For the next 12 weeks I’ll be training with the free training template created by Brian Alsruhe, known as the “Dark Horse” program. His YouTube video explains all the details and lays out the program. Lift Vault has done the work for m̶e̶ you and created a Google Sheets copy of the program.
The program is a total of 12 weeks, with nine working weeks, split into three phases of three weeks. One week is a deload week and there is a two week testing phase. The program takes up four days a week. It is also a self-regulating program, which makes it great for trainees of any skill level.
In essence, the program is a powerlifting & strongman hybrid program based on conjugate periodization. Dark Horse also utilizes ‘giant sets’, which are in essence circuit training with weights. The focus isn’t primarily on building one rep max increase, rather building a more general strength and conditioning program, which would serve well for a strongman competitor or other athlete.
One of the key programming aspects of Dark Horse, is that all of the main competition lifts are only performed in the dynamic effort section. Which should help alleviate some overuse injuries that I am starting to accumulate from doing the big four movements with little or no variations. The accessory lifts are the movements that will be treated as a heavier movements for the program.
Today was a lesson in paying attention to details. I incorrectly transcribed the 3 rep max for the box squats in max effort, to 8-12 reps… This lead to definite different outcome for the session for squats. Nevertheless, the movements felt great. Alsruhe does recommend to choose lifts that address your own weak points, which is a great way to preface a template, as it addresses the problem of templates not being individualized.
Overall, the session took 1hr 26 mins and I quite enjoyed the movements and pace of the workout. It will be interesting to see how the main movements hold up to only being treated as a dynamic effort lift. I am also hoping that my conditioning improves with this program too.
I was a bit hesitant before starting this workout, due to the inclusion of the flat bench press for heavy singles. If you’ve been following my journey, you’ll be aware that I’ve been struggling with some shoulder issues recently, that were manifesting itself in a pain experience during the competition style bench press. I almost completely ruled out the flat bench press, however, to my surprise, bringing the grip in a little bit narrower, just outside the shoulders actually helped with mitigating any discomfort during the bench press. I also did not feel any shoulder discomfort in the days following the bench press.
Performing the overhead press with bands was a new experience that was enjoyable. I think it will help with maintaining tension at the top of the lift, as the bands’ tension adds a different loading experience than that of regular weights on the bar. It should also help drive up the speed of the press.
Deadlift focus with squat accessory work today. The inclusion of the sumo squat with the front squats as accessory work for the max effort and volume sets, really added some quad fatigue. Which I felt the next day, this was a good inclusion, as I would argue with my current squat form, having a low bar back squat position, takes away a little bit from quad engagement. I also haven’t performed lunges in any significant manner in recent months, so I can see the value in adding a bit more quad focused movements, which should help with my squat in the long term.
The sumo squat felt good as a movement, I think as I get a couple more weeks of practice, I should be able to drive up the weights a little bit more, since I haven’t performed the sumo deadlift for several months.
The banded squats are a good inclusion, I still have to get used to banded squats without a box to rely on resting on at the bottom of the movement. The way my rack is setup, there is constant band tension for the whole squat, which adds a little bit more elastic resistance to the bottom of the squat, which should benefit my position, since I am less able to ‘relax’ in the hole.
Max Effort & Volume work for today went well, I am starting to see a turn around point for my overhead press, being able to get a new PR for the push press, I think that next week I should be able to increase this weight again. Hopefully, this translates over to new PR’s in the regular overhead press. I am noticing slightly better stability during the push press, which is helpful due to the dynamic nature of the movement, having a tighter core will lessen any power leaks from the feet to the hands.
I opted to substitute out the flat bench press for dynamic work, with the incline bench press with bands, just as a shoulder saver based on my own training/injury history. I will most likely leave the regular competition style bench press out of the program to experiment with a no bench press program. I do not plan on competing in a powerlifting competition anytime in the near future, so I am not worried about losing skills in the competition flat bench press.
As the first week wraps up, I can tell this program is going to be very intense and I am looking forward to this unfolding. One of the things I have to work on, is getting better at sticking to the prescribed rest periods, I do have a tendency to take around 3-5 minutes between giant sets, which does negate some of the conditioning effects as well as prolong workout times.