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Training Routine and Five Phase Cycle
(9/12/02 to 2/1/03)

By Gary F. Zeolla

I competed rather successfully in powerlifting in college in the 114 and 123 pound weight classes (I'm 5'1"). But for health reason I had to stop competing in 1982 and then stop lifting altogether in 1985. Over the next 13 years I did very little to stay in shape. But in 1998 I started working out with Nautilus equipment. Then in the summer of 2001, I began using free weights for the first time since college. But in the fall of that year I had stop lifting once again for health reasons.

After several months off , I began lifting again at the end of June 2002. I started with very light weights and gradually increased the weights, doing two sets of 10 reps for all lifts. By the end of August my lifting was going rather well. For details on my training during this time period, see the two-part article Initial Training Routine; Spring to Fall 2002.

By the end of the August 2002, my training was going so well I had thoughts of competing again. But then, I had a major flare-up of my health problems and had to take two weeks off. When I was feeling better, I started lifting again on September 12. When I did, to give me a goal, I decided to start working towards doing max singles. I would see how that went and then decide if I wanted to try competing again.

Below is the training routine and cycle that I used to prepare to do the max singles. I also wanted to put some bodyweight back on. In college, my training weight was about 125-130 pounds. After I stopped lifting weights, it dropped down to 112 pounds. I then went up to about 116 pounds by the summer of 2001 due to working out with Nautilus and then free weights. But then, due to health problems it dropped to a low of 106 pounds in the spring of 2002. I should also note that as of this writing I am 41 years old and am 5'1".

Training Routine

I followed the second routine posted at Strength Training Routines until the end of 2002. I was lifting three times per week, alternating two different workouts. But at that point, as I began handling more weight on squats and deadlifts, alternating these lifts in this fashion was getting to be much for my legs. So starting with my first workout in 2003, I switched to a four day per week split routine like the first routine listed at Powerlifting Training Routines. But since I followed the 3x/week routine for most of this cycle, below are the last two workouts from this routine.

I use a treadmill for about five minutes before my workout for a general body warm-up. I also do a set without weights before most exercises to warm-up and stretch the involved muscles.

All weights are in pounds. Format: pounds/reps. In parentheses is the rep range I was using for the exercise at the time of these workouts. The weights are then given before the slash and the number of reps after the slash. Warm-up sets are in brackets.

Day One: 12/30/02 - Monday:
Squats (2-4) - [45/10, 135/8, 165/5, 200/3, 230/1] - 255/3, 255/2
Calf Raises (8-12) - [80/7] - 100/12, 100/12
Bench Press (2-4) - [45/10, 95/8, 115/5, 130/3, 145/1] - 160/4, 160/4
Press (4-6) - [70/7] - 90/5, 90/5
Dumbbell Rows (5-12) - [30/7] - 40/11, 40/10
Lat. Pulldown - (8-10) - [50/7] - 65/10, 65/10
Crunches (6-13) - [0/7] - 20/13, 20/13

Day Two: 12/28/02 - Saturday:
Dead Lift (sumo, 2-4) - [45/10, 135/8, 205/5, 240/3, 270/1] - 300/3, 300/2
Stiff Leg Dead Lifts (4-6) - [135/7] - 165/6, 165/6
Close Grip Bench (4-6) - [45/10, 95/8, 115/5, 135/3] - 145/5, 145/5
Dumbbell Bench Press (5-12) - [40's/7] - 50's/11, 50's/11
Alternating Rotating Dumbbell Curls (6-13) - [15's/7] - 20's/12, 20's/11
Reverse Curls (8-12) - [35/7] - 45/11, 45/9
Bike Ab Exercise - 20, 15

After my workouts I stretch for about 15-20 minutes.

Training Cycle

Since it has been so long since I did low reps in any strength training capacity, I decided that the best way to prepare to do max singles would be to use a cycle method of gradually decreasing the reps over a period of several months. This would gradually prepare my body for the rigors of doing max singles. I will describe in detail my plans as they could easily be used to prepare for a contest. My plans were for each phase of the five-phase cycle to last at least 5 workouts for each powerlift (except for the last phase).

