The Conjugate System for a CrossFit Gym

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Over the past decade, CrossFit’s growth has been explosive and there is no slowdown in sight. Since I started CrossFit in 2006, I’ve noticed a trend in our community: new box owners brimming with excitement and passion for running a new business, for training people and for helping others, but some without the experience to properly program for the wide range of athletes at their box. As someone who has been working hands-on in the strength and conditioning community for over 12 years, and in CrossFit for 11 years with a portion of that time spent at a competitor level, I’ve amassed plenty of tried and tested learnings and best practices for training a full range of athletes – from the most green to the most seasoned.
Through my own trial and error during the past 11 years, I have developed a program template that hits each of the objectives for my own training and the training of the hundreds of athletes that come into our gym each week. Through a long period of trial and error, I experimented with various templates to avoid overtraining and keep myself, as well as members of my box, progressing. Overall, I knew there was a better way and I knew my background in strength and conditioning would give me an advantage to determine the right template.
Structure is Key
I started out with the mindset of trying the keep the programming as balanced as possible where randomness was seldom. I was determined to find a system that made the most sense from many perspectives. One of the first templates I started out with looked something like this:
Monday: Strength>Knee Dominant>Moderate to High Threshold Energy Systems Training (EST)
Tuesday: Gymnastics>Vertical Pushing>Low to Moderate Threshold EST
Wednesday: Strength>Hip dominant>Moderate Threshold EST
Thursday: Gymnastics>Horizontal Pull>Low Threshold EST
Friday: Strength>Knee Dominant>High Threshold EST
Saturday: Partner Aerobic Conditioning
Sunday: Open Gym (Rest Day)
We had a lot of success with this type of template and produced some great numbers in the strength department especially with our female members. We had four females deadlift over 300 pounds and most of them had less than two years of lifting experience. I considered this programming a success. And you may be asking, so why fix it if isn’t broken?
Although this system worked well, I felt we were still missing out on some important pieces of the puzzle in the GPP and special exercise department. There wasn’t enough really as much of a place for this with our current template. Overall, our athletes were set-up for success, but many of them still were lacking in the GPP department.
I’ve always had fun using the Conjugate System as well as experienced continuous progress from multiple perspectives. The reasons why the Conjugate System is so successful is pretty straightforward — a lot of variance, emphasis on speed training, not just heavy lifting, appropriate accessory work to bring up lagging muscles and recovery through lots of GPP work. My new template looked something like this:
Monday
• Max Effort Lower Body Movement
• Secondard submaximal left 
• Accessory Work: 1-2 Exercises 
• Accessory Core Work
Tuesday 
• Energy System Work
• GPP Work
• Accessory Work
Wednesday
• Max Effort Upper Variation 
• Secondary submaximal Movement
• Accessory: 2 Exercises
• Accessory Core: 1 Exercises
Thursday 
• Active Recovery work: sledpull powerwalking, belt squat walking, individual non-invasive work, tissue work 
• Or Aerobic Work @Z1
Friday
• Dynamic Effort Lower Body: 2 Movements 
• Accessory Work: 2 Exercises
• Accessory Core Work: 1 Exercise 
Saturday
• Dynamic Effort Upper Body: 2 Movements
• Accessory Work: 2 exercises 
• Accessory Core Work: 1 Exercise
Sunday: OFF
As you can see, this a lot more in depth compared to the first template that I shared, but keep in mind, this was specifically for my own training not for group classes. I had planned to separate my strength training and metabolic conditioning. Overall, this was the template that would lead to coming up with what I think is a great template that can be applied to any box.
Dynamic Effort Training 
Speed training, in my opinion, is one of the most under-utilized forms of training in CrossFit today. Using light loads and accelerating the bar as fast as possible constitutes as speed strength training. Another great use for speed training with your boxes programming is simply giving people time to only work on being efficient with a given lift. For this reason, all levels of ability will benefit from these days where the intent is to focus on maximal power output rather than maximal loading. In these cases, I recommend athletes start with 50-60% of their 1RM for their box squats and deadlifts to simply learn how to become explosive. I’ve found that with the majority of my athletes, they simply do not have the ability to utilize higher threshold motor units yet even with submaximal loads. This will be even more evident with your endurance athletes. Overall, do not sacrifice bar speed for loading. Athletes will be better served scaling their loading and moving faster.
Just to see how all this plays out with all levels of CrossFit classes, a typical week may look something like this:
Monday
Max Effort Lower Body 
Box Front Squat: 1RM. Rest 2-3:00
Conditioning
3 RFT:
10 Power Cleans (135, 95) 
400 Meter Run
Rest 3:00
Finisher
50-100 each leg Banded Leg Curls
3 x 15 Weighted Sit-ups

