Cube Method: Brandon Lilly’s Program Just Got Even Better
Last Update: 19 August 2021
Frustrated that your gains have suddenly diminished? No problem! Brandon Lilly’s Cube Method is a highly specific training program dedicated to peak performance that has helped numerous powerlifters exceed 2,000 lb totals in competitions.
This article provides an overview of the program, resources for implementation, and recommended modifications, so you can take it to the next level!
Powerlifting Programs: Designed for Growth
Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced lifter, the purpose of selecting a powerlifting program is to optimize your performance and progress, in alignment with your goals. As lifters graduate from novice lift routines and watch as their “novice gains” diminish, they are often left searching for answers.
Usually, this comes in the form of altering programming aspects or implementing an entirely new training system. One such program, which takes a unique approach, is Brandon Lilly’s Cube Method.
Brandon Lilly: Powerlifting Champion
A powerlifting champion with some impressive lifts, Brandon Lily created the Cube Method to address his personal programming needs and help others do the same . Using his system, Lilly became an extremely accomplished and respected powerlifter at a young age. Lilly’s max raw lifts include: 650.3lb Squat, 600lb Bench, and 815.7lb Deadlift . He has totaled over 2,000 lbs on multiple occasions.
Due to a career-ending injury, Lilly no longer competes. Instead, he now coaches the Cube Method and powerlifting while focusing on athletes and veterans who are recovering from injuries. A few organizations that Lilly has worked with include the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL), Navy Seal Teams 2 and 4, and the University of Kentucky and University of Miami (NCAA) .
Creating a New Program
Like many training pros, having experimented with numerous different powerlifting programs, Lilly chose to create his own when he found that he was unable to continue to make progress and execute to his max potential in competitions.
In particular, Lilly found that a high number of heavy training days were too taxing for his body. For reference, in Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Program, deloads are required every fourth week to prevent excessive Central Nervous System (CNS) fatigue .
Research shows that maximum effort training elicits CNS fatigue that may require up to 72 hours for recovery . This is an issue because CNS fatigue is the result of the nervous system’s inability to optimally transmit signals to neuromuscular junctions . This reduces performance, and subsequently, your lifting capability.
In this video, Lilly describes how his previous lifting programs would see him set PRs for ten weeks straight before falling short on the mat during competitions . In his mind, despite making great progress while training with high frequency and intensity, the frequency of the max-intensity lifts were just too much for his body to recover from properly.
To accommodate CNS fatigue, Lilly wanted to create a program that was designed to optimize recovery, while continuing to build up raw strength, and prepare athletes for maximum performance during a competition. This resulted in the Cube Method.
Brandon Lilly Cube Method
This program is built on a ten week cycle, featuring three waves of three weeks and a deloading/competition week. In each week, you will only perform each major lift (squat, deadlift, and bench press) once. A fourth day is added for bodybuilding and accessory work.
Within each week, you will only have one heavy lifting day. That is, only once per week will you exceed 85% of your max in a lift. The other three days consist of:
- Explosive day
- High repetition day
- Bodybuilding day
For example, one week you might do heavy deadlifts, explosive squats, high repetition bench press, and bodybuilding. But with each week, you rotate through those three types of workouts: heavy, explosive, and high repetition.
The following week could be high repetition deadlift, heavy squats, and explosive bench press. During each three week wave, you will cycle through these different types of workouts. That way each core lift is performed with varying levels of intensity and volume, but only performed with >85% of your max one day in a three week wave.
Lilly notes that “It’s a way to always keep the train moving forward without having to slow down” . Of course, the advantage is that you are able to continue to train without a) burning out due to CNS fatigue, or b) requiring frequent deload weeks.
In discussing this program, Lilly also talks about the importance of adding in the bodybuilding day once a week. Not only can this help with hypertrophy, size, and increasing training volume (as desired), but he believes it is a perfect time to focus on individual weaknesses. It is recommended to perform accessory exercises that will support your training requirements and objectives.
