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My New Powerlifting/ Strength Training Workout Plan for 2024
By Gary F. Zeolla
At the start of 2024, I began to post videos of my powerlifting/ strength training workouts on my fitness website (see Workout Posts and Videos). That was when I was finally able to get back into hard and heavy training after over 2-1/2 years and two shoulder surgeries and three muscular injuries (see Rotator Cuff Tears and Squat Injury).
Prior to that time, I experimented much as to what type of training routine to follow. I finally settled on a rather unique five-day a week schedule, with each workout lasting about 1-1/2 hours. In this article, I will first overview this workout plan then present a summary of each workout.
Overview of Workout Plan
My basic workout design is to do one major exercise, which is to say one of the powerlifts (Squats, Benches, or Deadlifts) or a variation thereof, then two additional exercises in each workout.
I use a rather unique training plan. For Squats and Deadlifts, I have six workouts. Those six workouts are divided into two groups. One group is the powerlift itself in the first workout then a very close look-alike lift in each of the next two workouts. The other three workouts contain a more significant variation of the powerlift. I alternate between these six workouts and between each group.
Squats and Chain Squats:
For Squats, one group of three workouts is regular Squats done wearing knee sleeves, with each workout going to different depths. The other set of three workouts is Squats with Chains, also wearing knee sleeves and also going to different depths.
Otherwise, for both regular Squats and Chain Squats, I have been alternating between doing regular, legal depth (just below parallel) Squats, and Squats done ¾” lower than legal depth and 1-1/2” lower. I can hit those depths exactly due to using a foam squat box. For details, see Extra Low Foam Squat Box. But since I wrote that article, I have added a one board in addition to two boards option for under the main box for those extra low depths. Mine is homemade, but you can purchase one from Amazon as well.
Further Details on Chains and Wraps:
I have found that the amount of weight I use for Chains Squats is about equivalent to the amount of weight I can use when wearing the 3.0 meter knee wraps I wear at contests.
To explain further for those unfamiliar with wraps, they help most when “in the hole” meaning at the bottom of the lift when they are fully stretched out. That “bounce” they provide out of the hole enables greater weight to be handled in the lift. But they help less and less as the lifter rises and the stretch in the wraps lessens.
Chains have the same effect. If they are set correctly, when the lifter is in the hole, the heaviest part of the chains should be almost completely lying on the floor, effectively taking that weight off of the bar. But as the lifter rises and the chains rise off of the floor, weight is gradually added back on. The effect is the same as wearing wraps of the lift being easier in the hole but harder as you rise up. That again enables more weight to be handled if you add in the chain weight to the regular weight of the bar and plates.
In this way, I am preparing to compete wearing either sleeves or wraps. Though most likely, if I compete again, I will probably do both. I will wear sleeves for my final two warmup sets and my contest opener, then switch to wraps for my second and third attempts.
The reason for that pattern is the same as to why I avoid using wraps in training—wrapping is time-consuming and tiring. If I were to wear wraps instead of using chains in training, it would make for very long and exhausting workouts. At a contest, wrapping for five sets would leave me worn out for the rest of the contest. Also, I am more confident about hitting depth with sleeves than wraps, so opening with sleeves ensures I get at least my opener passed.
The only downside is to change from sleeves to wraps requires taking off my squat boots, taking off the sleeves, putting the boots back on, and then getting set for my next attempt with wraps. With also having to give my weight for my second attempt to the scorer’s table, it can all get a bit rushed. But I’ve done it twice now with little problems.
Deadlifts and Different Deadlifts:
For Deadlifts, I have a similar plan of doing regular Deadlifts for the first group of three workouts and (for want of a better name) “Different Deadlifts” for the other three.
For the first, it is similar to Squats in that the first workout is regular Deadlifts from the floor. The next two works are “Deficit Deadlifts” done while standing on one board (3/4”) and two boards (1-1/2”). Those differences might not sound like much for either lift, but it is a noticeable difference.