Tuesday
GPP
1a) Prowler Push: 4 x 60 yards. Rest 1:00  
1b) Farmer Carry: 4 x 60 yards, AHAP. Rest 1:00
Conditioning
5 Rounds 40 work/20 Rest:
1a) Rowing Calories
1b) Burpees
1c) Double Unders
1d) Toes-to-Bar
Finisher
Russian Twists: 2-3 x 20

Wednesday (rotate between ME Upper/DE Upper x 2 weeks of each)
Max Effort Upper Body
Close Grip Floor Press: 1RM. Rest 2:00/
Conditioning
5 RFT:
5 Hang Power Clean + S20H (135, 95)
10 Pull-ups
15 HR Push-ups
Finisher
Accumulate: 100 Banded Pushdowns/100 Banded Pull-aparts

Thursday
Skill/Gymnastics
3 Rounds, not for time:
–Single Leg Squat Practice x 3-8 reps ea.
– Static Hold (hollow-hold, handstand hold, L-Sit, L-Hold, Ring Support)
– Mobility
Conditioning
With a partner in 25:00
5:00 Max Cals on Assault Bike
5:00 Max Wallballs 
5:00 Max Distance Front Rack Carry
Remaining time: Max Calories on Rower

Friday
Dynamic Effort Lower
1) Wide Stance Box Squat: 8 x 3 @50-60%, every 60s.
2) Seated Box Jumps: 4 x 5. Rest 60s.
Conditioning
AMRAP 3 x 3 sets, Rest 2:00 and repeat 3x:
3 Deadlifts (135, 95)
3 Hang Power Cleans (135, 95)
3 Front Squats (135, 95)

Saturday
Conditioning
AMRAP 30 w. a partner: 
Run 600 meters 
20 OHS (95, 65)
20 Lateral Burpees 
2 Rope Climbs

Within a given week there is a lot of freedom. Max effort day does not have to necessarily be a 1 rep max. The intent here is work up to some challenging sets between 1-5 repetitions. It’s at your discretion when you want your people working up to a 1RM. As long as there is a rotation of movements, it can be relatively often though.

How to Apply the Conjugate System to your CrossFit Box

Applying this system is going to give you a template to keep your programming balanced so that your members make progress, avoid overtraining and burnout, and steer clear of injury. If you’re just starting out, keep it simple. Remember, CrossFit started out with basic couplets/triplets — nothing fancy. Within this approach you will have the ability to be creative and make this system work best for your box with a wide range of abilities. To get you started, I’ve provided a detailed template with rep ranges, work/rest intervals, as well movement patterns for each day of the week at the end of this article. I encourage you to learn more about the Conjugate System and see for yourself how it can be applied to a wide range of athletes and abilities and results in helping your members and clients get stronger, look better, and live longer!

Here is a detailed template with rep ranges, work/rest intervals, as well movement patterns for each day of the week.

Monday (Max Effort Lower Body)

Box Squats
Dead Lifts
Sumo Dead Lifts
Power Cleans
Back Squats
Front Squats
Squat Clean
Squat Snatch
Overhead Squat
Paused Back or Front Squat

 All lifts this day will be taken to a heavy effort or max effort.

1-5 Rep Maxes
Heavy set 1-5 reps
Full recovery 3 minutes between heavy sets
Total sets somewhere between 8-10
Tuesday
GPP Work: sled work, loaded carries, ect.
Accessory Work
Conditioning

Wednesday (Max Effort Upper Body or Dynamic Effort Upper Body)

Shoulder Press
Push Press
Push Jerk
Power Jerk
Split Jerk
Behind Neck Variations
Weighted Dips
Weighted Pull-ups/Chin-ups (various grip widths)
Weighted Push-ups
Log Press
Bench Press (various grip widths)

 All lifts this day will be taken to a heavy effort or max effort.

1-5 Rep Maxes
Heavy set 1-5 reps
Full recovery 2-4 minutes between heavy sets
Total sets somewhere between 8-12 sets

 Thursday 

Gymnastics Skill
Conditioning
Or GPP Work

Friday (Dynamic Effort Lower Body)

Box Squats
Dead Lifts
Sumo Dead Lifts
Power Cleans
Back Squats
Front Squats
Squat Clean
Squat Snatch
Overhead Squat

All lifts at submaximal loads. This where I deviate a little bit from Louies percentages. Typically, I will prescribe a range. Olympic Lifting variations will typically be in 75-85% range whereas Box Squats and Deadlifts will be in the 50-70% without accommodating resistance.

Rest 45 seconds-1:00 between efforts
Performed for higher sets/lower reps every minute on the minute i.e. 12 sets of 2; 8 sets of 3, 5 sets of 5.
Weight should be moved with maximum velocity.
Using accommodating resistance i.e. Bands and chains for seasoned lifters may be useful but not necessary.

 Saturday

Partner Conditioning. This will be a culmination of movements that we haven’t seen throughout the week, but will coincide with the programming to ensure we are working for 25+ minutes. The main objective of these pieces to for athletes to pace, breathe, and have fun! 

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