After feeling like a combination of wrestling and Westside Barbell was going to kill me, I opted for something a bit more focused on my athleticism as well as my strength.
The Juggernaut method is a vast and expansive all around athletic development program. It’s based on the idea that strength can be realised in many more ways than just shifting barbells, which includes your ability to run, jump and throw. That sounds much more like my kind of thing.
The Juggernaut Method involves four roughly month-long waves. The weight lifting in those waves involves working towards maximum reps tests at around your 10, 8, 5 and 3 rep maximum. In wave one you build up to a ten rep max test; in wave two you build up to an eight rep max test – and so on.
Each of those waves is broken down into four roughly week-long phases:
Phase 1: Accumulate: perform high volume with a reasonably low weight, e.g. 5 sets of 10 at 60%
Phase 2: Intensify: put the weight up, bring the volume down, e.g. 5 sets of 8 at 67.5%
Phase 3: Realise: one set of as many reps as possible, e.g. 1 set at 75%
Phase 4: Deload: give yourself a chance to recover.
Compare this to Westside, which involves working up to 90-100% of your max every week apart from monthly deloads, and you can see why it seems ‘safer’.
The Inverted Juggernaut Method that I tried flips the numbers of sets and reps around for the 10 and 8 wave: instead of doing 5 sets of 10 or 5 sets of 8, you do 10 sets 5 or 8 sets of 5. This means you do the same number of reps overall, but you move much faster and with better technique. By keeping the rest periods short, you still benefit from the high volume.
What I Liked About Juggernaut
Training Like An Athlete
Juggernaut training feels more like training to be an athlete than any other weight training programme I’ve encountered. Athletic work (like running, jumping and throwing) isn’t just included – it’s prioritised. It happens straight after the warmup when you’re fresh and ready to kick ass. It means you’re a little bit more fatigued going into the weights, but who cares? Week on week, you don’t just see improvements in your ability to shift weight, you see it in how fast you can run or how far you can throw.
That is interesting to me. Where’s the glory in being able to squat a few kilos more for a single rep if you can’t jump any higher or run any faster in the process? The athletic exercises uses in Juggernaut are true maximal exertions, and are every bit as effective a measure of overall strength as the three big lifts.
That said, there’s nothing to stop you using those athletic exercises alongside a very different weight lifting program. Just be careful not to over-train, as Juggernaut is designed to avoid that.
Juggernaut involves a decent amount of volume. The first week of the Inverted Juggernaut Method involves 10 sets of 5 for each of the big four movements (three plus military press), plus a final set of as many reps as possible (stopping with 2 – 3 in the bank). In one session you’ve done more reps than in an entire month of 531, and all at maximum speed with your best technique. It’s an ass kicker, and it feels fantastic! Unlike plodding slowly through a few sets of heavy lifts, this is balls-to-the-wall athletic conditioning that will have you whole body working.
After the first week, the volume starts to drop as the intensity increases – all the way to the end of the month, where you find yourself working at 15% higher intensity than at the beginning of the month, for as many reps as you can possibly manage.
Every wave starts at 5% higher intensity with lower volume, all the way up to doing as many reps as you possibly can at 90% of your maximum. Even then, you’re still doing a significant amount of volume in the build-up and really drilling your technique.
At the end of each wave, you put the weight up – not arbitrarily like in almost every other programme under the sun, but based on the number of reps you achieved in your realisation week of the previous month.
In other words, if you and I use the same weight for our realisation week and I manage 12 reps while you manage 15, your training maxes for the next month will be higher than mine. This makes a huge amount of sense to me, and I’m baffled that it’s not a more popular way of doing things.
What I Didn’t Like About Inverted Juggernaut
It’s Time Consuming
Maybe it’s just me, but I found following the Juggernaut method properly took up a LOT of my time. Where I was used to being in and out of the gym within an hour with Faleev, now I was doing an extended workup, dynamic movements, and a whole load of throws, slams, sprints and jumps (not all on the same day), then moving onto my main lift of the day sometimes for 10 sets, then moving onto assistance and support work, then doing a complete cool down and stretching.
Don’t get me wrong: it was all great stuff and helped me make athletic progress. But by the Gods it takes a whole different world of willpower to hit the gym when you know you’re going to be there all afternoon. I think perhaps lots of Juggernaut athletes are pros, so they spend longer in the gym than those of us with six jobs.
It Feels Too Light
Like 531, Juggernaut uses 90% of your maximum as your training max. Unlike 531, half of Juggernaut also involves working well below the 5 rep range. In my first month I was doing sets of 13-15, which simply cannot be strength training – can it?
