The Brian Alsruhe Training Program!


Brian Alsruhe is an amateur strongman competitor and the owner of the internet-famous Never Sate strongman gym. Brian Alsruhe uses a unique giant sets training program to build muscle mass, get stronger and improve his conditioning all at the same time.

If you want to learn Brian Alsruhe’s training program then this article is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Brian Alsruhe’s Deadlift Day
  • Part 2: Brian Alsruhe’s Bench Press Day
  • Part 3: Brian Alsruhe’s Squat Day
  • Part 4: Brian Alsruhe’s Overhead Press Day

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about Brian Alsruhe’s giant sets training program.

Brian Alsruhe trains 4 days per week using an upper body / lower body split. On each training day he focuses on getting stronger on the deadlift, bench press, squat or overhead press.

Here is Brian’s favorite training split:

The Brian Alsruhe Training Split

  • Day 1: Deadlift
  • Day 2: Bench Press
  • Day 3: Squat
  • Day 4: Overhead Press

Brian Alsruhe uses giant sets almost exclusively in his 4 weekly workouts to get bigger and stronger. A giant set is a series of 4 or more exercises performed in a row with only 10 seconds rest between exercises.

Many bodybuilding coaches like Milos Sarcev use giant sets in their training to build muscle mass and take their training the next level. Brian Alsruhe is perhaps the first person to take giant sets and make them work for the goal of getting stronger.

Here is Brian demonstrating a giant set from one of his workouts:

In this video Brian is demonstrating a giant set on his bench press workout. Brian performs the bench press, the one-arm barbell row and barbell landmines all in a row with very little rest in between exercises.

After the last exercise Brian rests 2-3 minutes and then repeats the entire circuit several more times. Brian performs anywhere from 2-4 exercises in a row as part of his giant sets.

So why does Brian train using giant sets? I’ll let him answer that question:

“I do all of my strength work with giant sets. There’s a couple of reasons for that.

Number 1, I get twice as much work done in the same amount of time and time is not something I have a lot of.

Number 2, it builds my conditioning while I’m building my strength.

I know a lot of people say you cannot get bigger and stronger while dropping body fat. You can! It just requires really hard work, and most people avoid hard work like the plague!”

Brian likes to set up his giant sets so he is training opposing muscle groups together. For example Brian might perform an overhead press, a chin up and a core exercise in a row with 10 seconds rest between exercises.

Because he is training opposing muscle groups together his muscles still get plenty of time to rest between exercises. Many world-class strength coaches including Charles Poliquin are also big fans of this approach.

I hope you found this overview helpful. Now let’s take a closer look at how Brian Alsruhe designs his 4 weekly giant sets workouts for the deadlift, bench press, squat and overhead press.

Part 1: Brian Alsruhe’s Deadlift Day

Brian Alsruhe says that the deadlift is one of the most important exercises for the serious strongman competitor.

The deadlift is one of the most common strongman events but many other events including the atlas stones and farmer’s walk also depend on your deadlifting strength.

Brian Alsruhe organizes his deadlift workouts using 3 separate giant sets: his main giant set, his secondary giant set and his accessory giant set. Check it out:

Brian Alsruhe’s Deadlift Day Template

Part 1: Main Giant Set

  • A1: Explosive hinge, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Deadlift, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Ab variation, 90 seconds rest

Part 2: Secondary Giant Set

  • B1: Explosive hinge, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Stiff legged deadlift, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Ab variation, 90 seconds rest

Part 3: Accessory Giant Set

  • C1: Reverse hyperextension, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: Glute ham raise, 10 seconds rest
  • C3: Rows, 90 seconds rest

Here is Brian Alsruhe talking about how he organizes his deadlift day for maximum results:

The first giant set consists of three exercises: an explosive hinge, a deadlift and an ab variation. The explosive hinge can be any exercise like a kettlebell swing or an explosive jump.

Brian uses these exercises to activate his central nervous system so he can lift more weight on the heavy deadlift exercise. Check it out:

“Hinge: for me this is some sort of kettlebell swing, keg throw, jumping, dimel deadlifts. I throw in the explosive hinge directly before my deadlift.”

After the explosive hinge exercise Brian moves right into his heavy deadlift exercise. This can be a conventional deadlift, a rack deadlift, a deadlift against bands or any other exercise that he is working on at that time. Brian also includes some direct core work such as hanging leg raises to round out his first giant set.

