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FitTips for One and All - Vol. II, No.10

FitTips for One and All
Volume II, Number 10

Presented by Fitness for One and All
Director: Gary F. Zeolla

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Training Routine Format

Part One

by Gary F. Zeolla

I starting lifting weights again in July of 2002. So as of this writing (November 2004), I have been training steadily for about 2-1/2 years. And I feel I have made very good progress. Throughout this time I have experimented with many different training routines and have been posting these different routines on the Web site (see My Training Routines and Training Logs). But I have now settled on the format that works best for me. So rather than continually posting each new routine, below is the format that I use for designing my routines.

But first, let me note that although this routine format is geared towards powerlifting, with a few modifications it can be used successfully by those with varying strength training goals, such as increasing strength for sports like football or wrestling or simply for general fitness. These modifications will be detailed in the second half of this two-part article. Also note, for those readers on this mailing list who are not interested in powerlifting or weight training, after this two-part article, I will return to running articles on more general areas of health and fitness. But for those who are, I hope you find this two-part article beneficial, along with last month's article Lack of Progress in the Weight Room.

That said, I work out every other day alternating through four different workouts. So my training "weeks" are eight days long (four workout days plus four rest days). But I have successfully used the training routine format discussed below and worked out four days per week (usually, M, W, F, Sa). It's just that I have found I recover better lifting every other day. But many lifters would have no problems using this routine format and training 4x/week. Conversely, some might find it best if they only work out three times a week. It all depends on your individual recuperative abilities.

With lifting every other day, I work each powerlift every eight days and each body part every four days. If you use this routine format and lift four days a week, you'll be working each powerlift once a week and each body part twice a week. If you lift three times a week, you'll work each powerlift every 9-10 days and each body part every 4-5 days. Any one of these frequencies would be ideal for the intermediate to advanced trainee.

Basically, I do each powerlift once per training week and follow up the powerlift with one major assistance exercise. For benches, I also have a second day where I do two major assistance exercises. Since I compete with a bench shirt, the first of these is specifically geared towards shirted benchers, like band or chain benches. But raw benchers could use a variety of other exercises.

Minor assistance exercises are just indicated by number of exercises to be used for the particular body part. See the Powerlift Assistance Exercises pages for possible exercises to use for the major and minor assistance exercises.

I change all of these assistance exercises every few weeks, and I consider it a new "routine" when I do so even though the basic format is still the same.

General Format

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

Training Format by Body Parts:
Day One: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Biceps, Forearms, Abs.
Day Two: Legs (esp. Quads), Hips, Upper Back.
Day Three: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Biceps, Abs.
Day Four: Legs (esp. Hamstrings), Hips, Calves, Lower Back, Upper Back.

Individual Workout Formats

Day One:
2 Major Bench Assistance
1 Biceps
1 Forearms
2 Abs

Day Two:
1 Major Squat Assistance
2 Upper Back (1 variation of cable pulls and 1 of rows; 1 of these with a wide grip and 1 with a close grip).

Day Three:
1 Bench Assistance
Overhead Presses (alternate barbell and dumbbells).
1 Biceps
2 Abs

Day Four:
1 Major Deadlift Assistance
Leg Curls or Shrugs

A few notes are in order. First, arms and/ or abs could be done on squat and deadlift days instead of on the bench days. But I have found the above split to work best as it keeps each workout about even in length. Specifically, I've found that doing six exercises on Days One and Three and four exercises on Days Two and Four makes each workout be of about the same length. It simply takes longer to do squats and deadlifts than benches.

Second, the overhead presses on Day Three are optional. Many don't feel that presses help the bench much, but I believe they are beneficial, especially if you tend to miss at around the halfway point where the delts are used the most. Moreover, they are great for overall shoulder development.