Cube Method Template
Due to a high degree of specificity, this program can be challenging to visualize. To simplify, an overview of a single wave (three weeks), here’s an example:
|First Week||Second Week||Third Week|
|Bench Presses||Explosive||Repetition Work||Heavy|
Table 2. The Cube Method 10-week program Of course, this only displays the core lifts. An additional day for bodybuilding and accessory work would be included in each week. For a more comprehensive table that outlines the recommended repetition and set ranges for each exercise, Table 2 provides a template for a system that employs the cube method
|Week||Day 1 Deadlift||Day 2 Bench||Day 3 Squat||Day 4 Bodybuilding|
|1||Heavy Deadlift: 80%x2x5||Repetition Bench: 70%x8-12×2-3||Explosive Squat: 65%x3x8||Bodybuilding Day|
|2||Explosive Deadlift: 65%x3x8||Heavy Bench: 80%x2x5||Repetition Squat: 70%x8-12×2-3||Bodybuilding Day|
|3||Repetition Deadlift: 70%x8-12×2-3||Explosive Bench: 65%x3x8||Heavy Squat: 80%x2x5||Bodybuilding Day|
|4||Heavy Deadlift: 85%x2x3||Repetition Bench: 80%x4-8×2-3||Explosive Squat: 70%x2x6||Bodybuilding Day|
|5||Explosive Deadlift: 70%x2x6||Heavy Bench: 85%x2x3||Repetition Squat: 80%x4-8×2-3||Bodybuilding Day|
|6||Repetition Deadlift: 80%x4-8×2-3||Explosive Bench: 70%x2x6||Heavy Squat: 85%x2x3||Bodybuilding Day|
|7||Heavy Deadlift: 90%x2, 92.5%x1, 95%x1, 80%x1+||Repetition Bench: 85%x3-5×2-3||Explosive Squat: 75%x2x5||Bodybuilding Day|
|8||Explosive Deadlift: 75%x2x5||Heavy Bench: 90%x2, 92.5%x1, 95%x1, 80%x1+||Repetition Squat: 85%x3-5×2-3||Bodybuilding Day|
|9||Repetition Deadlift: 85%x3-5×2-3||Explosive Bench: 75%x2x5||Heavy Squat: 90%x2, 92.5%x1, 95%x1, 80%x1+||Bodybuilding Day|
|Accessories not listed; 1RM% x reps x sets notation|
As you can see, there are a lot of elements of periodization and adaptive resistance incorporated in this program. Adaptive resistance, which is regulated by the nervous system, is the body’s neuromuscular response to stimuli, enabling it to grow stronger .
To benefit from the phenomenon of adaptive resistance, you must stress your system in new ways. Alternating between heavy, explosive, and high repetition days in this program does exactly that.
Secondly, regarding periodization, the Cube Method incorporates progressive overload over the three waves of training. Research shows that to get stronger and more powerful, you need to continue to increase the amount of weight you lift [10, 11].
With each lift, you can see that the total weight increases with each wave. For example, week one’s heavy deadlift starts at 80% of a 1RM, meanwhile week seven’s deadlift works up to 95% of a 1RM.
Similar patterns are also observed for the bench and the squat. But the big advantage is that this program allows for significant time to fully recover without overtaxing the body.
Also, a common Monday / Wednesday / Friday set up for primary lifts with a bodybuilding day on Sunday is how Brandon Lily typically structured his weeks.
Finally, the Cube Method has a designated “Meet Week” in week ten. If you are competing, this is what the program is all about. If not, Lilly still recommends a complete deloading and testing out new PRs. Table 3 shows exactly what this week looks like, courtesy of Powerlifting to Win .
Table 3. The Cube Method week ten programming .
|The Cube Peaking Plan|
|Squat: 30%x8x3||Bench: 75%x1x3||Squat: 30%x8x3|
Cube Method Resources
For intermediate and advanced lifters looking to design a highly specific program to reach their goals, more information on the details of the Cube Method may be desired. Luckily, there are some great resources available to further research and strategize a training approach.
