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Two by Two by Two Powerlifting Training Strategy: Overview
By Gary F. Zeolla
My 2017-18 Tetra Raw Powerlifting Training Plan did not work out. As a result, I had to scrap plans to compete in March or April of 2018. Prior to the Tetra Plan, I tried my Trinity Plan, which worked okay but not great. My previous Two by Two Powerlifting Training Plan worked better. In fact, I used it rather successfully from when I started training hard again in the fall of 2014 up until a contest in March of 2017, though it also had a couple problems with it. Therefore, I am going to back to my Two by Two Plan, but with a couple of modifications to fix those problems. One of those modifications will lead to a slightly different name for it. But before getting to my new plan, it will be helpful to overview these old plans.
Basics of Previous Plans and Their Problems
My Two by Two Powerlifting Training Plan (“2x2 Plan” for short) consisted of two training weeks in each of two different training routines, with each training routine lasting ideally 12 weeks. The two training weeks were labeled Week A and Week B. The two training routines were initially labeled “Off-Season” and “In-Season.” But as the plan evolved, the Off-Season was not much different from the In-Season, so I renamed the two routines “Post-Contest Routine” and “Pre-Contest Routine.” Powerlift look-alike lifts were done instead of the actual powerlifts in the former, while the actual powerlifts were done in Week B of the later. All assistance work was also changed from the former to the latter.
That design gave me a break from doing the actual powerlifts in the first routine, with the change in all lifts between routines enabling progress to be made throughout. It also had a natural place to back off in intensity twice, at the beginning of the training plan, which is to say, at the start of the Post-Contest Routine, then in the middle of it, at the start of the Pre-Contest Routine. Those were all pluses of the plan.
The Tetra Plan consisted of just one training routine but four training weeks, Weeks A, B, C, D. The actual powerlifts were done Week D. But it was the lack of the preceding two points that caused the problems with it. I was not able to change all of the exercises at the start of it from my last routine due to so many training weeks. Most especially, I continued to do the actual powerlifts in the same manner as from my previous routine.
I backed off in intensity at the start of it, but that was it. There was no natural place to do so again, and when I got a couple of weeks past where I would have backed off with the 2x2 Plan, I got burned out. As a result, after my Christmas Eve Bench workout on a Sunday, I felt terrible and did not sleep much at all that night. That really messed up my Christmas, then I barely slept Christmas night. To recover, I took off until Friday.
It was then that I realized the Tetra Plan would not work. But before starting a new plan, I did a week of Experimental Workouts. Those were to try lifting equipped for the first time in over a decade and to try out a couple of new exercises. The equipped part of the experiments failed, so I will stick with lifting raw with wraps. But the exercises experiments were fruitful. Follow the link for details.
But here, to continue with my training plans review, I had the same problems with the Trinity Plan as with the Tetra Plan. Originally, it also consisted of just one training routine but three training weeks, Weeks A, B, C. But again, there was no natural place to backoff in the middle of it. I made one, by making it a two-stage plan, changing assistance exercises between them. I backed off at the start of each stage. But to get a change in the powerlifts, I simply did them second in their workouts rather than first. That worked, but it meant doing the most important lifts at a time when I was already tired out.
Another problem with that plan and the main problem with my 2x2 Plan is I would peak at the end of Stage One or the Post-Contest Routine but not actually enter a contest. Then I would need to peak again at the end of Stage Two or the Pre-Contest Routine and only then enter a contest. I thus trained for six months but only entered one contest and only trained specifically for a contest for the last three months.
A final problem with all of these plans is I always had a hard time getting back into training immediately post-contest. Throughout all of them, I did 3 sets x 5-6, 3-4, 1-2 reps for most exercises. But even with doing backoff workouts the first couple of weeks, it was very difficult to start lifting heavy again so soon after having peaked for a contest.
My modified 2x2 Plan will be called “Two by Two by Two Powerlifting Training Strategy” (“2x2x2 Strategy” for short). Before explaining the differences between it and my original 2x2 Plan, it would be good to mention that I will continue to work out four days a week, on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, alternating through four basic workouts: Bench Assistance (BA), Squats, Benches, Deadlifts.