Note: I use a range for my reps rather than a specific number because of the way I perform my sets. I work almost to failure, but I stop before missing a rep.

The Five Phases

Phase One:
Phase one began on September 12, 2002. For it I did two sets of 8-10 reps for the powerlifts and major assistance exercises. For dumbbell exercises and ab work I did 8-15 reps and for reverse curls 8-12 reps. I initially used two warm-up sets of 10 and 6 reps for the three powerlifts and for close grip benches, but after a few workouts I added a third warm-up set, doing 10,8,3. The last warm-up set was mainly to get used to heavy weights to come for the work sets. I did no warm-up sets for the rest of the exercises. For this phase and the next two phases I lifted “raw” (no supportive gear).

I did 10 phase one workouts (five for each powerlift). For the first workout for each powerlift I did: Squat: 135/10, 135/10, Bench: 95/10, 100/10, Deadlift: 175/10, 175/10. By the last workout for each lift I was up to: Squat 165/10, 165/8, Bench: 120/10, 120/8, Deadlift: 205/10, 205/8. My bodyweight at the beginning of this phase was 108.0.

Phase Two:
Phase two began October 4th . For it I did 2 sets of 6-8 reps for the powerlifts and for major assistance exercises. I also dropped the range for most dumbbell exercises and ab work to 6-13 reps. I did three warm-up sets for the powerlifts and close grip benches, doing sets of 10, 8, 5. I also added one warm-up set of 5-6 reps for most other exercises.

I did ten phase two workouts (five for each powerlift). For the first workout for each powerlift for I did: Squat: 170/8, 170/8, Bench: 125/8, 125/7, Deadlift: 210/6, 210/6. By the last workout for each lift I was up to: Squat: 190/8, 190/8, Bench: 135/8, 135/8, Deadlift: 230/8, 230/8.

My bodyweight at the beginning of this phase was 109.2 pounds.

Phase Three:
Phase three began on October 30th. For it I did 2 sets of 4-6 reps for the powerlifts and major assistance exercises. I dropped the rep range down for most dumbbell exercises to 5-12, but ab work remained at 6-13. I added a fourth warm-up set for the powerlifts and close grip benches, doing 10, 8, 5, 3 reps. I kept to one warm-up set for most other exercises but increased it to 7 reps.

I did 16 phase three workouts (eight for each powerlift). I felt it was good to go a little longer with this phase as this was where I began using heavier weights. For the first workout for each powerlift I did: Squat: 200/6, 200/6, Bench: 140/6, 140/5, Deadlift: 240/6, 240/6. By the last workout for each lift I was up to: Squat: 230/6, 230/5, Bench: 150/4, 150/4, Deadlift: 275/5, 275/4. My bodyweight at the beginning of this phase was 110.4 pounds.

Phase Four:
Phase four began on December 9th. For it I did 2 sets of 2-4 reps for the powerlifts. I added a fourth warm-up set for the powerlifts, doing 10, 8, 5, 3, 1 reps. I also started wearing a regular lifting belt for the powerlifts, drugstore knee sleeves when doing squats, and wrist wraps for benches and deadlifts. Assistance work was the same as the previous phase. It was during this phase that I switched to the four day per week routine.

I did 6 phase four workouts for each powerlift. For the first workout for each powerlift for I did: Squat: 235/4, 235/4, Bench: 155/4, 155/3, Deadlift: 280/4, 280/4. By the last workout for each lift I was up to: Squat: 255/3, 255/2, Bench: 170/3, 170/3, Deadlift: 305/4, 305/4. My bodyweight at the beginning of this phase was 112.6 pounds.

Phase Five:
Phase five began on January 15th, 2003. I did 3 phase five workouts for each powerlift. Assistance work remained the same as the previous two phases, but reps dropped on the powerlifts. 

For the first two workouts for each powerlift I did two sets of 1-2 reps on the powerlifts, while sticking with five warm-up sets of 10,8,5,3,1. Then for the third phase five workouts for each powerlift I did my max single attempts. Now, if I were planning on entering a contest, I would not do the third phase five workouts. My max attempts would, of course, be saved for the contest.

