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Training Routine and Drop Reps Cycle
(with Back-Off Set; 4/19/04 - 7/10/04)

by Gary F. Zeolla

I used the Training Routine and Low Reps Cycle (2/6/04 - 4/17/04) for ten weeks. There are now about ten more weeks of training until my next contest, the International Powerlifting Association (IPA) World Championships, July 10, 2004. So I am beginning a new routine for these final 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, as before, I'm following-up the lifting with some brief but intense cardio work and then about 15 minutes of stretching. I'm trying to keep my total workout time (lifting 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.

But one significant change will be in regards to benches. I'm still doing benches one day and bench assistance a second day. But one the first day I’m doing benches followed by one “flat” bench assistance exercise. Then on the second day I’m doing a couple of “non-flat” bench assistance. There's plenty of variety available for this day, e.g. inclines, declines, presses (done with a barbell or dumbbells), and dips (done with free weights or on the Nautilus multi-exercise machine). In this way, I'm still working the  pressing muscles twice a week, but in a different manner each time. This is similar to how the lower body and upper back is trained (e.g. first day squats and upper back exercises, second day DLs).

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: Non-flat Bench Assistance, Arms, Abs.
Day Three: Squat, Upper Back.
Day Four: Bench, Arms, Abs.

Day One:

  1. Deadlifts
  2. [Rack Pulls]
  3. Good Mornings
  4. Barbell Calf Raises

Day Two:

  1. Incline Bench
  2. Dips
  3. Curl Bar Reverse Curls
  4. Crunches
  5. Bicycle Ab Exercise

Day Three:

  1. Squats
  2. Dead Stop Squats
  3. T-Bar Rows (Wide Grip)
  4. Lat. Pulldowns (with "V" handle)

Day Four:

  1. Bench
  2. Dumbbell Bench
  3. Barbell Curls
  4. Reverse Crunches
  5. Rotating Ab Exercise

Stretching: 15-20 minutes.

Assistance Exercise Choices


The Dead Stop Squats are similar to pause squats, except I'm coming to a complete stop between reps on the safety bars in a power rack at the bottom. In this way, I hope to practice "exploding" up out of the bottom. And I have the safeties set at about 3" below parallel so as to get used to really sinking my squats.

When I did rack benches in my last routine, I did them from a dead stop off of the safeties. And it seems like this helped me to learn to "explode" more off of the bottom of the lift, hence why I'm trying the same thing with squats.

For my main bench assistance exercise after benches I'm using an old stand-by, dumbbell benches. It's a great exercise for working the supportive muscles and for helping to continue to correct the imbalance in strength between my right and left shoulders.

Otherwise, there's a dip station at the YMCA, but no dip belt, I had my parents order me a dip belt for my birthday last month. I thus of course want to do weighted dips this time. And with dips working the lower pecs, then combing them with inclines for the upper chest makes for a good workout.

As for the curls on bench days,  I mentioned before about possibly competing in a powercurl contest. But I decided not too. In addition to the reasons mentioned at Weightlifting Discussion Board Posts for 4/4/04, I simply don't feel it is worth the risk of injury. When I tried going a little heavier on curls, I noticed a lot of strain on the lowest part of my biceps (at the "crease" opposite the elbow). I'm still somewhat tight there. And I'm afraid if I were to do a max curl, I would pull a biceps. However, I am going to keep doing as much curling exercises as I have been, as I like the fact that my biceps are starting to look half-decent.

As for specific curl exercises, barbell curls are just a change from the curl bar curls I did in my last routine. And I have found that reverse curls really help my grip on DLs, so I'll probably do a form of those with most routines. Also, there is a hammer curl bar at the Y, so I want to try those as well.

I've done the combination of rack pulls and good mornings before, and they are good way to work the upper part of the lift and the lower back/ hamstrings. But I'm doing them a little differently this time. Last time, I did the rack pulls in a "touch and go" fashion. This time, I'm doing them from a dead stop on each rep off of the safety bars. Again, the developing explosiveness idea.

And when I did good mornings before, I did them with my legs straight. That really helped to increase the flexibility in my hamstrings and to increase my squats considerably. But this time, I'm doing them with my legs bent to work the lower back more, and hopefully to help increase DLs!

Note: about half way through this routine I felt like I was overtraining my back. I think the problem was, even though rack pulls mainly work the upper back, the lower back is involved some as well. Similarly, even though good mornings mainly work the lower back, the upper back is involved some. And with the upper and lower back being worked with DLs, this was too much for my back, especially the upper back. So I dropped off the rack pulls.

Also, at this point it was spring. And the YMCA is very hot. So I'm really sweating during my workouts. And I am not using baby powder (except when I use full gear), so the bar really sticks to my thighs making the top half of the lift harder. This might also have contributed to my overworking my upper back. But I'd still rather not use baby powder for my workouts. I figure this way, come contest time, when I do use baby powder, and when hopefully the contest area is air conditioned, then the bar should just fly up once I get it above my knees.

Warm-ups, Sets, and Reps

I don't do any cardio to warm-up. However, I have gotten in the habit of gathering together all of the weights I'm going to be using for my workout and piling them up by where I'll be doing my first exercise of the day before staring my warm-up sets. In this way, I can buzz through my sets a little faster. And the walking around to get all of the weights and carrying them serves as a warm-up of sorts.

I also do a lot of warm-up sets. Specifically, on the powerlifts I do 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 to the involved muscles. 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 incline 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. 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.

As for reps, I concentrated on lower reps for most of my previous routine, e.g. 1-3 for the powerlifts and 3-5 for major assistance exercises. And doing so did what I wanted it to; it got me used to handling heavier weights. But I did start to feel a little "burned-out" from doing so. So for the last couple of weeks of my last routine, I dropped back to 2-5 reps for the powerlifts and 3-6 for major assistance. And I plan on following the same scheme of this routine.

