I am glad I received so many requests to review The Juggernaut Method by Chad Wesley Smith. To be honest, normally, I expect popular programs to be complete garbage. Why? Well, any time you write a cookie cutter template you have to generalize the program to make it work for as many people as possible. The end result is that the program “works pretty well” for the majority, but it doesn’t work awesome for any one individual.
I was pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of The Juggernaut Method. Chad Wesley Smith is a smart, educated lifter. From the first writings in The Juggernaut Method, you can clearly tell the man has done his homework.
Now, I do have to say that The Juggernaut Method is not strictly a powerlifting program. Unless you just love to learn about new programs, as a powerlifter, I don’t think I’d recommend picking up a copy of the book. However, the book IS aimed at, and entirely appropriate for, team sport and other competitive athletes. For those of you looking for ways to incorporate conditioning, speed work, jumping, and throwing, this is EXACTLY what you’re looking for.
Although I think this program is intelligently designed, and highly effective, let’s get into why I don’t necessarily recommend it for powerlifting purposes.
If you’d rather watch than read:
The Juggernaut Metho: Context, Background, History
To talk about the origins of the method, we first need to talk about its creator: Chad Wesley Smith. Smith is a former national record holder in the shot put. His athletic background is rooted in throwing – not necessarily powerlifting. As many of you might know, throwing is essentially a strength sport; you cannot be a good thrower without brutal strength. Smith demonstrated his fact when he set the American record in the squat with a 905lbs effort in 2011.
Smith is definitely highly qualified to speak on both powerlifting and strength. However, his passion clearly lays in working with athletes outside the powerlifting realm. His training facility focuses primarily on team sports athletes. He himself is a strongman competitor nowadays.
As such, you have to keep in mind that many of the methods used by this program, although he does present different variations for different populations, were intended to be layered in with sports training. Because of this fact, certain sacrifices had to made in terms of the actual lifting program. Namely, the program had to be primarily sub-maximal and it had to stay away from excessively demanding CNS lifting sessions that would leave an athlete underrecovered for games and practices.
This is understandable. Games and practices come first for the team sports athlete. However, for us powerlifters, who don’t necessarily need any intensive jumping, sprinting, and throwing workouts, nor do we need to accommodate games or practices, the situation is markedly different.
The key takeaway here is that the “base program” of The Juggernaut Method was designed with a variety of athletes in mind. It does not cater specifically to the powerlifter.
The Juggernaut Method: The Program
As you can see, the program is far from your simple weekly template that you might expect from a StrongLifts 5×5 or Starting Strength.
First of all, though it is not shown in the chart above, the program features four times weekly lifting. Each day is dedicated to a separate lift. For example, you might squat on Monday, Bench on Wednesday, Deadlift on Friday, and do Military Press on Saturday. You can organize the days slightly differently, but the main four lifts are constant.
The Juggernaut Method features a 16 week cycle broken up into four phases: “10s Phase” – working in the 10+ rep range, “8s Phase” – working in the 8+ rep range, “5s Phase” – working in the 5+ rep range, and “3s Phase” – working in the 3+ rep range.
Each phase lasts four weeks and consists of the following microcycles: “accumulation” – high volume week, “intensification” – medium volume, higher intensity, “realization” – low volume and highest intensity, and “deload” – recovery. The entire idea is that you accumulate a big time volume stressor in the first week. Then, in the second week, you reduce the volume slightly to allow for recovery. You also increase the intensity to mentally and physically prepare yourself for big-time, heavy PRs in “realization”. When realization rolls around, you’re peaked from the first two weeks and primed to attack heavier weights. In the fourth week, to ensure you start each accumulation microcycle fully recovered, you take a full deload to allow any leftover fatigue to dissipate.
Just as in the progression from week to week, from phase to phase you also progressively move from highest volume, lowest intensity in Phase One to lowest volume, highest intensity in Phase Four. Over the course of the 16 week cycle, you’re constantly being led to a peak in the final week.
Similar to 5/3/1, this is a percentage based program based upon a “training max”. Using a rep max calculator, you estimate your one rep max and then you take 90% of this number and use it as the basis for all the percentages given in the program.
You can find a Juggernaut Method calculator / spreadsheet here.
Juggernaut Method Progression Protocol
One of the most unique and interesting aspects of The Juggernaut Method is the progression schematic. Very similar to the PowerliftingToWin Novice Program’s progression protocol, The Juggernaut Method bases the rate of progression on how many reps you get in the final “+ set” during realization week.
If the minimum amount of reps is 10 reps, and you get 14 reps, what you do is find the difference and multiply that number by your standard jump. For most lifters, it is suggested that you take 2.5lbs jumps on the upperbody lifts and 5lbs on the lowerbody lifts. So, using our example above, assuming we’re talking about squats, 14-10 = 4 reps and 4 reps x 5lbs = 20lbs. For your next “Phase”, your training max would go up 20lbs. In this manner, your training max is autoregulated at the end of each month.
