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Training Routine and Low Reps Cycle
(2/6/04 - 4/17/04)

by Gary F. Zeolla

I used the Training Routine and Alternate High/Low Reps (11/22/03 - 2/2/04) for ten weeks. I was planning on using it a little longer. But by my last bench workout, it was obvious I was overtraining, at least on benches. So I skipped a workout. And with having to change gyms (I'm now working out at a YMCA, see Gym Woes and Y Workouts), I figured it was time to overhaul my training routine.

Also, to ensure I don't end up overtrained again, I plan on taking a day off about once a month. Actually, this had been my practice for some time, but I had gotten away from it. But it is obvious that I need the occasional break (e.g. I usually workout M, W, F, Sa, but this week I took Wednesday off, giving me three days of rest in a row).

I started this new routine on Friday, 2/6/04. And with counting in the monthly day off, I figured out that I would have 20 weeks of training until my next contest, International Powerlifting Association (IPA) World Championships, July 9, 2004. So I plan on using this routine for ten weeks, then starting a new routine, and using it for ten weeks.

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 as always, I changed all of the assistance exercises from my last routine.

Also, I'm rearranging somewhat which body parts are worked on each day. The reason is, I was doing five exercises on each workout day. But my squat and deadlift workouts were taking much longer than my bench workouts, and I want to even things up some. So I am reducing to four exercises on squat and deadlift days and increasing to six exercises on bench days. But much of the work on bench days will be "minor" stuff like arms and abs. So even those workouts shouldn't take too long. 

I'm following-up the lifting with some briefer but more intense cardio work than I had been doing, followed by about 15 minutes of stretching. I'm trying to keep my total workout time (lifting, cardio, and stretching) to about 2 hours. I time the workouts from when I begin my first warm-up set to when I am finished with my last stretching movement.

The biggest change will be in regards to benches. Rather than doing regular benches twice a week as I tried doing with my last routine, I will go back to doing regular benches only once a week, and then bench assistance work on a second day, which had been my practice previously. Also, I have been doing a total of six pressing exercises each week for some time. But it is clear now that is too much for me. So I am reducing it to four pressing exercises.

I am picking this routine up where my last one left off, so I am starting with deadlifts.

Workout Format:
Day One: Deadlift.
Day Two: Bench Assistance, Arms, Abs.
Day Three: Squat, Upper Back.
Day Four: Bench, Arms, Abs.

Day One:

  1. Deadlifts (sumo, my competitive stance)
  2. Platform (Deficit) Conventional Stance DLs
  3. Nautilus Leg Curls
  4. Nautilus Calf Raises
  5. Air-Dyne Bike (5 minutes)

Day Two:

  1. Band Bench
  2. Nautilus Dips
  3. Curl Bar Curls (Powercurls)
  4. Barbell Reverse Curls
  5. Decline Crunches
  6. Captain's Chair Leg Raises
  7. Treadmill (walk 1/2 mile at 3.5 mph)

Day Three:

  1. Squats
  2. Olympic Squats
  3. Long Bar Cable Pulls (wide grip)
  4. T-Bar Rows (close, parallel grip)
  5. Air-Dyne Bike (5 minutes)

Day Four:

  1. Bench
  2. Rack Bench (starting 3" off chest)
  3. Rotating, Alternating Dumbbell Curls
  4. Nautilus Crunches
  5. Nautilus Rotary Torso
  6. Treadmill (walk 1/2 mile at 3.5 mph)

Stretching: 15-20 minutes.

Note: The time and distance given for the cardio work does not include time spent warming-up and cooling down (about one minute or 1/10 mile for each on the Air-dyne bike or treadmill, respectively).

Assistance Exercise Choices


Since there is a wooden box at the YMCA that is at the right height for me, I was going to try box squats. I've never done them before, so I wanted to give them a try. However, the box is too big to fit into the less than normal size power rack at the Y. There's a bar at the floor on the back of the rack that prevents setting the box back far enough to get set, and it is too wide for me to straddle on the walk-out. So instead, I will do Olympic Squats again. I did these last summer when my squat went up 30 pounds in 12 weeks.

