Calgary Barbell Bryce Krawczyk

Calgary Barbell CBB16-2 Review | my review of the program and app

Early on in my lifting journey I came across Calgary Barbell on YouTube when looking up technique guides on the main lifts. The founder of Calgary Barbell – Bryce Krawczyk – is an elite powerlifter and world record holder. 

They host Friday Form Checks that are live streamed every Friday, where Bryce would do form checks from user submitted videos. I made it onto one or two of the form checks and found them super helpful. I loved the vibe of the channel, and the way that they explained things. 

Being in a country with very few resources, a sparse lifting community, and also not having a coach, these form checks were super helpful and gave me that know, like and trust factor with Calgary Barbell.

Bryce Krawczyk – 2021 IPF Classic Worlds

Today I’m sharing my experience of the Calgary Barbell 16 week CBB-16-2 program (4 days p/w) . This program is only available to users of the paid app. It is the newer version of the original CBB 16 program which can be accessed for free here

This is a review of the new program, the app, and the private Discord community.

The program is only for paid members so I can’t share the full program or give too much away, but you can get a good idea from their free program which I’ve linked above. The two programs are similar, and the information on their site and YouTube channel should help you decide if it’s for you.

“This program is the natural progression and evolution of the famous 16-Week program from Calgary Barbell. It is built for those who have run the CBB 16-week previously and are looking for the next step. The program uses the framework of the original program and puts together a more cohesive structure of progression, and incorporates more singles towards the end, as well as an altered exercise selection to provide a novel stimulus for those who have run the first 16-week program.”

https://calgarybarbell.programs.app/

Calgary Barbell CBB 16-2 Review – The Program 

I’m not going to attempt to review any technical part of the program as I’m not experienced enough for that, but I will share what worked for me personally and what I would have liked to be different for me. I’m not saying that had these things been different that they would be better for everyone, just what my experience has been, so take all of this with a pinch of salt.

As Geoffrey Verity Schofield says “I’m just some guy on the internet sharing my experience.”

This program is a mix of RPE and percentage-based work. This was my first program that incorporated RPE, so it was as much a learning experience as anything else.

As I’ve mentioned the program is based off of their free version so your best bet to see if it is right for you is to look at the free version which I’ve linked here.

CBB 16-2 

Here is Calgary Barbell’s description of CBB 16-2;

“This program is the natural progression and evolution of the famous 16-Week program from Calgary Barbell. It is built for those who have run the CBB 16-week previously and are looking for the next step. The program uses the framework of the original program and puts together a more cohesive structure of progression, and incorporates more singles towards the end, as well as an altered exercise selection to provide a novel stimulus for those who have run the first 16-week program.”

And this is how they break it down on their website;

The program is broken down in 4 phases;

  • Developmental Phase I (Week 1-4)
  • Developmental Phase II (Week 5-8)
  • Developmental Phase III (Week 9-12)
  • Developmental Phase IV (Week 13-16)

Developmental Phase I (Week 1-4)

An acclimation phase, using a mix of both %-based and RPE-based prescription, the goal of which is to cultivate and practice good, efficient technique as the basis for the next phase.

Developmental Phase II (Week 5-8)

This phase ramps the intensity up on the main lifts, while breaking the work into “top sets” and “drop volume” – still maintaining some more strict %-based prescriptions to ensure technical improvements from phase one stick as we ramp into higher intensities later in the block.

Developmental Phase III (Week 9-12)

Top sets in this block will shift to RPE-based prescription, allowing for a bit more intensity, and for the lifter to begin to lean into any gains made in the earlier phases of the program, hopefully outrunning the %-based work from previous phases

Developmental Phase IV (Week 13-16)

In this phase, the lifter will begin their comp singles, as well as %-based backoff work, accumulating more practice with singles than in the original program, hopefully allowing for better proficiency. Week 16 is a taper week designed specifically for lifters to maintain their peak into a competition or gym test

The above is freely available on their website at the time of writing, I’m not sharing anything private, you can also see which exercises are included within each block.

What I liked about CBB 16-2

I really liked the bench frequency and variations, especially the paused bench. I feel I have a lot more control of the bench now. 

The same goes for deadlift. I enjoyed the sessions and gained a lot more control and strength off the floor which is where I normally struggle. I could feel I was getting stronger, especially in the last 2 blocks.

I also like that it’s developed by someone who is at the top of elite powerlifting, and is currently competing, as opposed to someone who at one time set a record and has been in retirement ever since with some sort of cult following (as is sometimes the case). Bryce is currently competing and is involved in the community.

I really liked that the program had pull-ups. This is something that you’re starting to see more of with the likes of Jonnie Candito and Marcellus Williams and Brendan Tietz  and Matt Wenning  to name just a few elite powerlifters helping popularise them in the powerlifting space in the last 5 years.

