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2016-17 Mid-Training Routine Changes

By Gary F. Zeolla


I just finished Week 6 of 12 my Pre-Contest Training Routine. The training routine was going well, until Week 6. During it I ran into problems with being overtrained. As a result, my workouts did not go well, and I am now off track for my goals for my contest in March.


What Happened?


Part of the reason for ending up overtrained was adding a fourth, higher rep work set. I was doing okay when I was not working very hard, but once I started to, that extra set on every exercise proved to be too much. I also experienced several events that adversely affected me health-wise, and that cut into my recuperative abilities. There is not much I can do about that except to pray I can avoid any further such difficulties.


Plans to Correct Problem


I took an extra day off of lifting on Wednesday January 4, and I had plans to take one more extra day off before my contest, four week after that. But then I was really tired by the end of my Bench Assistance workout on Thursday (1/12), even though it went well, so I figured I might need to take Sunday (1/15) off to get fully recovered. And then I had a hard time sleeping Friday night and didn’t sleep at all Saturday night, so on Sunday I felt terrible and really had no choice but to take the day off.

But I will still be able to get the in the full final six weeks of hard training, as long as I only take one more extra day off. I am planning on that in three or four weeks. Then I’ll have two or three more weeks of hard training left, with my last hard workout being the Sunday before the contest. Then maybe a light workout on Monday, and that will be it until the contest on Saturday March 4, 2017. Here’s praying I feel good to go for squats on Monday (1/16) and thereafter.

To keep from getting overtrained again, I already went back to doing three work sets on all of my exercises during Week 6. But I still think the higher rep sets were helpful, so I will incorporate them into my routine but in a different manner than just adding another set. Starting with my Week 7 Squat workout, I will use a cycle method of starting with higher reps and dropping to lower reps in three phases over the final six weeks of the routine.

With this change, I will be able to do the actual powerlifts both training weeks. That will give me six more actual powerlifts workouts rather than just three. But I will continue to alternate my assistance work Week A and Week B and thus will only get in three more of each workout. I will continue to use sleeves for all of my squat work, until the last squat workout (Week 12), when I will use wraps for squats and maybe skip the look-alike lift.

If this plan works, I will call it a “Three Phase Cycle Training Plan” and use it for my training plan after this contest until my next one. In that case, I will write up further details about it then. But if it doesn’t work, then I will try something else and not waste time writing up further details.

Also, on speed work, during my Bench workout in Week 6, after doing one set of speed CGBP, I realized that maybe my look-alikes have been going a bit better than the actual powerlifts due to doing the look-alikes for my speed work rather than the actual powerlifts. I thus did a quick warmup set and then three speed work sets with my regular bench grip, and that seemed to be better. I will thus go back to doing all of my speed work doing the actual powerlifts either with or without chains or bands in a speed fashion.


Changes to Bench Assistance Day


I made two changes to my Bench Assistance Day starting Week 6. First, doing both declines and dips were proving to be too much for the lower pecs, so I substituted overhead presses for the dips. I will vary the presses in the same way was as benches and declines, using a close, medium, and wide grip, and for a fourth alternative, I will use dumbbells.

Second, the speed rows were working okay, but I still figured I would be better off going back to doing curls and reverse curls.




Here’s trusting the LORD I didn’t mess up too much and that these changes enable me to still hit my goals for IPA PA States on March 4, 2017. For my workouts using this new plan, see Two by Two Powerlifting Training Plan - 2016-17; Pre-Contest Routine, Weeks 7-12 of 12.



I finally got a good night’s sleep and felt good to go for my first workout (a squat workout) with my new “cycle” plan. But the new plan did not go well.


Completely Raw Lifting:

Something I didn’t mention in the initial “Changes” article is that when I did higher reps (5-8) before, I always did them completely raw, not even a belt. But that was back in my 40s. Now in my 50s, I wasn’t sure if my aging body could handle lifting completely raw or not. But I decided to try it for my squat workout. The gear I’ve been using (power belt, wrist wraps; heavy knee sleeves) doesn’t add much to my lifts, but it does add some. I thus dropped the weights I planned on using with gear by ten pounds for lifting completely raw.

