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Training Routine
and Alternate High/Low Reps
(11/22/03 - 2/2/04)

by Gary F. Zeolla

I competed in the IPA National Powerlifting Championships on November 14, 2003. Below is the new training routine I began using after that contest. At this time I'm not sure when my next contest will be. So I'm not sure how long I will be using this routine. However, the longest I want to use any given routine is about 3-4 months. So of it ends up being longer than that until my next contest, then I will change my routine again sometime before then. But whatever contest I enter, I will once again be competing in the 114 pound weight class, in the men's open and masters (40-44) divisions.

Training Routine

For my new routine I am sticking with the same format as my last routine of lifting four times a week alternating four different workouts. So I am doing each workout once a week. But I changed all of the assistance exercises from my last routine.

I'm starting the rotation with benches as that is the lift that really needs work. Deadlifts will then be next as my last deadlift workout was before my last squat workout before Nationals.

The workout format is:
Day One: Low Rep Bench, Abs.
Day Two: Deadlift, Biceps, Forearms.
Day Three: High Rep Bench, Abs.
Day Four: Squat, Upper Back.

The routine is:

Day One:
Low Rep Bench
Close Grip Bench
DB Incline Bench
Bicycle Ab Exercise
Twisting Crunches

Day Two:
Stiff-leg Deadlift
Seated Leg Curls
Barbell Curls
DB Reverse Curls

Day Three:
High Rep Bench
Band Bench
Crunch Machine
Rotary Torso

Day Four:
Low Squats
Standing Calf Raises
"V" Cable Pulls
Barbell Rows

Treadmill: Walk 0.7 mile, 3.0 mph, 3% grade.*
Stretching: 15-20 minutes.

* I generally skip the treadmill on Day Four as that is my longest workout. So I am only doing 45 minutes a week of cardio work. As evidence that this limited amount is sufficient, I got my parents a blood pressure monitor for Christmas. I checked myself on it, and my readings were: blood pressure: 100/66, resting heart rate: 48. Of course, careful attention to my diet also helps in this regard.

A point to note is that I do the cardio AFTER my weightlifting workouts. Done in this order increases the effectiveness of the cardio work as compare to doing the cardio before lifting or on a separate day. It also increases the amount of calories and fat calories burned as the glycogen stores are already used up from the lifting.

Assistance Exercise Choices


As discussed at New Gear and Final Pre-Contest Workouts, I really had problems with the walkout during my last squat workout before my last contest. In a way this didn't matter since there was a monolift at the contest. But still, I need to walk the weight out in the gym. And since I'm not exactly sure on what my next contest will be, there just might not be a monolift at it. So for this routine I am doing standing calf raises. This might sound like a simple solution, but when I had problems with the walkout previously, just a few weeks of calf raises fixed the problem.

Related to the above is how heavy the weight felt on my back for my last pre-contest squat workout and at the contest. Part of the reason for this is I haven't been doing low reps with at least a belt and wraps often enough. So I will be doing lower reps more often. See below for more in this regard.

At my contest I got at least one red-light for depth on each of my three attempts. So I really need to work on sinking my squats. I will be doing so by being sure to sink my regular squats lower than I have been. And to strengthen the lower part of the lift so I have confidence to really sink my squats, I will once again be doing "low squats." I did this exercise during my Training Routine and Cycle (2/5/03 - 4/12/03). Low squats are described at Squat Assistance Exercises. This exercise will also help with the middle part of the lift, which is where I seem to struggle the most.

With my new Crain Double Xtreme Power Shirt, I have no problems getting the bar off of my chest up to about halfway up. But after that I stall. So I need work on the middle and top of the lift. Various partial bench movements, like rack benches and board benches, usually help in this regard. But I have tried these without much success. So I am going with one exercise that I know works for me and one new exercise.

Close grip benches is an exercise that I have used before, and I know that it helps with the top third of the lift. Band benches are a new exercise for me, but it was recommend to me by a couple of lifters at my last contest. Both of these exercises are described at Bench Assistance Exercises.

I added 15 pounds to my DLs between my last two contests. That was a good increase, but with 12 weeks of training, I was hoping for a little more. But I think I know why DLs didn't go as well as I would have liked; I wasn't doing any direct low back work. For my last routine, I did good mornings, but I did them with my legs straight. And done this way, they are more of a hamstring exercise than a low back exercise. But I'm not complaining as doing them in this fashion really helped my squats, which was up 30 pounds from contest to contest. So basically, I sacrificed a bigger increase in DLs to get a big increase in my squats.