Specifically, on both Squats and Deadlifts I have found each board (3/4”) extra low or deficit, respectively, makes about a ten-pound difference in terms of the weight used, so a two-boards lift uses about 20-pounds less than the regular lift. However, as I am still regaining strength after recovering from my two shoulder surgeries and other injuries, I have been making faster strides. I have been using the same weight for the regular lift, then the one-board lift, then the two-board lift, then increasing the weight ten pounds for the next cycle.
For the Different Deadlifts, I am alternating Chain Deadlifts, Stiff Leg Deadlifts, and Snatch Grip Deadlifts. The first two are done with a one-board deficit.
I used to use a modified Sumo (wide) stance on Deadlifts for both training and competition, though I often trained both Sumo and Conventional (Conv, close) stances evenly and I could pull about the same with each. But due to my adductor (inner thigh) injuries, I began to find Sumos to be too tough on those tender muscles, so I switched to only doing Conv Deadlifts. But I got in the habit of indicating Sumo or Conv, so I continue that pattern of indicating Conv with each Deadlift variation. But they could be done Sumo as well.
Benches and Bench Assistance:
For Benches, for the first three weeks of 2024, I was trying to do a form of flat Benches twice a week. That was done in a similar pattern as Deadlifts of doing regular Benches or a close variation thereof the first day and more different variations the second day. But that was not working out, as I was not making any progress. Therefore, I went back to what I have long done, having a Bench and a Bench Assistance (BA) day each week.
I have four workouts for each. For the Bench Day, I alternate through regular Benches and three variations thereof. For BA Day, do what I call non-flat Bench assistance exercises. Specifically, I alternate doing a form of Inclines and Dips one week and a form of Declines and Overhead Presses the next week.
I lift five days a week. I alternate doing a Squat or Deadlift workout on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, and a Bench or BA workout on Mondays and Fridays, taking Wednesdays and Saturdays off. In that way, I do Squats and Deadlifts every 4-5 days and Bench work every 3-4 days. I think I can handle Deadlifting two days after Squats (or vise-versa) due to doing only Conv Deadlifts, as the two lifts are quite different. If I was still doing Sumos, it might not work, as Sumos are basically a Squat with the bar in the hands rather than on the back.
Wednesdays are my day to get other physical stuff done around my home, while Saturdays are my complete rest days. However, I also take an “extra” day off of rest about once a month or every 4-5 weeks. I have found I need that extra day off to keep from overtraining. I always schedule it on a Friday or Sunday, so that, with my regular Saturday off, I have two days off in row. I always feel refreshed and like it’s been a while since I worked out on my first day back.
Some lifters put in a “light” workout or even a week’s worth of light workout for recovery. But I have found it works better to just take the day off. In that way, I can use my normal workout time to get caught up on other stuff, like work or visiting friends and family. I note that extra day off on my workout charts, logs, and calendar with a all capitals “OFF.”
Sets x Reps:
For the first month of 2024, I was doing four work sets with supportive for the powerlifts and variations thereof, for 7-8, 5-6, 3-4, 1-2 reps, increasing the weight about 5% set to set. But then I went back to what I had been doing in 2023 and many times previously. I am now doing three work sets with gear for 5-6, 3-4, 1-2 reps, then a raw “backoff” set for 8-12 reps.
Note by “gear” is meant for Squats and Deadlifts a belt, wrist wraps, and knee sleeves. For Benches, it is a belt and wrist wraps. By “backoff” I mean in terms of weight not intensity. I have found that one raw set helps to maintain raw strength, but by keeping the reps high, it lessens the risk of injury of working hard without supportive gear.
I use 70% of the weight I used for my top geared work set for the raw backoff set for Squats and Deadlifts and 73% for Benches. The difference is because my limited gear makes no difference on Benches but a small but significant difference on Squats and Deadlifts in terms of the weight handled. Thus, there is more of a difference between geared and raw sets on Squats and Deadlifts than on Benches. I can hit those percentages very closely due to having 1-1/4-pound plates and fractional plates.