The second giant set is very similar to the first one. Brian uses a big compound exercise such as the stiff legged deadlift to help build his deadlift. Check it out:

“This entire workout is built around the deadlift. For me personally my weak point in the deadlift is my hamstrings so I throw in some stiff legged deadlifts. Theoretically if my stiff legged deadlift goes up then my regular deadlift will go up.”

Finally Brian finishes the workout with an accessory giant set where he focuses on exercises that train his hamstrings, lower back and upper back. These are some of the main deadlifting muscles so Brian wants to make sure he trains them with some specific accessory exercises.

Now let’s look at some sample deadlift workouts to see how Brian brings everything together. Check it out:

Brian Alsruhe Deadlift Workout #1

Main Giant Set

  • A1: Band straight arm pullover, 7 sets of 8-12 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Box jump (30 inches), 7 sets of 3 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Axle deadlift, 7 sets of 1-5 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Hanging rainbows, 7 sets of 8-12 reps, 90 seconds rest

Secondary Giant Set

  • B1: Speed axle deadlift, 3 sets of 3 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Sandbag over shoulder, 3 sets of 3 reps, 90 seconds rest

Accessory Giant Set

  • C1: Glute ham raise, 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: T-bar row, 3 sets of 20-30 reps, 90 seconds rest

Here is the training video for this workout:

Talk about an intense workout! This was more of a high-volume conditioning workout for Brian Alsruhe. His goal was to perform a large number of high-quality sets on the deadlift and other exercises to stimulate some solid size and strength gains.

Brain uses many unusual techniques during this workout. In his first giant set he actually pre-exhausts his lats with straight-arm band pullovers before his deadlift exercise.

Brian says that he did this to make it easier for him to engage his lats during the deadlift. Check it out:

“The idea here is that I’m recruiting my lats and trying to get them engaged the exact same way that they would be on the deadlift.

When I’m trying to bend that bar across my shins, that bar has a tendency to float out in front of my toes which makes the exercise exponentially heavier.

So I like to use straight arm pulldowns to activate my lats to get them ready for that next movement.”

Brian’s main exercise for the day was the regular deadlift. He performed 7 sets of 1-5 reps as part of his primary giant set. His secondary giant set was focused around the speed deadlift and the accessory giant set included exercises for his posterior chain and upper back.

It is incredible how Brian Alsruhe fits so much training volume into such a short period of time. That is the power of his giant sets training system!

Now let’s look at a heavier deadlift workout where Brian went for an all-time deadlift PR. Check it out:

Brian Alsruhe Deadlift Workout #2

Main Giant Set

  • A1: Conventional deadlift, work up to a 1-rep max, 3-5 minutes rest

Secondary Giant Set

  • B1: One-arm barbell row (grenade handle), 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Glute ham raise against bands, 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Reverse hyperextension, 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 90 seconds rest

Here is the training video:

For this workout Brian worked up to a 1-rep max on the deadlift. He skipped his first giant set because he wanted to be as fresh as possible for his heaviest set:

“I didn’t do any exercises in between my deadlifts as I didn’t want to wear myself as I worked my way up to my top set.” 

This shows you that Brian is flexible in his approach. He is more than happy to adjust his workout if there is a good reason to do so.

Brian worked up to a 700 pound deadlift PR and then performed his accessory work for his upper back, hamstrings and lower back.

Part 2: Brian Alsruhe’s Bench Press Day

Brian Alsruhe believes that the bench press is one of the most important exercises for a strongman competitor. He says it is one of the “big 4” exercises and it is still a great exercise to train if you want to build a big, strong upper body.

Brian structures his bench press workouts using three separate giant sets: a main giant set, a secondary giant set and an accessory giant set. Check it out:

Day 2: Bench Press

Main Giant Set

  • A1: Barbell row, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Bench press, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Oblique exercise, 90 seconds rest

Secondary Giant Set

  • B1: DB row, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Close grip bench press, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Oblique exercise, 90 seconds rest

Accessory Giant Set

  • C1: Dips, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: Triceps extensions, 10 seconds rest
  • C3: Explosive push ups, 90 seconds rest

Here is Brian Alsruhe talking about how he organizes his bench press day for maximum results:

Brian starts his main and secondary giant set with some type of rowing variation. Brian likes to perform rows on this day because he wants an exercise that trains the upper back in the same plane as the bench press.

Here is Brian talking about his love affair with rows:

“You need to be hitting rows of all variations all the time everyday. Row your face off! If your row goes up then everything goes up.

That’s why you see me hitting barbell rows and dumbbell rows in my primary and secondary bench press giant sets.”

