Conjugate Periodization for Athletic Performance

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Written by Stefan Ianev (Clean Health Research & Development Specialist)

The Conjugate Sequence system or model is the most advanced form of periodization and is often misunderstood by most coaches and lifters. Conjugate sequence periodization is often erroneously associated with Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell method.     

However, the Westside Barbell method is technically a form of concurrent or daily undulating periodization because multiple qualities are trained through the course of a week. Although in the conjugate sequence multiple qualities are trained during each phase, emphasis is only given to one motor quality at a time, while the other qualities are trained at maintenance. 

The conjugate sequence system which originated in the Soviet Union in the late 60s-early 70s was based on the pros and cons of sequential and concurrent methods, by trying to apply the respective advantages and avoid the shortcomings of each of these models. It was based on the premise that an elite athlete is unable to optimally adapt to a large number of stimuli simultaneously, but at the same time, detraining of those motor qualities that are not being trained will occur.   

To get around this, an elite athlete needs concentrated loading of one particular quality at a time, while all other qualities are maintained with a minimal volume of training. With this approach, an athlete can optimally adapt to a single stimulus, while maintaining the other qualities and avoiding stagnation, overtraining, and fatigue. After a period of time, the emphasis is switched to another quality while putting the quality that was just developed at maintenance. 

The conjugate sequence system can either be set up in a linear or undulating fashion. For example, for an athlete in an explosive team sport such as basketball, a linear sequential model could look like something below:

Hypertrophy >> Maximal Strength >> Alactic Power >> Alactic Capacity

In this particular case, one motor quality builds on the next. Hypertrophy helps potentiate maximal strength and prepares the body for the higher intensity loading to follow. Maximal strength helps increase the potential for developing power, and once power has been developed, the emphasis is switched to increasing the capacity to maintain a high power output, such as when doing repeated jumps over the course of a game. 

However, unlike the traditional sequential or linear model, in each phase there should be some work allocated to maintaining the qualities that were developed in the previous phases. For example, loss of maximal strength in the later phases, can lead to reduced power output, since power is a product of force x velocity.  Typically, only 10-20% of the volume required to develop a particular quality may be needed in order to maintain that quality. 

An undulating conjugate sequence model can look something like below: 

Maximal Strength >> Power >> Maximal Strength >> Power

In this case, we are switching back and forth between emphasising maximal strength and power, which have a complementary affect, but there is still some maintenance work for the motor quality that is not being emphasised. 

This is illustrated in the image below:

As you can see there is some overlap in the qualities trained at each phase. Heavy resistance training alone may decrease power output unless accompanied by explosive movements (1). Therefore, you should still include some power training during the maximal strength phase. In addition, some work for maintaining strength should done during the power phase since maximal strength increases the potential to develop power.

However, rather than trying to develop both qualities as the same time, you are allocating all your adaptive reserves to developing or maximizing one quality, while training the complimentary quality at maintenance. This is how this model overcomes the limitations of the other periodization models. 

Want to learn about the history of periodization and the different programming approaches used today to develop your understanding of the pros and cons of each and how this can be used in your own coaching or training? Enrol into the Strength System International Certification Bundle (includes Level 1 & 2!)


  1. American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(3):687-708. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181915670

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