Now for 2x2x2 Strategy. It also contains two parts using the original names for the 2x2 Plan of an “Off-Season” and an “In-Season” Routine. That is the first “Two” in the name. But the Off-Season will now be more of a true Off-Season. Like the 2x2 Plan, I will do look-alike lifts instead of the actual powerlifts, but I will also not do singles and doubles.
I will still do three work sets, but rather than my In-Season plan of 3 sets x 5-6, 3-4, 1-2 reps, I will do 3 x 7-8, 5-6, 3-4. The middle sets stay the same, but I will be doing a set of 7-8 reps rather than a set of 1-2 reps. That will give me a break from really heavy lifting.
The reason for this is doing heavy singles and doubles is quite demanding, so the Off-Season gives me a break from them, while the 7-8 rep set promotes conditioning. The Off-Season also gives me an opportunity to do exercises that do not lend themselves very well to doing 1-2 reps, as doing so is too dangerous or awkward, such as dumbbell work and SLDLs.
Also, starting with higher reps will mean I can do fewer warmup sets. That will make the workouts somewhat shorter. It will also give me time to do exercises that are a bit more time-consuming, like again dumbbell work, along with using chains and bands on deadlifts. That way, I won’t do them as much during the In-Season, which workouts tend to be longer
An exception to the preceding is doing Conv Deadlifts in the Off-Season. They of course can be done for heavy singles and doubles and are not time-consuming. But they are done in the Off-Season as I have found I make best progress when I alternate focusing on Conv Deadlifts and focusing on Sumo Deadlifts. I have also found I can pull about 5-10 pounds more Sumo than Conv. Putting these two points together, it makes sense to focus on Conv Deadlifts in the Off-Season, then Sumos in the In-Season and to compete Sumo. But I have also found it effective to train Conv and Sumo Deadlifts evenly throughout. As such, the Summary includes plans for both “Focusing on Conv in Off-Season and Sumo in In-Season” and “Training Conv and Sumo Evenly.”
For the Squat, Bench, and Deadlift workouts in the Off-Season, again, as with the 2x2 Plan, I will not do the actual powerlifts. I will instead do two look-alike lifts, plus Rows on Bench day. For BA day, I will do a Decline Bench, an Overhead Press, and a Rows exercise. All of these exercises are done for 3 x 7-8, 5-6, 3-4, and all will be quite different from the corresponding lifts in the In-Season, such as Dumbbell Benches vs. Barbell Benches and Front Squats vs. Back Squats.
But both seasons will be the same as the two parts of the 2x2 Plan in that they will consist of two training weeks, labeled Week A and Week B. That is the second “Two” in the name. However, the Off-Season will be shorter than the In-Season, ideally lasting ten weeks rather than 12 weeks, but the In-Season will still ideally be 12 weeks. That will mean each workout will be done five times in the Off-Season but six times in the In-Season. More on the reasoning behind that schedule later.
But here, a change from the 2x2 Plan is the actual powerlifts will be done Week A, whereas they were done Week B in the 2x2 Plan. I’m not sure why I did it that way, as doing them in Week A might enable one more workout for the actual powerlifts to be done. But as with the 2x2 Plan, each powerlift is followed by one look-alike lift. Then two look-alike lifts are done Week B. For the BA day, the design is the same as for the Off-Season. All of these exercises are done for 3 sets x 5-6, 3-4, 1-2 reps.
The change from my 2x2 Plan that necessitates the name change is there will be two different Off-Season and In-Season Routines, labeled Routine #1 and Routine #2. This is the third “Two” in the name. It is a reference to these two distinct Off-Season and In-Season Routines, with different assistance exercises being done between the two Off-Season and In-Season Routines.
However, the actual powerlifts are done in both In-Seasons, while Conv Deadlifts are done in both Off-Seasons, while Squats with Sleeves could be if I follow the “Wraps Throughout” plan (more on that in moment). These could be actual powerlifts. In fact, I competed with Sleeves and using a conv stance for a couple of contests in the ‘00s and could do so again, so it is good to maintain my strength on them.
