Can’t We All Just Get Along? Our Strength Programs Are Not Very Different

Written By: Kevin Cann

I was having a conversation with some of my co-workers, teammates, and training partners at Total Performance Sports last week. All of my training partners are multi-ply powerlifters that follow some type of Westside Barbell program.

If you have not heard of Westside Barbell, a simple Google search will show a lot. There is even a documentary titled “Westside vs the World” coming to theaters. This gym is home to some of the strongest men and women to ever step foot onto a platform. Even with this success, they still have enough haters out there that they feel they need to a title a documentary “Westside vs the World.”

I am a raw powerlifter that is coached by Boris Sheiko. Boris Sheiko is known for his success as a powerlifting coach in Russia, accumulating over 40 gold medals in the sport. His programs are well known for the high total amounts of volume in the competition lifts and competition lift variations.

One of the coaches was describing the differences in our training styles as being “totally opposites” of one another. At the surface it would seem that this is true, but when you dive a little deeper, each training method has a lot of similarities. This can be said about any successful training program.

The big word that gets thrown around out there is periodization. There are three “big” types of periodization that are often discussed in personal training and exercise science textbooks. These three are linear, daily undulated periodization (DUP), and conjugate.

Linear periodization is increasing intensity and/or volume of a specific exercise from week to week. Exercise selection would not change. An example would be if we squat on Monday, bench on Wednesday, and Deadlift on Friday. Week 1 we perform 3 sets of 5 at 80% of 1RM for all three lifts. Week 2 we would either increase the sets, reps, or the training intensity.

This would be difficult to follow over the long haul as fatigue will accumulate quickly, as well as the risk of injury due to adaptive resistance to training the same movement patterns day in and day out. This is why early specialization in sports is fought so hard against by those coaches in the field. If we constantly perform the same patterns over and over we are more prone to overuse injuries within those patterns. I have never seen a true linear program because it is near impossible to do.

DUP attempts to address the issue of not being able to continuously increase volume and intensity by alternating higher volume and lower volume days, or higher intensity and lower intensity days. This is important to utilize if you train each lift more than one time per week. Attempting to progress in a linear fashion from day to day would be extremely difficult, even for a beginner.

A conjugate program, like a linear program, does not exist on its own without other elements. This would be constantly changing exercise selection to continuously provide new stressors to the body. However, if we ever repeated the same exercise twice we would need to use the same intensity, sets, and reps for it not to possess the other programming elements. Westside is often referred to as a conjugate program.

In a typical Westside program there is a max effort lower day, max effort upper, dynamic effort lower, and dynamic effort upper. Max effort days you work up to a max single with the variation being used that day and dynamic effort is referred to as speed work. Volume on dynamic effort days will be higher with intensity dropping to 60% to 75% of 1 RM. This alone brings a DUP element into the training since volume and intensity changes within the week.

They may use the same variation for a 3 week period as well. Each max effort day they will attempt to beat the previous week’s best. The dynamic effort days will increase in intensity over this period as well. This right here brings a linear element into the program from week to week.

All 3 of these elements also exist within my programs from Sheiko, there just may be a little bit more variability to it. Sometimes my exercises progress from week to week for the linear element. I may perform squats at 75% for 5 sets of 3 on week 1 and 80% for 5 sets of 2 on week 2. However, sometimes it will be linear from 4 week block to 4 week block.

I may do 65% 5×5 squats on day 1 of week 1 of block 1 and 70% for 5 sets of 4 on day 1 of week 1 of block 2. Sometimes it will even be in the reverse order where 70% for 5 sets of 4 will be performed first and later in the training block or in the next block in the same spot I will perform the 65% for 5 sets of 5 with chains. There is an example of conjugate in my blocks.

Sheiko uses a lot of variations, so conjugate elements can be found day to day. I also tend to have one light day and one heavier day for each lift. The light day is technique work and the heavier day utilizes the competition lift with weight of at least 80%. This is very similar to the Westside split of max effort and dynamic effort. The only difference is I do not work up to a max as technique is very important to Sheiko and my lighter days are on the upper end of the dynamic effort range. When we throw bands and chains on exercises it tends to be a bit higher. Overall intensity for the week is probably very similar.

All good programs contain elements of all 3 types of periodization elements. How much of each they contain may vary, but ultimately they contain them all. As a meet gets closer my conjugate elements will go away to focus more on the competition lifts and after the meet, when the next meet is far off, the conjugate elements will increase. So competition schedule will affect how many elements of each is utilized.

If you are a strength athlete, look at your current program and see if all 3 of these elements can be found in it. If not, I would suggest finding a new coach. A program missing linear elements, will be missing out on the overload principle, without undulating your training it will be difficult to train each lift more than once per week and success will stall due to fatigue, and missing conjugate elements can lead to the athlete getting bored and injury due to pattern overuse and adaptive resistance.

Before you go to the interwebs to trash other programs, understand that they are not that different from yours. Coaches and athletes tend to agree on 99% of all things training related, but will wage wars over the 1%.

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