But for this routine I will be doing stiff leg deadlifts with my legs slightly bent. Done in this fashion, they work the low back more than the hamstrings. This was the exercise I was doing a year ago when my DLs were going very well. I've tried other assistance exercises since then, but none has helped as much as the SLDLs did, so it's time to go back to doing what I know works. But to give the hamstrings some more work than they will get from this exercise, I am following it up with leg curls.

Sets/ Workout Length

I plan on sticking with two work sets for all exercises. I also usually do 5-6 warm-up sets on my first lift of the day, the reps being: 15, 10, 8, 5, 3, [1] (the single only with low rep work sets). I do 1-3 warm-up sets for each subsequent exercise (reps vary).

My rest periods between work sets are as follows:
Squats/ DLs: 8-10 min.
Major squat/ DL assistance: 6-8 min.
Benches and major bench assistance: 4-6 min.
Rest of exercises: 2-5 min.
Half of above rest times between warm-up sets.

Altogether, I try to keep total workout times to about 2 hours.

Speed Work

A very common practice among powerlifters now is to do speed work. For these, you use about 50-60% on your max lift and performs the set in a very rapid fashion. Generally this is done as a separate assistance exercise. However, Ricky Dale Crain made an interesting suggestion in his recent PowerMag email newsletter (see CMW's Web site for subscription info). He suggested using a couple of your warm-up sets to do speed work. This sounded like a time-saving way to incorporate speed work into ones routine. So that is what I am planning on trying.

Specially, I plan on doing my third and fourth warm-up sets, of 8 and 5 reps, in a speed work fashion. My first warm-up set is a "free" set (no weight), and my second set is with just the bar. These are designed to warm-up and stretch the involved muscles. The next two sets are then with a weight that would be within the range recommended for speed work. The next set or two after that would then be too heavy for speed work. So the third and fourth sets seem to be the ideal ones to use for the speed work.

Bench Form and Shirt Use

At the beginning of my previous routine I changed my bench form. Previously, I was pressing the bar slightly towards my feet, but I changed to arching it somewhat towards my head. This new form did not work very well, as evidence by the lack of an increase in my bench. Also, my new bench shirt tends to push the bar towards the head, so by arching it in this direction, the weight ended up coming way too far forward. So I am going back to pressing the bar slightly towards my feet. This way, when wearing the shirt, I will be in essence pushing the bar into the shirt, so it should come up straight.

Also, I am no longer going to pause every rep of benches. My reason for doing so before was two-fold. First off, since you have to pause at a contest it makes sense to practice doing so in the gym. And second, I was concerned that if I didn't pause in the gym, at a contest with the pause, I wouldn't be able to get the bar off of the chest. But with the shirt, that is not a concern.

So I will be doing most of my sets in a "touch and go" fashion. However, I will be careful not to "bounce" the weight off of my chest. And I will practice pausing the bar when I am wearing a shirt. And I am planning on wearing the shirt a little more often, about once a month.

The bench shirt changes my form some, so it would make sense to wear it more often than just before a contest like I have been doing. And with the Velcro on the back, my new shirt is relatively easy to put on and take off. So it shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Squat and Deadlift Gear and Form

Partway through this routine I decided to also use full gear every fourth low rep workout for squats and DLs just as with benches. But since I only do low reps every other week for squats and DLs, this means I will only use the gear every eighth week. However, since I didn't make this decision until week nine, week ten will be the first time I use full gear for these lifts. But I should still get in three to four workouts with full gear before my next contest.

For squats I will use 2.0 meter wraps for most low-rep workouts, but for the full gear workouts I will use my 2.5 meter wraps. However, I am thinking of going back to using my CMW single-ply suit rather than my new double-ply suit. My reasons for myabe doing so are as follows:

First, I found the following sentence from the Dec/ Jan 2004 issue of Monster Muscle rather instructive, "The canvas or multi-ply suit stops you in the hole, versus a single-ply suit which uses more spring to help you explode out of the bottom" (, "Accessory Onslaught #1 - The Squat" by Mike Robertson, p. 38).

My form is to come down fast and then to "explode out of the bottom." So it would seem a single-ply suit might be better for me given my form. Also, if a multi-ply suit "stops you in the hole" and given how very tight my double-ply suit is, then I am seriously wondering if my problem with getting red-lighted for depth at my last contest was because the suit was stopping me too soon.

However, when I posted the above quote in the Weightlifting Discussion Board, someone responded that this does not apply to the CMW double-ply suit. The reason is that it is made of poly not denim or canvas like most double-ply suits.