After the rowing exercise Brian performs his main exercise of the day: the bench press. This can be a regular bench press or a close grip bench press depending on whether he is performing his primary or secondary giant set. If you don’t like the close grip bench press then you can use another exercise like V-bar dips. Check it out:

“This whole workout is built around the bench so I use the close grip bench as my main secondary giant set exercise but you can use whatever you want.

You can use dumbbell bench press, dips or whatever exercise you think attacks your weak points. My weak point is my triceps so that’s why I chose the close grip bench.”

Finally Brian finishes his workout with some accessory exercises for his chest, triceps and upper back. Brian likes to mix up his accessory exercises all the time. As long as he is working the right muscle groups then he doesn’t care which specific exercises he is performing.

Now let’s look at some of Brian Alsruhe’s actual bench press workouts. Check it out:

Brian Alsruhe Bench Press Workout #1

Main Giant Set

  • A1: Pendlay row, multiple sets of 3-10 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Duffalo bar bench press, multiple sets of 1-12 reps**, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Glute ham raise halos, multiple sets of 10 reps, 90 seconds rest

Secondary Giant Set

  • B1: Incline DB press, 3 sets of 15-30 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: V-bar Dips (forward leaning torso), 3 sets to failure, 90 seconds rest

Conditioning Giant Set

  • C1: Burpee pull ups, sets of 8 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: Wind bike sprints, sets of 30 seconds, 90 seconds rest

**Work up to a 1-rep max, then perform 2 back off sets with around 70% of your 1-rep max.

Here is the training video for this workout:

For this workout Brian Alsruhe used the Duffalo bar, a specialty bar invented by Chris Duffin. The Duffalo bar is like a giant Buffalo bar. It has a natural bend in it which completely changes the feel of the movement. It also lets you train the bench press through a slightly larger range of motion.

Here are Brian’s thoughts on this specialty bar:

“I’m going to be bench pressing with the Duffalo Bar. Chris Duffin came up with it, it’s pretty ingenious and awesome and a heavy bar on its own.

When you do a bench it’s almost like a deficit deadlift because the bend in the bar. As you bring the bar down you can actually go further which gets more stretch across the pecs or something.

I don’t know… it was just a different thing… I don’t, I… different thing…”

If you want to purchase your own Duffalo bar then here are your best options:

Duffalo Bar

Overall this was a very normal looking bench press workout for Brian Alsruhe. He used three different giant sets to train the bench press and all of the muscles of his upper body.

Now let’s look at another one of Brian’s giant set bench press workouts. Check it out:

Brian Alsruhe Bench Press Workout #2

Primary Giant Set

  • A1: One-arm dead-stop DB row, 6 sets of 5 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Close grip bench press, 6 sets of 2 reps**, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Hanging leg raise, 6 sets of 10 reps, 90 seconds rest

Assistance Giant Set

  • B1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 3 sets of 12-15 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Flat DB press (neutral grip), 3 sets of 12-15 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Band pushdowns, 3 sets of 12-15 reps, 90 seconds rest

Strongman Giant Set

  • C1: Atlas stone load to shoulder, 3 sets of 6 reps****, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: Burpees, 3 sets of 6 reps, 90 seconds rest

**Performed at 80-90% of your 1-rep max

****Performed at 70-80% of your 1-rep max

Here is the training video:

This is a very interesting workout by Brian Alsruhe! Brian’s goal for this workout was to perform a large number of slightly submaximal sets on the bench press. He performs 6 sets of 2 reps with a weight that was about 80-90% of his 1-rep max.

This was one of Brian’s “building” workouts where he tries to slowly set himself up for a huge bench press PR in the coming weeks.

As usual Brian starts his primary giant set with some type of row to train the upper back. Here is Brian describing his thought process for this choice:

“As you guys saw I always try to hit my antagonistic muscle group in the same plane of movement as my main mover.”

After the primary giant set Brian performs his secondary and accessory giant sets.

Brain decided to perform a ton of reps on his assistance work for this workout because he needed to improve his conditioning level before his next strongman competition. Check it out:

On my very first set of assistance work I like to do as many reps as possible because that’s what we’re asked to do in a strongman competition.

Then I did some strongman work at medium intensity. The stone was 260 pounds which for me is about 80% of my 1-rep max.”

Brian Alsruhe is an incredibly strong bench presser. He is proof that you can build a very strong upper body using an unconventional training style.

Part 3: Brian Alsruhe’s Squat Day

Brian Alsruhe dedicates his third weekly training day to the squat.

