Working with the Juggernaut Method

Over the past two years the Juggernaut Method by Chad Wesley Smith has become the general strength training template of my choice. While Chad's book already has several pointers on how to modify the template to make it your own program, as well as exhaustive options for assistance work, I think there is plenty room to improve upon this basic template. What follows is a collection of options and modifications to the original template.

Juggernaut Method base template

First I want to recall the classic Juggernaut Method template. Each lift will be trained once a week, say Monday Bench Press, Tuesday Squat, Thursday Press and Friday Deadlift, according to the following table, where the workloads are written down as weight × reps × sets and RPE for the AMRAP sets are indicated by an @.

  Week 1 (Accumulation) Week 2 (Intensification) Week 3 (Realization) Week 4 (Deload)
Month 1 60% × 10 × 4, 60% × 10+ @8 67.5% × 10 × 2, 67.5% × 10+ @9 75% × 10+ @10 40% × 5, 50% × 5, 60% × 5
Month 2 65% × 8 × 4, 65% × 8+ @8 72.5% × 8 × 2, 72.5% × 8+ @9 80% × 8+ @10 40% × 5, 50% × 5, 60% × 5
Month 3 70% × 5 × 5, 70% × 5+ @8 77.5% × 5 × 3, 77.5×5+ @9 85% × 5+ @10 40% × 5, 50% × 5, 60% × 5
Month 4 75% × 3 × 6, 75% × 3+ @8 82.5% × 3 × 4, 82.5% × 3+ @9 90% × 3+ @10 40% × 5, 50% × 5, 60% × 5

The percentages are based on your training max, which is initially about 90% of a recent (calculated) max, which should not be further away than about six weeks. After each month you adjust according to the reps you did in the last plus set, e.g. by 2.5kg for each rep you did more than the indicated reps, or to 90% or 95% of the calculated max.

Changing the order of months

This is a quite straightforward modification and may be particularly useful for weaker and smaller lifters. If you run the Juggernaut Method as intended, depending on your assistance work, you go at least eight weeks without somewhat heavy lifting, making it possible to lose the ability to handle heavier weights. To remedy this, you simply change the order of months and train month 1, month 3, month 2, month 4. This way you still profit from phase potentiation, but stay accustomed to heavier weights.

I think that changing the order of weeks, where the only somewhat reasonable change would be swapping week 1 and week 2, does seem to work against the model of accumulating volume, intensifying the workload and then realizing a new rep record. You could do that but then you probably also want to tinker more around with the intensities and volume and well ... This is probably to far removed from the Juggernaut Method to call it a modification of it.

Inverted Juggernaut Method

For the inverted Juggernaut Method you swap in the first two weeks of the first two months the reps and sets, i.e.

  Week 1 (Accumulation) Week 2 (Intensification) Week 3 (Realization) Week 4 (Deload)
Month 1 60% × 5 × 9, 60% 5+ @8 67.5% × 3 × 9, 67.5% 3+ @9 75% × 10+ @10 40% × 5, 50% × 5, 60% × 5
Month 2 65% × 5 × 7, 65% 5+ @8 72.5% × 3 × 7, 72.5% 3+ @9 80% × 8+ @10 40% × 5, 50% × 5, 60% × 5

In addition to this you impose a limit on rest between sets of 1 minute in the first week and 1.5 minutes in the second week. This is a great way to improve both work capacity and technique.

Chad usually recommends this variant over the classical version. It looks easier on paper than it is, but in the last set it may very well be possible that you can only hit five or three reps and not the usual ten or eight. He does not say it in his book, but somewhere someone on the wild wild web asked Chad about it and he said that this is okay. Sadly I did not save the link.

Dropping deload weeks

You might feel tempted to drop deload weeks, as the realization weeks are already really low volume. I think most people can do so, but I would always deload after two months. Running longer than this does not seem to be productive. So you might drop the deload between month 1 and 2, do the deload after month 2, then again drop the deload after month 3 and deload again once you are through the whole program. This way you can also accommodate for scheduling problems.

Increasing volume in the realization week

Another way to deal with the low volume in the third week of each month is to thicken it up a bit. Chad recommends that you follow the single AMRAP set with further AMRAP sets with the same weight, which, as you are fatigued, clearly will have less reps than the first sets. If you are not that interested in strength and just in volume, you can also follow up with classical back off sets at reduced weight. Since you are deloading in the next week anyway, you can really go crazy with that.

You should not do this and drop the deload week. This is almost guarantees that your next cycle will not be productive and might set you up for injury.

Dropping months 3 and 4

I found that the first two months are really productive, however, as the weights get heavier, I do not think that the Juggernaut method is that useful. Strength training is more productive with a bit more thoughtful distribution reps and sets, while accumulating volume with sets across really works well. If you are deep in the offseason as a powerlifter or not primarily involved in strength sports, simply repeating the first two months, while escalating the weights according to your rep maxes, is good and productive training.

My take on the Inverted Juggernaut Method

This is a quite recent change I made to my training, as I found the sets of three in the inverted Juggernaut Method to be a bit too far on the light side to actually train technique. As I find sets of five, especially in a fatigued state, to be a great way to work on technique, I kept the volume roughly the same and changed 3 × 10 to 5 × 6 and 3 × 8 to 5 × 5:

  Week 1 (Accumulation) Week 2 (Intensification) Week 3 (Realization) Week 4 (Deload)
Month 1 60% × 5 × 9, 60% 5+ @8 67.5% × 5 × 5, 67.5% 5+ @9 75% × 10+ @10 40% × 5, 50% × 5, 60% × 5
Month 2 65% × 5 × 7, 65% 5+ @8 72.5% × 5 × 4, 72.5% 5+ @9 80% × 8+ @10 40% × 5, 50% × 5, 60% × 5

As an added bonus I find the 10+ and 8+ sets in the last week of the month a tad easier to accomplish, as the jump from sets of fives is not as big as the jump from sets of threes.

In the end there is no best rep scheme and one can simply distribute the total reps on each working day at the given percentage as it fits. If your cycle is focussed on hypertrophy, do more reps per set to get in more "hard sets", if you want to build great technique choose a rep number which gives you the sweet spot where you start to lose technical stability and if your main goal is to build work capacity for upcoming cycles, do the inverted Juggernaut method and be strict about the rest periods.

Using 5/3/1 as assistance

This is one of the templates suggested in Chad's book and pretty much straight forward. Say your main lifts are bench, squat, press and deadlift, then you follow up the JTS work with the corresponding 5/3/1 work of the opposite lift, so you follow up bench JTS with press 5/3/1 and so on. However, I find this almost impossible to accomplish after having done the hard work of the main sets, so I recommend to use only 90% – 95% of your Juggernaut training max as the training max for 5/3/1.

While I do not like 5/3/1 on its own, I think that it is a great addition to the Juggernaut Method, as you still get in some practice with heavier weights this way.

Doing an exercise multiple times a week

Depending on your main sport, it might be beneficial to do one or two of the main exercises two times a week, e.g. as a powerlifter it might be very beneficial to bench and squat twice a week according to the template.

If you have two main exercises scheduled for a single day which hit roughly the same muscles, say bench and press or squat and deadlift on one day, you probably want to deflate you training max for the second exercise.

When doing a lift twice (or even more often) a week, I also suggest to only do the prescribed reps on all but one of the days. To stay fresh as long as possible during the week, I'd suggest you do it on the last "heavy" session of the lift. So if you bench first on Monday and Thursday, you rep out on Thursday. On the other hand, if you bench first on Monday, and bench again on Thursday but after a similar exercise, like Press, you would still rep out on Monday to get the heavy work in.