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Off-Season Review and Mid-Training Plan Updates

By Gary F. Zeolla

       I just finished Off-Season #1 of my Two by Two by Two Powerlifting Training Plan #1. For details on this training plan, see Two by Two by Two Powerlifting Training Strategy: Overview. Here, I will update a few points from that article. But first, a review of my Off-Season.


Off-Season Review


      My Off-Season went very well, with only very rarely a missed rep, until the last week (Week 9). For the first eight weeks, it helped that I did not make many changes. But then I made a change in my sets x reps at the end of Week 8.

      My initial plan was to do 3 x 7-8, 5-6, 3-4 for all exercises in my powerlifting workouts. For most of them, I did 3 x 8, 6, 4. I felt I needed to do higher reps, after a long period of doing mostly lower reps. Then for my first three workouts in Week 8, I did 3 x 7, 5, 3. That still gave me the two higher rep sets, but the slightly lower reps felt much better.

      But starting with Deadlifts Week 8, I added a fourth set to all exercises except for rows, so as to do 4 x 7-8, 5-6, 3-4, 1-2, though I mostly did 4 x 8, 6, 4, 2. But that proved too much, as the eight reps were really winding me with being the end of the routine and working very hard on them, and the doubles felt very heavy and were really demanding. As a result, I got burned out by the end of Week 9 and had a terrible Deadlift workout. I then had to take an unplanned extra day off and push my next workout back a day beyond that to recover.

      Otherwise, I had debated on how long to run my Off-Season. I initially figured eight weeks, but that was when I planned on doing the same exercises every Off-Season. But then I decided to have two different Off-Seasons just as I have two different In-Seasons, and with that, I increased it to ten weeks, but with the option of doing 8-12 weeks.

      But with the unplanned extra day off and extra day before my next workout, I thought it best to skip Week 10 of the Off-Season and start my In-Season to be sure I get in all of my planned In-Season training weeks before my next contest.
      Both my sets x reps plan and how long to run a training routine relate to something I have struggled with for a while, but I think I now have figure out.


New Sets x Reps Plan


      For some time now, my sets x reps plan has been 3 x 5-6, 3-4, 1-2. But I have also posted before that reviewing my logs, it looks like I make the best progress when I incorporate both higher (5-8) reps and lower (1-4) reps in my training plan. But that plan only gives make one set in the higher range. That is why I went 3 x 7-8, 5-6, 3-4 for my Off-Season, to give me two higher rep sets. Then I planned on going 3 x 5-6, 3-4, 1-2 in the In-Season. But those plans only give me one set in the lower range then one in the higher, respectively. But that does give me an even number of each type of set through the course of the training plan, so in that regard, that plan would work.

      However, when I started the Off-Season, I really got winded doing eight reps, then when I dropped the third set to a triple, it really felt heavy. That is a problem I have encountered before—whenever I transition from higher to lower reps or lower to higher reps, I really struggle. And I feared I would really struggle when I switched to my In-Season and did a final set of 1-2 reps. That is why I have racked my brain to find a way to incorporate both higher and lower reps throughout a training routine.

      I tried a couple of years ago to do 4 x 7-8, 5-6, 3-4, 1-2. That incorporated two of each type of set, but I ended up overtrained by the middle of the routine and went back to just three sets. At that time, I not only increased to four sets on the powerlifts and lookalike lifts but on all of my exercises. I also was doing cardio in the mornings and speed work in my afternoon workouts.

      I still thought I was on the right track with adding a fourth set to the powerlifts and lookalike lifts but messed up by also adding it to the rest of my lifts. That is why I gave it another try, but I only added the fourth set to the powerlifts lookalike lifts. For rows and isolation exercises, I stuck with three sets. I also now only do cardio in the Off-Season, then only speed work in the In-Season, both in the mornings. But I still ended up getting overtrained.

      I think the problem was two-fold. First, I added the fourth set near the end of the training routine, so I was already pushing very hard and that included on the added double that I was not used to doing. Second, I added that double to both of my main exercises, so that was two sets with heavy weights I was not used to.

      Consequently, starting at the beginning of my In-Season when I am doing backoff sets, I will add a fourth set to just the first lift of the workout. In that way, I will only have one set with the heaviest weights. That should suffice for conditioning to handle heavy weights. And by doing it at the start of the routine, I won’t be working very hard and can gradually get used to it.

