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.
Check out my Training Vlog on YouTube, where I document each of my workouts and provide my thoughts about the training program.
Week 1 of the new phase introduced one new movement, it kept the antagonist movement the same as the first phase and introduced pause squats as the main movement for the day. Another misreading of the program, meant I performed the pause squat for volume work, instead of the box squat.
I opted to use the straight barbell this week, in order to add some variety from the first phase and get slightly re-accustomed to the straight bar for heavy-ish squat work. In an effort to keep with workout short, I did drop out the last set of volume work, in order to accomplish as much dynamic effort work as possible.
I kept the speed work at 45% of my last one rep tested max, which may have been to low of a weight, but did ensure my speed and form were both maintained.
The pendlay row is replaced with a more standard barbell row, with the weight floating at knee height. In hindsight, I should have dropped the weight choice and opted to perform this movement with a flatter back and less body English.
I like to set the pins during the pin bench press as closely to the same height as my chest during a standard bench press with an arch, this way I am still getting as full of a range of motion as possible, whilst taking advantage of the diminished stretch reflex/bounce at the bottom of the bench. During the higher rep work, I occasionally used the pins as a resting point for the barbell in order to catch my breath – I would not recommend this, due to the lack of discipline and form breakdown.
In an effort to keep the time down, I skipped the last few reps of the dynamic effort OHP, which appears to have stalled out at 95lbs.
With the introduction of the lunge, I opted to perform a static lunge with dumbbells, as a way to practice a movement I haven’t performed for quite a while.
For the pause deadlift, I personally prefer and would recommend to most people for a pause anywhere below the knee and ideally, you would pause at a sticking point. This week I opted for a just below the top of the tibia. To be totally honest, I would call these stutter deadlifts as a lot of the reps aren’t a true pause. Like always, I am a fan of accessory movements that increase the difficulty of the movement without having to increase the weights used.
With the decrease in weights for dynamic squats, the movement felt a lot more explosive and still very fatiguing due to the short rest periods. My 10 minute EMOM expanded out to 11 minutes, which isn’t rare for my performance with lower body dynamic effort EMOM work.
Unfortunately, the final day did not go to plan. I believe I strained my right shoulder/arm at work and was feeling minor discomfort that radiated out of the inner bicep at the elbow. I wanted to see if the pain would dissipate as training progressed, it did not. It was aggravated especially during the weighted pullups, I even attempted unweighted pullups with the pain persisiting. I decided to drop the pullups for the last set and finish the Max Effort sets and call it a day.
During the split press, the front rack position was beginning to aggravate my bicep/elbow, due to the compressed position of my arm. Otherwise, I enjoyed the introduction of the new movement; the split press. I don’t think I have ever performed this before in any substantial method. The split press is a nice progression variety after the push press, and incorporates a unilateral leg factor to the program, which should work well with the introduction of the lunge in day three.
After some assessment of my performance of the first phase, I decided to focus on a couple of things with the new phase:
Make sure that my dynamic effort work is still moving fast and explosively, I noticed that during the first phase, as the weights go heavier, my speed would slow down and my form would also begin to break down. I want to avoid this by keeping a closer eye on weight selection and foregoing weight increases if speed/form diminishes.
I wanted to make sure I was sticking to sub 90 minute workout times, ideally staying in the 70-80 minute mark, which meant I had to stay more cognizant of the rest periods and would also have to hold back the weights being used, so that my body could recover in between sets with the shorter rest periods.
I am aware that this will most likely mean less results in terms of weight progression, but hopefully that will mean a higher response in my conditioning/GPP performance. There will always by trade offs to any goal/endeavor, because we cannot perform two simultaneous activities at 100%, this is opportunity cost. Instead, we must prioritize some goals, whilst ignoring others.
My goal of improving conditioning for the second phase, will hopefully build upon the first phase and we see both improvements in strength and conditioning during the third and final phase of the program.