But I ran into problems. I was planning on doing 3 sets x 9, 7, 5 reps. But the most reps I have been doing is eight, and the nine reps really wiped me out. I still managed to get the planned seven reps on the second set, but it really winded me. At that point I was very tired and thought of skipping the final set. I probably should have, but I tried it anyway and only got a triple. With doing so, I felt some discomfort in my right adductor (inner thigh muscle).

I’ve had this problem before when doing low reps raw. I think that without any lift in the hole from gear, it is just too much stress on the adductor. In fact, this very injury was part of the reason I stopped competing for six years, from 2009 to 2015. That injury also happened on a raw triple. But that was a planned triple; this was an accident. It didn’t feel bad enough that I should stop the workout, but I had no idea how to proceed.


High/ Low Reps Plan:

After some thought, I decided rather than going with the Three Phrase Cycle I mention about above to instead go with another plan I had in mind—an Alternate High/ Low Reps plan. So I then did chain squats with sleeves for 3 x 5, 3, 1, and that worked well, except that I was still tired from the high rep squats.

Also, my adductor only bothered me slightly during the rest of the workout and afterwards, so I think it will be okay. But I will take it as a warning and not try completely raw lifting again. It is just not worth the risk.

For my next workout, a Bench workout, I first did three count pause benches for 3 x 5, 3, 1, and that went well. My second exercise was higher rep benches. For it, I dropped the reps to 3 x 8, 6, 4. But it did not go well. I only got seven reps on the first set, with the last rep being a grinder. I thus did not increase as much as planned for the next two sets and got my planned reps.

I then did speed benches also for 3 x 8, 6, 4 and got my planned reps. But neither exercise felt good, and I was very sore and tired afterwards.

Reasons for the Problems:

I think there were three reason for these problems. First, there is not enough of a difference between three count pause benches and regular benches (for which I pause momentarily) to do both in the same workout. Second, I am used to alternating major exercises week by week, but I had just done regular benches for lower reps the previous week, so to do them again was too much.

Third, I was very tired from the seven-rep set. I would have thought I’d be used to higher reps by now, but apparently, I am not. And if I am not used to higher reps after almost seven weeks, I doubt I will ever get accustomed to them again.



With time running out before my upcoming contest, I will go back to what I was doing for quite some time before I starting all of the experimenting at the start of this training plan. Starting with my Week 7 Deadlift workout, I will go back to 3 x 5-6, 3-4, 1-2 for the powerlifts and look-alike lifts. See my article Sets x Reps Plan and Philosophy as to why I like this plan.

I will use gear (a belt, wrist wraps, and knee sleeves or knee wraps) for my final warmup set and all three of my work sets. I will only do the actual powerlifts in Week B, plus one look-alike lift, then two look-alikes in Week A.

I used this new/ old plan in my final workout for Week 7, which was Deadlifts, and it went great. I got all of my planned reps. The workout did not take too long, and I was not overly tired afterwards. Most of all, I had the energy to put a full effort into all three of my work sets. As a result, I came close to 50s PRs on all three sets of my first major exercise and hit three 50s PRs on my second. And I did not injure anything. As such, I will be sticking with this plan for the duration of this routine.


Adductor and Squat Workouts:

As for my adductor, it bothered me slightly during my deadlift warmups, but not during my work sets. It then bothered slightly after the workout and while I was showering. But after I iced it while eating dinner, it stopped hurting and hasn’t bothered me since, so I don’t think it will be a problem. But I won’t know for sure until Monday when I squat again for Week 8 (Week B) Squat workout.

I’m not sure if I will use sleeves or wraps for that workout.  I was going to wait another week to do so, but wraps of course give more of a lift out of the hole, so that might protect my adductor a bit more. But then, I would be using more weight, so it might not matter. I’ll decide as I am warming up what direction to go. If I don’t use wraps then, I might in Week 10 and definitely will in Week 12, and then of course at the contest. If I do use wraps in Week 8, then in Week 9 (Week A) I will do squats with sleeves, now as an assistance exercise to squats with wraps, instead of the Sting Ray squats I’ve been doing.



