louie Simmons says, There are countless sports and sport-specific pursuits (including, I would add, sporting generalism)  but only three methods of strength training: absolute strength building, hypertrophy work (via the repetition method), and speed-strength training.  And remember this: sport specific technique training is an entirely different animal — even if your sport of choice happens to be Oly or powerlifting itself.

Still a bit fuzzy on what exactly the Conjugate Method is?  Below is an excerpt from a Dave Tate-written, IB Area 51 piece, Debunking the Myths, in which Dave gives a very truncated summary of the Conjugate Method as practiced by the athletes at Westside Barbell:

…The methods we use are explained in many books on training including “Super training” (Siff and Verkhoshansky), “Science and Practice of Strength Training” (Zatsiorsky) and many other textbooks and manuals from the former soviet union. The problem in the country is that people are reading the wrong information. For review, the major methods we use are:

1. The Maximal Effort Method: This method is defined as lifting maximal and supra maximal weights for one to three reps and is considered superior for the increase in both intramuscularly and intermuscular coordination. This is because the central nervous system will only adapt to the load placed upon them. It has also been proven that weights over 90% elicit the greatest gain in strength but will quickly lead to over training state within one to three weeks with the same movement. The is because of the great demand placed on the neuromuscular system with this type of training.

We devote two day of the week for this type of training. One for the Squat and one for the bench press. This schedual is followed all year long. The reason we do not have problems with overtraining with 90% plus weights is because the movement is switched every one to three weeks. The movements we choice are called “special exercises” and are designed for maximum strengh output both the squat and dead lift.

2. The Repetition Method: This method can be defined as lifting a non-maximal weight to failure; it is during this fatigue state when the muscles develop the maximal possible force. Because of this it is only the final lifts that are important because of the fatigue state. This type of training has a greater influence on muscle metabolism and hypertrophy when compare to the other methods.

We use this method in a conjugant “coupling fashion” intermixed in with the other training days. Any supplemental or accessory movement using this method must be changed after three to six workouts using the exercise. This is to avoid the over training state as described above.

3. The Dynamic Effort Method: This method of training involves lifting non maximal weight with the greatest possible speed. This method of training is not used for the development of maximal strength but only to improve the rate of force development and explosive strength. Angel Sassov during his trip to the USA mentioned weights 50 to 70% are best for developing explosive power.

We devote two days a week to this type of training for the bench press and one for the box squat.

All these methods are coupled together “conjugated periodisation” This type of periodisation is different then the western method that is very over practiced in the United States today. As many of you remember the western method consists of a Hypertrophy Phase, Basic Strength Phase. Power Phase, Peak Phase and a Transitional Phase. These phases are all independent of each other meaning that you first complete the Hypertrophy Phase then move on to the Strength Phase and so on. This is the type of periodiastion we do not practice or believe in. We have found it better to maintain all the strength abilities throughout the year. This again is accomplished by the conjugated periodisation method. The other type of periodisation we pratice is cybernetic periodisation. This simply means you have to listen to your body and make adjustment when needed. With the western method if you are programmed to lift 90% for 2 sets of 3 and have a bad day or do not feel well ten you are screwed with no alternative but to miss the workout and try to catch back up the next week or to try the weight and hope for the best. With our style of training on the dynamic method days, bar speed or concentric tempo is what determines the load. If the bar slow down then you reduce the weight. We do use percents as a guide on this day, but he bar speed still is the determining factor. On the max effort days a bad day will only equate to a lower max effort. This really does not matter because it is the straining with maximal loads we are looking for not the actual weight lifted.


Now personally, I like to use Autoregulation in conjunction with cybernetic periodization, but that’s really getting down to the splitting of proverbial hairs.

So yes, I utilize all manner of machine, free-weight and bodyweight exercises.  I run sprints and bike sprint as well.  I train at times like a powerlifter, and other times like a track and field thrower and/or sprinter — and yeah, sometimes I even train like a damn (God forbid!!!) bodybuilder (but much to Meesus TTP’s relief, sans the 80s clown pants).   One thing I do not do, however, is combine exercises in a session as if “pulled from a hopper”.  CrossFit does plenty of great things for sure, and is, in my mind, a fantastic overall concept — save for the programming side of things.  Should a well rounded athlete be able to perform well at a series of exercises pulled at random from said hopper?  Most definitely, yes, I think.  That an athlete should train in such a fashion, though, in my mind is just, well…wrong minded.  There is a huge difference between training for an event and training with an event; couple the overall CrossFit concept with smart programming and now you’ve got a winner.


