Barbell Medicine Program Review: Is It Worth It?

barbell medicine program review

The programs provided by Barbell Medicine have a high reputation, so we are excited to dive into our review of their Powerlifting II program. 

With the minds and experience they have on their team, we know their product is good and will benefit most lifters who purchase it. 

However, we can safely say it’s not for everyone, and we’ve identified a few personalities that may want to find some other options before diving into this one. 

Why Barbell Medicine Powerlifting II May Not Be For You

We’ll get into the details of each aspect of the program below, but we can say this program is not suited for the following:

  • Brand new lifters
  • Lifters with technique challenges

Brand New Lifters

This shouldn’t come as a surprise with a name like “Powerlifting II.” After all, I wouldn’t recommend Rocky II without first watching Rocky (though Star Wars would be an exception, where I’d tell you to start with part IV). 

Jokes aside, this program is truly intended for the lifter who knows the fundamentals of powerlifting and needs a program to help them utilize the best training methods to get stronger. 

As appealing as that may sound to a beginner, we definitely echo the recommendation of the folks at Barbell Medicine that you start with their Beginner program before moving into this one. 


The good news is that lifting and strength training can and should be a pursuit over many years, so you can be excited that there’s lots you can do before jumping into this program. 

Lifters with Technique Challenges

We’ll cover this in greater detail below, but if you have specific areas of trouble with your squat, bench press, or deadlift, this program is not for you. 

Sure, you can hang on to your bench press where your butt comes off the bench and try to progress it without fixing your form. You could certainly keep squatting high, do this program, and squat high with a heavier weight. You can also keep deadlifting the way you do, but if you’re locking your knees too early and never changing it, you’ll stay stuck. 

This is the challenge with most templated programs, and it’s still the case with Powerlifting II. If you can’t seem to fix those problem areas, we definitely recommend trying something different than a templated program. 

Another Program Option To Consider

Before diving into the full review of the candito powerlifting program, I want to share that…

We’ve created a training app with dozens of powerlifting programs that suits different goals.  

You can find programs based on: 

  • Ability level (beginner to advanced)
  • Weak point training (programs focused on lockout of the deadlift, the bottom of the squat, etc.)
  • Age-based training (junior to master aged programs)
  • Unique training splits (everything from 3-6 day training splits)
  •  Competition readiness (peaking programs for a powerlifting)  

You can check out our programs HERE

Once you join our membership and download the app, you gain full access to all programs.  

Not only that, you get access to a private community of lifters, all training with the same programs, where you can ask questions, post training videos, and get feedback & support.


Let’s now dive into the full review of Barbell Medicine: Powerlifting II.

Overview of Barbell Medicine Powerlifting II Training Program

About The Creator

Barbell Medicine is a group of trainers who’s backgrounds are exactly what they sound like – a blend of formal medical training and certifications and actual strength training and competition experience. 

A quick scroll through their roster of coaches will show you an MD/MS (founder Jordan Feigenbaum), a physician (Dr. Austin Baraki), a Registered Dietician (Vanessa Burman), and a slew of Rehab Clinicians, each with their own track record as a coach or competitive powerlifter. 

While each of these individuals offer their services as personal coaches, collectively they have put together a library of templated programs and resources for purchase on their site, based on their experiences, education, and success in their respective fields. 

Who The Program Was Intended For?

The Powerlifting II program specifically states in the supporting PDF that this program is for lifters who “have significant previous experience (>6-9 months) training with barbells.”

If a lifter is interested in using Barbell Medicine resources, but doesn’t feel they meet the prerequisites, they direct the user to their Beginner Template, followed by the Strength I template prior to running this program. 

Goals of The Program

The goals of the program are also plainly stated by the authors. In the Welcome section of their supporting PDF, they state that it is focused on  “increasing strength in the powerlifts, e.g. the squat, bench press, and deadlift. 

While we expect most to see increases in muscle size while they get stronger, this is not a template focused bodybuilding. Rather, this serves as a strength-focused template designed to elicit maximal improvements in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.”