Include video of me doing pull ups

My body and joints felt so much better than when I ran the Texas Method and pushed 5 rep maxes each week. At the time the workouts were simply grueling but I thought I was fine.  But as soon as I started this program it just felt like my joints were happier. I could feel the difference when I compared it to how my body felt back then. I definitely have more of an appreciation and understanding for building a base, and block periodization.

What I didn’t like about CBB 16-2

This is not a critique of the program per se, but more what didn’t work for my circumstances. I train at a commercial gym that only has two benches and two squat racks, which are often full. And around half the time it is being used by people doing things like burpees inside the squat rack or arrogant gym bros with huge inflated egos doing 30kg barbell curls and then not packing away their weights. This makes jumping back and forth between a squat rack and bench quite stressful. 

I really hope they come out with an upper/lower program soon.

There are a lot of variations of the exercises. I feel though that there is a lot that I don’t need at my current intermediate level. Maybe instead of low bar, highbar, pause, and tempo squats, just doing two or three variations would be enough. 

However, my form did improve by doing this program and my body felt much better, so it’s hard to separate what I need and don’t need. Additionally, many of the main movement variations that I did were my first time doing them. So maybe if I do them better, i.e lighter touch on the pins for pin squats, I’ll get more out of them.

I did get an injury during the program in the last 4 or so weeks. I developed a ‘painful shoulder arc’ with bicep tendonitis. I don’t think the program caused it but it’s worth mentioning. I have pre-existing shoulder injuries that I came into the program with.

I don’t expect the program to include pre-hab work – this stuff needs to be specific to your joints, muscles and injury history. So if I run the program again I might add in more bicep work, and rotator cuff strengthening and stability work.

Changes That I Made 

My weighted pull ups are at a high level and as much as I wanted to follow the program as closely as I could, I changed the rep and sets of pull up work in the app to be what I’m used to. 

I also chose not to do any lat pulldowns, it’s just not a movement that works great for me and what I’m currently doing got me strong pull-ups so I decided to keep it as close as possible to what I had been doing. 

I think the program has you do pull ups once a week in 2 out of the 4 blocks. I did them every week 2x a week for 3 sets of 5 until I got an injury towards the end.

I also started doing BJJ throughout the whole program, which really affected recovery. I only took off the two weeks before testing my maxes. 

To help recovery of the shoulders and pec muscles that got very tight and would go into spasm, I’d do CGBP instead of regular grip and that helped, but still with the same reps and sets.

I started working on Nordic curls early on in the program to help bulletproof the knees.

The Community

The community is on a private Discord server, where there are different channels, like one specifically for form checks, technical support with the app, program questions, etc. 

The Calgary Barbell gym and many in the community are based in Canada so I found I had to post in the evening to get more response in the group when most members were active, especially for form checks.

They do a good job of keeping it free of trolls and everyone is supportive. It still feels like you can ask beginner questions or if you’re unsure of why they’re doing something a particular way or why something is programmed a certain way you can ask. I’ve only seen respectful communication from everyone there.

Responses are generally very quick for any technical support that I’ve seen with other people. I don’t think I had any technical issues. And when I’ve asked questions about the actual programming, Bryce himself has often answered. 

When I’ve sent an email with any issues they always replied very quickly, I think in under 24 hours. But most communication is done through the Discord community.

Form checks take a little longer. Being in a different time zone, I found if I just waited till evening time to post my form check, I got quicker feedback.

There are all sorts of experience levels and the community is big on a ‘if you can’t prove it with a video, you didn’t do it, policy, which is great, it helps cut out a lot of BS. The main lifts are expected to be done to powerlifting standards even if you’re not competing, which is nice to have everyone on the same page and all lifts judged the same way.

While the members are mostly men, there are women in the group, and one of the coaches is female.

The community also has exclusive live streams and free resources (like an attempt selection chart).

What’s nice about the form checks in Discord is that you can quickly pull up your form that you posted weeks or months ago and compare it to a lift you just did and compare changes and if you’ve been able to implement suggestions to your form from a previous form check. Discord makes it so easy to find and search through questions and posts in the channels.  

Having this community makes a big difference, especially if you are not training with other powerlifters in person.

For me the highlight of the community is really the form checks. You are literally getting a world record powerlifting champion to check your form. Totally worth it in my opinion, even if only for a few months to have the input from someone at that level.

One thing to note when submitting form checks is that Discord has a file size limit. If you buy a subscription to Discord you can unlock high file size limits or just upload your video to YouTube and use a public or private link to post it in Discord, it still shows a thumbnail and opens. 

I don’t want to always go through YouTube to get a quick form check, and I don’t feel buying a Discord subscription is worth it for me, so I’d just compress my videos before uploading. But it’s not such a big thing. 

The App

The app. Is powered by My Strength Book which markets themselves as “The #1 platform for strength, physique and nutrition coaching”. 

It really is a comprehensive app. There are so many different combinations of your training metrics that you can combine with and overlay and see in a variety of graph formats. If you want to get really granular with your mico, meso, or macrocycle patterns and fluctuation and rep max charts, it has it all. 