And now, on to the workout front…-

Monday, 1/31/11; as brief, brutal and basic as it gets:

Trap bar RDLs: 265 x 10; 355 x 7; 405 x 6; 455 x 4, 3, 3, 3

Lift something very heavy off of the ground — quickly; set it back down under control.  Wash, rinse, repeat…

So, can one get a bad-ass workout in 15 minute’s time?  You bet.  Would I do this all of the time?  Nope; but then again, I don’t follow any protocol or modality “all the time”.  Workouts are indeed like cuisine (see above); variety, within certain limitations (limited to Paleo choices, say) are key.  The anatomy of a 15-minute, quick-HITter workout can be seen in these following four examples:

Tuesday, 2/1/11

(A1) T-bar swings: 125 x 25, 25, 25, 25

(A2) weighted dips: 90 x 5, 5, 5, 5

Wednesday, 2/2/11

(A1) Nautilus pec dec: 95 x 10, 10

(A2) Nautilus rear delt: 95 x 10, 10

*both at a 3010 tempo

(B1) Xccentric flat press: (+50): 5 rest-pause reps w/8-count negatives each rep

(C1) Nautilus pull-over: 255 x 10, 2, 2, 1 (one extended cluster set, 40×0 tempo)

(C2) reverse-grip pull-ups: BW x 5, 3, 3 (one extended cluster set, 40×0 tempo)

Thursday, 2/3/11

Dynamic box squats (high box, thighs parallel): 185 x 7 sets of 3  ~ Speed!

2-hour break, then 225 x 7 sets of 3 ~ again, speed, speed, SPEED!

Straight bar bicep curl: 95 x 12, 105 x 6, 115 x 5, 120 x 4 ~ performed as clustered sets, 15-seconds rest between “sets”.

Friday, 2/4/11

clean (from the floor): 135 x 10; 165 x 5, 185 x 5, then 185 x 8 sets of 2, with the 8 x 2 done as a cluster set; approx 30 seconds rest between “sets”.


So, what do Efficient Exercise trainers do when they’re just sittin’ around between clients, chillin’ out, recovering from one of those 15-minute “quick-HITter” workouts detailed above?  See the link below.  Yeah, we’re sick like this  🙂

Seriously though, this is one bad-ass, dynamic hamstring hit.


Discipline?  Really?  Meh, let’s call it love.  The positive physiological effects of reframing your reference.  Yeah, “love of” is most definitely a more effective way to approach any aspect of Physical Culture than is “discipline”.  Discipline might get you through the day, my friend, but love will carry you though a lifetime.


An lastly, I would love to see an analysis here of the elite sprinter’s heel bone, especially in relation to that of the distance runners’.  The problem with much of this research is that all manner of “running”, much like “resistance training”, is lumped together under one, catch-all phrase.  This, of course, is utterly absurd in the same way that classifying all of art under a single umbrella is patently useless.   Help!  Is there a generalist in the house? 😉

An interesting story, though, nonetheless:

In health,


Onward, Ho! Clearing the n=1 Path (with Machete in hand)

Angelo Coppola, in his latest installment of the This Week in Paleo podcast (and, I might add,  an excellent Paleo resource; Angelo possesses a superb “on air” persona) recounted an illuminating  story that took me back (waaaaaay back) to my Poli Sci undergraduate days — the story of a drunk,  his lost wallet, and a streetlight.  Seems a city beat cop came upon drunk crawling hand over fist beneath the beam of a streetlamp.  The cop, of course, inquired into the details of the situation.  The following discussion ensued:

drunk: “I’m not hurt, dammit…I’ve lost my %^#@* wallet”.

cop: “what makes you think you’ve lost it here?”

drunk: “I don’t think I’ve lost the ^&%$#@ thing here”.  Then, pointing across to the pitch-dark side of the street, “I believe it’s over there somewhere”.

cop: “uh-huh…well, then why are you crawling around over here?”

drunk: (incredulous) “because here is where the light is”.