Throughout phase five, I wore power wraps for squats, knees sleeves for deadlifts, and again, wrist wraps for benches and deadlifts. I also used a power belt for the powerlifts. I didn't bother with a power suit or bench shirt, but if I were entering a contest, I would have worn whatever supportive gear would be allowed at the contest. So if they were allowed, in addition to wraps and a belt, I would wear a lifting suit and a bench shirt at this time. The point would be to try to approximate as closely as possible the conditions that will exist at the meet.

For the first 1-2 reps workout for each powerlift for I did: Squat: 260/2, 265/2, Bench 175/2, 175/2, Deadlift: 315/2, 320/2. For my second and last 1-2 rep workout for each powerlift I did: Squat: 270/2, 275/2; Bench: 180/1, 180/1, Deadlift: 325/2, 325/2.

My bodyweight at the beginning of this phase was 116.4 pounds. And with getting to over 116 pounds, I had now regained the weight I had lost due to my health problems in the preceding year. However, I gained a little more fat than I wanted to, so now I am planning on cutting back some and trying to maintain my weight at about this level while reducing my fat percent.

Max Attempts

I did my max single lifts for each powerlift on separate days, between January 29 and February 1, 2003. For these workouts, I decided to play it like a contest and take three attempts. This would give me a chance to "practice" picking attempts. I figured a good way to gauge my attempts would be to "open" with slightly less than what I did for my last double for each lift. My second attempt would then be slightly more than that double. My third attempt I would then figure out from there.

So for squats, since I had doubled 275, I opened with 265. It was rather easy, so I went up to 285 on my second attempt. And it went up pretty easy as well. For my third attempt, I was debating on trying 295 or 300, but I figured I'd play it safe and do 295. I got it with a little bit of strength to spare. So I went ahead and tried a fourth attempt for the even 300, and I got it.

One major problem though, I didn't have anyone watching me on my first two attempts. But someone came in on my 295 attempt. And he wasn't sure, but he said he thought I might be a little bit high on it and on the 300 lift. The problem is, I usually don't have anyone around who can reliably judge squats when I'm squatting. But later I showed someone who is a reliable judge how far I think I went down, and he said I do need to sink it a little bit more. So I now got a "feel" for where I need to go down to, and will be sure to go this low in the future.

For benches, I was a little unsure on what to do for my lifts since my last workout didn't go as planned. I had hoped to get 180 for two doubles, but I actually got it for two sets of one and a half! I missed both second reps about 4" above my chest. But the doubles with 175 the week before felt rather easy and the first rep with 180 was easy.

So I decided to "open" with 170 as I was sure I could get it, which I easily did. For my second attempt, I went up to 185, and got it rather easily as well. I was debating on 195 or 200 for my third attempt, but decided to play it conservative and only try 195. I thought for sure I would get it, but I barely got it off of my chest! I'm not sure what happened, but it does tell me what I need to work on for my next cycle. I'm obviously weak at the bottom part of the lift. Of course, a bench shirt would help in this regard as well.

In any case, a problem I had with my bench attempts was there was no one in the gym who knew how to give a "clap" for benches. So I just paused the bar for a good second on my chest, and I'm pretty sure the first two lifts would have been good at a contest.

For deadlifts, I had doubled 325 twice for my last workout. So I opened with 315. And it went up easily, except for right off of the floor. I almost stalled in front of my shins. I went up to 330 for my second attempt, but this time I "dropped" down more before the lift and didn't have as much problem at the floor.

I went up to 340 for my third attempt, and it was a perfect lift. It took every bit of strength I had to get it, but I got it! I was very excited! And this time, I did have someone reliable watching me. And he said the lifts were all good.

Adding up my best lifts, my total was 825.


I learned what I wanted from trying these max singles. First and foremost, despite some continuing health problems, I found out that my body could hold up under the rigors of doing max singles. I was really sore and wiped-out the day after doing the deadlifts. But I made it without any injuries or major problems.

