The Westside Barbell Conjugate Method: A Guide to Variation

In my articles The Westside Barbell Conjugate Method: A Users Guide and The Westside Barbell Conjugate Method: A Guide to Accessory Work I outlined how to program and structure your individual training routine based on Westside’s Conjugate Method.

Now, after nearly 1 year of publication and each article receiving over 100,000 views, I’m back with a new resource; a resource which I believe will further simplify the process and allow you to achieve the best results possible.

Perhaps the most important, albeit misunderstood, aspect of Westside’s programming is the concept of variation. As Louie has made abundantly clear, in order to constantly progress one must continuously vary not only volume and intensity but the individual exercises and movements as well.

These exercise variations don’t need to be drastic; rather they should be subtle enough to resemble the classical lifts and maintain proper form and technique, but provide enough of a change to impose new demands.

While, at first, the idea of variation may seem confusing or overwhelming, it truthfully could not be a more simple and straightforward process. As with most things in life, once you get the hang of it, it will become second nature and you will wonder why it ever caused you any trouble in the first place.

To make the process of choosing an exercise variation as easy as possible I have created the series of tables provided below. These tables are specifically designed to provide you with a simple step-by-step method for picking and choosing new variations of the Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, and Good Morning respectively.

Quite simply, all you need to do is follow the charts in chronological order and choose one option from each subsequent category; once you have reached the end of each chart you will have created your own specific variation of the Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, and Good Morning. I didn’t calculate how many possible variations could be made from these tables alone, but rest assured there are hundreds of possibilities.

I’d note, the tables below are merely a starting point and are in no way, shape, or form an exhaustive list of possible variations. As you’ll soon find out, with a solid understanding of Westside’s system and a little imagination, you’ll learn to create your own variations with ease.

Finally, before I present the tables I want to briefly cover the guidelines associated with choosing exercise variations. If you feel comfortable with your knowledge of Westside’s system feel free to skip ahead to the variation tables. If not, I encourage you to read my previous articles (linked above) as well as the information I’ve provided below.

 

Max Effort Variation Guidelines

  • Goal: The goal of Max Effort training sessions is to improve maximal strength. Westside accomplishes this by working up to a 1 repetition maximum (1RM) in a variation of Squat or Deadlift and the Bench Press.
  • Frequency: 2 days per week are devoted to Max Effort training sessions. One day for lower body (variations of the Squat or Deadlift) and one day for upper body (variations of the Bench Press).
  • How Often Should I Change Max Effort Variations? Generally speaking, a trainee could perform the same Max Effort variation for 1-3 weeks in a row. As a trainee becomes more advanced, however, they should reduce the time period and change variations every 1-2 weeks at most. Personally, I enjoy changing the variation every single week as it keeps things fresh and more enjoyable.
  • How Long Should I Wait Before Repeating a Variation? It’s really up to the individual. The less advanced you are the more often you can repeat a variation. Some trainees may benefit from repeating a variation every 4 weeks while others won’t repeat the same lift for 6 months a time. Regardless, when you eventually repeat a variation try to break your previous personal record (PR). However, don’t be stupid and try to break it by a massive amount. Remember, a 5lb PR is still a PR which means you’re making progress!

 

Dynamic Effort Variation Guidelines

  • Goal: The goal of Dynamic Effort training sessions is to improve speed and explosive power. Westside accomplishes this on lower body days by:
  1. Performing 10-12 sets of 2 repetitions in a variation of the Box Squat at 40-60% 1RM
  2. and Performing 6-10 sets of 1-3 repetitions in a variation of the Deadlift at 50-85%1RM

Westside accomplishes the same goal on upper body days by:

  1. Performing ~9 sets of 3 repetitions in a variation of the Bench Press at 50% 1RM
  • Frequency: 2 days per week are devoted to Dynamic Effort training sessions. One day for lower body (variations of the Squat and Deadlift) and one day for upper body (variations of the Bench Press).
  • How Often Should I Change Dynamic Effort Variations? Trainees should perform the same Dynamic Effort variation for 3 weeks in a row. After this “3-week wave” you must switch to a new variation for the following 3 weeks.
  • Do I Use the Same Variations for Dynamic Effort and Max Effort or Should I Change Them Completely? Generally speaking, you should perform different variations on Max Effort and Dynamic Effort training sessions. That being said, if one week of a Max Effort variation happens to be the same as your Dynamic Effort variation it’s not something to worry about.