This, it seems to me, is a perfect analogy for the current state of exercise science.  It’s not that those involved in science are bad guys by any means — and that’s not at all what I want to imply here — the problem with conducting science in an atmosphere of funding, profit motive, grant acquisition, etc., is that it forces scientists, and their studies, to remain under the streetlamp, so to speak — there’s no incentive to go looking in the dark corners for long shots, for the difficult to prove and/or tease-out.  In fact, this seems true to me in much of science — not just in the exercise/diet fields.

And this is where the citizen scientist, and n=1 experimentation fits in.

Tim Ferriss recently posted about self-experimentation here; in fact, his new book, The 4-Hour Body (which is a fantastic romp, by the way), is entirely a chronicle of his various self-experimentations.   From the above linked blog post (and quoting the n=1 Jedi himself,  Seth Roberts):

“…I repeatedly found that simple environmental changes, such as avoiding breakfast and standing more, had big and surprising benefits. In each case, the change I’d made resembled a return to Stone Age life, when no one ate breakfast and everyone stood a lot. There are plenty of reasons to think that many common health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer, are caused by differences between modern life and Stone Age life. Modern life and Stone Age life differ in many ways, of course; the fraction of differences that influence our health is probably low. If so, to find aspects of Stone Age life that matter, you have to do many tests. Self-experiments, fast and cheap, can do this; conventional experiments, slow and expensive, cannot. In addition, conventional research is slanted toward treatments that can make money for someone. Because conventional research is expensive, funding is needed. Drug companies will fund research about drugs, so lots of conventional research involves drugs. Elements of Stone Age life (such as no breakfast) are cheap and widely available. No company will fund research about their effectiveness…”

Emphasis mine.

Again, I’m hardly anti-science, but I also realize the limitations put on science practiced in an atmosphere of expected positive (i.e., proof of need vs non-need) outcomes.   This is also why I continually beat the drum of  effective training being as much art as it is science, and that effective training must be n=1 driven.  What works for one may work for another, but more than likely, various aspects of any effective protocol will have to be tweaked/personalized for optimum results.  Human physiology is the same across the board, yes — but how that physiology is expressed in the real world, and how the real world imprints upon that physiology, is highly, highly individualized.

Many will hate on the Conjugate System simply because it has little “lab science” backing its results.  Please.  If you want to wait for science to confirm what’s been proven (albeit empirically) in the iron lab, be my guest.  I’m a little too impatient for that though, and I’d rather test and tweak myself, using my own body and gathered empirical evidence as a lab of one.  It’s only my body, of course, that has to express itself under my own unique environmental conditions and given my own unique set of training tools, time and circumstance.   More on this idea, here.  My suggestion is this: know the limitations of the tool you’re using to assess any situation/question.  Is contemporary science a good tool to use in attempting to tackle questions of art, philosophy, religion?  Probably not; under the circumstance, it’s a blunt tool at best.  Science in questions of Physical Culture?  Well, science is a better tool here, of course, but it’s still rather limited.  Just as we eat with knives, forks and spoons, so too should we engage the questions of life with the proper tools.  Learn to use science, art and philosophy as tableware for the mind.

Quick aside – I’m fully immersed in both Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body and Art DeVany’s The New Evolution Diet.  Both are highly recommended, excellent works; both are as different from one another as, well, the personalities that produced them.  Tim’s work is a machine-gun blitz, and not meant to be read straight through, but rather skipped about, the subjects picked and chosen as mood and interests dictate.  Art’s work, I think, was best described by Doug McGuff in a recent Body by Science post as “elegant” — and I couldn’t agree more.   For anyone of a questioning, contemplative attitude, who truly desires to understand the “whys” behind this Evolutionary/Primal/Ancestral movement, this is that explanation.  Nicely done, Mr. DeVany; nicely done.  With each book (and as is always the case), use n=1 proper discretion; these works are meant to be signposts, not dictates.  Physical Culture is not a paint-by-numbers game, but rather you are being supplied the canvass, brush and paint to do with what you please.  Go forth and create your own n=1 Picasso.  Only you can know (or can hope to know) the landscape of your own life.