I will also be doing dips on bars and on rings in both Off-Seasons, if I use the Off-Season alternative of doing Inclines and Dips rather than Declines and Presses. But that is simply because I don’t have any other variations of dips I can do in my home gym than those two.
The terminology is as follows: Each season is called a “Training Routine.” There is thus the 2x2x2 Off-Season Training Routine #1, the 2x2x2 In-Season Training Routine #1, the 2x2x2 Off-Season Training Routine #2, and the 2x2x2 In-Season Training Routine #2. A set of an Off-Season Routine and an In-Season Routine together is a called a “Training Plan.” There is thus the 2x2x2 Training Plan #1 and the 2x2x2 Training Plan #2. Both of these Training Plans together constitute the overall “2x2x2 Training Strategy.”
Advantages of this Strategy
There are several advantages to this 2x2x2 Strategy that I hope will overcome the problems with my previous plans. First, each Off-Season will give me a break from doing the actual powerlifts and from doing lower reps, while prompting conditioning. None of my previous plans gave me a break from doing lower reps nor promoted conditioning, while only the 2x2 Plan gave me a break from the powerlifts. But by only lasting ten weeks, it will not be too long of a time of not doing the actual powerlifts or lower reps. Also, by not doing singles and doubles in the Off-Season, I will not feel like I am peaking for a contest without actually entering one.
Second, there are two natural places to backoff, the first two weeks at the start of each season.
Third, with different exercises and reps ranges being done between the two Off-Seasons and the two In-Seasons, there is lots of variety. In fact, throughout the course of the Training Strategy, I will use every piece of equipment I have in my home gym and do just about every effective exercise I can do in it. That will keep things interesting and hopefully keep me from stagnating as I move from my mid to late-50s.
Reasoning, Length, and Contest Plans
The reasoning behind this 2x2x2 Strategy is I have found I make best progress on a given exercise if I do it for 4-6 workouts. If I do it for less than four workouts, there is not enough time to make progress. If I do it for more than six workouts, I stagnate on it. In addition, I have found I need to backoff in intensity after a contest and/ or after about three months of hard training then work back up again. Otherwise, I get burned out and overtrained.
That is why the Off-Season will ideally last ten weeks, enough time to do each workout five times and thus to make progress. That should also be enough time to give me a break from the powerlifts and lower reps and to recover from the normal post-contest letdown. With alternating between two different sets of exercises for each Off-Season, over time, I hope to make significant progress on those exercise.
Then each In-Season will ideally last eleven weeks, meaning each lift is again done five times. Week 11 will be my peaking workouts, which are considerably different from my regular workouts. Again, with alternating between two different sets of exercises for each In-Season, it is my hope I can make progress long-term on each exercise. The ideal will then be to enter a contest at the end of each In-Season.
To count out the weeks, 10 weeks for the Off-Season plus 11 weeks for the In-Season equals 21 weeks. But I also have found I need to take an extra day off about every four weeks to keep from getting overtrained. With the two backoff weeks, I should not need to do so for six weeks into each season. But I will need to take an extra day off about once a month after that. Plus, something always seems to happen that forces me to take an unplanned day off at some point in a training plan. As a result, it is hard to say for sure exactly how many extra off days I will take, but it will be at least four. That adds up to another week or 22 weeks total.
Then I take several days off before a contest and over a week off after a contest. That adds another two weeks for a total of 24 weeks per Training Plan. Thus, ideally, I could enter a contest every 24 weeks. Multiply that by 2 for the two Training Plans, and the entire Training Strategy will last 48 weeks.
Of course, there will not always be a possible contest at exactly the right date, so I will need to adjust the length of each season to coincide with a possible contest. I figure I can adjust the Off-Season to as short as eight weeks and as long as twelve weeks. I would not want to cut it shorter than that, as that would not be enough time to make any progress, and I would not want to extend it longer than that, as that would cause me to stagnate on each exercise.