I have five full weeks of workouts left, including three more workouts for each powerlift. God-willing, if things go well, I might still be able to hit my goals for my upcoming contest. But I will have to work extra hard and stick with what I know works. May the LORD be with me as I train for IPA PA States on March 4, 2017.

Second Update


I decided what I will do in regards to switching from sleeves to wraps and for peaking for my contest.


Wraps and Peaking:

I did my normal squats with sleeves and the rest of my regular squat workout Week 8. But squats did not feel good. I had to drop the weights by five pounds to get my planned 6, 4, 2 reps. Then benches also did not go well in my next workout. For both, I had done them raw for high reps the prior week. That tells me that I was correct that doing higher raw reps are not beneficial for me at this point of my training. Further evidence for that is my Deadlift workout, for which I did not do high reps the week before, went very well. But what happened on my bench workout was instructive.

I was planning on doing 3 sets x 6, 4, 2 reps ended up doing 3 x 4, 3, 2 reps. But despite working very hard on all three sets, I did not feel wiped afterwards, not near as fatigued as I did the week before when I did the high rep sets. In fact, I could have done a fourth set without problems. The reason this was instructive is it affects my plans for peaking for the contest. Peaking involves adjusting three aspects of training: enhancing specificity, reducing volume, and increasing intensity.

For my last workout for each powerlift (Week 12), I had already planned on doing slightly lower reps than usual on the actual powerlift and skipping the look-alike lift that I usually do afterwards. But I was debating of also doing this in Week 11 to give me an additional actual powerlift workout for each lift before my contest. That would have me doing the actual powerlifts three weeks in a row (Weeks 10, 11, 12). I was concerned that would case me to burn out. But with this workout not being overly demanding, I think I can handle it.

For those peaking workouts, I will use wraps on squats and all other gear that I plan on using at the contest. That will enhance specificity. I will reduce the volume by only doing one major exercise (the actual powerlift) rather than two major exercises and skipping most other assistance work.

As for increasing intensity, I will modify my reps slightly. I will do my normal, final 3-rep warmup set with gear. But I will replace my initial work set of 5-6 reps with a 1-rep warmup set, also with gear. I had planned on then doing 3 works sets of 4-1 reps. But with strength left after three sets in this bench workout, I will plan on doing 4 x 4, 3, 2, 1 for my peaking workouts.

Since I will only be dropping by one rep set to set rather than my normal two reps, I will increase the weights by half as much set to set as I usually do, thus 2.5% rather than my normal 5%, rounded off to the nearest 2-1/2 pound increment (using the 1-1/4 pound plates I got for Christmas). And since I will be skipping the usual following look-alike lift, I will still be reducing my works sets from six to four sets, plus eliminating four warmup sets.


Contest Plans:

At the contest, I will do the same warmups as in my final workout for each lift. I will then open with what I did for four reps in the final workouts. I know many powerlifters open with a triple’s weight, but I like to be extra cautious. My second attempt will be what I did for a double or about 5% heavier. My final attempt will then be about 5% heavier than that or a little heavier than what I did for a single. But the exact weight will depend on my goals for that lift and on how the first two attempts go.



This training plan and peaking schedule is based on my experience over the last several years as to what works best for me and on research I’ve been doing. I especially like the following webpage: Peaking for Powerlifting.

This webpage recommends doing multiple work sets of 3-5 reps for most of one’s training routine. That is basically what I have been and will be doing with my 3 x 5-6, 3-4, 1-2 plan, except to open it up a bit to 2-6 reps. Most of the time, I do 6, 4, 2 reps. I only do 5, 3, 1 reps when I miss reps. I am thus doing most of my sets in the 2-6 range, while only occasionally doing a single.

To look at it another way, I have long believed that 3-6 reps are best for building strength. I thus have been doing the bulk of my reps in that range. But that is one rep higher than this webpage recommends.