Cube Method Book
First, The Cube Method can be purchased on Amazon Kindle to have full access over Brandon Lilly’s teachings, found here . However, a PDF version has also been made available online. Click this link for the Cube Method PDF .
Cube Method Spreadsheet
For those who prefer a more interactive template, Lift Vault shares this program in an easy to modify spreadsheet . Simply input your 1RM for bench, squat, and deadlift, and the spreadsheet will calculate your primary lifts for weeks 1-9. The spreadsheet can be found here .
However, it should be noted that this spreadsheet only covers the primary three lifts: squat, deadlift and bench. It does not include a comprehensive training program or any guidance for accessory work.
Cube Method Calculator
If that still is more work and planning than you’d like, there is a free calculator via Blackironbeast. At this link, you can input your 1RMs, desired accessory exercises for the major lifts and the bodybuilding day, and even input what weights you have access to .
If you want to have a complete 10-week program created with sets, repetitions, weights, and exercises, this calculator will give you a complete program within seconds.
Updating the Program: Cube Kingpin
In 2013, Brandon Lilly wrote an article for Juggernaut Training Systems that covered his updated variation of the program, The Cube Kingpin . In this article, Lilly stresses that the purpose of the program is to prepare for a competition. If you are not formally competing, then your “meet day” is all about PRs.
However, the focus of this program is not to increase strength or size rapidly. It is designated to be a cycle that can be repeated over a longer period of time, potentially even 2-4 years. The objective is to build “real, measurable strength” .
Using this training philosophy, Lilly states that the objective is to increase each lift by 5lbs over each ten week period. While this may not seem significant, he further explains how this can be substantial. By increasing the deadlift, squat, and bench press by 5lbs every ten weeks, each lift can be increased 25lbs over the course of a year (five cycles of ten weeks).
For powerlifters – keeping in mind that this program is all about performing in meets – that is an additional 75lbs a year (25lbs deadlift, 25lbs squat, 25lbs bench). By maintaining this program over a period of 2-4 years, a powerlifter could theoretically increase their total lifts by 150-300lbs.
This is where the value comes in. Competing at an elite level, an additional 150-300lbs can make a massive difference for any lifter. The biggest benefit of the Cube Kingpin is that its heavy focus on recovery allows it to be sustained for numerous cycles without burning out or suffering excessive CNS fatigue.
In addition to tweaking the program to optimize powerlifting outcomes, Brandon Lilly has extensively focused on the philosophy of training. While he is passionate about training in a general sense, he also has a very specific training philosophy for modern powerlifters.
In a concept referred to as 365 Strong, Lilly believes that training should be focused on raw, baseline strength . Rather than evaluating your talent or strength on the basis of a peak performance outcome that you can accomplish just a handful of times every year, you should assess your ability based on what you can perform on any given day of the year.
Regardless of training programming or competition prep, how strong and powerful can you be 365 days a year? This is your true baseline strength. So although the Cube Kingpin focuses on powerlifting meets, the process is designed to slowly build up your raw, baseline strength
To accomplish this, Lilly shares his best advice: “Train like a strongman, diet like bodybuilder, mobilize like a weightlifter, and think like a powerlifter” .
By combining the elements of strongmen, bodybuilders, weightlifters, and powerlifters, you can holistically create a body that is primed to perform under any circumstances, in the arena of life.
Comparing Popular Powerlifting Programs
As Lilly described in this video, the Cube Method is really a unique combination of training techniques such as Westside Barbell, Bodybuilding, and hardcore, old-school training . A quick review of a few other programs will be provided to compare and contrast.
The Westside Barbell program encompasses the core training philosophies of legendary powerlifter Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell . At the core of Westside Barbell is the Conjugate Method, which breaks training into three separate components: maximal effort method, dynamic effort method, and repetition method .
This is exactly where the Cube Method got its inspiration from, creating a program that alternates between sessions of maximum strength, maximum speed, and then maximum volume.
However, the Westside Barbell Program still trains with higher frequency than the cube method. The bench press will be done twice every week, meanwhile in the Cube Method, each exercise is only done once weekly.
