Uh-oh, we found a program that isn’t exactly a powerlifting program.
The Buff Dudes 12-Week Program is a popular program that is used to gain mass and improve your physique among most beginner and intermediate lifters.
Buff Dudes have a huge YouTube audience (2.5 million subscribers), so with that sort of influence in the fitness space, we thought it necessary to provide an unbiased review of their flagship program.
We bought the program, completed the workouts, and this article will share all of the details with you.
I always like to start off all my program reviews by sharing exactly who this program IS NOT for and why. Let’s get started!
Why Buff Dudes 12-Week Program May Not Be For You
There are two types of people that won’t like this program at all. They are:
- Lifters trying to get stronger
- Lifters who hate bodybuilding
Lifters Trying to Get Stronger
I don’t want to alarm you, but this program will not get you stronger. At least not much.
If you are scouring the internet for the perfect program to get you stronger either because you’re a competitive powerlifter or you just simply want to improve your 1 rep maxes, you’re going to be disappointed. This is purely a hypertrophy program focused on basic bodybuilding principles.
It’s pretty obvious with the marketing of this program that the goal is NOT to make you stronger.
Lifters Who Hate Bodybuilding
If you’re a guy who hates the ‘bro split’ and doesn’t fall into the typical bodybuilding mentality when it comes to training, you won’t like this program.
We all know that guy – he walks into the gym and goes straight to the squat rack, he loves lifting heavy weight, and doesn’t really care that he has a “power belly”.
Well, this guy won’t like this program because he’s sacrificing his powerlifting total for vanity, which won’t earn him the next state record.
Beyond that, some of us just love powerlifting because it’s low reps and heavy weight. We get the fun of lightheadedness and seeing stars under heavy load, but avoid the “pump” that comes with more than five reps.
So, if you strongly dislike the exercise style of bodybuilding, keep shopping.
Another Program Option To Consider
Before diving into the full review of the Buff Dudes 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 BuffDudes 12-Week Program.
Want to get advice on programming, technique, or competing? Speak with one of our coaches.
Overview of Buff Dudes 12-Week Program
About The Creator
B.U.F.F. Dudes was started by brothers Hudson and Brandon White as a YouTube channel to create entertaining, informative videos about lifting and nutrition (thus the acronym meaning Better Understanding of Food and Fitness).
They first released their 12-week program in 2014, which is available for free. But since then have modified and improved the program and built an entire ebook to support it in this 3rd edition, which can be downloaded for $20.
Learn more about the bro split in my article Bro Split vs PPL: Pros, Cons, & Which Is Best?
Who The Program Was Intended For?
This program is intended for lifters who want to add new muscle. It’s really a bodybuilding program focused on hypertrophy for beginners.
There’s also 16-bit video game style images of buff dudes lifting in the eBook, so it’s probably also a good bridge for nostalgic Nintendo gamers to cross over to lifting, which is kind of fun.
With all the explanatory resources included in the ebook, it appears to be targeted at brand new or novice lifters wanting to get serious about their focus in the gym.
For the powerlifter looking at this program, it may be a nice option for your off season to get a change of scenery in your workout split and just focus on hypertrophy before getting back into a more specific powerlifting program.
Goals of The Program
Frankly, this program is not intended to get you much stronger, but rather to build muscle.
It’s really a bodybuilding program that happens to use the squat and deadlift as tools to activate lower body and back muscles broadly before targeting them with isolated movements throughout the program.
Given that focus, the goal is to build muscle over 12 weeks so that you have more of it than when you started.
In this program, you’ll start by training just three days a week for three weeks in a Prep Phase, and eventually end the program training six days a week in the High Intensity Phase.
There is a supplemental Abs program that can be done simultaneously, but would add an additional 20-30 minutes to each workout, so it’s included as an optional piece, as not everyone will be able to dedicate that much time to the workout.
On that note, these workouts (without the abs portion) will take about 60 minutes to complete.
The split changes throughout the program, starting with a full body split during the Prep Phase, moving to a more specific split (back and rear delts, chest and lateral delts, legs and calves, arms and traps, for example), and then adjusting those splits with the next two phases to allow for more specificity as the program advances.
Note that there is a fully free version on their site, as well as the updated, paid version which includes an instructional ebook.
The two programs are similar, but they are different both in terms of split, exercise selection, and phases (but only slightly). If you’re pretty self-sufficient in the gym, I think the free program is adequate.
Do You Need Any Prerequisites Before Starting This Program?
Not at all. With the program being focused on new and early lifters, the instructional info in the PDF, and the lack of powerlifting specificity, truly anyone can download this program and get started to get a feel for intentional bodybuilding and hypertrophy.
While more technical lifts like the squat and deadlift are included in the program, they are used for high reps, decreasing the risk of injury as they do not call for a heavy load to be successful.
