Now, upon review of this program, I have developed a love, hate relationship with it. On the one hand, I don’t think you should ever charge someone $40 for a shoddy 17 page eBook. On the other hand, the program is a direct slap in the face to everyone in the powerlifting world, myself included, who feels the need to overcomplicate programming. The fact that the entire method can be laid out clearly and concisely in much less than seventeen pages tells you a whole lot right there.
The best are the best not because of one isolated variable such as programming. The best are the best because of who they are and how they train in a holistic sense. There is no Holy Grail program and the Lilliebridge family conclusively proves that.
While I would kind of like to end this right here and now, just to let that point sink in, we are going to go ahead and actually review the program.
If you’d rather watch than listen:
The Lilliebridge Method: History and Context
Now, normally, I don’t heavily emphasize the credentials of the author of any given program. Usually, it isn’t the most relevant factor. What we want to know, in terms of history and context, is what kind of biases and influences went into the construction of the program. Merely knowing how awesome the lifter is who uses the program tells us more about that lifter, in my opinion, than it does about the program.
However, you really cannot escape from the impressive facts when it comes to the Lilliebridge family. Eric Lilliebridge currently holds the all-time world record for the squat and the total in the 275lbs weight class. He has one of the five highest raw powerlifting totals of all-time. Ernie Lilliebridge Jr. is the all-time world record holder in the squat and the total in the 198lbs weight class. Ernie Lilliebridge Sr. is a bit of a slacker as he is “only” the #1 ranked 308lbs powerlifter in the entire United States! Never in the history of powerlifting has there been a more successful group of lifters than the Lilliebridge family. And they’ve been using the same method, in one form or another, for more than a decade now.
Ernie Sr. is the “coach” of the family. He grew up in the golden age of American powerlifting. He mentored under the all-time great powerlifter Ernie Frantz. As such, it really isn’t any surprise that Ernie Sr.’s programmatic biases tend towards the same type of programming that the dominant powerlifters of the 70s used. That is, namely, something fairly similar to traditional western periodization.
The Actual Lilliebridge Method
I’m placed in somewhat of a conundrum on this one. The entire eBook is 17 pages. If I lay out the actual program, I remove any incentive for anyone to buy the book. The program is basically the whole book. The template and training plan is what you’re paying for. As such, I can’t lay it out the specifics here.
What I can tell you is the general gist. The default program features three times per week training though there are some suggestions for alternative splits provided. The Lilliebridges bench on Wednesdays, Squat and Deadlift on Saturdays, and do their lowerbody accessory work on Sundays.
With the Lilliebridge method, you only go heavy on the squat and deadlift once every two weeks. You perform both movements on the same day. So, if you’re going heavy on the squat one week, you’re going light on the deadlift that week. If you’re going heavy on the deadlift, you’re going to go light on the squat. The structure is similar for the bench. You alternate between high rep weeks and weeks where you take three singles at increasing percentages.
As far as the main movements are concerned, you’re basically just working up to a single top set at 85%+ every week. Yes, it really is that simple. The percentages are increased each week as you get closer to the meet, but you just work up to a single top set for max reps. The program never falls below 87% in terms of the main work sets. It is important to note the percentages are based off of your last contest max.
The program features an absolute boat load of bodybuilding style assistance. For both upper and lower body, you’ll be doing about six to ten assistance exercises ranging from four to six sets of eight to twenty reps. Like I said, this is true, blue bodybuilding style assistance work. You’re only doing one work set on the main lifts and the rest of the volume comes from this assistance.
The entire program is designed to peak you for a meet.
The program lasts ten weeks long. In Week 7, you perform your last heavy squat. In Week 8, you perform your last heavy deadlift. Week 9 is a deload week and during Week 10, meet week, you don’t lift at all. As for bench, Week 8 is your last heavy week, Week 9 you take openers, and Week 10, meet week, you don’t lift at all.
This program is said to use something akin to traditional western periodization. In traditional western periodization, you move from high reps to low reps as you get closer and closer to the meet. The Lilliebridge’s have abbreviated this process by starting out relatively heavy right from the beginning and stretching the cycle out over ten weeks by alternating the squat and deadlift.
In simple terms, this is Western periodization without the light phase so it really isn’t western periodization at all. As far as the main movements go, when you actually go heavy, which is only once every two weeks, you’re always above 85%.
This is actually concurrent periodization. You constantly work on max strength each week by using very high %s and you work on hypertrophy every session through the massive amounts of bodybuilding assistance.
Realistically, this isn’t actual periodization in the traditional sense. There is variation in volume and intensity, and a boatload of recovery built into the program, but you don’t have periods of explicit focus on different physical qualities in the Lilliebridge method.