Further, each week the Westside Barbell program features two max effort workouts, two dynamic workouts, and four repetition workouts. Alternatively, the Cube Method features one max effort workout, one dynamic workout, one repetition workout, and one bodybuilding day.
In review, both programs incorporate training variety, however the Westside Barbell Program has a higher degree of total training volume and intensity, whereas the Cube Method puts more emphasis on recovery and bodybuilding.
For more information, click here for a Westside Barbell Program PDF .
Founded by Chad Wesley Smith, with Top 10 All-Time Totals both in wraps (2,325lbs) and sleeves (2,226lbs), the Juggernaut Method is designed to optimize human performance . While that may sound vague, Chad stresses that the elite athlete must be able to sprint, jump, throw, and lfit .
Therefore, this program is carefully designed to optimize volume through submaximal training that slowly progresses into high intensity lifts. Therefore, progressive overload is employed on a macro scale in this program.
Structured into four, month-long waves, each week represents a different sub-phase: accumulation, intensification, realization, and deload. Essentially, the repetitions are decreased weekly to increase the intensity and strength, before peaking intensity and power in week three. Finally, week four is a deload, as seen in Figure 1.
MONTHLY WAVE (REP RANGES)
(2-3 Reps left for final set)
|60% x 4 x 10|
60% x 10+
|65% x 4 x 8|
65% x 8+
|70% x 4 x 5|
70% x 5+
|75% x 6 x 3|
75% x 3+
(1-2 Reps left for final set)
|55% x 5|
62.5% x 5
67.5% x 2 x 10
67.5% x 10+
67.5% x 3
72.5% x 2 x 8
67.5% x 8+
|65% x 5|
72.5% x 5
77.5% x 3 x 5
77.5% x 5+
|70% x 1|
77.5% x 1
82.5% x 4×3
82.5% x 3+
(Max effort for final set)
|50% x 5|
60% x 3
|50% x 5|
60% x 3
70% x 2
75% x 1
|50% x 5|
60% x 3
70% x 2
75% x 1
80% x 1
|50% x 5|
60% x 3
70% x 2
75% x 1
80% x 1
85% x 1
(Reps as prescribed)
|40% x 5|
50% x 5
60% x 5
|40% x 5|
50% x 5
60% x 5
|40% x 5|
50% x 5
60% x 5
|40% x 5|
50% x 5
60% x 5
Figure 1. 16-week programming format for the Juggernaut Method .
In total, the entire Juggernaut Method lasts 16 weeks. This is six weeks longer than the Cube Method and it doesn’t focus on building towards a specific meet day. In the context of powerlifting, this program typically focuses on deadlift, squat, bench press, and overhead press. While being very similar to the Cube Method, there are still differences in the approach to bodybuilding and accessory work.
In general, the Juggernaut Method is extremely effective, but may be better suited for athletes looking for complete athletic performance, rather than strictly focusing on peak performance as a powerlifter.
For more information, click here for a Juggernaut Method PDF .
Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Bodybuilding
Another classic program is Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 which is designed to make progress every single month . Jim Wendler, a highly successful coach and powerlifter with a 2,375lb total, built this program on a simple concept of peaking strength using five repetitions, three repetitions, and one repetition .
This program allows for increased training frequency due to the lower total volume, benefiting a lot of intermediate lifters to achieve rapid gains. Similar to other programs, it focuses heavily on the deadlift, squat, bench, and overhead press.
Compared to the Cube Method, this approach is designed to help you realize strength gains faster. However, there is less of an emphasis on recovery, and therefore, the Cube Method is probably a better option for long-term, sustained strength and power increases.
Additionally, the Cube Method incorporates more aspects of bodybuilding and accessory work, although these can be modified for individual programming purposes.
To quickly and easily create a 5/3/1 custom program tailored to your goals and current 1RMs, Blackironbeast also has a calculator for this program. Find it here .
Improving the Cube Method
Like anything in life, there is always room for improvement. Although the Cube Method is a highly detailed program that is effective at long-term, measurable strength increases, it may not be optimized for everything.
But if training for a competition is your goal, making some modifications to the program may lead to outstanding results.
