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There are only 4 ways to train muscle, do you know them?

Updated: May 14



The 4 ways to train muscle

In the ever-evolving world of fitness, one trend has stood the test of time: the quest for optimisation. From ancient athletes to modern gym-goers, the pursuit of peak performance has driven innovation and experimentation. One of the most ground breaking developments in the 1970's was the Russian Conjugate Method—a paradigm shift that challenged traditional notions of reps and sets while offering a glimpse into the future of training up to this day.

Rooted in the pioneering work of Soviet sports scientists and weightlifting coaches, the Russian Conjugate Method represented a departure from the dogma of linear progression. At its core lay the recognition that strength and hypertrophy gains are not solely determined by volume but by the precise orchestration of neural signalling. The Russian Conjugate Method revolves around four ways to train muscle, each strategically employed to target different aspects of strength, power, and muscle development. These methods represent the fundamental ways in which muscles can be stimulated and adapted:

1. Maximal Effort Method:

  • Focuses on lifting heavy loads at or near maximal intensity.

  • Utilises variations of compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and their derivatives.

  • Aimed at improving maximal strength and overcoming sticking points.

  • Typically involves working up to a one-rep max (1RM) or performing sets of low reps (1-3 reps) with heavy weights. 2. Dynamic Effort Method:

  • Involves lifting submaximal loads explosively and with maximal velocity.

  • Often performed with moderate weights (around 50-60% of 1RM) for multiple sets and low to moderate reps (usually 2-5 reps).

  • Aims to improve speed-strength, rate of force development, and neuromuscular coordination.

  • Commonly utilises accommodating resistance methods like bands and chains to increase the resistance through the range of motion. 3. Repetition Method:

  • Focuses on accumulating volume through higher repetitions with moderate to heavy loads.

  • Typically performed with loads ranging from 60-80% of 1RM for moderate to high reps (5-12 reps).

  • Aims to induce hypertrophy, increase muscular endurance, and reinforce technical proficiency.

  • Variations of compound lifts and accessory exercises are commonly used to target specific muscle groups. 4.Submaximal Effort Method:

  • Involves lifting submaximal loads for moderate to high reps without reaching muscular failure.

  • Designed to enhance work capacity, muscular endurance, and recovery.

  • Often includes tempo training, pause reps, or isometric holds to increase time under tension and improve muscle control.

  • Utilised as active recovery sessions or as a means of addressing muscular imbalances and weaknesses.

The essence of the Russian Conjugate Method lies in its emphasis on variation and specificity. Rather than adhering to fixed rep and set schemes, practitioners cycle through a diverse array of exercises and intensities, targeting different muscle groups and movement patterns with surgical precision. This dynamic approach not only prevents stagnation but also fosters continuous adaptation and growth.


Central to the Russian Conjugate Method is the concept of conjugate sequencing—a sophisticated framework for programming that optimises neural recruitment and motor learning. By strategically rotating exercises and manipulating training variables such as intensity, volume, and frequency, athletes can stimulate a broader spectrum of motor units and movement patterns, leading to more comprehensive gains in strength, power, and athleticism.


While the Russian Conjugate Method has its roots in the world of weightlifting, its principles have far-reaching implications for all realms of fitness and athletic performance. From powerlifting to bodybuilding to sports-specific training, the concept of conjugate sequencing offers a versatile and adaptable framework for maximising results while minimising the risk of overuse injuries and burnout.


One need not look far to see the influence of the Russian Conjugate Method on modern training methodologies. Its principles have been embraced by coaches and athletes around the globe, shaping the landscape of strength and conditioning in profound ways. And yet, the journey is far from over.


In recent years, innovators like Andreo Spina have taken the principles of conjugate sequencing to new heights, applying cutting-edge research in neuroscience and biomechanics to refine and optimise training protocols further. Through techniques such as Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) and Functional Range Assessment (FRA), Spina and others have unlocked new insights into human movement and performance, paving the way for a more sophisticated and holistic approach to training.


As we stand on the precipice of a new era in fitness, one thing is clear: the Russian Conjugate Method is not merely a relic of the past but a harbinger of things to come. Its principles—variation, specificity, and intelligent programming—will continue to shape the future of training, guiding athletes of all levels toward new heights of achievement.


In the end, the Russian Conjugate Method is more than just a training methodology; it's a philosophy—a commitment to constant evolution and relentless pursuit of excellence. Know what you are trying to achieve and tailor your training towards it. Challenge the status quo with your training, is the way you are training really the most up to date according to science? Question why you have been given the reps, sets and named movements you have been given and apply your own understanding to achieve your goals.

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