Buff Dudes Program Variables: What To Expect
This program is different from any we’ve reviewed before, as its stated goals are not to get you measurably stronger, but rather bigger. So to help you understand this program, we’ve broken down the variables we feel are the most important to understand before diving in.
The Buff Dudes program is broken down into four phases, plus an additional Prep Phase of three weeks (why they didn’t just call it a 15-week program and make you feel like you’re getting more bang for your buck remains as elusive to me as getting big calves).
The Prep Phase is purely there to acclimate a lifter to training regularly. It calls for three days a week of a full body split.
This is simply a period to help brand new lifters (or lifters not accustomed to bodybuilding) to ramp up without wanting to kill themselves over the DOMS they would experience if they simply dove into the full split cold.
The second three weeks (or “Weeks 1-3,” since we are counting like the Star Wars movies) is made up of the Pairing Phase I, a term we don’t see in powerlifting. While it conjures up images of a great wine to go with your expensive steak to the untrained ear, it’s actually referring to pairing primary and secondary muscle groups together through compound and isolated lifts.
For example, the workouts begin with a compound lift, like the deadlift, and then move to more specific, isolated lifts to hit the smaller muscles more directly, like face pulls. It’s a similar approach to many powerlifting/powerbuilding programs that start with the more technical, more intense competitive lift or lift variation, and ends with rep work of isolated movements or lifts targeting a very specific area.
The next phase is the Pairing II phase, covering weeks 4-6. The biggest change here is that legs are trained twice a week, but the model of each workout holds to the same strategy as the Pairing Phase I.
The Isolation Phase follows in weeks 7-9, as each workout is dedicated to its own main muscle group to, well, isolate your training further. The five workouts now break down to Back and Traps, Chest, Legs and Calves, Deltoids, and Arms (biceps, triceps, and forearms).
The intent of this split is to push the lifter deeper into each muscle during each workout, almost doubling the volume in a single workout, rather than hitting it in separate workouts, or only hitting that muscle for 3-4 exercises, then moving on to a different muscle.
Now, you’re hitting Back and Traps for eight different exercises for 30 total sets instead of four exercises for 15-16 sets and then the same with a different muscle group for a total of eight exercises/30ish total sets.
Finally, the High Intensity Phase of weeks 10-12 introduces a sixth workout each week, and incorporates supersets for more than half of your sets. The goal of this phase is to keep your muscles from acclimating to the previous levels of intensity, giving it the stimulus it needs to keep growing and changing.
This program is NOT specific to powerlifting at all. While it has applications for powerlifters in the off season to build new muscle and try something different, this is not the kind of program you would use to test your squat, bench press, or deadlift maxes at the end.
Rather, this program uses any exercise necessary to target and build muscle all over the body.
It’s hard to calculate volume (a function of Load x Reps) when there is no specific direction on what weight to use for the exercises. Without “load” to enter into the equation, you don’t have a product to show. And in the Buff Dudes program, there’s literally nowhere to add your working weights – just sets and reps.
However, sets and reps increases with each phase, except in the final High Intensity phase, which relies on supersets and short rest to achieve the advertised “high intensity” rather than increasing the volume drastically.
As with any hypertrophy program, the intensity does steadily increase throughout the program as a function of added volume and specificity.
In order to create a stimulus for the muscle to grow, the lifter will need to continually increase the difficulty of the exercise by either increasing the load or the volume (or time under tension, but we won’t get into that).
The Buff Dudes program follows that in a textbook manner, encouraging the lifter to add more weight each week, and by adding more volume with each phase of the block (or incorporating supersets, as discussed above).
We touched on this briefly above, but overload is achieved in this program by asking the lifter to increase their working weight (though there is no specific direction on how much or how often), and by adding to the total volume on each phase.
While the notes tell you the subsequent phases are intended to become more intense and difficult, it is ultimately up to the lifter to select weights that challenge them, and/or push themselves to hit rep ranges that challenge them.
Rest days are baked into the program to allow for fatigue management. Especially early on, where you have more rest days than training days, the program holds the lifter’s hand to get adapted to the workload.
As the program advances, those training wheels are gradually removed as the lifter ends on the six-day split, which also accomplishes the goal of keeping the intensity high to avoid muscular acclimation and keep things growing the way we want them to.
I’ll level with you, there’s a few alternative exercise suggestions for those doing workouts at home or with limited equipment, but otherwise this is a “one size fits all” program. It’s not designed to be customized or tailored, but rather to be an introductory program to building muscle for dudes that don’t really know how to start.
Just think of it as the jerseys you get in city league soccer for 5-year olds – they get the same size for the tall kids as for the short kids. Sure, they don’t fit well, but the kids don’t play the game that well either, and it’s kinda cute to watch them struggle from the sidelines.