For other exercises, I generally do three work sets. For compound moves like Rows, I do 7-9, 5-7, 3-5 reps. For isolation exercises, I do 9-11, 7-9, 5-7 reps.
For warmups, for the first exercise of the workout I do six sets of 15, 11, 9, 7, 5, 3 reps. For Squats and Deadlifts that first set is with bodyweight, for Benches, it is with a pair of 10s. The next set is the bar, then the rest of the sets are spaced evenly in terms of weight, with the last set being about 10% less than the first work set. For subsequent exercises, I do 2-4 warm-up sets of varying reps depending on the exercise and how close it is to the previous exercise.
All warmup sets are done without any supportive gear, except the last one on the powerlifts and variations thereof. That set is done with whatever gear I will be using for the geared work sets. All minor exercises are done without any supportive gear.
For my training philosophy in terms of workout intensity, see the article Training to Almost Failure.
Timing Rest Between Sets:
I never timed my rest period between sets. But I’ve been having the problem of designing workouts that finish within my allotted workout time at the start of a new training routine, but as the weeks go by, the workouts tend to get longer and longer. That is due to working harder on my work sets and thus taking longer rests. But if I’m resting longer, that is not really a progression. Consequently, I now use the timer on my phone to time all of my rest periods, between warmups and work sets.
My total rest time from when I complete a set and when I start the next set for major exercises is about 4-5 minutes, but my timed rest is just a minute. That is because of all the stuff I have to do between sets.
Take Squats for example. After I finish a set and rack the weight, I have to loosen my belt, loosen my wrist wraps, sit down, pull down my knee sleeves, and loosen the Velcro straps on my Squat boots. Then I note the number of reps I got on my tablet that I have my workout chart on. Then I need to get back up and change the weights for the next set. Then I sit back down and start the timer for that one-minute rest.
After that one-minute rest, I have to do all of the above gear adjustments in reverse, along with chalking my hands, maybe taking a sip of water, and taking a few seconds to focus before I start my next set. That all adds up to that 4-5 minutes between sets.
For minor exercises, I don’t have the gear to tighten and loosen and have less weights to change, so the total rest time is less, generally only 2-3 minutes depending on the exercise. But by timing the one-minute of actual rest, it keeps me focused and from dallying around and resting too long.
I call my final workout before a contest for each powerlift my “peaking workout.” For it, I do four sets of 4, 3, 2, 1 reps, increasing 2.5% set to set. That enables me to focus on lower reps to peak for the contest.
Since my first work set is for lower reps than usual, I add in one more warmup set with gear, a single. To keep the workouts from being overly long and tiring and to focus on the actual powerlifts, I skip all other exercises.
I open at the contest with the four-rep set’s weight, then my second attempt is the double’s weight. Assuming those go as planned, my third attempt is 5% more than the double or 2.5% more than I did for a single in training. I’ve found I get that limited amount of a “contest bump.”
This plan enabled me to go 9/9 or at least 8/9 at every contest I entered in the 2010s, with the third attempt for each lift at each contest being a full max lift.
At least that’s the plan for Benches and Deadlifts. Squats are a bit different. For them I do two peaking workouts, one with sleeves and one with wraps. The latter enables me to refamiliarize myself with wraps and to set my attempts. I then open with the sleeves’ four rep set weight, then switch to wraps and its double’s weight for my second attempt, then the third is with wraps as indicated.
The links below are to the specific equipment I have in my home gym or something similar to it. For more on the equipment I have in my home gym, see Setting Up a Home Gym. The links to Amazon are advertising links, for which I receive a commission if a product is purchased after following the link. All Amazon links open in a new window.
The odd numbered days are the Chain Squat days. The even numbered days are the Regular Squat days.