Second, using doubles to gauge my attempts worked very well. My openers were light enough to ensure being able to get them without being so light as to be "wasted lifts." My second attempts were about right. Heavy, but not full max lifts. And except for benches, my third attempts were full max lifts, just what you want on a third attempt. Just my last attempt on benches left me wondering what happened. Of course, a meet might be a little different. If I had to cut weight or was tired out from traveling, staying at a hotel, etc., then it might be an idea to go a little bit lighter on at least my openers just to be sure I got them in.

Third, I definitely need to sink my squats a little lower. It was good that I learned of a possible problem now rather than at a meet. I need to work on the bottom part of benches and deadlifts as well. And my assistance exercises for my next cycle will reflect this.

And finally, the cycle I followed worked great. My lifts are back to where I think I could be competitive if I decide to compete again.

Bodyweight and Weight Classes

My bodyweight on the last day of this cycle (when I did the deadlifts), was 115.2 pounds. So I could have easily cut weight to compete in the 114 pound weight class if I had been entering a contest.

To give myself an idea of the quality of my lifts, I checked the Top 100 chart for 114s in a back issue of Powerlifting USA (July 2002, p. 86). If I had done the lifts at an actual contest, and they had been passed, they would have placed me at: Squats: #20, Benches: #20 , Deadlifts: #24, Total #15.

For comparison, I also checked the 123s chart (August 2002, p. 86). For this class, my placements would have been Squats: #70, Benches: #91 , Deadlifts: #77, Total #61. So this tells me that if I do enter a contest I should plan on entering at 114s.

I was thrilled with how I had increased my bodyweight through the course of this cycle without gaining too much fat. But since 114s looks to be the best weight class for me, it will best to keep my weight below 120 so I can make weight without too much difficulty.

The Future

With finishing this cycle, I will take a couple of days off of lifting and then start a new cycle. For it, I will continue to use a four day per week routine like the one I switched to near the end of this cycle. But I will change all of the assistance exercises. The point of cycling reps and of changing assistance exercises for each cycle is to keep the body from adapting to any given routine.

When I get to the end of my new cycle, I'll either time it to coincide with a contest or just do max attempts in the gym again. The problem with entering a contest is health-wise, mornings are still not good for me. By afternoons when I usually work out I'm okay, but it would be very difficult for me to lift in the mornings. And at most meets, lightweights lift in the mornings.

Also, with the proliferation of powerlifting organizations since I last lifted, I'm really not sure what organization to compete in. There's also the decision of "raw" vs. "equipped." I hate the idea of squeezing into a power suit again, and I never wore one, but I got a feeling a bench shirt would be just as bad. And it sounds like bench shirts can be dangerous. Reading meet reports in Powerlifting USA, a couple of times it was mentioned about someone getting injured when his shirt blew out, and the bar crashed to the chest. But then, I'm very leery about doing a max squat without knee wraps or even max benches and deadlifts without wrist wraps, so I doubt I'd want to enter a "raw" meet.

Some of the guys at my gym compete in NASA, but NASA went and changed the weight classes, so I would be at 119s. But this would mean my lifts would be stuck into the 123's Top 100 chart, and as the above shows, 114s would be much better for me.

Also, I still have wraps and suits from college. It was these 20-year-old wraps that I used for my last squat workouts. But I'm sure the wraps and suits available today are much better than the ones I currently have, so I would probably need to get new ones. And the singlet I still had from college shrunk in storage. Thus if I enter an "equipped" meet I have quite a bit of equipment to buy.

There would also be organization and meets fees, travel expenses, etc, so it could get rather expensive. I would need to work out all of these things and decide if it is worth it before I compete again. One thing I am sure of, this cycle worked great. I ended up doing much more than I thought I would. So I'm anxious to see how my next cycle goes. Details on my new cycle will be located at: Training Routine and Cycle (2/5/03).

For more on my background, see My Powerlifting Background. For the principles that went into designing the above training routine and cycle, see Designing a Training Routine and Training to Almost Failure.

Training Routine and Cycle. Copyright 2002-2003 By Gary F. Zeolla.

Starting and Progressing in Powerlifting:
A Comprehensive Guide to the World’s Strongest Sport

350 page book by Gary F. Zeolla

Powerlifting and Strength Training
Powerlifting Training: My Training Routines

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