Since I just started using bands for the first time in my last routine, I want to continue to use them. But I will be doing them first, on my bench assistance day, rather than after regular benches as I did last time. Also, to shorten them some, I'm "looping" the bands once around the bar. As it was, I felt like the tension was "kicking in" a little to high, not until the top third of the lift, but I want it to start before the middle, which is where my sticking point is.

Otherwise, I want to try doing dips on the Nautilus multi-exercise machine at the Y, so I am including them. And since I will already be benching in the power rack, I figure I might as well go ahead and do rack benches (lockouts). I am doing them starting from about 3" off of  my chest, which is right below my sticking point.

Since I use sumo stance for deadlifts, I always to try include an exercise or two that more directly works the low back and hamstrings. Conventional stance DLs would fit this bill. Also, platform (deficit) DLs help with the bottom part of the lift, which is the hardest part of the sumo DL. But the last time I did each of these exercises they didn't seem to help my DL much. But an article a while back in I believe Powerlifting USA said that even sumo deadlifters should use a conventional stance for platform DLs, so I am trying them that way. For them, I am standing on two mats at the Y, which together are about 2.5" thick.

I generally don't like T-Bar Rows as they are usually done, e.g. by putting one end of a bar in a corner and straddling the bar and holding it on the other end, one hand above the other. The problem with this is you can only pull up until the edge of the weights hit your chest, and this is not a full range of motion. But the Y has a T-Bar Row machine. And it has a handle extending up from the bar, so you can bring your hands all the way up to your chest before the weights touch. The handle has two grips, one for a close parallel grip and one for a wide grip. I'm using the former this time but might try the latter with my next workout. 

I also want to try the Nautilus seated leg curl machine at the Y, so I'll be using it as well for a little more hamstring work. Plus, I'll do calf raises on the Nautilus multi-exercise machine, and I'll use both of the Nautilus ab machines. Rather than just getting a "Basic" membership  at the Y, I signed up for the more expensive "Full" membership, which includes the use of the Nautilus room, so I might as well get my money's worth.

Warm-ups, Sets, and Reps

I don't do any cardio to warm-up anymore, so I do a lot of warm-ups. Specifically, warm-ups on the powerlifts will be 15,10,8,5,3,1. The set of 15 is a "free" set and the set of ten with just the bar. These 25 reps are just to get the blood flowing. The set of eight then is with 145 for squats and DLs and with 95 for benches. The final single is with about 10% less than what I will be using for my first work set. The sets of five and three are then spaced out in-between the set of eight and the single (e.g. DLs: free/15, 45/10, 145/8, 235/5, 285/3, 325/1, first work set: 360).

I'll use the same scheme (except for the final single) for band benches since they will be my first exercise on bench assistance day. For subsequent exercises I'll use 1-3 warm-ups sets of varying reps. I then plan on sticking with two work sets for all exercises.

As for reps, for the powerlifts, I've been including both higher reps without gear and lower reps with gear for some time. But when I go back to doing the lower reps with gear after doing the higher reps without gear, the weight really feels "heavy." Plus, I don't feel like I'm getting used to the greater demands of handling heavier weights. So at this point in my training, I feel I need to concentrate on lower reps with gear. So I will be doing 1-3 reps for the powerlifts every week.

I'll use a belt and wraps for each of these workouts. I'll also use a suit or shirt every fourth workout. I'm still not sure if I'll use my single or double-ply squat suit. It will depend on my gym situation and other factors. I might have to use the single-ply for the full gear workouts while I'm still at the Y, but hopefully, if I change gyms by the second planned ten week routine, they'll be someone around to help with the double-ply suit for my remaining full gear workouts up until my contest. I'll use my 2.0 meter wraps for the workouts without a suit but my 2.5 meter wraps for the workouts with the suit.