I can adjust the In-Season to as long as 13 weeks. But I would not want to extend my In-Season to longer than 13 weeks, as it was in Week 14 that I got burned out in my recent Tetra Plan. But still, these adjustments mean I could enter contests anywhere from 22-28 weeks apart.
But looking at the ideal of 24 weeks for each Training Plan or 48 weeks total for the entire Training Strategy, that would have the contests I would enter moving around the calendar, which will mean I will have to enter different contests each year. But that is actually an advantage as whenever I enter a contest, I consider it my vacation, as traveling to a different city, staying at a hotel, and meeting people at the contest is quite a change from my regular lifestyle. Traveling to the same cities, entering the same contests, and staying at the same hotels would keep things confrontable, but it is not very adventurous. As such, entering different contest each year is appealing.
My pattern for using this Training Strategy in regard to contest choices will be as follows: When I am in Weeks 7-8 of the Off-Season, I will need to decide then when I will next compete and thus when to make the transition to the In-Season. That decision will involve counting out the weeks from there and seeing what contests are available at that time.
After I start the of the In-Season, I will then send in my entry form for the contest and make hotel reservations as need be, as being committed to entering a contest gives me an incentive to train harder and to not miss any workouts in my In-Season. But I will wait until after I finish the Off-Season to submit my entry, as if I were to get injured during it, it would most likely be in the last couple of weeks, as that is when I am training the hardest. And in fact, that happened once.
Back in August 2015, I was near the end of my Off-Season using my 2x2 Plan. I was looking at a contest in December and had my entry form ready to go on the morning of my last workout of the Off-Season on August 30th. I thought of sending it in then, but figured I’d wait until after that day’s workout and the end of the Off-Season just in case. Then sure enough, I reinjured my hamstring in that workout, so I was glad I didn’t send in the entry, as I would have lost the entry fee money. Meanwhile, the first two weeks of the In-Season will be backoff workouts, so I am unlikely to get injured at that time. After than will be harder workouts, but I'd rather not wait any longer to submit my entry and risk the contest being sold out. All of this makes the time between seasons as the ideal time to submit my contest entry.
For my first contest using this plan, I started Training Plan #1 on January 7, 2018. Counting out the weeks, that will mean the Training Plan will end sometime in June. There are at least three possible contests I could enter in that month. I will wait until I reach Weeks 7-8 of the Off-Season, see how many extra days off I have taken at that point and decide if I want to end it after Week 8 or extend the Off-Season for a couple of more weeks. I will then decide exactly which of those contests I will enter. I will then submit my entry form after I finish the Off-Season, however long it ends up being.
Squats with Sleeves Then Wraps
I will be doing all of my squat look-alike lifts with double-ply knee sleeves in both the Off-Season and the In-Season. But for the In-Season in the Summary, I have indicated three different training strategies. The first is to train and compete raw with sleeves. The second is to train and compete raw with wraps. The third is to train with sleeves most of the time, but then to use wraps for actual Squats in the final workout, the peaking workout, then to compete raw with wraps. I am planning on using the last strategy.
I was going to use the second, but using wraps is very tiring and time-consuming, especially with wanting to do a second exercise after Squats. But using sleeves is much less so. That is why I will use sleeves for most of my training.
I tried a strategy of training with sleeves then switching to wraps for my final two workouts once before (see 2016-17 Mid-Training Plan Plans and the subsequent logs). Along with to avoid overly long and tiring Squats with Wraps workouts, my reasoning for doing so as expressed in that article were sound:
Reviewing my training logs for back when I was competing equipped in the ‘00s, I made the best progress when I would squat with wraps but no suit for most of my routine, but then add in the suit for just the last one or two workouts. Later I squatted in a suit most of the time, and my progress slowed. I am planning on competing raw with wraps now. But using that philosophy, rather than training with wraps the entire routine, I will squat with sleeves for most of it. But I will switch to wraps for the last two workouts. The difference between sleeves and wraps is about the same as between no suit and with a suit, so hopefully the effect will be the same.