It takes three months before you’re working at 85% of your maximum, and it never goes above 90%. It’s deliberately sub-maximal because Chad Wesley Smith believes it’s the most effective way to get stronger without risking overtraining and injury, but it’s annoying if you like lifting heavy. I started the programme having just hit a 230kg deadlift, and found 225kg wasn’t scheduled for another 4 months.
I’m not saying that Juggernaut didn’t make me stronger and faster, but when it comes to powerlifting and developing the ability and techniques involved in shifting heavy weights, it seems slightly lacking in practise. I love the psychological aspect of Juggernaut and 531: make small incremental progress that means you never miss a rep. Getting used to success breeds confidence. However, there is developing self-confidence in your general ability, and then there is developing the kind of confidence you need to put 2.5 times your bodyweight on your back and attempt to squat it…
Without regular heavy sessions I don’t feel like Juggernaut was preparing me to shift big weights. However, I think this might have been my fault. Juggernaunt isn’t designed to replace your sports training – it’s meant to compliment it. If you’re a rugby player, you’d schedule rugby training around your weight lifting. If you’re a powerlifter, you should schedule additional heavy powerlifting sessions around your Juggernaut program to practice lifting crazy weights.
Chad also recommends that people who like lifting heavy should swap their 8 and 5 wave around, so they don’t go too long without training ‘heavy’. I didn’t do either of these things, and it impacted negatively on my progress.
Juggernaut method was catastrophic for my bench. I started out with a max of around 128kg (I hit an easy 125kg and a set of 8 at 102kg). After four months of solid training I could manage a set of 6 at 110kg…which implies a max of around 129kg. In other words, I had made no progress. Sixteen sessions of bench training…for nothing.
Even more confusing is that I was stricter with my bench assistance work than with any of the other lifts, mainly because I enjoy incline dumbbell press and rows much more than I enjoy glute ham raises and good mornings. Yet despite my dedication, I didn’t improve at all.
Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe my technique is now super solid or my bar speed is faster. Maybe I’m using my back more and have become more explosive. None of those things seem true, however, and if they were true I’d expect to see some carryover into my bench – which I haven’t.
I think work probably fucked up the end of my program, and my bench progress dropped faster than the other lifts because it is more technical and uses fewer muscle groups. I don’t know, but I get the feeling that training bench once a week simply isn’t enough. The Juggernaut website itself has an article about benching that states that 12-20 sets per week is optimal for chest hypertrophy.
Although I’m not training for hypertrophy, I found my bench improved much more when using Faleev’s or Westside’s twice per week approach.
I have really mixed feelings about the third of the year I spent doing a cycle of Juggernaut. On the one hand I feel generally stronger and more athletically attuned. I’m in decent shape and nothing hurts, which is nice. I enjoyed the training and I enjoyed the feeling of developing everything rather just just my ability to do three lifts.
On the other hand, Faleev put over 60kg on those lifts within three months. After four months on Juggernaut, I’m honestly not even sure what my maximums are any more. In May I hit a 200kg deadlift for a set of 8 (estimated max of around 250kg). A month later I failed to deadlift 225kg for a single rep (something I’d achieved twice BEFORE even starting the program). Right now I have no idea what my max deadlift is, or my max for anything else.
Generally speaking, I seem to be better at shifting light weights which is, as far as I can tell, basically pointless. It hasn’t carried over to my ability to shift heavy weights or improved my maximums, and I haven’t seen much change in my ability to do anything else. Furthermore, for all the talk of athletic development, I can’t honestly
Did I do sprint drills? Yes, but I don’t have a dedicated area for it – I did it along street paths and roads. Timing myself seemed pretty pointless because my speed was totally affected by my overall fatigue and physical condition, so it was impossible to get an accurate baseline or work out improvement.
Same with jumps, same with throws, same with slams – same with basically everything else. If I had a full on training facility and all the associated equipment, I think this method would be ideal. But I don’t – I have streets and parks and tyres and weight plates and a ridiculously active life – which seemed to make much of this program somewhat unrealistic to achieve.
I worry that, for me, the Juggernaut method is basically a case of getting in loads of practise – which makes me much better at the lifts in the short term, but translates into no actual muscular strength development, as evidenced by the fact that a few weeks after finishing the program I seem to be back to square one.
Will I try it again? Probably because it was fun. But I think I’ll do some Faleev or Westside first, so I know I’ll actually get stronger.