To build strength and size, there is no substitute for the big three: the back squat, the deadlift, and the bench press. Find a guy with a high three-lift total and it’s just about guaranteed that he will look like a beast. But how to get there—and be that guy with the huge total—has always been up for debate. There are tons of great powerlifting programs—the Westside Conjugate Method, 5/3/1, and block periodization to name a few—but nothing quite like the Cube Method, a 10-week program developed by Brandon Lilly, a world-renowned powerlifter and owner of a three-lift total in excess of 2,000 pounds.
Most other powerlifting programs run each lift through the same level of intensity at the same time. For example, in Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program, the big three build to a max simultaneously. You follow that by a deload, or light week, then start again. The deloads are required because the central nervous system needs to recover before you reset for the next wave.
Lilly’s Cube Method takes a major deviation from this formula and never has you lifting very heavy for more than one day in any week. For example, in Week 1 of the Cube Method, you’ll squat heavy on Monday, perform lighter rep work for the bench on Wednesday, and perform explosive work for the deadlift on Friday. In Week 2, you’ll still squat on Monday, but you’ll do explosive work with lighter weight. Meanwhile, Wednesday’s bench session is heavy, and Friday’s deadlift workout is for reps.
“Each week, you have only one dedicated heavy day in excess of 85% of your max,” Lilly explains. This keeps you fresh and prevents overuse injuries. And if you have a heavy squat workout in one week, the Cube automatically shifts you to an explosive squat workout—the lightest workout of all—in the next week to give you a deload without actually de- loading. “It’s a way to always keep the train moving forward without having to slow down,” Lilly says.
You’ll also rotate through different exercise variations for the bench press and deadlift each week to correct weaknesses and help you blast through any sticking points. For the bench, you’ll cycle through
a floor press, board press, and full bench press; for the deadlift, you’ll cycle through one-inch deficit pulls, two-inch block pulls, and four-inch block pulls.
Developing the Cube Method has allowed Lilly to amass his monster total at a relatively young age for a powerlifter (he’s only 32.)
“It’s a way to develop maximum strength, focus on hypertrophy, and allow for maximum recovery,” he says.
Lift With Style
In addition to the three main lifting days, Lilly adds a fourth bodybuilding-style day each week to hammer weak links and, you know, actually look good on top of being brute strong. In total, you’ll repeat the three-week wave three times for a total of nine weeks, leading into the peak, the 10th and final week of the program.
After you finish your main powerlifting move for the day, the remainder of your workout uses assistance lifts to isolate weak links and mimic the main lifts. For example, use skull crushers to improve your triceps strength on the bench press or use front squats to target your quads for the back squat. “If you just keep pounding heavier weights, you’ll never get that isolation,” Lilly says. He also advises that the accessory movements shouldn’t be tremendously heavy. “Make accessory work, work for you,” he says. “Keep the rep range between six and 12.”
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Finally, he urges to keep these keys in mind: Never miss a rep, treat every workout equally, and the only PRs that matter are the ones you set on your final and 10th week of each cycle. If you don’t compete in powerlifting, create a mock meet.
But does the Cube Method really get results? “I’ve got nine men who have run the Cube Method and have totaled 2,000 pounds or more,” Lilly says. “I’ve got 11 girls who’ve hit more than 1,000 pounds.”
Lilly says that with just one 10-week cycle, the average gains for a male are 36 pounds on the squat, 22 pounds on the bench, and 43 pounds on the deadlift. And while other powerlifting programs have you chase PRs throughout the training cycle, the Cube Method has you focus on slow, steady gains so that you peak when it counts: meet day.
“My best piece of advice,” Lilly advises first-timers, “is to be honest with yourself, scale your numbers back a bit, and always chase technique over a number on the bar.” The number will come.
Note: In weeks 1-9, you will repeat the 3-week workout cycle three times. In the 10th week, you will test your max and see your improvement.