      However, rather than writing it up as 4 x 7-8, 5-6, 3-4, 1-2, I will write it as 4 x 7, 5, 3, 1. The reason for this is several-fold. First, eight reps are just too much, while seven reps is the lowest I can go and still not need to do an additional warmup set. I have found that if I start with 5-6 reps, I need to add a triple with gear, but with more reps than that, I do not. Not doing that warmup saves a bit of time.

      Second, a 7-rep set is a bit more into the higher rep range than a set of six reps, so it should be more productive.

      Third, the 5 and 3-rep sets will be the real strength builders, as that is the range most feel is best for building strength.

      Fourth, a single is of course more appropriate to powerlifting than a double, but it is very demanding, so only doing one single will be a good compromise.

      I’ll address additional reasons in the next section. But first, for my second lift of each workout and for rows on Bench Assistance (BA) and Bench days, I will do 3 x 7, 5, 3.

      Thus, I will be doing four sets on the first exercise of the day, then three sets on the second and third exercises. There will be a couple of exceptions to this pattern in that the second lift will be done for four sets and the first for three sets. That is when the second exercise is the “better” of the two for my purposes but is best done second, namely the partial squat movements done in the Off-Season. Those help Squats with Wraps more than the full-range bottom-end exercises done first, but it just doesn’t feel right doing a partial movement first.

      I will change the planned sets x reps for my morning workout exercises to also having specific reps rather than a range. That leads to the next point.


Specific Reps Rather than a Range


      I have said before that I use a range for my reps due to my “training to almost failure” philosophy. That means, I work very hard, but I try to stop just short of actually missing a rep. But it can sometimes be hard to pick the weights just right to do a specific number of reps, hence the range.

      But what that does is give me two groups of reps in each training routine to try to improve my 50s PRs on, the higher reps and the lower reps. To do so, I have been running each routine in my training plan for 12 weeks, so that I do each workout six times with my alternating weeks plan. That gives me time to do each group of reps about three times.

      With two training routines in each training plan, that means the entire training plan lasts 24 weeks. Add in a week off before and after a contest, that makes each training plan last six months, so that I can enter two contest a year. I figured I’d find two contest I like and enter them each year. But as I explain in the Overview article, that is not very adventurous, so I am now looking to enter different contests each year.

      Putting these two points together, I will now plan on each season lasting 8-10 weeks. That will have each training plan lasting about five months, which will have the contest I enter move up a month or two each year, enabling different contest to be entered. With only aiming for specific reps rather than ranges, 4-5 times doing each workout will be enough time to hit PRs on.

      To accommodate this change will require a different mindset towards my weights and reps. For the first set, I will try to pick a weight I figure I can get for the planned seven reps. Then based on how hard that set is, I will adjust my weights for the next set so as to get the planned five reps for that set. If the first set is easier than expected, I will increase my planned weight for the next set. If it is harder, then I will decrease the weights. And if I get less than five reps, then I will decrease the weights that much more.    The same approach will be used for the second set to the third set.

      But moving from third to the fourth set, based on how hard the triple is, I will try to pick a weight for the single that I figure I can get but which makes the single very hard but short of a full max. That will solve the problem I mentioned before about a missed single being too hard due to having training to failure.

      The starting point will be to increase 5% from set to set, as I have found that to be most appropriate to force a two rep drop set to set. I can hit that rather close due to using 1-1/4 pound plates. For dumbbell and isolation exercises, I have fractional plates for even finer adjustments.

      I will use the same approach for the exercises in my morning workouts, except to do higher reps. That is where I will especially need the small plates due to the lighter weights to begin with. But for isolation exercises using ankle weights, I will still use a rather large range, as it is not possible to use small weight increases with them.


Training Plan Length


      A problem I have had leading up to a contest is peaking too early. For a few contests, I peaked 2-4 weeks before the contest, and my lifts dropped by the time of the contest. I have tried various ways to remedy this problem, but I missed the most obvious—shorten my training routines! As such, that is another reason for each season to only last 8-10 weeks rather than the 12 weeks that has been my norm. I will add to that an additional week for my peaking workouts in the In-Season.