The squat is another one of those exercises that is absolutely critical for any serious strongman competitor. You almost never perform the regular back squat in competition but the squat is a great exercise for building your overall leg strength for other events like the super yolk and farmer’s walk.

Here is how Brian organizes his squat workouts. Check it out:

Brian Alsruhe Squat Workout Overview

Main Giant Set

  • A1: Explosive jump, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Squat, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Ab variation, 90 seconds rest

Secondary Giant Set

  • B1: Explosive jump, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Front squat, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Ab variation, 90 seconds rest

Accessory Giant Set

  • C1: Bulgarian split squat or lunge, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: Glute ham raise, 10 seconds rest
  • C3: Good morning, 90 seconds rest

Here is Brian Alsruhe talking about how he organizes his squat day for maximum results:

Brian’s squat workouts look very similar to his deadlift workouts. The main difference is he performs exercises like the back squat and the front squat as his primary exercises rather than the deadlift and the stiff-legged deadlift.

Brian really likes to start his workout with an explosive jumping movement such as a box jump or a broad jump. He says these exercises activate his central nervous system better for the squat than something like an explosive hinge movement. Check it out:

“My explosive jump might be a box jump or a broad jump, anything to get my hips and my legs as explosively as possible. You never want to move slow. Moving slow is for old people.”

The other interesting thing about Brian’s squat workouts is he really likes to use different specialty barbells such as the safety squat bar. In fact Brian uses the safety squat bar squat more in his training than the regular back squat!

Brain says that the safety squat bar does a better job of building all of the critical strongman muscles than the regular back squat.

Now let’s look at some of Brian Alsruhe’s squat workouts. Check it out:

Brian Alsruhe Squat Workout #1

Main Giant Set

  • A1: Safety squat bar squat, multiple sets of 1-3 reps**, 3-5 minutes rest

Secondary Giant Set

  • B1: Safety squat bar Bulgarian split squat, 3 sets of 5 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Glute ham raise with bands, 3 sets of 12 reps, 90 seconds rest

Conditioning Giant Set

  • C1: Pull ups (wide / overhand grip), 10 sets of 1-5 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: Burpees, 10 sets of 2-10 reps, 90 seconds rest
  • C3: Push ups, 10 sets of 3-15 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • C4: Mountain climbers, 10 sets of 4-20 reps, 90 seconds rest

**Work up to a 1-rep max for that day

Here is the training video for this workout:

This is a very normal looking squat workout for Brian Alsruhe. For this workout Brian skipped the explosive jumping exercise and just went straight into his main exercise: the safety squat bar squat.

Brian did this because he was working up to a 1-rep max for this workout and wanted to make sure that he was as fresh as possible.

The secondary giant set was focused on his quads and hamstrings while the final giant set used a variety of upper and lower body exercises to build up his conditioning level.

Here is another one of Brian’s squat workouts that you can try. Check it out:

Brian Alsruhe Squat Workout #2

Main Giant Set

  • A1: Bandy twisty things, multiple sets of 8-12 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Duffalo bar squat, multiple sets of 1-3 reps**, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Standing ab wheel rollouts, multiple sets of 8-12 reps, 90 seconds rest

**Work up to a 1-rep max for that day, then perform a back off set for 10 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

Brian was in a hurry for this workout and was unable to perform his usual 3 giant sets but he still got in a great workout in a short amount of time.

For this workout Brian worked up to a heavy 1-rep max using the Duffalo bar and then performed a quick back-off set of 10 reps.

Part 4: Brian Alsruhe’s Overhead Press Day

Brian Alsruhe trains the overhead press on his 4th weekly workout. The overhead press is by far one of the most important exercises for the serious strongman competitor so it’s interesting to see how he organizes his workouts here.

Brian structures his overhead press workouts using three separate giant sets: a main giant set, a secondary giant set and an accessory giant set. Check it out:

Brian Alsruhe Overhead Press Workout Overview

Main Giant Set

  • A1: Weighted pull up, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Overhead press, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Oblique variation, 90 seconds rest

Secondary Giant Set

  • B1: Wide grip pull up, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Z press, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Oblique variation, 90 seconds rest

Accessory Giant Set

  • C1: Arnold press, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: Lateral raise, 10 seconds rest
  • C3: Rear delt raise or cable face pull, 90 seconds rest

Here is Brian Alsruhe talking about how he organizes his overhead press day for maximum results:

Brian almost always uses a pull up variation in his overhead press workouts. He says that he wants to train the upper back in the same plane as the overhead press and the pull up is one of the best ways to do it. Check it out:

“I’m pretty decent at pull ups so that’s why I put them up here. If pulling up your bodyweight is hard for you then put pull ups here.