On the workout front:

Tuesday, 12/21 –

(A1) CZT leg press: 7 rest-pause hyper reps

(B1) RFESS: 45 lb DBs x 12, 10

(B2) Russian leg curl (i.e., poor man’s GHR): BW x 10, 8

The legs were friggin’ noodles following just 7 hyper reps on the CZT.  How can this be?  Quite simply, the strength curve is perfectly matched throughout the entire range of motion; there is simply no place during each entire concentric/or ecentric where the exercise “lets up”.  One is forced to go all at the “easiest” (most bio-mechanically advantageous position), as well as hardest  (bio-mechanically weakest) portion of the lift.  Truly exhausting work.  For the RFESS, I supported my “up” foot in a Blast Strap harness.  This affects an entirely other element of difficulty as far as strength, control and balance (and especially those elements under fatigue) go.

Wednesday, 12/22 –

A HIT dose for the upper body:

(A1) weighted dips: 105# x 22 total reps; 5, 3, 2, then single reps for a total of 22 rest-pause reps (30×0 tempo)

(B1) Blast Strap flyes: bodyweight x 13, 10, 8 (30 seconds between sets)

(C1) Nautilus pullover: 255 x 18 total rest-pause reps; 11, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1 (4010 tempo)

(D1) pull-ups: bodyweight x 5, 4, 4 (30 seconds between sets)

Thursday, 12/23 –

50-rep blocks of 45 lb kettlebell swings, scattered throughout the day.  6 separate instances, for 300 total reps.  Add this to the volume of fixie sprints I did throughout the day as well, and…wow!  Holy metabolic hit, Batman!  Seriously, though — I’ve found the simple kettlebell swing to be a great high-rep companion to the Oly derivatives.  Much the same way as higher rep flyes (for example) are a great companion movement to the floor press.

And a quick announcement:  If you live in the Austin, Texas area and want to take part in Efficient Exercise’s Project Transformation, let me know.  You can contact me either at the TTP email address, or my work address (supplied at the end of the clip below).  This will be an interesting, informal “study” of sorts to follow, and for those chosen to participate, it’s totally free of charge.  What kind of body transformations can result from the micro-dosing of intelligently programmed training coupled with adherence to a sensible (i.e., Paleo) diet?  Is this an intervention that is practical, effective and sustainable for non-fitness geeks?   We at Efficient Exercise think that it is, and we’re doing our small part to show that the true fix to the current healthcare crisis is not to be found in government intervention or insurance reform, but rather by making small and lasting changes to personal behavior.   Check it out, below; we hope to have this “study” in motion by the 3rd week in January.  Updates will be posted at the Efficient Exercise blog, and at the Efficient Exercise Facebook page.  Give us some “like” love, and follow along 🙂  Better yet, jump in the swim, and kick-start your n=1, Project Transformation journey.

In health,


A Couple of Weekend Workouts, and Some Thoughts on the Conjugate Method

Lots and lots of fixie riding over the weekend, with a couple of iron sessions tossed in for good measure.  I have no idea how many miles in total I put on the ol’ fix over Friday, Saturday and Sunday; let’s just say it was a sh*t ton 🙂

Friday Night Iron Works –

Another “unusual” Friday night iron session; in fact, though, this may actually turn into a usual thing.  The nice long days allow me to get home from work, saddle up the fixie, hit the gym and get back before dark.  Gotta love summer.  An hour of saddle time, then this:

bent-over row + snatch grip low pull: 225 x 5, 4, 4, 4
feet-elevated ring flyes: bodyweight x 10, 10, 9, 8 (4/2/x/0 tempo)

The bor + snatch-grip low pull was performed like this: take a clean grip on the bar and perform a bent-over row with as little cheat as possible, return the bar to the floor under control, then immediately slide the grip out to an approximate snatch-grip width and perform an explosive low pull from the floor.  Make sure the bar travels higher than the belly button on each rep.  Each of these combos counts as a single rep.  The glutes and hams get a good deal of work here, as you tend to forget that the PC is in constant iso contraction during the performance of the BOR.  Then the PC is immediately called into action to perform the explosive low pull.  Give this pairing a shot, and see what you think.  In the ring flyes, I maintained an off-90 degree arm angle throughout — think “Vitruvian Man” at the bottom-out position; at the top of the motion, my hands met at a position just above my navel.