Specifically, I am planning on doing 4-5 reps for the first set on the powerlifts and then increasing the weight and dropping down to 2-3 reps for the second set. Then part-way into this routine, I decided to add a "back-off set" done raw of 6-8 reps. As stated in previous routines, I do believe it is good to incorporate some raw lifting into one's routine. Lifting without belts and wraps helps to strengthen the joints and low back. And the higher reps builds muscular endurance and further strengthen the joints. I haven't done any raw lifting in a while, so I figured a back-off set would be a good way to do so again.

Otherwise, for major assistance I'll do 5-6 on the first set then increase the weight and drop the reps down to 3-4 for the second. And even for minor assistance, I'll use the same drop rep plan by going 7-8 then 5-6.

For my last routine, using full gear for every fourth workout worked well. And I decided that the best approach for my full gear workouts would be to play it like a contest and do three singles, and I'll continue this plan with this routine. However, I am making a major change from my previous pre-workout preparations. For all three of my contests last year, I used full gear for my last workouts for each lift before the contest. But doing so with this new plan would be like having a contest the week before a contest. So instead, I'm planning it so that my last full gear workouts are one month before the contest. Then I'll put in three workouts with just a belt and wraps and then full gear at the contest. This will give me the same four week rotation that I'm used to.

I'll get in two full gear workouts during this routine. I put in my last full gear workout on Week 8 of my last 10 week routine. And counting from then, there's an "extra" weeks worth of training until the contest for a four week rotation, so I'll put five weeks between full gear workouts for the first full gear day and then four until the second. That means, I'll do the full gear workouts during weeks 3 and 7 of this routine.

As with my last routine, this routine is a cycle of sorts since I'm using belts and wraps for the powerlifts for three (or four) workouts then full gear for the fourth (or fifth) workout. And since I am dropping reps from the first to second sets, and then dropping to singles for the full gear workouts, and then adding a back-off set, I am calling this program a "Drop Reps Cycle (with Back-off Set)."

Powerlift Work Sets

My work sets for the powerlifts went as follows. Workouts with full gear are in bold. Since all sets for full gear workouts are for singles, just the weights are indicated. See below for notes.

Week Squat Bench Deadlift
1 340/4, 350/3 175/4, 185/2 360/4, 370/2
2 340/4, 355/2, 235/8a 175/5, 190/1, 145/8 360/3, 370/2
3b 370, 385, 400  205, 215, 225 370, 385, 400
4  335/5, 350/3, 245/8  170/5, 180/3, 150/8  355/5, 365/3, 285/8
5  340/4, 355/2, 255/8  175/4, 185/2, 155/8  360/4, 370/2, 295/8c
6d 345/4, 360/2, 260/8  180/2, 180/2, 155/7e  360/4, 375/2, 305/8
7  350/4, 365/2, 265/7  175/4, 185/2, 155/8 365/4, 380/2, 315/8 
8  355/3, 370/1, 265/8  180/4, 190/2, 160/8 370/3, 385/1, 325/6 
9  360/2, 375/1, 275/5f  185/3, 195/1, 165/6  370/4, 385/2, 325/7
10 360/2 380/1, 275/6 185/3, 200/1, 165/7 375/4, 395/2, 325/7g
11  ---  --- 380/3, 400/1, 325/7h
IPA Worlds - 2004 370, 390, 405 195, 210, 220 390, 410, 410

The third set was the first time I did a back-off, raw set. And from now on, all third sets on non-full gear days will be such.

b.  For discussions on this week's lifting, see Full Gear Workouts (Week of 5/5/04).

c. With playing the full gear workouts like a contest, they are about as demanding as one. So I basically lost three weeks of training by engaging in them. As such, I don't think I'll do any more full gear workouts before my contest. As the article linked to in note "b" indicates, I basically already know what I'm planning on opening with. And from now on, I think the most often I'll plan on doing full gear workouts will be about every six weeks.

d. I made a small change in reps starting with this week. Since I'm not planning on doing full gear workouts again before my contest, and since I'm getting my high rep work in with my back-off set, I dropped the rep ranges for the first two sets to 3-4 and 1-2. That way, I'll be doing a heavy single  or double each week for each powerlift. I also added a back off set to dips on bench assistance day, and dropped the first two work sets to 4-5, 3-4. That way, I'll be doing lower reps and a back-off set two benching moves.

e. Once again, benches are not going well. I think the problem is the plan of doing "non-flat" bench assistance exercises on Bench Assistance day is not providing enough work for regular benches. So I am substituting wide-grip benches for the inclines from this point on.

f. This workout and my final squat workout were done using my 2.5 meter wraps. For this workout, I had just washed the wraps, so on the first set, they weren't stretched out yet, so I wasn't able to get the "extra" wrap around my knees that the 2.5m wraps give, so the set didn't go as well as hoped. But for the second set, I was able to get wrapped the way I wanted, and the single with 375 felt very good. I had no problems sinking it. In fact, I felt like I could have gone lower with the rebound the wraps give.

g. After doing 385/2 the week before, I went into this workout hoping to be able to single 390, but the first set was so easy, I jumped to 395 and got it for a hard fought double! I was so psyched! And with the way things worked out, I'll get an "extra" deadlift workout before my contest.

h. My final workouts went great! All three of the singles in the last week of lifting were the best I've done in the gym with belt and wraps but no suits or shirt: 380 - 200 - 400. So I'm psyched and ready for IPA Worlds - 2004.

Training Routine and Drop Reps Cycle (4/19/04-7/10/04). Copyright 2004 by Gary F. Zeolla.

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

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