Third, also optional are the leg curls on Day Four. Leg curls only give minor help to the deadlift and could lead to overtraining the hamstrings. But they are worthwhile to include on occasion. Similarly, the shrugs work the traps, which help with the lockout on deadlifts. But again, be careful about overtraining the traps. Basically, I'll do shrugs if my major deadlift assistance exercise is one that doesn't work the upper back, like good mornings. Otherwise, I might do leg curls.

Workout Time, Rest Periods, and Warm-ups

I don't do any cardio (aerobic exercise) to warm-up. However, before starting my warm-up sets, I gather together all of the weights I'm going to be using for my workout and pile them up by where I'll be doing my first exercise of the day. So the walking around and carrying of the weights serves as a general warm-up. And with all of the weights now readily available, I can buzz through my sets a little faster.

I used to do cardio after my workouts, but I haven't been bothering with it lately. Cardio work simply increases recovery time from the weight training. And as long as my blood pressure and resting heart rate remain fine, I don't see any reason to do cardio. The last time I checked it,  my blood pressure was 104/ 71 and resting heart rate was 50 bpm. For a 43 year old, I think that's more than good enough.

I stretch for about 15 minutes after my workouts. I try to keep my total workout time (set-up, lifting, and stretching) to less than 2 hours. I try to move as fast as possible throughout all phases of my workout. This keeps me in good general physical condition and is the reason I don't think cardio is necessary.

Specifically, my rest periods between work sets are as follows:
Squats and deadlifts: 6-8 minutes.
Major squat and deadlift assistance: 5-7 minutes.
Benches and major bench assistance: 4-6 minutes.
Remaining exercises: 2-4 minutes.
Rest times between warm-up sets are about half of the above times.

Those in even better general condition than I could probably take less rest between sets and get the whole workout done in less than 1-1/2 hours.

For my warm-ups on the powerlifts I do four sets of decreasing reps, specifically: 12, 8, 5, 3. The set of 12 is with just the bar. The set of eight is with 185 for squats and deadlifts and with 115 for benches. The final triple is with 10-15% less than what I will be using for my first work set and is the only warm-up set done with gear (the belt and wraps I'll be using  for the first work set, along with a single-ply shirt on benches). The sets of five and three are then spaced out in-between the set of eight and the triple (e.g. Squats: 45/12, 185/8, 250/5, 315/3, first work set: 360/3-4). I use the same warm-up scheme for my first exercise on bench assistance day.

For subsequent exercises I do one warm-up set with about 10-20% less than my first work set and for the lower number of reps of the range for the first set (e.g. chain squats: warm-up: 185/5, first work set: 225/5-6). I use a range of reps for my work sets as I train to "almost failure." I work very hard and try to do as many reps as possible, but I try to stop before I actually miss a rep. When I get the top number of reps for a set, I increase the weight my next workout. See Training to Almost Failure for further details.

Drop Reps with Back-off Set

For my work sets, there are various rep schemes that I have used with one degree of success or another. But the one that seems to work best is what I call "drop reps with back-off set." For the powerlifts I do three work sets of 3-4, 1-2, 6-8 reps. The first two sets are done with a belt and wraps and a size 36 single-ply shirt on benches while the third (back-off) set is done raw (no belt or wraps). I use full gear (belt, wraps, suits, and a size 30 double-ply shirt) for the powerlifts after about every 6-8 weeks of training. It is after the week of full gear workouts that I change all of my assistance exercises. The exact number of weeks will depend on how long it is until my next contest. But I try to plan it so that I have about 5-7 weeks of training between my last week of full gear workouts and a contest.

The reason for this is, for my full gear workouts I try to duplicate contest conditions as much as possible (except for doing each lift on a different day). So to use full gear in training too close to a contest would be like having a contest right before a contest. Specifically, for these full gear workouts I take three attempts for each lift, all being singles, as in a contest. I also take longer rests between these attempts than I usually do between sets in a workout, namely about 10-15 minutes. This is the amount of time I usually have at a contest, so I want to practice waiting that long during these workouts.