The big thing to remember her is to not let your hips drop and thus assume a “saddle back” position.  This is easier said than done in the last reps of the later rounds.  Positioning was such that my feet were higher than my chest in the bottom-out position.

I finished things of with some Nautilus 4-way neck machine: front, side, side >> 50 x 10 each, rear >> 60 x 10 (tempo 5/0/1/0).

The Conjugate Method?  Hey, Isn’t That for Power Lifters?

I speak to the “Conjugate Method” quite often in describing various aspects of my workouts, and, indeed Louie Simmons’ work with his Westside Barbell Club athletes has greatly influenced my understanding of exercise prescription .  Mention “Conjugate Method”, though, and even people steeped in physical culture knowledge will immediately think “power lifter”.  And yes, it’s true that Louie has molded his Conjugate Theory specifically for power lifting, but this in no way negates the efficacy of the theory — if properly tweeked and applied — to other fitness/sporting applications.  A few of the biggest misunderstandings, or wrong-minded assumptions, surrounding the Conjugate Method are (1) that it can only be incorporated by drugged power lifters, (2) that it is a “set” and largely non-mailable lifting “program”, and, as a correlate to #2, (3) that it can only be implemented with with barbells and dumbbells.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Conjugate Method (writ large) is a theory of strength acquisition developed by the most underrated (in my opinion) Strength and Conditioning coach in the United States — dare I say the world? — today; Louie Simmons.   The “Conjugate Method”, though, in common vernacular, refers to the specific protocols employed by strength athletes (and increasingly now, power and skill-oriented athletes) for developing strength and power.  I am reminded here of my south Texas youth, were “coke” was a blanket term referring to every soft drink available under the sun.  Same here with the term “Conjugate Method”.  I’ve come to refer more to “Conjugate Theory” when speaking outside of pure power lifting applications, but, in my mind, the two terms really are interchangeable.

Now power lifting is certainly not at all my game, but I utilize the Conjugate Theory every time I workout.  In fact, if someone were to ask me what my encompasses my overall physical culture philosophy — an idea, a theory, that unifies all that I do, from the weight room to the training table — my immediate answer would be Conjugate Theory.

In fact, it’s not too hard to see how Conjugate Theory is just a step or two removed from Power Law.  And it may be that the proportion by which Conjugate Theory is removed from pure Power Law is the ratio by which the resultant athletic prowess is removed from optimum health.  This is the play of the directed and systemized variance of the Conjugate Theory vs the pure fractal nature of Power Law.  More on that, though, at another time.

Conjugate Method/Theory in a nutshell?  Well, in Louie’s own words:
“When lifters repeatedly use the same simple method of training to raise their strength level, they will eventually stall. Like the scholar who must utilize many sources of information to achieve a higher level of knowledge, the lifter must incorporate new and more difficult exercises to raise their standards.”

Our aim, then, is to avoid that dastardly point of diminished return on effort.  And that, my friends, equates to longevity.

Now Louie was specifically referring to strength athletes in the above quote, but the same can be (and should be) said for any pursuit.  The trick is to deconstruct the sport (or skill, or goal) into it’s constituent parts, then apply Conjugate Theory to the methods used in the development of those constituent parts.

Piece of cake, right?  Well, truly, it is!

We can look to Louie’s work with power lifters as an exceptional, empirical model, though we’ll have to tweek those methods utilized to fit our own, n=1 needs.  So what can a Paleo, all-round athlete (which is what I consider myself) learn from guys who specialize in conquering the three “big lifts” (bench, squat, and deadlift)?  In a phase, contained, directed, and systemized variety.