 

Accessory Work Variation Guidelines

  • Goal: As I outlined in the two articles linked at the top of this page, the goal of accessory work will change based on the day (Max Effort or Dynamic Effort), the individual, their strengths, weaknesses, equipment availability, preferences, etc. As such, when programming your accessory work you must take into account your specific needs and goals. For in-depth information read the articles I linked to above.
  • How Often Should I Change Accessory Work Variations? Every 1-3 weeks. Again, the more advanced you are the less time you should spend performing the same movement.
  • How Should I Choose Accessory Work Variations? In this article I’ve only provided specific charts for Max Effort/Dynamic Effort variations. However, you can use the exact same thought processes when choosing exercises for your accessory work variations.Remember, changes in movements don’t need to be drastic; rather they can be subtle tweaks to slightly change the demands of a given exercise. For example, using Fat Gripz, changing the width of your grip/stance, and switching between bilateral and unilateral movements are all simple and easy ways to effectively vary your accessory exercises.

Now we’re ready to get to the variation tables. If you’re ever uncertain as to what variation to perform I encourage you to return to these tables and use them as a resource.

Never Minimal. Never Maximal. Always Optimal.

-J

 

SQUAT VARIATIONS

Step 1: Choose a Squat

Back Squat

Front Squat

Anderson Squat

Zercher Squat (skip to Step 4)

Step 2: Choose a Bar

Safety Squat Bar

Cambered Squat Bar

Straight Bar

Bow Bar

 

Step 3: Choose a Stance

Close Stance

Medium Stance

Wide Stance

Step 4: Choose a Type

Free Squat (Skip to Step 6)

Box Squat

Step 5: Choose a Box Type

Hard Normal Surface

Softer/Foam Surface

 Step 6: Choose a Method 

Standard

Concentric Only (i.e. starting from pins)

 

Step 7: Choose a Depth

Below Parallel

Parallel

Above Parallel

Step 8: Choose a Variable Resistance Method

Bands

Chains

None

Step 9: Choose an Amount of Variable Resistance

Bands

Chains

Vs. Mini Bands

Vs. 1 Set of Chain

Vs. Monster Mini Bands

Vs. 2 Sets of Chain

Vs. Light Bands

Vs. 3 Sets of Chain

Vs. Average Bands

Vs. 4 Sets of Chain

Vs. Strong Bands

Vs. 5+ Sets of Chain

 

Done: You’ve found your Squat variation! Now go have fun squatting ’til you puke….

 

 

BENCH PRESS VARIATIONS

Step 1: Choose a Bench Press

Flat Bench

Incline Bench Press

Decline Bench Press

Floor Press

 

Step 2: Choose a Bar

Swiss Bar

Arch Bar

Straight Bar

Fat Bar/Fat Gripz

Bandbell Bar

 

Step 3: Choose a Grip

Close Grip

Medium Grip

Wide Grip

 

Step 4: Choose a Type

Full Range of Motion (Skip to Step 7)

Board Press

 

Step 5: Choose a Board

1 Board

2 Board

3 Board

 

Step 6: Choose a Board Type

Hard Normal Surface

Softer/Foam Surface

 

Step 7: Choose a Variable Resistance Method

Bands

Chains

None

 

Step 8: Choose an Amount of Variable Resistance

Bands

Chains

Versus or With Mini Bands

Vs. 1 Set of Chain

Versus or With Monster Mini Bands

Vs. 2 Sets of Chain

Versus or With Light Bands

Vs. 3 Sets of Chain

With Average Bands

Vs. 4 Sets of Chain

With Strong Bands

 

Done: Now you’ve got a Bench Press variation. Go lift some heavy weight!

 

DEADLIFT VARIATIONS

Step 1: Choose a Deadlift

Sumo

Conventional

Trap Bar (Skip to St. 4)

Zercher (Skip to St.4)

 

Step 2: Choose a Bar

Straight Bar

Fat Bar/Fat Gripz

 

Step 3: Choose a Grip

Alternating

Double Overhand

Snatch-Grip

 

Step 4: Choose a Range of Motion

Standard (Skip to St.7)

Deficit Deadlift

Pin/Rack Pull

Pull off of Raised Mats

 

Step 5: Choose a Setting

Deficit Deadlift

Pin/Rack Pull

Pull off of Raised Mats

1”

Pin 1

1”

2”

Pin 2

2”

3”

Pin 3

3”

4”

Pin 4

4”

 

Step 6: Choose a Surface to Stand on

Hard Normal Surface

Softer Foam/Mat Surface

 

Step 7: Choose a Variable Resistance Method

Bands

Chains

None

 

Step 8: Choose an Amount of Variable Resistance

Bands

Chains

Versus or With Mini Bands

Vs. 1 Set of Chain

Versus or With Monster Mini Bands

Vs. 2 Sets of Chain

Versus or With Light Bands

Vs. 3 Sets of Chain

With Average Bands

Vs. 4 Sets of Chain

With Strong Bands

 

Done: There’s your new Deadlift variation! Chalk up and go rip the bar off the ground.

