Book Review: The Cube Method

The Cube Method by Brandon Lilly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brandon Lilly is a huge dude, and he wrote a book to teach others how to be huge. He’s mostly literate, but writing is not his strong suit. Fortunately, I didn’t come out here to pick up Brandon Lilly’s tips on how to master the literary craft.

The Cube method is an intuitive, no-frills approach to powerlifting. The first 5-7 working sets are devoted to one of the big three lifts and their variations to strengthen the individual weak points in those three lifts. For example, if your bench press lockout is a problem, a few of your bench day sets will be devoted specifically to training close-grip bench to beef up your puny triceps. If you struggle getting the weight off the ground in deadlifts, a couple sets are going to be devoted to deficit. So far so good, right?

Then, once you’re done with your real movements, your fat ass gets to cosplay a bodybuilder doing 3-4 sets of 10-20 rep isolation auxiliaries. That’s right, fellas. You get to do barbell shrugs again like some sort of high schooler, and it’s part of your comp training program.

The day wraps up with an arbitrary strongman style training, sled pulling or dumbbell carries or something, and then abs. Nowhere in the book is an ab exercise mentioned. Lilly knows you know how to do abs, and he doesn’t care what kind you do, so long as you do them every training day.

And then, on your fourth day of the week, you get to fart around with nothing but isolations! It’s a bodybuilding day. You switch them around depending on your weak points, so every fourth day is different.

Lilly claims he named it Cube because when it’s written down, it looks like a cube. He did not provide a graphic aid and I don’t know what he’s talking about.

The program has a lot in common with Wendler’s 5/3/1, just like Lilly has a lot in common with Wendler. I’ve been on 5/3/1 for years now and I’ve seen good progress, especially on the bodybuilding modification. On 5/3/1 you’re looking at 2 or 3 working sets with higher reps than advisable for pure powerlifting focus, then a circuit of 3 or 4 isolation exercises to support the day’s lift. The Cube gives you more working sets of fewer reps since it’s geared toward competition and not general strength, and greater specificity to target your weaknesses, then 3 or 4 isolation exercises to support the day’s lift.

Wendler is more articulate, but he’s also more of an asshole. Lilly talks about being alpha like a PUA manual for a while, but it’s obviously part of his lifting psyche-up and it must work if the dude is benching 800 lbs. The writing style is not particularly confrontational, he’s just saying what works for him, take it or leave it. The book wraps up with some woeful Boomer-era advice about eating “lots of real food” like chicken tenders, french fries, and Monster energy drink.

Well, I guess you can’t argue with results. There’s no clean bulking your way to the 308 lb weight class.

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Book Review: 5/3/1

5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System for Raw Strength5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System for Raw Strength by Jim Wendler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The program works. I’m only a month in an already seeing strength gains and weight loss at a caloric deficit. The writing is real casual so it feels like less like a book and more like a live-action broscience sermon dispensed between sets of BB curls in the only squat rack.

It could use a good, thorough edit. The most extreme contradictions are Wendler’s wildly pivoting stance on protein powder and placement of workout volume. In one chapter, he says to avoid protein powder and eat real food, which is sound advice. Later, he says if you’re trying to lose weight, just drink protein before every meal, and you’ll eat less. This also seems like good advice, though not very credible since he’s kind of porky.

Throughout the book he stays a major proponent of simple, compound-centric programming with incremental advancement over time, in an effort to keep his readers from becoming those lifer curl bros who have been benching 225 since high school but won’t risk changing their routine, lest their progress slow down. I’m on BBB right now and not only am I seeing gains, I finish each day inside of 45 minutes (my record being 26 minutes on a chest day). That’s awesome, but he’ll also recommend a thousand sets of accessory exercises without specifying where they go in the program. The best example is the ab circuit: weighted crunches, side bends, and hanging leg raises, one after the other. Two sets each the first week, three the second, four the third.

Cool. Where do we plug that into BBB? As of now I’m scheming on getting rid of the 5×15 hanging leg raises and replacing it with these circuits, but was that the dude’s intention? Unknown. If you ask him, though, he’ll say, “Of course it is, dumbass. Don’t overthink it.” This is his go-to response for most of the questions in the book.

What he takes to be obvious and instinctual very well may be, if you’ve been a competitive powerlifter for twenty years or whatever. For journeyman lifters, they’re seeking out books on the subject specifically to build a database of background knowledge, not to be shamed for not having it yet.

Still, the casual irreverance and bluntness, to say nothing of the stilted locker-room talk, are all facets of the jock ethic. They lend the book an air of legitimacy beyond the knowledge that this dude can squat a thousand lbs, because it shows he’s just a run-of-the-mill meathead. Not a dumb guy, but neatly checking the rest of the boxes.

At the end of the day, who cares how gruff and antiquated he sounds? The dude is strong as an ox, and his program works for all levels, continuing into the long term, which enough opportunities to back off and deload that you’re never going to get injured so long as you’re not an idiot about it. Don’t lift with your ego. That’s what your blog is for.

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