Second, checking my workout logs, it looks like my double-ply suit only adds about five pounds more to my squat than the single-ply suit does. And with how much harder the double-ply is to get on, and with how much more uncomfortable it is, and with how hard it is to breath in it, it doesn't seem worth it. But I really need to use both suits some more to know for sure.

Third, if I practice with a suit more often than I have been I think I will be able to get more out of it. I can do this with my single-ply suit but I might have problems doing so with my double-ply suit. The reason is, partway through this routine I had to change gyms. My new gym is a YMCA, that is not very "powerlifter friendly" to say the least  (see Gym Woes), so I might have a hard time getting someone to help me to get into and out of my gear.

Using my CMW "power slickers" and baby powder, I can get into and out of my single-ply suit on my own (barely!), but I cannot get in and out of my double-ply suit on my own. When I tried to do so at home recently, I managed to get it on, but I couldn't get it off! I had to call my dad to come over and help me! So unless I am sure I can get someone to help me get the suit off, I will have no choice but to use the single-ply for training. And if I am going to be training in a single-ply suit, it would be best to use one at my next contest as well. But I will see how things go at the Y.

As for DLs, I will use my single-ply CMW deadlift suit for my full gear workouts and at the contest. As with the single-ply squat suit, I can get it on and off myself, but again barely.

The slight changes I made in my squat and deadlift form at the beginning of my previous routine seem to be working, so I will stick with the new forms.

Alternate High/Low Reps

For this routine, I am going to use a similar rep scheme as with my last routine. However, I am making a couple of changes. For squats and DLs I am going to use the same pattern of doing higher reps one week without gear and lower reps the next with a belt and wraps. But for benches, I am making a major change. Rather than doing benches one day a week and bench assistance work the other day, I am going to do  regular benches twice a week. However, I am going to do high reps without gear one day and then low reps with a belt and wrist wraps, and occasionally a shirt, on the other day. This will have me doing low reps more often on benches.

Second, the number of reps will be a little lower than previously. For the powerlifts, I am going to use 4-6 reps on my high rep days and 1-3 on my low rep days. But for major assistance exercises I will not alternate high and low reps like I did last time. I will simply do 3-6 reps each week. But I will try to do 5-6 reps on the first set and 3-4 on the second.

So with this routine I will be using lower reps and be doing heavy singles, doubles, and triples more often than I have been doing them. So basically, since I started lifting 16 months ago I have been gradually doing lower reps more often. In this way, I have slowly prepared my body for the rigors of heavy lifting.

Since I'm still alternating high and low reps, but within each week rather than rotating weeks on benches, I changed the name of this program to "Alternate High/Low Reps."

For the last workout for each lift, I will use full competitive gear.

So the summary of the routine is:

All exercises: two work sets.
All assistance work: no supportive gear.

High Reps: 4-6 (no gear): Squats & DLs: Odd-numbered weeks/ Benches: 2nd workout of week.
Low Reps 1-3 (with belt and wraps; full gear every fourth workout.): Squats & DLs: Even-numbered weeks/ Benches: 1st workout of week.

Major Asst., All workouts: 3-6 reps [ideally, 1st set: 5-6, 2nd set: 3-4].
Minor Asst., All workouts: 6-10 or 8-12 reps, depending on the exercise.

Last workout each PL pre-contest:
3 sets of 1-2 reps with full competitive gear.
No assistance.

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 usually stop before missing a rep.

Powerlift Work Sets

I knew this time to expect a post-contest letdown. Also, I took a full week off after IPA Nationals, and I didn't want to work too hard on my first few workouts back. So I dropped my weights for my first workouts by about 10% for benches and deadlifts from what I had handled for a similar number of reps prior to the contest. For squats, I dropped the weights about 15% to account for sinking them lower than I had been. I will then gradually increase the weights again from there.

My work sets for the powerlifts went as follows. Workouts with full gear are in bold. See below for notes.