While the periodization would suggest this isn’t a program for advanced athletes, the programming would. The Lilliebridge method has a massive amount of recovery built into the program. I mean, you’re only training the upperbody once per week. You’re only going heavy on the lowerbody movements once every two weeks. This entire program was designed with the advanced athlete in mind.
I honestly can’t imagine anyone that would have recovery issues on a program like this. There is variation in intensity and volume from week to week which, as we all should know by now, is most appropriate for an intermediate trainee. There is very little variation, albeit some due to progressive overload, in volume from mesocycle to mesocycle (if we define as a mesocycle as two weeks in length on the Lilliebridge Method). However, due to the fact you only go heavy once per week on each part of the body, you have enough recovery built into the program that more variation isn’t needed.
The Lilliebridge Method for Naturals
The biggest concern with this type of programming is the risk of detraining in the natural athlete. Drugs, particularly testosterone, have an amazing impact on neural efficiency. Simply put, neural output is kept at a much higher level without the necessity of higher frequencies that naturals must use to maintain CNS efficiency. In my opinion, this is one reason why “enhanced” lifters seem to, ironically, train a lot less than natural lifters.
While this type of programming will probably work well for the enhanced lifter, I suspect that many naturals will find the frequency far too low. I suspect that many naturals would not experience optimal rates of progress with these frequencies. It just isn’t enough for the average natural trainee.
Some natural trainees, particularly larger athletes of intermediate or advanced classification, and particularly those with problematic recovery, would probably do well on this type of programming. I’d be remiss to call it optimal for the natural under really any circumstances, though.
Natural trainees need more frequency to optimize muscle gains, neural efficiency, and general rate of adaptation. Once per week, and once every other week, templates simply do not seem to work as well for natural lifting populations.
Well, I’m sure you guys know what is coming with this one. I do not personally agree with or endorse the old school American approach of loading up on the bodybuilding style fluff work. Now, I must concede, after briefly talking with Paul Carter about this issue, it does seem to be the way that the most successful Americans trained in the 70s and 80s. Even today, most enhanced lifters perform a great deal of bodybuilding style assistance.
Top level naturals don’t. Why is this? Frankly, I’m not entirely sure. I don’t know. I’d speculate that hypertrophy style training is more effective for the enhanced lifter because, to a certain extent, the drugs take care of specificity on the neural side of the equation. If you’re already loaded on massive amounts of testosterone and other drugs, it isn’t as important to harness the neural efficiency gains that are available through frequent, heavy training on the main movements because your neural efficiency levels are already through the roof. Additionally, the added mass probably helps more than the added technical efficiency.
But, again, almost NONE of the top IPF lifters train like this. Naturals just don’t seem to do well with this bodybuilding style assistance. And, because we’re talking about specificity here, doing the majority of your volume, as a powerlifter, with bodybuilding style assistance lacks in specificity. In my opinion, natural lifters are far better served focusing on higher frequencies and higher intensities. For the natural, muscle mass is slowly accumulated over time via a caloric surplus and an ever increasing amount of total volume (which should slowly trend upward over the years). However, the content of that volume should always remain specific as naturals don’t have the neural advantages of the enhanced lifter.
That said, you do have to appreciate the way the Lilliebridge’s have altered traditional western periodization to be more specific on the main movements. They simply cut out the light parts! On this program, you’ll never work below 87% on a heavy day for any of the main movements. If that isn’t specific to powerlifting, nothing is.
The Lilliebridge method combines basic progressive overload and AMRAP sets to generate progress. Each mesocycle, which is two weeks in length because you alternate exercises on lowerbody days and modalities on bench days, the percentages of each movement increase 2-4%. The progressive increase in intensity is the primary overload function.
However, like I said, the main movement workouts do include an AMRAP top set for each powerlift. This gives you a chance to set rep records in addition to the heavier weights you’re handling.
I think the Lilliebridge method contains far too little frequency and volume for the natural lifter. I’m not going to be the fool who outright says it won’t work for the natural, but I do believe it to be sub-optimal. You’re doing one work set per two weeks on the squat and deadlift. Sure, you’re always going to recover well, but if you’re a natural athlete, with a lower classification, in my experience this is a direct ticket to detraining. There are very few natural athletes on the planet who NEED this much recovery between sessions. This just isn’t enough work for optimal gains. This is less work than most novice programs like Starting Strength.
For the enhanced lifter, the situation appears to be far different. Many enhanced world record holders, including Stan Efferding, have employed once every other week deadlifting to GREAT effect. I can only speculate that this is due to the neural advantages provided by the drugs in combination with the fact that these guys often carry around so much muscle that the systemic damage they do in each heavy workout is far greater than a natural is capable of. So, ironically, because of how much more muscle they carry, among other things, bigger guys generally have steeper recovery curves than smaller guys.