 

GOOD MORNING VARIATIONS

Step 1: Choose a Good Morning

Arch Back

Rounded Back

Step 2: Choose a Bar

Safety Squat Bar

Cambered Squat Bar

Straight Bar

Bow Bar

Step 3: Choose a Stance

Close Stance

Medium Stance

Wide Stance

Step 4: Choose a Type

Standing Good Morning (Skip to Step 6)

Seated Good Morning

Step 5: Choose a Box Type

Hard Normal Surface

Softer/Foam Surface

Step 6: Choose a Range of Motion

Small (Chest above parallel to ground)

Medium (Chest parallel to ground)

Large (i.e.Belly to knees)

Step 7: Choose a Method

Standard

Pause on Pins

Concentric Only (starting from pins)

Step 8: Choose a Variable Resistance Method

Bands

Chains

None

Step 9: Choose an Amount of Variable Resistance

Bands

Chains

Vs. Mini Bands

Vs. 1 Set of Chain

Vs or With Monster Mini Bands

Vs. 2 Sets of Chain

Vs or With Light Bands

Vs. 3 Sets of Chain

With Average Bands

Vs. 4 Sets of Chain

With Strong Bands

Vs. 5+ Sets of Chain

 

Done: That’s your Good Morning variation – Go do work!

 

I hope you have enjoyed and found this guide helpful. As always, if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, leave them in the comments section below.

 

Never Minimal. Never Maximal. Always Optimal.

 

-J

  • THIS guy. You just saved my life bud!

    I am currently making a full switch to conjugate in time for me first PL meet and you’re right – this chart cannot make choosing the main moves any simpler.

    I’ve been a lurker and a fan, so keep up the good work bud! Thanks

    • Jordan

      Kenji,

      I’m glad you liked the article! Good luck with training.

      -J

  • Oh yeah – one question.

    Do the Dynamic Days Main Movements always have to be the same as the Max Effort Day Main movements?

    ie. Does doin a 1RM on a trap bar deadlift mean that you HAVE to do trap bar speed pulls later in the week?

    I ask because in terms of exercise rotation, Westside recommends using a 3-week cycle for Dynamic Days, but recommends changing Max Day exercises much more often, like you said above.

    Keeping with the strict 3 week dynamic cycle and constantly switching main movements (microcycles) for Max Effort Days means always having more exercise variation throughout the year for Max Effort Days. So doing the same exact exercise(s) for both days rarely if ever do happen then? Correct me please if I’m reading the above wrong man.

    Thanks again,

    -Kenj

    • Jordan

      Kenji,

      The Dynamic main movements never have to be the same as the Max Effort main movements. Sometimes they may happen to be the same or similar but they never have to be the exact same move.

      Hope this helps,

      -J

      • It sure does. Thanks a ton man. Keep up the good work.

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  • CJ

    Thank you for this, good timing as I need to change things up and this really simplifies it.

    Any chance you can do one for accessory work?

  • Iron

    I don’t mean to sound like a dummy or anything, but with all of the variations how do you guys keep track of your PR’s? I’m almost strong enough to stop my progressive training and looking to get into this style of training, but it seems like with so many variations (and lifting less/more on each lift) how the hell do you keep track of it.. even just the ME days?

    Thanks!

    • Keep a training log on your computer and track your lifts.

  • Anton

    Amazing article, very helpful! I have always been a bit confused about the dynamic efort rotations, but this cleared things up! Thank you for this, all of your content on westside is amazing!

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  • Alexandra Strauss

    Wow. This is the most helpful westside barbell article I’ve found. Great sample template. Great list of variations. You just made my life so much easier. Thank you!

  • Jim Mingle

    Jordan, this is a great article. It really put the conjugate method in a perspective that is easy to comprehend. The step-by-step guide for the max effort days is perfect. Thank you so much and many blessings to you!