The original Juggernaut Method does not culminate in a true 1RM test because it was not designed explicitly for powerlifters. However, Chad Wesley Smith DOES provide a peaking plan for powerlifters in the book.
Here’s what it looks like:
As you can see, the specificity goes way up. You spend three full weeks getting acclimated to heavy weights. The fourth week is a light week to ensure full recovery as you transition into meet week. As for meet week, well, as is typical, you’re basically fully deloading here. Smith recommends an ultralight day on Monday and then taking the rest of the week off.
Although, as powerlifters, we’d prefer to see a program explicitly designed to peak us for a meet, this is still a simple and effective plan. This peaking method can be tacked on to the end of any Juggernaut Phase to prepare for a meet.
The Juggernaut Method employs advanced periodization concepts which something we haven’t yet seen. The Juggernaut Method employs traditional Western periodization working down from high reps to low reps across the various phases.
The essential effect of this is like a “Pendulum” in nature. With the 10 Rep Phase, you’re starting out extremely biased towards hypertrophy. When you get to 8 Rep Phase, you’ve now swung a little closer to the strength side. With the 5 Rep Phase, you’re almost directly in the middle of hypertrophy and strength. And, finally, with the 3 Rep Phase, the pendulum has swung fully into the strength-specific part of the intensity spectrum.
In my opinion, this is the single most effective type of periodization for late stage intermediate and early advanced athletes. For athletes of the aforementioned classifications, it just isn’t necessary to have 100% focus on any one quality for multiple training weeks. By merely shifting the emphasis from phase to phase, you can still improve multiple qualities at once – you’ll just get most of the improvement on the quality that is emphasized during that phase. For example, during the 10s and 8s week, mostly hypertrophy will be improved, but strength goes up some, too. Likewise, during the 3s week, you’ll mostly get strength, but a bit of hypertrophy can occur too.
That said, the particular intensity ranges chosen here lack in specificity for powerlifting, but we’ll have to address that later.
The programming employed here is modeled after “block periodization”. Now there is some confusion because, the way I’ve defined the terms, periodization refers to main objective of any given training period whether that be speed, strength, hypertrophy or whatever.
However, when most people say “block periodization”, they’re simply talking about the organization of intensity and volume. That is, during block, traditionally speaking, you go through a high volume, medium-low intensity phase (accumulation), followed by a medium volume, medium-high intensity phase (intensification), and then you go for PRs in a low volume, high intensity phase (realization).
So, simply put, the program is organized into monthly mesocycles with four distinct microcycles:
Week One: High Volume, Medium-Low Intensity (Accumulation)
Week Two: Medium Volume, Medium-High Intensity (Intensification)
Week Three: Low Volume, High Intensity (Realization)
Week Four: Low Volume, Low Intensity (Deload)
Each of these four week mesocycles represents a “mini” block. “Block” programming usually has each of these microcycle phases lasting multiple weeks so this isn’t your traditional block approach. Nonetheless, this is an effective way to organize volume and intensity.
For the advanced intermediate trainee, who now not only needs variation in volume and intensity from session to session, but also from week to week, this is perfectly appropriate and even necessary. This will even work for most advanced athletes. The most advanced athletes are going to need these microcycles to be a bit longer than one week each, but truly advanced athletes are not doing cookie cutter program like The Juggernaut Method.
In a lot of ways, The Juggernaut Method is a like a more scientifically valid version of 5/3/1. The program lacks in specificity, not because of any lack of insight, but because it is designed to be layered in with the training of athletes. As such, if you look closely at the program, you spend a full 12 of the 16 weeks without touching a single weight above 80%. If you account for the 90% training max factor, you’re actually only working above 80% in Week 15.
Look, for a powerlifter this isn’t going to cut it. Will you get stronger from sub-maximal training like this? Yes, of course. This stuff works very well! However, it simply isn’t optimal. If you want to maximize your ability to lift heavy weights, you have to lift a lot of heavy weights. A powerlifter should be spending the MAJORITY of their time between 80-90%. On The Juggernaut Method, you spend a mere 25% in that range. It just isn’t enough to promote maximal gains in maximal strength.
The Juggernaut Method does make use of traditional progressive overload. From phase to phase, the intensity of your working sets is slowly increased over time. You’re introduced to heavier and heavier weights through increasing your training max.
However, the program also makes use of rep maxes. Rep maxes allow for a “double” progression of sorts. Not only can you add weight to the bar to overload, but you can also hit the same weights for new rep records which also constitutes an overload stress for the body. This makes the progression multi-dimensional.
Not only that, but you, more or less, progress at your own rate because the rate of increase to your training max is autoregulated by your performance in “Realization” week at the end of each phase. There will be more on this when we discuss autoregulation.