      Of course, the exact number of weeks will need to be adjusted so as to time out appropriately for an available contest. But with the Off-Season lasting 8-10 weeks and the In-Season a total of 9-11 weeks, the total training plan can last from 17-21 training weeks. Add in a week off before and after a contest and another week for my extra off days, and that makes an entire training plan to last 20-24 weeks. With two Training Plans in my overall Training Strategy, that means my entire Two by Two by Two Powerlifting Training Strategy will last from 40-48 weeks.

      That will cause the contest I enter to move up 1-2 months each year, enabling me to enter different contests each year.


Squats with Wraps


     In the Overview article, I discuss my plan to do Squats with Sleeves for most of the In-Season, then to use wraps for just my peaking workout and at the following contest. But I have changed my mind on this plan, as it makes me too uncomfortable to not use wraps until the final workout, as I fear I will not get reused to using them if I use them for just one workout. And even with doing Chain and RB Squats, I might not be used to handling the heaver weights wraps enable. As such, I will use wraps throughout the In-Season. That will require the couple of changes mentioned in the Overview article.

     However, going into my first Squat workout of the In-Season, I still wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do. I was debating on if I was going to use wraps or sleeves, and what I was going to do after the main lift. I was also unsure if I would be able to do seven reps with wraps.

     I decided to use wraps. As it turned out, the 7-rep set was very tiring, and I had a hard time hitting depth. But I think I will get used to it, and as I use heavier weights for it, I should be able to hit depth more easily.

     The 5-rep set went well, but it was on the triple that I realized the importance of using wraps throughout the In-Season. For it, I remembered to make a slight change in my form, and that made the lift much easier. Namely, when using wraps, I sit back into the squat a bit more and lean forward a bit less than when using sleeves. But I had a hard time keeping that form on the single, leaned a bit too much forward, and the left side of the bar hit the safety bar. I still got the lift, but it almost threw me off. But that is why I need more work with wraps, so that the form is dialed in.

     Then I dropped the weight way down to do a backoff set of eight reps, done with belt only. It went well, until the seventh rep. As I hit the hole, I felt a slight twinge in my right adductor, so I stopped the set there.

     That was scary as it was doing a heavy triple without knee support back in 2010 that I injured my right adductor. That was the second time I had such a problem. The first time ended up being a minor injury, and I was back to heavy lifting in a couple of weeks. But this second time was a major injury and was part of the reason I went six years without competing.

     I thought of that potential problem right before the backoff set, but I was hoping a set of eight would not be problematic, but now I know it is. Without that slight lift I get from my sleeves, there is just too much stress in the hole for my problematic adductor.

     I then took the time to take off my squat boots, put on my sleeves, and put the boots back on. I was trying to avoid that bit of wasted time, but it will be necessary. I then increased the weights as usual for a second set and did a set of five, then again for a set of three. Those felt good, and my adductor did not bother me any more from those sets. It hurt a bit afterwards, but once I iced it, it felt fine.

     But what this tells me is the “belt-only backoff set” idea will not work. And I don’t think using a one-count pause will be necessary either, as with doing Squats with Sleeves after Squats with Wraps, there is a sufficient difference between the two lifts, as I used far less weight for with Sleeves than with Wraps. Most importantly, the workout was not overly long, and I was not overly tired afterward, as is often the case with Squats with Wraps workouts.

     Consequently, my plan on Squats in the In-Season will be the same as for my other workouts, to do four sets of Squats with Wraps then three sets of Squats with Sleeves.

     Interestingly, the weights even on my top set of Squats with Wraps did not feel heavy. That could be due to doing triples or doubles in the last two weeks of my Off-Season. But I will still make the change to my Off-Season indicated in the Overview article of doing Squat with Sleeves in it. They will be done first then but second in the In-Season, which will suffice for a difference between seasons. I will use a similar approach on Deadlifts.