The week of using full gear also gives me a chance to practice using the gear and in picking attempts. In addition, it gives me a good idea where my lifts are between contests. For the workouts when I am using full gear, I don't do any assistance work. That way, those workouts aren't overly taxing. But with taking time to get the gear on and off, and with taking longer rests between sets, these workouts still take about two hours.

For my full gear workouts and at a contest, I make one change from the above warm-up scheme. I add one additional warm-up set, a single with full gear after the triple with belt and wraps. For the single I use the weight (or close to it) that I used for my first work set of 3-4 reps the previous workout. The first attempt (my opener) is then with about the weight I used in my previous workout for the second work set of 1-2 reps. Since I know I got the weight without a suit or shirt in training, it gives me confidence that I can easily get it for my opener at a contest with the suit or shirt. For my second and third attempts I am then basically depending on what the suits and shirt add. But it should be noted that I use double-ply gear for all three powerlifts. Those who are only using single ply gear might need to use less than what they did in training for their openers.

I found the above rep scheme works very well and incorporates everything I want in a routine. Using a belt and wraps and a single-ply shirt on benches for every workout enables me to use and thus stay used to handling heavy weights. The set of 3-4 reps is the real strength builder. The set of 1-2 reps helps me to stay used to doing heavy singles and doubles, with the heavier weights and different psyching than for higher reps.

The back-off raw set then serves several purposes. By lifting raw, it keeps the joints and low back strong. The higher reps build muscular endurance and overall conditioning. But the reps are still low enough for it to be a significant strength builder as well.

With one exception, all assistance work is done raw. For the most part, I see no reason to use gear for assistance work. Doing so would only detract from the specific strengthening effects. For major assistance exercises I do two work sets of 5-6 then 3-4 reps. For minor assistance, I do two sets of anywhere from 5-12 reps, depending on the particular exercise, but I still drop the number of reps somewhat from the first to the second set (e.g., barbell rows: 8-10, 5-7).

The one exception is the first bench assistance exercise on Day One. For this exercise I use the same pattern as on the powerlifts, namely: with belt and wraps: 3-4, 1-2, raw: 6-8 rep. This way, I have two pressing exercises where I do two heavier sets with gear and a back-off set without gear, just as I have two such exercises for the lower body (e.g. squats and deadlifts).

Of course, the above scheme assumes one will be competing with some kind of gear. But it would work for raw competitors as well. There just won't be as much difference between the first two work sets and the back-off set in terms of the amount of weight being handled. The "full gear" workouts should still be done, but they would probably be better called "practice contest" workouts. And one's practice contest and and real contest attempts would need to be adjusted. The opener would probably be about what one has used for the set of 3-4 reps, while the second attempt what one has used for the 1-2 reps set. The third attempt would then be for a PR.

But for those who use gear, all of the supportive gear (suits, shirt, belt, and wraps) mentioned in this article are available from Crain's Muscle World.

Part Two of this article will appear in the next issue of FitTips for One and All. It will discuss the importance of backing off on training intensity occasionally, how to modify the above routine for general strength training and fitness purposes, and related issues.


New on Fitness for One and All


The following are new Supplements Description:

C-500 Caps

Super E Complex

Bands and Chains is a new Powerlift Assistance Exercises page. All of these pages have been updated as well.

Contest Plans for 2004 has been updated.

Also by Gary F. Zeolla:
Darkness to Light Web site and Darkness to Light newsletter.
Christian Theology, Apologetics, Cults, Ethics, Bible Versions, and much more!


Disclaimer: The material presented in this newsletter is intended for educational purposes only. The director, Gary F. Zeolla, is not offering medical or legal advice. Accuracy of information is attempted but not guaranteed. Before undertaking any medical treatments or diet, exercise, or health improvement programs, consult your doctor. The director is in no way responsible or liable for any bodily harm, physical, mental, or emotional, that results from following any of the advice on this newsletter.

All material in this newsletter is copyrighted 2004 by Gary F. Zeolla or as indicated otherwise.