Day One: Chain Squats. Step-ups. Decline Crunches.
Day Two: 2 Board, 1-1/2” Extra Low Squats. Barbell Calves. Sit-ups.
Day Three: 1 Board, 3/4" Extra Low Chain Squats. Step-ups. Twisting Sit-ups.
Day Four: Regular Squats. Rocking Barbell Calves. Decline Sit-ups.
Day Five: 2 Board, 1-1/2” Extra Low Chain Squats. Step-ups. Crunches.
Day Six: 1 Board, 3/4” Extra Low Squats. Dumbbell Calves. Twisting Crunches.
Note: Pause Squats would be an alternate to any of the Extra Low Squats, but I’ve found the latter to be more effective. The Step-ups are done on my Squat box, so they are quite high (about 12”). Mine is homemade, but you can purchase one from Amazon as well. Lunges and Leg Presses would be an alternative to the Step-ups. But I find Lunges to be too awkward, and I don’t have access to a Leg Press machine.
The odd numbered days are the Different Deadlifts days. The even numbered days are the Regular Deadlifts days.
Day One: Conv 1 Board (3/4”) Deficit Chain Deadlifts. Crunch/ Side Bend Combo.
Day Two: Conv 2 Board (1-1/2”) Deficit Deadlifts. Lying Leg Curls (one leg at a time). Bicycle Abs.
Day Three: Conv 1 Board (3/4”) Deficit Stiff Leg Deadlifts. Side Bends (Standing). Leg Raises.
Day Four: Regular Conv Deadlifts. Lying Leg Curls (Alternate legs). 2 Leg Twisting Crunches/ Reverse Crunches.
Day Five: Snatch Grip Deadlifts. Conv 1 Board (3/4”) Deficit Deadlifts. Side Bends (Sitting). Twisting Leg Raises.
Day Six: Conv 1 Board (3/4”) Deficit Deadlifts. Back Extensions. Crunches/ Reverse Crunches.
Note: Good Mornings could be substituted for either of the Leg Curls, but I am leery about them as I injured my hamstring twice on them. Any other lower back or hamstring exercise could also be used there (such as Glute-Ham Raises), but I am limited by what equipment I have in my home gym.
Day One: 3-Count Pause Benches. Dumbbell Rows (Overhand). Curl Bar Curls.
Day Two: 3-Count Pause Chain Benches. Close Grip Pushups. Barbell Rows. Curl Bar Reverse Curls.
Day Three: Regular Benches. Dumbbell Rows (Parallel Grip). Super Curl Bar Curls.
Day Four: Chain Benches. Pushups. Close Grip Barbell Rows. Super Curl Bar Reverse Curls.
Day One: Decline Benches. Overhead Presses (Standing). Curl Bar Rows.
Day Two: 3-Count Pause Incline Benches. Dips. Dumbbell Rows (Underhand).
Day Three: Close Grip Decline Benches. Overhead Presses (Seated). Super Curl Bar Rows.
Day Four: Incline Benches. Dips. Triceps Bar Rows (Parallel Grip).
If you are unfamiliar with any of these exercises, see the aforementioned Workout Posts and Videos page for the major (first) exercise on each listed day. For more videos of those and for the rest of the exercises, see Weightlifting Exercises and Workout Videos.
That’s my current training plan. I’ve only been following this specific plan for a few weeks, but it seems to be working. Moreover, I’ve used this style of training for quite some time, as I like the variety.
Even though I am not sure whether I will compete again or not, this this plan is powerlifting-oriented. That is because I prefer that style of training. But this general plan can be adapted for more general strength training with exercise substitutions and doing higher reps. As such, hopefully, this article will give the reader some ideas for your own training plan, powerlifter or not.
My New Powerlifting/ Strength Training Workout Plan for 2024. Copyright © 2024 By Gary F. Zeolla.
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The article was posted on this site February 4, 2024.
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