Louie Simmons has been incredibly influential in my own training. He created something called the Westside Conjugate System of Training. It’s become a bit of a legendary training program for powerlifters. If you want a primer on this system you can read up on it HERE.
In Louie’s program there are three basic ways to get stronger:
- Max Effort
- Dynamic Effort
- Repetition Effort
1) Max Effort work is pretty self explanatory. It’s basically lifting maximal weights (above 90% of your max). Repetitions are kept between 1-3.
2) Dynamic Effort work is basically lifting sub maximal weights (50-60% of your 1 rep max) very quickly. In Louie’s program lifters commonly perform squat, bench and deadlift for multiple sets (8-10), few reps (1-2) and minimal rest (60 seconds).
3) Repetition effort is what we all know and love. It’s lifting for multiple repetitions (generally 6-15 repetitions) and a moderate amount of sets (2-5).
For a more in depth explanation of these three methods of getting stronger you can read this relic of an article from Dave Tate.
It’s a beautiful system for strength. I’ve followed some variation of a West Side Training Split for the past decade on and off. Early on in my training career, I never really liked dynamic effort work. I just didn’t know whether or not it was really working. I loved lifting heavy weights so the Max Effort Method was great. I was on track to becoming a meathead champion and reps between 6-15 are the typical muscle building range so I was all over repetition effort. Dynamic Effort on the other hand, eh… Just didn’t like doing it. It was like the redheaded step child of lifting for me.
Fast forward after 10 years of heavy and hard lifting and multiple sports. I’ve had several injuries and have had a chance to wisen up a bit (marginally). I’ve managed to deadlift 575 and Push Jerk 330lbs among a lot of other fun party tricks I’ve learned in the gym.
Obviously a large part of being good at crossfit is being proficient at squats, deadlifts and the Olympic Lifts. This has led to the adoption of a “conjugate training” approach to crossfit similar to what Louie uses. While a step in the right direction, it is also not perfect. The westside approach was developed to train powerlifters. It wasn’t developed to be an adjunct program to a standard crossfit training program. Trying to adopt Louie’s program on top of your crossfit training can be a recipe for disaster. It’s just too much, atleast for me (I apologize to the workout cyborgs out there).
This is where the dynamic effort method shines…
I’ve been tinkering with my programming quite a bit lately. I’ve also been trying to listen to my body by pulling on the reigns when I feel especially beat up. One way I’ve been doing this is by substituting dynamic effort work for max effort work. It’s been working so well that I’ve completely revamped the way I do my programming.
My old programming:
- Week 1 – Max Effort Squat
- Week 2 – Max Effort Squat
- Week 3 – Max Effort Squat
- Week 4 – Deload/Max Effort
My new programming
- Week 1 – Max Effort Squat
- Week 2 – Dynamic Effort Squat
- Week 3 – Max Effort Squat
- Week 4 – Deload/Dynamic Effort
I went from squatting heavy (ala Max Effort style) 3-4 times per week down to 2 times. On top of that, I usually only end up deadlifting heavy once per month (maybe twice if I’m feeling great). In the past I’ve always been skeptical of lifting heavy less often as I noticed if I stray from a given lift for too long I’ll lose my strength. However, using dynamic work has been an awesome tool to maintain and build strength. I’ve lost about 10-15 pounds of bodyweight since I was at my peak training for strongman and added about 75lbs to my deep squat. In less then a year:
- My met-con for crossfit has improved greatly
- Lost 10lbs bodyweight
- Gained 75lbs on my squat
- Maintained my deadlift strength
The biggest positive to come out of all of this? My body hurts much less. My knees, hips and lower back are not mad at me week in and out.
Trying to get better at everything all at once in crossfit is a great way to get hurt quickly. Given the nature of crossfit there’s already a ton of stress on your joints and lifting maximally week in and out is going to pound on your body. So use speed work (dynamic effort) more often and don’t be afraid to substitute speed work for max effort work especially when your knees, hips and lower back are feeling beat up. This will certainly save your joints and it might even make your stronger.
So how do we use the Dynamic Effort? Simple, on the day you’re supposed to use your Max Effort (or a day you plan to lift really heavy with your squat or deadlift) keep the bar weight to 50-60% of your 1 repetition maximum. Perform 8-12 sets of 1-3 repetitions with about 60 seconds rest between sets. I like to start each set every minute on the minute style. Easy Peasy.
I’ll do this on days I’m supposed to lift very heavy (above 90% of 1 rep max) but my body doesn’t feel up to it. I also do this every 4th (and sometimes 2nd week) week of a 4 week training cycle in place of Max Effort work. I still recommend taking it easy every 4th to 6th week. Deloading or planned rest is super important. Dynamic Effort work fits the bill nicely during a deload week.
In conclusion, benefits of dynamic effort work:
- Decreased stress on your joints
- An opportunity to improve technique
- Improve your strength by learning to lift quickly
- Make improvements even when your body feels beat up
I’m all for lifting heavy stuff. If you’re looking for a way to stay competitive for years to come without needing a knee replacement when you’re fifty then I’d look into dynamic work. Louie did and he squats over 700lbs at the ripe age of 60.
Speed deadlifts on the menu for today,
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