This program does an absolutely masterful job of fatigue management. And let’s be honest, it HAS to! If you’re going to use a program like this, layered in with the training of athletes who are doing sprints, jumps, and throws, you need to be damn sure that recovery is on point. With the way that volume and intensity are manipulated from week to week, and phase to phase, that is absolutely going to be the case on this program. The use of “mini” blocks is a very cool aspect of the programmatic structure.
Very few people are going to fail to recover on a program that features once weekly frequency on the big three lifts and a deload every fourth week.
However, as I alluded to in the review of The Cube Method, like most American programs, this one features once weekly frequency which simply isn’t optimal. Now, to be absolutely fair, Chad Wesley Smith does offer a high frequency variation in the book where you’re training six days per week. On that template, you hit the upperbody three times per week, squat twice a week, and deadlift once. If you decide to go with that option then this criticism is completely invalid.
That said, if you’re on the base, original program, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, it just isn’t necessary nor is it optimal to hold the weekly frequency of the competitive lifts down to a single session per week. Look, as powerlifters, doing the lifts is our version of practice. How do you get good at any sport? You practice. Would you expect to be a dominant basketball player if you only practiced dribbling once per week, shooting once per week, and passing once per week? Of course this isn’t a perfect analogy, but the point remains. In my opinion, your technique is always going to leave something to be desired if you’re hitting the lifts with a once per week frequency. For powerlifting, I personally prefer to see more frequency than is used here.
However, I do want to say that the overall volume is much more appropriate than programs like The Cube or the original 5/3/1. Instead of doing a single top set, or maybe two or three work sets, this program features no less than five work sets on any of the accumulation weeks. You’re definitely going to get enough work to progress on this program. I’d just question whether or not the results will be as good as if you had distributed that volume more equally throughout the week.
In terms of individual differences, there are some great things about The Juggernaut Method and there are some things that leave a lot to be desired.
First of all, the program gives you an excellent way to autoregulate the amount of reps you do on your final top sets. Instead of merely telling you to listen to your body, the program gives hard, specific recommendations for how many reps you should leave in the tank during each week. As a reminder, you’re to leave 2-3 reps in the tank during accumulation, 1-2 during intensification, and 0 during realization. This is just another way of introducing RPE without calling it RPE.
Additionally, the rate of progression on this program is somewhat autoregulated. Now, you don’t have autoregulation of weights from session to session, or even week to week, but at least your monthly progress is determined by performance during realization week. Instead of being stuck to fixed 5lbs or 10lbs increments, you can “earn” bigger jumps just as you do in the PowerliftingToWin Novice program.
Now, let’s talk about the failings of the program in terms of autoregulation. For one, there is almost zero autoregulation of volume. Sure, you’re going to get some because of the + sets, but, on this program, the + sets tend to make up a minority of the overall work you do. In my opinion, their impact is negligible. On The Juggernaut Method, everyone does the same volume – more or less. This is inappropriate. Older trainees need less volume; sick trainees need less volume; dieting trainees need less volume. And, of course, there are a thousand scenarios where trainees need more volume. Blanket volume prescriptions are sub-optimal.
Additionally, there is no regulation of training loads on a session to session basis. This is to facilitate the “AMRAP” / + set feature of the program. Instead of working up heavier, which would be more specific to powerlifting, you just go for a new rep max. Because of this, you can never be sure that you’re getting the training effect you’re intending. It isn’t that uncommon for people to get 15-16 reps on the 10+ week. What that means is that their 5×10@60% was more like 5×10@50%. In other words, you just have less control over the intensity range you’re working with; this makes it harder to focus the training effects where you want them.
Overall, Smith does make a number of attempts to address individual differences. You can’t say he ignores this factor, but the program does leave a bit to be desired here.
Man, like I said, I’m glad you guys requested this one! I never expected it to be so interesting and intelligently thought out. For you athletes out there who have interests beyond powerlifting, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend considering The Juggernaut Method.
However, for us powerlifters, while it is a program with a lot of cool ideas, the very biggest problem with it is in the selection of intensity. Spending 25% of our training days at 80%+ is, frankly, silly. It is nowhere near optimal. When you then consider that this program features no autoregulation of loading, you’re left with no way to get in that higher intensity work. All you can do is hit super high rep sets. Again, that’s just not going to cut it for powerlifting. You have to lift heavy things to lift heavy things.
In conclusion, The Juggernaut Method is a rock solid program. I’d have a hard time believing that someone DIDN’T make gains using this program. That said, I do believe there are significantly better options out there for powerlifters.
The next program we’re going to set our sights on is Westside. I have a lot to say about the scientific validity of the Westside methodology and I’m not going to hold anything back. If Westside is something you’re interested in as a raw lifter, I sincerely hope you check out this next review.
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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 BuildingPowerlifting 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