It also has a great UI. I just wish it loaded up faster and that switching between menus was quicker – but other than that it really is great. 

In South Africa we regularly have power outages which affect the cell towers and 4g signal. Even with very poor signal, the app would still load, it would just take a few seconds longer. 

Calgary Barbell have quite a few other programs in the app at the time of writing such as; 3 & 4 day post meet off-season 12 week programs, a 10 week powerbuilding program, and a variety of other powerlifting programs. All of these programs are available to you when you sign up for the app.

Calgary Barbell CBB 16-2 Review - app programs

You can’t really compare spreadsheet programs to an app. They are two different experiences. I do wish the app made it easier and in a more guided way to make changes to the program to suit individual needs.

To be clear, the app does make it easy to modify the program to suit your individual needs, just not as easy as a spreadsheet drop down with one or two clicks, from a selection that has already been thought out. But this really is minor.

The app is great, and has some features that were added after I had already started the program. There is the option to track your weight, recovery and readiness, self-rating scales and nutrition as well as stats which involves the sessions, number of exercises, any PRs and other metrics. I don’t use most of the features but they’re there if you need them and they’re all in one place which is convenient.

The app also has a section at the bottom of each workout to add your notes of how the workout went that day.

I’m someone who likes to see my stuff on paper and have it on hand and would like the functionality to print out a workout. I know this makes it harder to keep the program private and for paying customers, but is something that I would have liked. At the moment, after each workout I write down the exercises and my notes in a logbook

When I got the app one of the first messages that I saw in the private Discord group was how the app was offline for a user and it was suggested to screenshot your workout before to avoid not being able to access your program if it happened again. But in the entire 16 weeks not once did it happen to me, but I did screenrecord each workout the day before just in case and also to have my own record should anything with the app, or the platform that it’s based on, change.

In the app if I want to swap out an exercise for one with a better stimulus-to-fatigue ratio or that is better on body. I have to remove the exercise each week and choose the one that I have to go through multiple buttons to create and add it each session that I need. The flexible customization comes at the cost of more time to set up.

Price Point

The price point of $49.99 p/m is a lot if you’re in a country with weak currency, but I totally feel it was worth every penny. Compare it to some of the other powerlifters on his level and what they are offering and at what price and make your call. I was one of the very early users of the app so I was very fortunate to get a 60% lifetime discount.

I really felt that I got the full value from the program AND community. I also benefited from soaking up tons of hours of content on their YouTube channel religiously, so paying for the app. can also be seen as paying for the content I have already benefited from in addition to what I am currently getting. 

If you look around at other paid programs, their price is actually really competitive for what you get – the quality of the private community, the program, and the app. 

Setup & Results

Going in I used convervative numbers for my lift maxes, most of them I didn’t use a lifetime PR because of the lockdows and not being able to train with weights. It’s generally recommended to use maxes that you have hit in the last 6 months. 

For squat max I used a max from a comp. from a few months earlier (150kg). This was not an all time best and felt I had more I but wanted to give myself some room because of increased frequency and volume, and while getting the hand of RPE. 

For bench max I put in 105kg going in with shoulder issues, I did the same using a number from a recent max.

For deadlift I set it to 190kg to be on the safe side, even though a few weeks before I set a lifetime PR of 195kg.

So all my numbers going in were a little lower than true 1RMs.

Before and After breakdown

Squat 150kg -> 165kg

Bench 106kg -> 106kg

Deadlift 195kg -> 220kg (first time deadlifting 3x bw)

I was really surprised by how my body changed, I didn’t focus on nutrition and probably under-ate for most of the program. Even though I feel like I still don’t look like I lift, there is a big difference from when I started the program. I’ve had other regulars at the gym even tell me that my body changed a lot and that I’ve gotten bigger. It’s definitely helped develop a fair bit of hypertrophy in addition to strength.

Conclusion

Calgary Barbell provides a good community with a wide range of experience levels and effective programs. 

Consider if doing the three main lifts type of split is right for you. 

The community gave me a lot more confidence in my lifts and made getting accurate for checks from experienced lifters easy and quick, unlike many places online where you can get your form checked and you’re getting advice from people who could possibly not even know what they are doing.

I would like to run the program again but with no changes the second time round, and in a 16 week bulk. With now having more experience with RPE, and having the exercise and input numbers closer to my actual maxes, it would be great to compare and have numbers to beat from my first run through to my second. 

I would also like to run one of their powerbuilding programs someday.

Currently, running a second cycle of CBB16-2. 

As much as I loved the program and definitely benefited from it, I am looking elsewhere for a program that would be an upper/lower split while I’m still training at a commercial gym.

If there is anything that I didn’t cover or left out comment below and I’ll try my best to answer the question. 

Calgary Barbell are unique in that they are one of the most underrated AND one of the best powerlifting channels on YouTube. You only have to see the comments and overwhelming support for their free content to see how many people are getting value from them.

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