The first principle of the Conjugate Method, as applied to the training of a strength athlete, emphasizes the ability of that athlete to handle maximum loads, frequently, while still providing for ample recovery — in other words, side-stepping the ol’ C.N.S. (Central Nervous System) overtraining bugaboo.  So far, so good; I’m totally on board with the getting strong part.  But specialization isn’t my game, and I want to be good at very diverse endeavors — sprinting and cycling, as well — and, too, I wanna look good nekkid; lean and muscular, yes — but well proportioned.   Not to fear; with a few simple tweeks to the power lifting model of Conjugate Theory application, I can create a “Conjugate Method” for the all-around athlete and, more specifically, for this, n=1 all-around athlete.

So just how does the Conjugate Method go about allowing for a high frequency of maximal effort work while at the same time avoiding the overtraining issue?  It does so by employing a systemized method of rotating special exercises that are close in nature to the movement patterns of the big three power lifts, but that are not exactly the big three lifts themselves. In other words, the aim is to increase strength relative to the classic lifts (squat, bench and deadlift), while avoiding burning-out on the competition lifts themselves.  This is akin to training a 100 meter sprinter while never actually running that exact distance in practice; competition being the only time that exact distance is covered.

Sound crazy?  Not so fast.

Ever notice how, at a certain point in skills acquisition training, strength development, body composition refinement (or whatever the target goal), that a certain level of accomplishment, a point of diminished returns per unit of input effort is reached?  This is just as true a phenomena as — and, in fact is the yang aspect of — the 10,000 hour principle.  In a Linear Progression mindset, the answer would be to “endeavor to persevere” and push on through.  This, though, will only lead to overtraining, injury, mental fatigue/disgust and, eventual abandonment of the program and/or goal.  While I think this is more applicable in high-demand CNS endeavors (lifting, sprinting for example) than in low demand endeavors (hitting a baseball, archery), I do believe that low demand effort training should be ceased for the day when output quality diminishes.  This is simple another facet of the same idea; if you’re thinking now in terms of “auto-regulation” and “drop-off method” you’re on the right track.  This is the idea behind frequently rotating the highest CNS demand/maximum effort exercises.  How frequently?  Well, that’s largely an n=1 consideration.  For instance, I rarely do the same maximum effort exercise (for a particular movement pattern) twice in a row.  In other words, if I choose to do a behind-the-neck push-press for my max effort, vertical push movement pattern, the next time I hit a max effort in this particular movement pattern, I’ll make sure to choose a different exercise (or a different modality) — a strict front military press, or maybe a palms-in db press.  Or, maybe I will do the btn push-press — but this time with bands.  Get the idea?  Be patient, it’s a lot to take in.  It’s the workout equivalent to a “calorie is not a calorie”, in that it takes a bit for the mind to wrap around an idea contrary to what we’ve been brought up to believe.

The second principle of the Conjugate Method is the systematic training of all the constituents that comprise “strength”.  One might also consider these aspects of athleticism; they are (in no particular order of importance):

  1. Quickness
  2. Explosiveness
  3. Speed-Strength
  4. Strength-Speed
  5. Absolute Strength

Once again I’ll defer to Louie, who states:

“This is much like a five-speed transmission in a car. We all know what happens if you miss a gear, or take off in the wrong gear. Your car doesn’t run very efficiently, and neither will you. One must learn many methods to develop special strength, and when to use them. You must also know your sport’s goals. In some sports, speed is foremost and absolute strength is secondary. Both are more closely related than you think.”

I would also add endurance to this list, as kinda the odd-duck out.  Depending upon your chosen goal and/or the demands of your particular sport, some directed energy system training is certainly in order.  What everybody and every athlete requires, though — regardless of goal or the specifics of the sport — is strength.  Yes, even endurance athletes need that “strength with which to endure”, and the elderly need to be strong to remain stable, self-sufficient, and to prolong quality of life.  Strength is, shall we say, a basic element of life; the platform from which all else springs.

Is it possible, though, to train heavy continuously, without crossing over the dreaded Rubicon of overtraining?  In basic terms, how would one go about doing that?

Again, we’ll let Louie answer in his own words:

“…pick several special barbell exercises for a particular lift, for example, the deadlift. The good morning is very similar in motion to deadlifting. A conventional deadlifter will, no doubt, bend over. Therefore, bent over good mornings will increase the deadlift. But remember, when doing the good morning, in your brain, you must duplicate the action of your deadlift precisely. It is not so important to raise your good morning, as to raise your deadlift by performing the good morning. We do many types of good mornings, for example, with a Safety Squat bar suspended from chains. But remember to use the same body mechanics as you do in the deadlift.”