With that backdrop, you know exactly what you expect coming out the other side of this 13-week program. 

Workout Details

The program calls for six workouts per week over a 13 week period. Each workout incorporates at least two of the three powerlifts, but focused on different goals. 

  • For example, Day 1 includes a Squat with Belt for a single rep and a few back off sets of 3-6 reps, followed by Paused Bench Press and some accessory movements. 
  • Later in the week, the program calls for “Overloaded Squat”, where chains or bands are used to add accommodating resistance, allowing the lifter to safely train with loads heavier than they’d be able to handle if they just loaded the extra lbs or kgs onto the bar. 
  • Each workout only includes 3-4 exercises with 3-6 sets each, so they should only take 60-90 minutes, depending on your rest time. 
  • The other two days of the program are GPP days built around cardio/conditioning, upper back work, core work, and arm work. These days are low intensity and spaced throughout the week to allow the lifter to rest and recover from the high intensity lifting days. 

Do You Need Any Prerequisites Before Starting This Program?

You should have 6-9 months of experience training with barbells and powerlifting movements before diving into this program. 

While the program comes with many helpful guides and resources, I definitely agree that some familiarity with powerlifting and proper technique are crucial to making this program successful. 

Barbell Medicine Powerlifting II Variables: What To Expect

what to expect on barbell medicine powerlifting

Periodization

This program is the standard template Barbell Medicine coaches run when preparing a lifter for competition. So you might expect the standard breakdown of one stage of hypertrophy, a second stage of strength adaptation, and a third stage of peaking. 

However, this program isn’t as plainly block-oriented as what I’ve described above. Rather, the entire 13 weeks of training blend various aspects of block periodization the whole time. 

For example, higher rep sets and GPP workouts throughout the program address hypertrophy and growth needs. Separate days targeted at “Overload Squat,” “Overload Bench,” and “Overload Deadlift” differentiate from days where those lifts are performed for “touch and go” reps, or other variations not focused on overload, etc. 

In this case, there isn’t a traditional periodization in terms of blocks, yet the program still incorporates the elements of strength training we commonly see broken up into blocks (similar to a Daily Undulating Periodization model).

Overall, the entire 13-week program can be viewed as a strength peaking block, in a sense. 

Specificity

This program is completely specific to powerlifting and maxing out the squat, bench press, and deadlift. 

While the authors make that very clear at the start, the program itself backs up that claim, making every lifting workout central to the squat, bench press, and deadlift, and oftentimes with direction and terminology to tie it closely to powerlifting. 

You’ll see terms like “competition pause” associated with the bench press workouts or “opener” weights referencing how an RPE 7 should feel, etc. If you’re not a competitive powerlifter, then you might not understand some of these concepts. 

Barbell Medicine does offer a range of programs that are not specific to powerlifting, but this program is completely specific to the sport. 

Volume

We usually see volume vary greatly when the program is broken up into blocks. However, as we dove in and looked at the total volume changes week to week, the changes were more subtle. 

For the first three weeks, the lifter ramps up their volume a little at a time. Weeks 3-6 stay pretty consistent before dropping off in Week 7, but only for Week 7. 

Looking at the Squat with Belt workout on Day 1 of each week, we see it go from about 26 total reps across 7 sets, to just 1 set of 6 reps before moving on to the Paused Bench Press (which also drops from about 25 total reps across 7 sets to just 1 set of 5 reps). 

Weeks 8-10 ramp it back up weekly from there before dropping to more frequent low-rep sets (1, 2, and 3 sets of a single rep) in the final weeks of the program to allow for recovery while adapting the athlete to single-rep lifts prior to competing. 

Intensity

Intensity is easy to follow in this program, as RPE’s are recommended/called for in each exercise and each set. 

That being said, this program does a nice job of balancing that intensity so that it’s never too much at once. 