Week Squat Bench
(Low Reps)
Deadlift Bench
(High Reps)

240/6, 250/6

155/6, 155/6a 295/6, 305/6

160/6, 165/6

2 290/3, 300/3 175/3, 175/3 325/3, 330/3

170/5, 170/4b

3 260/6, 275/6 180/2, 180/2 315/6, 325/6 170/6, 175/4
4  310/3, 325/3  180/3, 185/2  345/3, 355/2  175/5, 175/5
5  280/4, 280/4  190/3, 200/1c  335/4, 335/3d

 175/6, 180/4

6e  330/3, 340/2  185/3, 190/2  355/3, 365/1  180/5, 180/3
7  280/6, 285/4  190/2, 195/1  335/5, 335/4  180/4, 180/4
8f  340/3, 350/1  190/2, 200/1g  360/2, 370/1  180/4, 180/4
9  285/6, 290/4  200/2, 210/1h  335/4, 335/5i  180/4, 180/4j
10  360/2, 370/1  190/2, 190/2  370/3, 385/1k  180/3, 175/3l
11  -----  190/1, 185/1m ----- -----

Since this was my first bench workout post-contest, I did high reps on this day. But hereafter this will be my low reps bench day.

b. This was the only time in the first two weeks that I did not get the tops number of reps for both sets for the powerlifts and all assistance exercises. So I picked my starting weights just right. Most sets were hard but not such much that I had to push "all out" and possibly miss reps. But this bench workout was the fourth time I had benched since the contest, so it was time to really start working. And the same will now go for all exercises. It's time to get serious and really push again!

c. This workout was done using my bench shirt. The first set went well, but I missed an attempted second rep of the second set. I missed it a little lower than I did my second and third attempts at my last contest. With as tight as my shirt is, I was having trouble breathing, and I think that threw my form off some. But that is why I'm planning on wearing the shirt occasionally, so I can get used to it.

d. Both of these sets were supposed to be for 4-6 reps. But for some reason, my hands were sweatier than normal, and I was having problems holding onto the bar. On the second set in particular, I didn't have enough chalk on my hands, and I was loosing my grip on each rep. I then lost it completely on the fourth rep. But I chalked the bar itself for my SLDLs, and those went well, along with the rest of my workout.

e. After this week's lifting, benches and deadlifts are back to where they were for my last workouts without a shirt or suit before my last contest. But it should be noted that those workouts were two months ago. So I basically "lost" two months of training by entering a contest and taking a short break afterwards. This is why a lifter should not enter more than 2-4 contests/ year. But I'm glad I entered that contest as otherwise I wouldn't have known about the problem with not sinking my squats enough. With sinking them lower now, squats are still way down as compared to before the contest. But they are going very well.

f. It was during this week of training that I decided my next contest would be IPA Worlds, to be held July 9-11, 2004 in Selinsgrove, PA. For further details, see Contest Plans for 2004.

g. The single with 200 was a 100% max lift. It took about five seconds to move the bar through the two inches in the middle of the lift! But I fought it through my sticking point and benched as much without my bench shirt as I did three weeks before with the shirt. Next week I'll be using the shirt again, so I'm anxious to see what happens.

h. This workout was done using my bench shirt. I did ten pounds more than my previous shirted workout. However, I'm still only getting about ten pounds out of the shirt. The problem is, the shirt is so tight in the chest that I am really having problems breathing. My current shirt is currently a closed back shirt with Velcro. But I talked to Ricky Crain at CMW and sent the shirt back to have it converted it into a open back shirt. I think that will work much better for me. Hopefully, they'll have it back to me in time for my next planned shirted bench workout.

i. I again had grip problems on the first set. The problem is even the better bars at my gym do not have much knurling on them. But for the second set I again chalked the bar itself as well as my hands and could hold my grip. So I need to remember to do this from now on.

j. My high reps benches are stagnating. But I'm not too concerned as my max shirted bench did go up since my previously workout, and that is all that matters. But still, if my high reps benches don't move soon I'll have to change something around.

k. Since my next contest is not until July, my goal for all three lifts is to get them up high enough that I can open with enough to break all of my records. I singled enough for each of my full gear workouts. So basically, over the next five months, I need to increase my lifts to where I can at least triple what I am now doing for a single.

l. See Y Workouts for why this workout went so bad. But even with the gym problems, I think the best plan of attack to break through my plateau will be to drop the weights back down some so I can do more reps, and then gradually build back up again.

m. Part of the problem with this workout was still due to trying to figure things out at the YMCA I might now be working out at. But on top of that, I felt terrible throughout this workout. So I didn't "push" very hard. And after this workout, it was obvious I was a little overtrained, especially on benches. So I took a day off and figured it was time to overhaul my routine. See Training Routine (2/6/04 - 4/17/04) for my new routine.

Training Routine and Alternate High/ Low Reps. Copyright 2003, 2004 by Gary F. Zeolla.

Powerlifting and Strength Training
Powerlifting and Strength Training: My Training Routines

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