So the elevator pitch for the Conjugate Method, then, is simply this: choosing  similar/supplemental exercises to the lifts you wish to increase, and rotate theses exercises frequently so as not to perform the exact same motion/modality from workout to workout.   Now, that is admittedly painting a very complex theory with an exceptionally broad stroke — but it is, however, a place from which to begin the discussion.

Lots of talk about barbells and dumbbells here, what about machine-based protocols?  Is Conjugate Theory applicable to HIT and/or Super Slow type workouts as well?

100%, without a doubt, yes.  One simply needs to adopt the underlying theory to the chosen protocol and available tools (free weights,machines, bodyweight, etc.).  Simple as that.
Training the Five Aspects of Athleticism; Meet the Methods (broadly speaking) –

  1. Maximal Effort method – for instance, simply taking a maximal amount of weight and lifting it for no more than 3 reps while keeping the weight at or about 90% of your 1RM.
  2. Repeated Effort / Sub-Maximal Effort method – as an example, 8 to 15 reps, and, in some cases, into the twenties.  Time under load considerations.  Mainly influences hypertrophy, tendon health.
  3. Dynamic Effort method – speed of movement and power development is critical, here.  Low reps spread over numerous sets.

The above can also be considered in light of varying Time Under Load (TUL) applications within the HIT protocols, where intensity and TUL are inversely proportional (for the most part).

“…Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun
Oh but mama that’s where the fun is…”

Ah, yes; so this is where the real alchemy takes place.  Using varying aspects of the above-mentioned training methods, in a contained, directed, and systemized manner, to positively affect the five aspects of athleticism.   Barbells, dumbbells, machines and protocols are simply tools to choose from, with each tool being better suited for a particular application.  Is the goal power lifting?  Then of course the proper tools are barbells and dumbbells, and a power lifting specific Conjugate protocol.  Simply want to be strong, fit-as-a-fiddle, and melt away fat — but you also want to invest as little time in the effort as possible?  The equipment and protocols of such outfits as Efficient Exercise or Dr. Doug McGuff’s Ultimate Exercise are what you’re looking for.  These two examples are simply ends of a continuum; your task is to locate your particular n=1 home along that continuum.   Don’t be afraid to branch out and experiment.  You can be the master of your own body; first, though, you must learn your own body’s ways and particulars.  That’s the journey.

Saturday Iron Session –

Again, this session took place following an extended fixie huck:

behind-the-neck jerk: 135 x 3; 185 x 3; 195 x 2, 2, 2 (4/2/x/0 tempo)
reverse lunge + single arm shoulder press combo: 40 x 4, 50 x 4, 4, 4, 4 (i.e., 4 reps each “side”)

5 rounds of that, then:

front box squat (very low, 12-inch box): 135 x 3; 155 x 4, 3 (3/2/x/0 tempo), explode off the box.
reverse grip pull up: bodyweight x 15, 15, 15 (3/0/x/0 tempo)

Yeah, legs were toast following the bike riding and that first devilish combination of jerks and lunges, which made the front squats a tough go.  Another instance, and example of, the proper use of auto-regulation.  155 lbs isn’t a lot of weight for me in this movement (even off of a low box), but on this particular day, in this particular place in the exercise grouping and given the day’s particular circumstances, this was the most load I could handle.  Kick the ol’ ego to the curb.  The weight doesn’t matter; what matters is the proper stimulus.

Reverse lunge + db press combo –
Couldn’t find a good clip for this one, so I’ll see if I can explain it.  Snatch a db into the overhead position, and hold it there.  Now, kick back into the reverse lunge position with the same side leg as the arm in which the db is held.  As you’re stepping back, lower the db into the “catch” position on the shoulder; time the movement so that the db is “caught” exactly when you hit the bottom-out of the lunge.  This is a quick, fluid movement.  At this point, immediately reverse direction and explode into the upright position — the db should reach the lock-out position in timed unison with the top of the lunge.  Think “shot put” motion.   Immediately drop back into the next rep.