However, the plan did not work out very well. But I think the reason it did not was Squats with Sleeves did not go well. Then when I switched to Squats with Wraps, I was not prepared for the extra weights wraps enable. To fix those two problems this time, I will use different look-alike lifts or a differing placement thereof.
Also, doing two workouts with wraps was too much, as the first was a regular workout. For it, I did an initial set of six reps with wraps, and that really tired me out for the rest of the workout, as did trying to do a second exercise. That led to an overly long and tiring workout. Then the next workout was the first time I used 3.0-meter wraps, and it took me a while to get used to them.
To correct these problems this time, I will only use wraps for my peaking workout. For it, I will add an additional warmup set with gear. That will give me two warmup sets to get used to the 3.0-meter wraps again. Then my first work set is for just four reps, which shouldn’t tire me out like the six-rep set did. And I will do just Squats with Wraps, without a second exercise, so that should keep the workout from being overly long and tiring. If I feel I need more work with wraps, then I will do two peaking workouts, but I will still time things so as to have five regular workouts with sleeves before the peaking workouts.
If this “Sleeves then Wraps” plan works out, it will be the pattern I will use from now on, as it will be the easiest way to continue to compete raw with wraps. But if it does not work, then I will try the “Wraps Throughout” plan. For it, I would need to make a couple of changes to the routine.
First, I would do Squats with Sleeves in both Off-Seasons in Week A. That is because the Pause and Extra Low Squats I am now doing reduce the weight even further than Squats with Sleeves, which could leave me to really feeling crushed when I first use wraps. I would still do Pause and Extra Low Squats in the Off-Season, but only one of them in Week B.
Second, after Squats with Wraps, I would either do One-Count Pause Squats or one Raw Backoff Set, with belt only. By experience, One-Count Pause Squats works best after Squats with Wraps, as it is different enough that I don’t feel like I am doing six sets of the same exercise, but not so different that I need to change the setup in my power rack, so it is the quickest second exercise to do.
But even quicker is doing just one raw backoff set of 7-8 reps. That works to maintain bottom end strength, though not as well as doing a full second exercise. I tried doing such once back in December 2017 and quite often back in the ‘00s. The main advantage is it takes very little time, so it keeps my Squats with Wraps workout from being overly long and tiring.
If even with using one or the other of these ideas still proves to be too much, then I will have no choice but to train and compete “Sleeves Throughout.” I’d rather keep using wraps in competition, as I need to do so to reach and better my goals. But competing with Sleeves is an option that I have done before.
The point is, I night try all three of the plans at one point or another, so I am including all three in the Summary page.
Cardio/Speed & Isolation Exercises Workouts
The preceding discussion is about my late afternoon powerlifting workouts. Those take about an hour and a half in the Off-Season and a little longer in the In-Season. In these workouts, I do all compound exercises, namely the powerlifts and/ or look-alike lifts, plus various forms of rows and presses.
But I also do morning workouts lasting about half an hour in the Off-Season and up to 45 minutes in the In-Season. For them, I do cardio/speed work followed by isolation exercises. I call them simply my “Morning Workouts” or more descriptively “Cardio/Speed & Isolation Exercises (CSIE) Workouts.”
I try to keep my total daily workout time to less than two and a half hours, or to 0:45 for the morning workout and 1:45 for the afternoon workout. In that way, altogether, I work out at the most about ten hours a week.
In the CSIE workouts, in the Off-Season, I do cardio work, namely, step-ups, hit a heavy bag, and jump rope. All of these are done in a rapid fashion for just few minutes each, so they also function as speed work.
Then in the In-Season, I do speed work, consisting of Jump Squats and Deadlifts or the exercise I will be doing first in my afternoon workout but done in a speed fashion. An exception to this pattern is, when I will be doing a BA workout in the afternoon, I do speed rows in the mornings. That is the last exercise in the afternoon workout, though again, the form of rows for the speed work is the same as I will be doing in the afternoon.