Increase Training Frequency
To sustain long-term training, managing CNS fatigue is essential. This is one of Lilly’s top priorities with the Cube Method, restricting the lifter to just one heavy training day per week. However, for novice or early intermediate lifters, higher frequency may be optimal to realize more significant gains faster.
Once you become an elite lifter such as Lilly, additional days to recover from massive lifts may be necessary. But for many people, this program could leave some strength gains to be desired from the low frequency of high intensity training.
Therefore, it may be advised to increase total training frequency. Perhaps a fifth training day could be added, creating an additional wave of training built into the nine weeks. The three training methods and exercises would still be cycled through, but each exercise would have four workouts during each three week wave.
See Table 4 for an example layout. Note that this is a sample layout and can easily be manipulated to prioritize certain lifts.
|Sample 5-Day Cube Method|
|Week 1||Heavy Deadlift||Repetition Bench||Explosive Squat||Bodybuilding||Explosive Deadlift|
|Week 2||Heavy Bench||Repetition Squat||Repetition Deadlift||Bodybuilding||Explosive Bench|
|Week 3||Heavy Squat||Heavy Deadlift||Repetition Bench||Bodybuilding||Explosive Squat|
|Week 4||Explosive Deadlift||Heavy Bench||Repetition Squat||Bodybuilding||Repetition Deadlift|
|Week 5||Explosive Bench||Heavy Squat||Heavy Deadlift||Bodybuilding||Repetition Bench|
|Week 6||Explosive Squat||Explosive Deadlift||Heavy Bench||Bodybuilding||Repetition Squat|
|Week 7||Repetition Deadlift||Explosive Bench||Heavy Squat||Bodybuilding||Heavy Deadlift|
|Week 8||Repetition Bench||Explosive Squat||Explosive Deadlift||Bodybuilding||Heavy Bench|
|Week 9||Repetition Squat||Repetition Deadlift||Explosive Bench||Bodybuilding||Heavy Squat|
Table 4. Cube Method with increased training frequency.
Using this layout, the lifter would perform nine additional workouts: three deadlift, three squat, and three bench press. Essentially, this would be the equivalent of adding the equivalent of one more wave. As long as the athlete is capable of recovering properly, this may help to further optimize gains by significantly increasing overall training.
Another possible criticism of the Cube Method is that it uses rough percentages which require a high degree of awareness. For experienced lifters, this may not be an issue. But for late novice or early intermediate lifters, appropriately gauging weights to manage CNS fatigue may be more challenging.
In this program, there is very little guidance regarding techniques to ensure that the appropriate weight is used in each workout. Therefore, it is recommended that a more systematic form of Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Autoregulation is used to ensure optimized lifting.
If you use RPE Autoregulation with the Cube Method, rather than simply training at a percentage of a 1RM (as determined before the 10-week program starts), you have the flexibility to adjust in accordance with your energy and recovery.
Sometimes 90% of a 1RM might be too heavy if your body has not fully recovered. Using RPE, you can account for that difference to ensure 90% of max intensity, regardless if the actual weight lifted is 90%.
Therefore, you can still utilize the Cube Method’s framework while adapting training loads to your true capacity on a set-to-set basis. To align RPE with the stated percentages from the Cube Method, you can reference Figure 2 . Note that 85% would equate to a rating of 8.5, which would be about 1.5 repetitions remaining, or in other words, definitely one more repetition and possibly a second.
|Resistance training specific rating of perceived exertion|
|Rating||Description of perceived exertion|
|9||1 repetition remaining|
|8||2 repetition remaining|
|7||3 repetition remaining|
|5-6||4-6 repetition remaining|
|1-2||Light to no effort|
Figure 2. Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) overview .
Implementing the Cube Method
There you have it, an overview of the Cube Method, the key programming factors, comparable programs, and some ways to further optimize a program that has produced multiple 2,000lb lifters.
By following this program with optimized RPE Autoregulation and increased training frequency (if desired), you are nearly certain to increase baseline strength and set new PRs every ten weeks!
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