Sumo and Conv Deadlifts in both Seasons


      In the original Summary, I have indicated Deadlifts workouts “For Focusing on Conv in Off-Season and Sumo in In-Season” and “For Training Conv and Sumo Evenly.” I was using the former. But now I will combine the two ideas. I will train the two stances evenly, but I will also focus on Conv in the Off-Season and Sumo in the In-Season. I will do so by doing one lift with each stance in each workout, but the Conv lift will be done first in the Off-Season, while the Sumo lift will be done first in the In-Season. That will include doing actual Conv and Sumo Deadlifts in both seasons in the same workout, Conv first in the Off-Season and Sumo first in the In-Season. I will use this pattern, as I believe conv work is vital assistance for Sumo Deadlifts.

      With doing Conv Deadlifts first in the Off-Season and thus working up to a single, I will be basically training it for a contest. The same could be said for doing Squats with Sleeves first in the Off-Season. Both of those could be actual powerlifts. And in fact, I competed with Sleeves and with a Conv stance for a couple of contest back in the ‘00s and could do so again; but for now, my plans are to compete with wraps and a sumo stance.

      I mention in the Overview article that I was trying to get away from feeling like I was training for a contest but without actually entering one in the Off-Season, but that concern was not well-founded as focusing on these two variations will be ideal for the Off-Season.


Bench Assistance Day and Dumbbells


      For Bench Assistance (BA) Day, the original Summary indicates workouts for “Off-Season with Declines and Presses” and “Off-Season with Inclines and Dips.” I have been doing the former and will stick with it, as it is going well. But the later will still a possibility for the future.

      But I will make a slight change in my BA day in that I will separate dumbbell exercises so that only one is done in any given workout. That is because using dumbbells is time-consuming, given that I only have changeable dumbbells in my home gym. The same will be true for my Bench workouts.

      The only workouts in my Off-Season that were too long were ones in which I did two exercises with dumbbells, so I know now not to design workouts in that fashion.


Peaking Workouts


      For my peaking workouts, I will do 4 x 4, 3, 2, 1. Again, I will adjust the weights for subsequent sets based on how previous sets go. But my basic plan is to increase by 2.5% set to set, or half of what I normally do due to only dropping by one rep rather than two reps set to set.

      Of course, this will be for my final heavy workouts for each powerlift, with the powerlift being the only exercise done in that workout.

      If all goes according to plan, I will open with the weight I used for the four-rep set. My second attempt will then be the double’s weight, or a 5% increase. I will then increase 5% from there for my third attempt, which will have me doing 2.5% more at the contest than I did in training.

      Checking previous contests, this plan should work out just right. In fact, If I had followed it for my last contest, I wouldn’t have missed my third squat attempt, as I would have gone five pounds less, and that probably would have enabled me to get it. But I basically followed it for benches and deadlifts and went 3/3 on both of them.


Updated Work Sets x Reps


      My updated planned sets x reps and cardio durations for the Off-Season are as follows:


First lift of the workout:
4 x 7, 5, 3, 1

Second lift and rows:
3 x 7, 5, 3

Heavy Bag/ Step-ups:
5-10 minutes

Jump Rope:
2-5 minutes

Some Isolation Exercises:
3 x 12, 10, 8

Wrist Roller:
3 x 6, 4, 2

Rotator Cuff Work:
2 x 16, 14

Most Abs and Calves work:
2 x amrap (as many reps as possible)


      My planned work sets x reps for the In-Seasons are as follows:


First lift of the workout:
4 x 7, 5, 3, 1

Second lift and rows:
3 x 7, 5, 3

Peaking Workouts (powerlifts only, final workouts pre-contest)
4 x 4, 3, 2, 1

Speed Work:
4 x 9, 7, 5, 3

Most Isolation Exercises:
3 x 12, 10, 8

Rotator Cuff Work:
2 x 16, 14

Isolation Exercises using Ankle Weights:
2 x 15-20, 10-15




      None of these changes are that radical. They are just tweaks to my Two by Two by Two Powerlifting Training Strategy. Here’s praying all works according to plan as I train for my next contest. Details on that shortly. See Updated Summaries for all of my exercises for all of my 2x2x2 Powerlifting Training Strategy workouts. For my initial workouts using this revised plan, see In-Season Routine #1 of 2018 Two by Two by Two Powerlifting Training Strategy; Weeks 1-6 of 12.




Off-Season Review and Mid-Training Plan Updates. Copyright 2018 by Gary F. Zeolla.

The above article was posted on this site March 17, 2018.

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