We’re trying to work the antagonistic exercise in the same plane as the overhead press so that’s why we’re using pull ups here.

It doesn’t matter if you’re using a strict press or a push press.”

After the pull ups Brian moves right into his main overhead pressing movement for the day as well as an exercise for his abs. Next Brian performs his secondary giant set and his accessory giant set.

Brian really likes to focus on accessory exercises for his shoulders on this training day. He does different overhead pressing movements, front raises, lateral raises and reverse flys to hit the shoulders from all angles.

“The assistance exercises may change from month to month, week to week, however you want to set it up. I just gave you example exercises.

You don’t have to do these same exercises every single week.”

Now let’s look at some of Brian’s actual overhead pressing workouts. Check it out:

Brian Alsruhe Overhead Press Workout #1

Main Giant Set

  • A1: Pull ups (wide grip / grenade attachments), sets of 8 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Axle clean and press, multiple sets of 1 rep**, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Dragon flags, multiple sets of 8 reps, 90 seconds rest

Secondary Giant Set

  • B1: Continental axle clean and press, 6 sets of 3 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Burpee laterals, 6 sets of 3 reps, 90 seconds rest

Accessory Giant Set

  • C1: Yoke waiter’s walk, 3 x 200 feet, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: Chain overhead presses, 3 x 10-20 reps, 90 seconds rest

**Work up to a 1-rep max for the day

Here is the training video for this workout:

This is a very normal looking overhead pressing workout for Brian Alsruhe. He starts the workout by performing his primary giant set with grenade attachment pull ups, the axle overhead press and a crazy core exercise that he likes to call “Dragon flys.”

For this workout Brian works up to a 1-rep max but this is not set in stone. Other workouts he performs multiple sets of 2-4 reps with slightly lighter weights to build a good base for future strength gains.

Here is another one of Brian’s overhead pressing workouts. Check it out:

Brian Alsruhe Overhead Press Workout #2

Main Giant Set

  • A1: Pull ups (medium / neutral grip), 4 sets of 4-6 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Log clean and press, 4 sets of 2 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Twisting leg raise, 4 sets of 8-12 reps, 90 seconds rest

Secondary Giant Set

  • B1: Pull ups (wide grip / grenade attachment), 4 sets of  8-12 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Upside down kettlebell walk, 4 sets of 100 feet, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: T-bar row, 4 sets of 10-20 reps, 90 seconds rest

Accessory Giant Set

  • C1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 4 sets 10-20 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: Banded face pulls, 4 sets of 10-20 reps, 90 seconds rest

Here is the training video for this workout:

Talk about a high-volume workout! Brian performs 32 total sets for his entire upper body using his trademark giant sets training style.

Throughout the workout Brian offers some great insights into how he sequences his exercises for maximum results. Check it out:

“I encourage you guys to tier your exercise. What I mean by that is putting the most important exercise first.

I always perform an overhead press variation with leg drive first in my workout because in strongman you’re always allowed to use leg drive so that’s most important to us.

So I throw in something like a push press, a jerk, a split jerk, a log clean and press, an axle continental clean and press, something like that. That is my tier 1 exercise.”

In this workout Brian uses a number of very interesting exercises including the log clean and press, grenade attachment pull ups and upside down kettlebell walks.

Brian is willing to do whatever it takes to challenge his body and transcend training plateaus. This is the one thing all great athletes have in common: they all have the “growth mindset.”

Conclusion

Brian Alsruhe is one of the most interesting strength athletes in the world. He took a training method that was designed for bodybuilders and found a way to use it to get freaky strong and blast through strength plateaus.

I highly recommend Brian Alsruhe’s training style if you want to get stronger, build muscle, lose body fat and improve your conditioning level all at the same time.

It may be just what you need to take your training to the next level!

Before leaving for this journey, a particularly crass reporter queried Hilary about his motives for risking life and limb to just simply climb a mountain.

After looking up at the summit of Everest, Hilary’s response was a laconic, “Because it’s there.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

What's going on! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen, I'm the creator of Revolutionary Program Design. When I'm not writing about some of the greatest minds in the fitness industry - including Charles Poliquin, John Meadows, Josh Bryant, Dante Trudel, Louis Simmons, and more - I can be found lifting pink dumbbells in gyms all over Panama!

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