In any case, these speed exercises are done for 4 x 8-9, 6-7, 4-5, 2-3, with the reps done in a rapid fashion, with just 30-seconds rest between sets. Therefore, it is basically interval training, so it doubles as my cardio.
I follow that cardio/ speed work with a couple of isolation exercises. Those isolation exercises are done for much higher reps than I use for my powerlifting workouts (8-20 or amrap vs. 1-8), and they are done with a shorter rest between sets (30-90 seconds vs. 3-5 minutes). As such, they fit well for conditioning with the cardio/ speed work.
The reason for this two-a-day pattern of lifting is to keep each workout shorter and less tiring. By splitting up each day’s training into two parts, neither workout is overly long and tiring, and I am able to rest for several hours in-between them. Also, by splitting up the different types of training, cardio/speed and higher rep work in the mornings and strict powerlifting in the late afternoons, each workout does not seem as difficult as trying to mix the different types of training into one workout.
As with the powerlifting workouts, there are four CSIE routines, two Off-Season Routines and two In-Season Routines, with different exercises for each routine. Also, the exercises for the Off-Season Routines are considerably different from those done in the In-Season Routines, such as doing ab work without added weight for two sets of amrap in the Off-Season instead of using weights and doing 3 x 11-12, 9-10, 7-8 in the In-Seasons.
Successive Training Plans Designations
All of my training plans since I started to lift hard again in 2014 and to compete again in 2015 have lasted six months, with a contest being entered at the end of that time period. Since each plan lasted six months, one existed entirely within a given calendar year while the next crossed over two calendar years. I thus labeled them by the year or two years spread (e.g., 2016, 2016-17).
As indicated, an entire 2x2x2 Strategy will take 48 weeks or just shy of 12 months, so it will also exist either entirely within one calendar year or more often cross over two years. Therefore, I will also label each one as above, with the current strategy being the 2018 Training Strategy. The 2018 label will also be applied to each Training Routine and Plan within the 2018 Training Strategy. Thus, my first routine with this Strategy is my “2018 Off-Season #1 Training Routine.”
Work Sets x Reps
My planned sets x reps and cardio durations for the Off-Season are as follows:
All Compound Exercises:
3 x 7-8, 5-6, 3-4
Heavy Bag/ Step-ups:
Some Isolation Exercises:
3 x 11-12, 9-10, 7-8
3 x 5-6, 3-4, 1-2
Rotator Cuff Work:
2 x 15-16, 13-14
2 x amrap (as many reps as possible)
My planned work sets x reps for the In-Seasons are as follows:
All Compound Exercises:
3 x 5-6, 3-4, 1-2
Peaking Workouts (powerlifts only, final workouts pre-contest):
4 x 4, 3, 2, 1
4 x 8-9, 6-7, 4-5, 2-3
Most Isolation Exercises:
3 x 11-12, 9-10, 7-8
Rotator Cuff Work:
2 x 15-16, 13-14
Isolation Exercises using Ankle Weights:
2 x 15-20, 10-15
Making progress in my training and in competition will be difficult as I move from my mid to late-50s, then God-willing, into my 60s. But it is my hope and prayer that I can continue to train hard and to compete for many years to come, and this Training Strategy should be vehicle to enable me to do so.
Here’s praying this 2x2x2 Strategy does in fact work well as I prepare for future contests. For my initial workout logs using the training strategy, see Off-Season #1 of 2018 Two by Two by Two Powerlifting Training Strategy: Weeks 1-5 of 10 and Cardio/Speed & Isolation Exercises Workouts for Off-Season #1 of 2018 Two by Two by Two Powerlifting Training Strategy: Weeks 1-5 of 10. For a summary of my workouts for all of the training routines, see Two by Two by Two Powerlifting Training Strategy: Summary.
For updates to this article, see Off-Season Review and Mid-Training Plan Updates.
Two by Two by Two Powerlifting Training Strategy: Overview. Copyright © 2018 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above article was posted on this site January 19, 2018.
It was last updated March 4, 2018.
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