While a lifter will see calls for singles at RPE 8 in the first few weeks of the program (and stay that way through week 8), it’s immediately followed by a call for a set of 4-5 at RPE 9, allowing the lifter to keep training with intensity, without stubbornly sticking to the heavy weight they used for the first rep at RPE 8. 

Overall, week 7 appears to have the biggest jump in intensity with the afore-mentioned squat sets of 6 at RPE 9, but the biggest drop in week 10-11 where the workouts call for RPE 7-8 to allow for some recovery before jumping back to RPE 9 in Week 12. 

Overload

Overload is baked into the program throughout! I really like this approach, as each lift has a dedicated “overload” exercise, as we’ve cited here previously. 

By incorporating an overloaded lift each week (and for all three lifts), this program incorporates the element overload much more effectively than by just trying to do it during a 4-8 week block of the program. 

I’m a big fan of this approach, as the lifter can see steady progress with their rep work progressively, boosting their confidence and capabilities at the same time. 

This will depend on access to equipment, as this program calls for resistance bands and chains to accomplish it. Without access to these things, this element of the program won’t be as effective for the lifter. 

Fatigue Management

While the lifter can choose how to split up their week, the program does recommend performing the GPP days on Wednesdays and Saturdays with a full rest day on Sundays. 

By doing so, the program manages fatigue, placing those days just before/after overload workouts with the three powerlifts. 

However, if a lifter chooses to break up the days differently, they may find it more difficult to hit the recommended RPE’s and percentage of max due to accumulated fatigue from the previous workouts that work (or last week, if your rest day doesn’t divide your weeks). 

Individual Differences

This program is fairly flexible for individual differences for a few reasons. It allows lifters to pick their own accessories in places, and the RPE/Percent of Max blend adjusts well to any lifter. 

Regarding lift selection, this is really limited to the GPP days, however. While you can choose from a range of triceps or biceps movements and various upper back or ab accessories to perform on these days, that’s the only area you have flexibility. 

Oftentimes the biggest holdup to a lifter is a specific muscle group or technique cue that needs to be addressed by incorporating a specific lift variation or accessory. No templatized program can identify that, and few of them have the flexibility to enter those changes into the sheet if you do recognize them on your own. This program is no exception. 

As far as adapting the program to your abilities, the blended use of the RPE scale and percentage of max is a really flexible approach. We’ve reviewed other programs that really stick to one or the other, which can alienate lifters who are unfamiliar with one or the other. 

Powerlifting II does a great job of using both so any mildly experienced lifter can get started and have success. 

5 Benefits of Barbell Medicine Powerlifting II Program

5 benefits of barbell medicine powerlifting ii program

Across all our evaluation of this program, we found five really impressive benefits to this program. They are the following: 

  • It’s reputable 
  • It’s free of fluff
  • It’s organized
  • It’s not overwhelming
  • It’s part of a larger library

1. It’s Reputable 

You take one look at the coaches and authors of this program, and you can have great confidence that you are jumping into a program that is founded in the science of lifting and the experience of those that have done it successfully. 

Many programs grow in popularity or are sold on the basis of the celebrity or name behind them, rather than the science or the efficacy of the program. That’s not the case here, as the team is composed of clinicians, physicians, and competitive lifters and coaches. 

2. It’s Free of Fluff

There’s no flashy marketing spin or silver bullet here to distract from the actual value of the program. 

If you are interested in improving your squat, bench press, and deadlift in competition or in your own max out tests in the gym, this program is 100% focused on that goal and uses proven, fundamental techniques to get you there. 

3. It’s Organized

We’ve reviewed a lot of programs here, and Barbell Medicine strikes a great balance of providing an organized, user-friendly set of materials, 

While many programs just give you an ugly spreadsheet they threw together in an hour, Powerlifting II goes above and beyond to make it feel like custom software as you enter your workouts each week. 

Not only is the sheet easy to use, but the supplemental PDF and videos are more useful than most. While we’ve seen some PDF’s that run over 100 pages, this program keeps it to just 30 pages, and the headings are easy to navigate to find what you need in a pinch. 