3 Benefits of Buff Dudes Powerlifting Program
You can tell I don’t love this program by now. If not, go read any 200-word segment of my work above or below and you’ll find my negativity embedded in there somewhere. That being said, I managed to pan a few flecks of gold for you to take from this program:
- You can build muscle with it
- It can be a change of pace
- It’s free and easy to follow
You Can Build Muscle with It
Hey, even as powerlifters, we all want to build more muscle right? And we all know that we can’t just keep repeating a 12-week block for competition prep four times a year before we spin our wheels.
The Buff Dudes program does rely on sound principles of hypertrophy. And while it doesn’t score high (or score at all) on a metric of powerlifting effectiveness, you can absolutely use this program to build new muscle.
Maybe you realized your squat sucks out of the hole and you need more quad development. Maybe you got injured a little bit and can’t do the compound lifts that well, but can do isolated work and want to keep moving and adding muscle. Whatever your reason, this can be a great option to just jump in and keep making progress by building new muscle.
It Can Be a Change of Pace
Nobody is gonna blame you for getting bored with your current routine and needing a mental break. But that mental break doesn’t have to keep you from making progress.
With the lower intensity, the focus on bodybuilding, and the variety of exercises in this program, it may be just what you need to add some extra muscle, use some different equipment, and give the barbell a break for a few weeks.
Personally, I’m a big fan of incorporating bodybuilding days/weeks into my program, and this isn’t a bad option.
It’s Free and Easy to Follow
Whatever the reason you might have for looking at this program, you can’t beat free! But we’ve reviewed several free programs, and frankly, some of them suck because they are ugly and hard to follow or hard to get started.
So the bonus here is that it’s free, AND you can download it when you get to the gym and be rolling in a few minutes.
Think of this as the McDonald’s $1 menu of programs.
3 Cons of Buff Dudes Powerlifting Program
Folks, I could list a lot more than three cons to this program, but remember, these cons are because I’m looking at this program through a powerlifting lens (which I guess makes that lens very thick and doesn’t handle stairs well). There’s a lot of great things about this program, but here are the three biggest setbacks I see:
- It’s very basic
- It’s a bodybuilding program
- It doesn’t incorporate much squat, bench, or deadlift
It’s Very Basic
There’s nothing groundbreaking here. Download the program, show up, do the work, eat in a caloric surplus, and you’ll add new muscle.
There’s nothing here to allow you customize it, to emphasize one muscle group or deficiency more than another, etc.
Additionally, while there are some basic notes on how to perform various exercises, there’s no tips on good form or execution of lifts, so once you get past the beginners gains, there’s little to help you improve your technique to unlock the next stage of gains that require it.
It’s a Bodybuilding Program
How can you tell if a powerlifting program is not a good powerlifting program? First by identifying that it’s not a powerlifting program.
Sure, they both use dumbbells and barbells, but there’s more differences than speedos versus singlets and body fat percentage. They’re two different sports with two different goals, and you can’t use a hammer to glue things together just because it worked well to drive nails.
So be aware of the stated goals of the program and match it up with your goals. We’ve shared ways this program can still benefit powerlifters in the medium-long term, but you’re not going to immediately increase your competitive lifts here.
It Doesn’t Incorporate Much Squat, Bench, or Deadlift
Again, we are looking at this compared to other powerlifting programs we’ve reviewed, and this one really doesn’t incorporate much of the big three.
There’s not a whole lot more I can say about that, other than that I’d definitely check out some of our other program reviews if you want a program more focused on those three lifts.
Who Is the Buff Dudes Powerlifting Training Program For?
Bottom line is that this program is best for people who want to learn the fundamentals of building muscle and need a free (or cheap, if you buy the $20 ebook version) guide to get them there.
If you’re brand new to lifting, give this a shot. Even if you want to get into powerlifting, it will only benefit you to spend 3-4 months in the gym doing a combination of compound and isolated lifts with increasing intensity.
There’s a specific purpose for this program, and it’s not to make your squat, bench, or deadlift stronger. But more muscle means more fiber to train to be strong, so you can totally use this program to build new muscle prior to your next strength block.
As far as free or cheap programs go, this one is pretty good, but don’t try to use it for what it’s not intended to do.
Since I typically rate powerlifting programs, I gotta use the same criteria on this one, so I give it a 1.9/5. If I were scoring novice bodybuilding programs, I’d likely give it 4 or 5 starts. But I’m not rating it that way, so I guess you’ll never know for sure.
If you’re looking for a program alternative, definitely check out our training app HERE.
Check out our other program reviews:
- Texas Method vs 5-3-1: Which One Should You Do?
- Texas Method vs Madcow: Which One Should You Do?
- Powerlifting To Win Program Review
- Ripped Body Powerlifting Program Review
- PH3 Powerlifting Program Review
- Kizen Training Powerlifting Program Review
- Barbell Medicine Program Review
- Candito Powerlifting Program Review
- Juggernaut AI Review: Does It Actually Work? (Pros & Cons)
- Greyskull LP: What Is It? Results? Is It Good?
- Smolov: What Is It & Is It Still A Good Program
About The Author
Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.