Brian Alsruhe’s Dark Horse Training Template Blog – Week 7


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 7

Day 1

First day back, saw a changing up of movements for the main movements of the day. The original program, listed down lying leg curls, and seeing as I don’t have any sort of direct hamstring exercise machine (leg curl, GHR, hyperextension etc.) I decided to implement the Dimel Deadlift, a deadlift variation that I haven’t utilized before and have only just discovered it. Reading up on the Dimel Deadlift here, the Tl;dr is that they are very similar to Romanian Deadlifts, except they are performed explosively, with more weight on the heels and only going just below the knee cap. I thought that this might be a good variation to add into the rotation.

“You should pull so hard that the plates clang against the barbell at the top of the deadlift. If the plates ring at the top, you are using your hamstrings like a good deadlifter. If they don’t make a sound, you just pulled with your back.”

Louie Simmons

The Dimels are very taxing and fatiguing on the hamstrings, as expected, but what I didn’t notice the effects until the final dynamic effort part of the deadlift, that included deadlifts with bands. In hindsight, I will be dropping the deadlift out of the rotation of lifts, because my logic would tell me that because I’m not lifting heavy weights or moderately heavy weights for reps, I am really adding more work to the Dynamic section of the workout, which is already getting taxed by the conventional deadlifts. I would also forgoing any strength & hypertrophy development by not performing another movement, where I can add weight and focus less on the speed of the movement.

Day 2

Today’s upper body push pull, saw a step away from the movement pairings being in the same plane (horizontal push & pull, vs vertical push & pull), with a focus on bring in the grip width, with neutral grip pullups and close grip bench press. I find that the neutral grip pullups, generally allow me to lift more weight and they feel more powerful that the wider grip variants, I attribute this to more arm activation as well as the neutral hand positioning giving an advantageous shoulder position, and finally shortening the range of motion.

Because I’ve been staying with a medium grip width for all of my bench pressing to alleviate the shoulder issues, there is not much difference between my close & medium grip bench width, probably the difference of 1 inch per side. This did give me some over-confidence with the final few sets, I thought I had the 295lbs for a single, but I failed at my second attempt, and decided to scrap the third attempt.

Day 3

2020 New Year’s Day workout, and still thinking it’s 2019…

Lack of sleep really had a negative effect on my training today (duh), and it wasn’t even that different, but an hours less sleep in a night did take quite a significant effect on today’s training, with my mental state not being the best, this especially showed true towards the end of the workout, where I felt like death and cut out a fair amount of work.

The original template had leg presses listed, I don’t have a leg press machine in the garage, so a substitution was called for. Front squats are a weak lift of mine, so I want to focus on bringing those up in the new year, in an effort to bring up quad and ab strength in relation to the squatting motion. In a new attempt to help with the wrist difficulties I have with the front rack position, I am going to try to use the standard Olympic style front rack position for my warm up sets, and as the weights get heavier, I’ll transition over to the wrist strap grip aid.

The deficit deadlift, is a favorite deadlift variation of mine, because it is a movement style that adds to the difficulty of the lift, without having to resort to increasing the weight on bar. This is done by increasing the range of motion of the deadlift. I like these movements, as they temper the overall stress the body encounters during training, because the muscles are still getting taxed without having the added stress of more weight. I don’t think a huge deficit is needed, I opt for a 2″ deficit shoes, I like to keep the height around here, as it doesn’t affect my form, I’ve played around with different heighted deficits and find that it alters my form significantly, and begins to have less carry over to the standard deadlift. My tip would be to start off with small deficit, maybe half an inch and increase this until you notice that your form breaks down too much. Signs of a great deficit are:

  • shoulders below hips
  • knees coming out too far to accomodate the stomach/torso
  • your knees bend too much to pick up the weight
  • the bar doesn’t travel in a straight line, to accommodate any weird body movement adjustments you made.

Day 4

This week introduced two new movements, both of which were substitutions due to personal preference, rather than equipment constraints. Originally programmed were: Pendlay Rows with the clean & press. I wanted to use the T-Bar row, purely because I recently purchased a the Landmine attachment for my rack and wanted to use it. I’m also not the biggest fan of clean and presses, due to my wrist pain issues with the front rack position. Possibly in the future, when I’m able to front squat with a regular Olympic style front rack position without the aid of wrist wraps, I may look at doing the clean and press. In the meantime, I will omit the movement, due to the dynamic nature of the landing on the shoulders, I don’t think the benefits outweigh the costs for my personal situation.

I enjoy the Z press, as I think it is a great accessory movement for the overhead press, because it is able to target a significant weak point of my lift – the core, by removing any stability from the legs and not using any back support. The Z press has helped me improve my core stability during a regular overhead press, which I’ve noticed with a reduction in side ways motion in my hips as well as less arching of the back under heavy loads.

The dynamic bench press session went really well, with increasing weights from last dynamic bench session, as well as overall better explosiveness and sticking within the 10 minute time limit.


The first week of the third and final phase went off to a good start, with the introduction of some new movements. As well as better mental focus during the course of the workouts. I really like the fourth week rest week built into the program and is timed really well for my own personal experience with the workload over the three weeks.

I’m hoping the movement substitutions don’t affect the outcomes too negatively. I don’t think they’ll have too detrimental of an effect, as the workout intensity, and giant set ethos that is the structure of the program is a much bigger factor in driving adaptations.

Learn more about Brian Alsruhe at his website, and his YouTube Channel for more great resources.

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