Right from the start, you’ll feel very comfortable familiarizing yourself with the program and executing on it week to week as you move through the sheet. 

4. It’s Not Overwhelming

Let’s face it, when a group of doctors and clinicians get together to write something, you might expect it to be very long, wordy, and overwhelming, But this program isn’t that at all!

For as much knowledge and expertise as this group has, they really do a great job providing detailed, valuable information without oversharing or overcomplicating things. 

In the attached PDF, you’ll find useful explanations of terms, you’ll find RPE guides and calculators, as well as other FAQ’s to make the program easy to apply. 

5. It’s Part Of A Larger Library

No program is perfect for every lifter, so I love that Barbell Medicine offers a wide range of programs to meet various needs. 

If you enjoy the formatting of this program, the methodology, the authors, and the branding, you can continue to enjoy those benefits and still move into new phases of training by working through the library of programs Barbell Medicine as available on their site. 

3 Cons of Barbell Medicine Powerlifting II Program

Every program has its downsides, and we certainly found a few of them with the Barbell Medicine program. They are: 

  • You must fill in your workout notes
  • It’s not for beginners
  • Lacks Flexibility for Variations

1. You Must Fill in Your Workout Notes

This program DOES NOT have a “enter your maxes” calculator at the top like many programs do. Rather, you must enter your numbers with each set, each workout, each week for the sheet to work. 

This isn’t the type of program you can just screenshot and take to the gym with you – you need to keep entering your sets, reps, weights, and RPE for every workout. 

While this requirement makes the program very dynamic and responsive to each workout, it’s more work than many are used to, and can add frustration if you failed to enter in previous workouts. 

2. It’s Not for Beginners

This shouldn’t be a surprise, since there are other programs by Barbell Medicine meant for beginners, but this program is simply not for beginners. 

If you are a new lifter looking for a 12-week program to get you ready for a competition, you might be able to figure this one out, but I’m guessing it’ll be more than you want to take on. 

We love programs that can be applied to the lifter who can barely move the barbell and help them progress from there, but this program really requires more working knowledge than a true beginner has at their disposal. 

3. Lacks Flexibility for Variations

This is easily the most common complaint I have about programs, and Powerlifting II is no exception. There’s no flexibility to enter in your own preferred lift variations to address individual needs!

The most common impediment to a lifter’s progress is breakdowns in form or muscles that need to be strengthened to improve the overall lift. And if your squat looks like a good morning, you can’t lock out your bench consistently, or your shoulders fall forward on your deadlift, or you struggle with other breakdowns in your lifts, the perfect program won’t help you that much. 

For that reason, we wish there was a way to customize which lift variations are called for this program, but there isn’t, so we’ve got to ding this program for missing it. 

Who Is Barbell Medicine Powerlifting II Training Program For?

who is barbell medicine powerlifting ii training program for

Bottom line is that this program is great for intermediate lifters who know their estimated 1-rep max on each lift. They want to get stronger over the next 12 weeks, and they plan to demonstrate that progress in competition or max out on their own outside of a sanctioned meet. 

Within that group, lifters who enjoy the science behind the programming will get a ton of value from this program as they dive into the supplemental materials. There is some really interesting analysis you can do at the end of your training with the Analysis tab on the sheet. 

Even if you’re not, the spreadsheet works pretty well on its own, so if you don’t care to read the supporting materials or don’t care to know why the program is doing what it’s doing, you’ll do just fine to dive in and start lifting along with the sheet’s instructions. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, we rate this program at a 4.2/5

At $54.99 it’s certainly pricier than other 12-week programs we’ve reviewed, but far exceeds those cheaper options in terms of what they deliver.

While the success of any program will depend on the work the lifter puts into it, the Barbell Medicine Powerlifting II program leaves us confident that any lifter willing to put in the work will succeed. 

It’s written by legitimate experts in the field and focuses on the most important elements of getting a lifter ready to show their strength. 

If you’re looking for a program alternative, definitely check out our training app HERE

Program Review Resources

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