I will still do all of my warm-up sets (except the final single on the powerlifts) without any gear, along with all sets on all of my assistance exercises. For major assistance exercise I will go a little bit lower on reps than I have been doing so I can handle a little heavier weights, namely 3-5 reps. For minor assistance exercises I'll also go a little lower and do 5-8 reps.

This routine is a cycle of sorts since I'm using belts and wraps for three workouts then full gear for the fourth workout. And since I am concentrating on low reps, I am calling it "Low Reps Cycle."

Possible Powercurl Contest

As noted at Contest Plans for 2004, I'm planning on entering two IPA contests this year. However, there's a World Natural Powerlifting Federation (WNPF) contest that is held each spring not too far from my home. I was thinking of entering it this year, but for the reasons given in my "Contest Plans" article I'm not able to do so. But I might next year. And if I do, I might also try the "powercurl" contest the WNPF holds in conjunction with power meets. But given my wimpy biceps, I really need to start training for it now!

Moreover, when I first started lifting weights again over a year and a half ago, I started with high reps (2x10) and then very gradually dropped the reps over a period of several months. It wasn't until about nine months after I started lifting that I tried max lifts on the powerlifts. And since then I have been gradually incorporating more lower reps into my routine on the powerlifts and major powerlift assistance exercises. And it is only now that I feel comfortable with using lower reps most of the time. I figured such a gradual approach was safest. And in fact I have yet to sustain a lifting related injury.

Meanwhile for curl exercises, I have been using 6-10 reps throughout. I didn't see a need to go lower on such a "minor" exercise. But with thinking of entering a curling contest, I need to start doing so. But I figure using the same approach of gradually using lower reps would be best. So for this routine I'll use 5-8 reps for the curl bar curls (a curl bar is used for the powercurl contest), and then gradually go a little lower with each subsequent routine. 

For this routine I'll do the curls without any gear. But since a belt and wrist wraps are allowed, I'll probably start using them with my next routine when I drop to lower reps. I'll have to get used to using a curl bar as I haven't been using one of late. I also have to watch my form. Most particularly, you are not allowed to use any "hip motion" or forward lean to get the bar started, and you have to curl the bar until it goes past your elbows. But you are allowed to lean backward some, as long as you hold the same position throughout. See the WNPF's Web site for the full rules.

Even if I don’t end up entering the powercurl contest, I’m tired of having wimpy biceps. And on a more practical level, with all of the benching and bench assistance work I’ve been doing, my triceps strength is probably out of proportion to my bicep strength. So it would be good to even things up some with a little more focus on my biceps. And the thought of entering a powercurl contest will give me an incentive to do so.

Bench Shirt Update

I have been using a Crain Double Xtreme Power Shirt with a closed back, size 30. My chest is about 35", so the shirt was really tight, so tight that was having a hard time breathing. I talked to Ricky Crain about it, and he said that he had lifters larger than me using the same size, but it just wasn't working for me. I was only getting about 10 pounds out of. So I sent it back to CMW, and they nicely converted it to an open back shirt. That solved the tightness problem. In fact, I probably now could use a size smaller. And as a bonus, I can now put the shirt on myself. This is important as at the Y I am often the only person in the gym at the time I am lifting.

I put in my first workout using my newly altered bench shirt on March 3, 2004 (Week 4 in the log below). For background, at my last contest, November 14, 2003, competing at 114s, I benched 195 on my first attempt and then missed 205 twice. I was having some problems with overtraining on the bench the beginning of this year, so I had to cut back some and drop my weights down and am just now getting back to where I was. For my last workout without the shirt I benched 185/2x2.

For my first workout with the open back bench shirt I could immediately tell how much better it was. My final warm-up with 175 just flew up. I used 195 for my first work set and did an easy triple. I then went up to 205 and doubled it. The second rep was really hard, but I fought it through. I usually only do two sets, but the first set was so easy, and I really wanted to use the shirt some more, so I tried a third set with 215. And I got it for a hard fought single! So I am figuring the shirt added about 20 pounds. And once I get more used to it, I'm hoping I'll get even more out of it. So I'm really psyched about benches and my bench shirt now.