This is one of those things that you have to find out for yourself. The literature suggests that muscle protein synthesis peaks in 16-48 hours after training depending on the population. This would suggest that to maximize protein synthesis, higher frequencies are superior. However, in the real world, the best enhanced powerlifters, for the most part, Dan Green being a huge exception, do not train frequently. They train infrequently. They use lots of bodybuilding movements. They don’t go heavy too often. Ironically, despite the fact that drugs vastly improve recovery, naturals seem to be the ones who grind away with high frequency, high volume routines to much greater effect. The reasons for this are unclear, but the pattern is definitely evident to anyone who wishes to see it.
In terms of individual differences, the Lilliebridge method does employ AMRAP sets. So, due to the AMRAP sets, you can always make progress at your own pace – more or less. If the jump in weight is too slow for you, just add reps on your next AMRAP set.
There are also several different templates provided so the frequency can be manipulated a little bit. If you do better training each body part twice a week, you can simply split the main bench workout from the bench accessories which is precisely what the Lilliebridge’s already do for their lowerbody work. Oppositely, if you’re an older trainee or perhaps very busy, you can combine the main lowerbody work with the lowerbody accessories and arrive at a two times per week training schedule.
All this said, there is zero autoregulation of volume and intensity on this program. The weights you use are determined by your last meet max. The volume, outside of the bodybuilding work, is mostly fixed and predetermined. I mean, you’re only doing one work set. If you have a bad day, the only accounting for that is not getting as many reps on your AMRAPs. If you’re someone who needs more volume, you’ll have to get it through assistance work.
I personally don’t believe that any program which fails to include some form of autoregulation can be optimal. Any program can incorporate the principles of autoregulation. You don’t even have to change the basic soul or integrity of the program. Though I hate to keep harping on Mike’s work as if it is the savior of powerlifting programming, any system can be integrated with RTS principles. So why not? Why not autoregulate volume? I don’t believe there is a good answer to this question.
Look, at some point, it becomes pretty hard to argue with success. The Lilliebridge Method has produced not one, not two, but THREE #1 lifters in the U.S.A. The method has produced multiple world record holders both inside and outside the family. Clearly, something they’re doing is working really damn well.
That said, I truly do not feel this program is appropriate for the natural lifter. I do not believe it is optimal to deadlift heavy every other week for the natural. I do not think this is enough overall volume on the main movements. I do not think that a program which gets most of its volume from bodybuilding style assistance is specific enough. To top it all off, the program doesn’t include any significant form of autoregulation. If you’re a natural lifter, I don’t recommend this program in most cases.
If you’re heavily enhanced, well, it is probably worth a shot at this point. You can’t deny the track record. You can pick up a copy of the book here.
I just got the word that my man Jonnie Candito released his new, revised, updated 6 Week Training Plan. This was perhaps the single most requested program during this entire series. I’ve been waiting for this update to be released in order to sink my teeth into the program. I really enjoyed taking a deeper look at Jonnie’s linear program so I have high hopes that this one will be even better.
Did You Enjoy The ProgrammingToWin Series?
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Table of Contents
Powerlifting Programs I: Scientific Principles of Powerlifting Programming
Powerlifting Programs II: Critical Training Variables
Powerlifting Programs III: Training Organization
Powerlifting Programs IV: Starting Strength
Powerlifting Programs V: StrongLifts 5×5
Powerlifting Programs VI: Jason Blaha’s 5×5 Novice Routine
Powerlifting Programs VII: Jonnie Candito’s Linear Program
Powerlifting Programs VIII: Sheiko’s Novice Routine
Powerlifting Programs IX: GreySkull Linear Progression
Powerlifting Programs X: The PowerliftingToWin Novice Program
Powerlifting Programs XI: Madcow’s 5×5
Powerlifting Programs XII: The Texas Method
Powerlifting Programs XIII: 5/3/1 and Beyond 5/3/1
Powerlifting Programs XIV: The Cube Method
Powerlifting Programs XV: The Juggernaut Method
Powerlifting Programs XVI: Westside Barbell Method
Powerlifting Programs XVII: Sheiko Routines
Powerlifting Programs XVIII: Smolov and Smolov Junior
Powerlifting Programs XIX: Paul Carter’s Base Building
Powerlifting Programs XX: The Lilliebridge Method
Powerlifting Programs XXI: Jonnie Candito’s 6 Week Strength Program
Powerlifting Programs XXII: The Bulgarian Method for Powerlifting
Powerlifting Programs XXIII: Brian Carroll’s 10/20/Life
Powerlifting Programs XXIV: Destroy the Opposition by Jamie Lewis
Powerlifting Programs XXV: The Coan/Philippi Deadlift Routine
Powerlifting Programs XXVI: Korte’s 3×3
Powerlifting Programs XXVII: RTS Generalized Intermediate Program