This webpage then recommends doing sets of 1-3 reps in the peaking phrase, which should last 2-4 weeks, depending on the caliber of the lifter. I will again open that up a bit to 1-4 reps. My peaking phase will last three weeks, two weeks of hard lifting, then maybe a light workout, then a few days off before the contest.

This webpage also recommends eliminating assistance work and only doing the actual powerlifts in competitive fashion in the peaking phase. In that way, volume is reduced but specificity and intensity is increased. And that is exactly what I am planning on doing.


Bench Assistance Day:

However, this webpage has the lifter doing actual benches twice a week. I normal only do actual benches once a week, then non-flat bench assistance exercises on a second day, my Bench Assistance (BA) Day. I’m not about to change that schedule and do benches both days. That would be too much of a change that close to a contest, so I will stick with my normal BA workouts.

However, I have been doing a form of decline benches followed by a form of overhead presses. But I think doing declines is causing me to overtrain my lower pecs, hitting them with arched benches on my Bench day and then again with declines on my BA day, so I will change the declines to inclines.

That is a bit of a change this close to a contest, but I fear my lower pecs will end up really overtrained if I continue with the declines. I’ve had this problem before with doing declines (and dips) on BA day. That is why I was doing inclines and presses on BA day for quite some time when I started lifting hard again in 2013, but I got away from that idea, so this is just going back to what worked in the past.

I will do the same form of inclines that I did in my Post-Contest Routine, so it won’t be that much of shock, as that ended just two months ago. I will continue with overhead presses afterwards.

I might get in an extra BA workout after the end of Week 12, on the Monday of contest week. I will probably put in a light workout. But here it might be an idea to make that a light Bench workout rather than a light BA workout. I’ll have to think about that.


Timing of Final Workouts:

Where I might disagree with the above webpage is in the timing of the final workouts. It has the final deadlift workout 2.5 weeks out, squats 2 weeks out, and benches 1 week pout. But I train each lift once a week and have found it best to try to stay as close to that schedule as possible. But the exact length depends on where the lifts fall in my normal workout rotation of: BA, Squats, Benches, Deadlifts.

The way it looks now, with competing on Saturday, I will do my final squat workout on Wednesday the week before, 10 days out, benches on Thursday, nine days out, and deadlifts on Sunday, six days out. Saturday is my normal rest day. But I might move the final deadlift workout to Saturday so it is a full week out, then rest on Sunday, and the above mentioned light Bench or BA workout Monday. Then rest the rest of the week until the contest on Saturday.



On a very good note, my adductor did not bother me at all during my Squat workout, until I did speed squats. I was actually leery of that and thought of skipping them. But it only bothered me slightly the first two sets. I usually do my speed work without gear, but for the third set, I tried pulling up my knee sleeves, thinking that might help, but it made it worse. And the set felt awkward, so I have been right to do the speed work completely raw. It was only a slight discomfort that went away once I iced it.

Then my adductor did not bother me at all during my Deadlift workout three days later. I even did jump deadlifts for the first time in a while, and it did not bother me, so I am not concerned about it. But I will continue to ice it after workouts just to be sure. I thank the LORD it did not prove to be an issue.

On the jump deadlifts, I have been using a double-overhand grip on them, thinking they would put too much strain on the underhand hand if I used my normal mixed grip. But I alternated back and forth between grips and found the mixed grip felt best, without any problems, so I will use form now on.



It will be pushing it for me to still be able to hit my goals for this contest given all of the problems I have encountered, and the problems I have caused myself due to experimenting. Based on how my lifting went Week 8, I will need to add 15 pounds to each lift in the next four training weeks. That will be difficult, especially on benches, but not impossible. I just have to pray these plans work, work extra hard, and train intelligently the rest of the way. May the LORD be with me as I do so.


2016-17 Mid-Training Routine Changes. Copyright 2017 by Gary F. Zeolla.

The above article was posted on this site January 15, 2017.
The Update was posted January 21, 2017.
The Second Update was added January 27, 2017.

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