One problem though, I have not been pausing my reps in my workouts without a shirt. I figured that since the shirt would get the bar off of the chest, it wasn't that important to work the bottom of the lift by pausing. I planned on only pausing my reps in my workouts with the shirt. But I "forgot" to pause the reps on the first and third sets. I guess it's not wise to get out of the habit of pausing. So I am planning on going back to pausing all of my bench reps. I don't want to "forget" to wait for the judge's signal at my next contest. And besides, pausing every rep will give me more practice at "exploding" from a pause off of my chest.

Powerlift Work Sets

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

Week Squat Bench Deadlift
1 340/3, 350/3

175/3, 175/3a

355/3, 365/2
2 355/2, 360/2b 180/3, 180/3 360/2, 365/2
3 355/3, 365/2 185/2, 185/2 360/3, 365/3
4 375/2, 385/--c 195/3, 205/2, 215/1 380/2, 390/1
5 360/2, 365/1 185/3, 185/2 370/3, 375/2
6 360/2, 365/2 185/3, 190/2d 375/2, 380/1
7 360/2, 365/2 190/2, 195/1 375/2, 380/1e
8 375/1, 385/1, 390/1f 205/1, 215/1, 220/1g 385/2, 395/1h
9 345/4, 340/3 185/3, 175/4i 355/5, 365/4
10 340/3, 340/4 175/4, 180/3 365/2, 365/--j

With overtraining my bench and it dropping on me at the end of my last routine, I dropped the weights down enough to ensure I would get 2 sets of 3 reps. But now I will try to gradually increase again.

b. With this workout, I finally got back to squatting as much as I did before my last contest. But I am now going deeper than I was then. So hopefully I won't have a problem with depth at my next contest!

c. I got up out of the hole on the second set, but stalled a few inches above parallel. I was wearing my single-ply suit. I probably would have gotten it with my double-ply suit. I think the single-ply has stretched some and isn't helping as much as it was, so I really need to figure out a way to use the double-ply suit.

d. With this workout, my bench is back to where it was two months ago before I ran into the problem with overtraining. Hopefully, things will continue to improve from here!

e. Doing mostly singles and doubles has gotten me used to handling heavier weights as I had planned. But my lifts are starting to stagnate. So after my full gear workouts next week, I'll back off to 4-5 reps for at least the first set for the last two weeks of this routine.

f. This workout was done using my double-ply suit. It was a real struggle getting it on and especially getting it off myself. Next time, I'll try to get some help! That said, the first two sets didn't feel good, so I did a third, and I'm glad I did! The third set felt great and was the most I've done since I started lifting again. And this workout showed that the double-ply suit helps more than the single-ply enough to make it worth the effort. So I'll be using it from now on.

g. I decided that for full gear workouts I would just play them like a contest and always do three singles. For this workout, I again was using my now open back shirt. But I made one more alteration. I had Velcro put on the back near the bottom, in the waist area. Having this pulled tight helps hold the shirt in place, and it  seemed to make the shirt help even more. The 220 was with strength to spare. So it looks like my newly altered shirt will now be adding at least 25 pounds. And I'm really excited about this!

h. I've added five pounds to my max DL each month for the last three months. And the 395 was with strength to spare. I'm very happy with slow but steady progress. For further details on this week's lifting and related issues, see Weightlifting Discussion Board Posts for 4/4/04.

i. The first set was supposed to be 175/5, but I mis-loaded the bar (I forgot to include the weight of the 5# collars). After only getting 3 reps, it was frustrating but a big relief to notice the mis-load!

j. I wasn't feeling good for this workout, and ended it right after DLs.

For my next routine after this one, see Training Routine and Drop Reps Cycle (4/19/04 - 7/10/04).

Training Routine and Low Reps Cycle (2/6/04-4/17/04). Copyright 2004 by Gary F. Zeolla.

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

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