Brian Alsruhe’s Dark Horse Training Template Blog – Week 8


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.


Day 1

I made another change to the antagonist movement, away from the Dimel Deadlift. My reasoning being that the Dimel deadlift was working on the dynamic/explosive nature of the top half of the deadlift, and since the program already includes a dynamic effort section, my thinking was that I would be doubling down on the dynamic nature of the movement and ignoring heavy strength work as well as hypertrophy work in the required percentages and reps. With all that in mind, I opted for a suitcase deadlift, mainly because I have the new farmer handles from Titan. Following the train of thought that the unilateral nature of the lift, would also help to add stress, without adding weight.

The Anderson squat went well and working up in weights, the final set moved well, I was a bit dissapointed I wasn’t able to get to the arbitrary three plate (315lbs) mark. The movement is still awkward to execute, especially when squeezing under the barbell, I need to pay more attention to the starting position, as I may have been too high for the start.

Switching back to a regular barbell for the squats for an extra day of work, didn’t have any negative effects on the shoulder joint. But I do think that using the SSB for the majority of the program has helped my mitigate some shoulder stress. Box squats with a straight bar, feels slightly different, with my torso adopting a more horizontal position to account for the shift in the weight.

Like the majority of the last half of the Darkhorse program, I dropped out a fair amount of work from the programmed exercises, namely from the volume and cut out the dynamic effort sets by half. This was both due to time constraints as well as fatigue. I also decreased the amount of weights used for the DE deadlift since my back wasn’t feeling up to the task of explosive deadlifts for the day.

Day 2

Another change up on day two, as I switched over the day of the T-Bar row, to today, in an effort to make it easier to move around my equipment restraints. Because I do pullups in the same space that I have to set my bench press up, I much prefer to do a row variant instead of a pullup variant, so that I am not having to maneuver my body around the barbell and bench. In any case, I think the T-Bar row and close grip bench are a good pairing, since they both are in the horizontal plane and have a relatively narrow grip.

Again, more cutting out of the volume work, I didn’t notate it, but I did complete two sets of just the T-Bar rows & close grip bench press. As I decreased the reps for the T-Bar row, I increased the weights to get more of a heavier stimuli, since I was focusing on the heavier bench press.

Using the same weights for the dynamic effort overhead press like last week. Which is fine, since I was still moving the barbell with some speed and didn’t extend out the rest periods.

Day 3

This was one of the few times that I had to adjust the target rep ranges for the max effort section of the workout. I was not feeling up for a one rep max on a deficit deadlift, so I adjusted the reps to a triple and the rest of the program accordingly. The Lift Vault spreadsheet does this automatically for you when you adjust the target reps.

I also noticed today, because I may have eaten more than usual over the day, there was a lot more tension around my wasit/beltline and had to reset in between each rep of the heavy triple. This did mean that I was quite quick with the deadlift movement, and didn’t spend as much time to think and adjust at the bottom of the deadlift, which I think helped me to remain tight and lift faster.

The front squats went well this week, I am happy with the progress so far with this movement. In an effort to get better at the front rack positioning, if I don’t have to use the wrist strap technique for gripping the barbell, I only had to use it for the last few sets as my wrists fatigued. There has also been a positive trend in the weights used, so hopefully I can increase my front squat in the next few months of training.

The common theme you’ll notice is lower body dynamic effort gets cut in half and today is not different. Using the same weights as last week and for only five sets.

Day 4

I’m really enjoying the inclusion of the Z press and the neutral grip pullup is a good pairing with the movement. The Z press is feeling stronger the more I am able to practice at it and the balance is getting better, I’m hoping this will transfer through to the standing overhead press due to better ab engagement as I definitely feel my abs and hip flexors working really hard to stay in an upright position. This is also a great movement for training the bar path, since any deviation really tips you forward and lost control of the barbell.

I wanted to hit the pull up rep goals for today, so I opted to not include any extra weight and I’m pretty sure the 15 reps is a new PR for the neutral grip pullup. I did add a little bit of weight for the volume sets since I was dropping the reps and wasn’t too concerned with hitting the rep target.

The dynamic effort bench press, seems to be the most responsive movement to the dynamic effort progression, with increased weights being used this week over last week and also staying within the 10 minute time limit.


I may have hit a plateau period for much of the dynamic effort (apart from the bench press), which may be an error on my part regarding weight selection. This is the first time I’ve incorporated dynamic effort with bands into my workout in any significant method. So maybe with more practice I will be able to better execute on the explosive dynamic nature of lifting with that mindset.

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

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