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Training Routine Format

Part Two

by Gary F. Zeolla

Part One of this article presented my general workout format and details on the scheme I use for my warm-up and work sets. This second part 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.

Intensity Back-off/ Contest Frequency

It's not possible to go at full intensity for every workout year-round. To try to do so will lead to burn-out both physically and emotionally. So my practice is to back-off on intensity after a week of full gear workouts and after each contest. Specifically, after a week of full gear workouts, I drop the weights for the powerlifts by about 10 pounds for each set, or by enough that I will be able to get the top number of reps for the rep range for each set without having to go "all-out." I then increase the weights the next couple of weeks in such a manner so that by the third workout I'm going at full intensity.

Along with this, when I start my new assistance exercise after a week of full gear workouts, I try to pick the weights so that for the first couple of workouts I'm working hard, but nowhere at full intensity. So again, it is not until about the third workout that I'm working at full intensity. So this gives me a couple of weeks on occasion where I don't need to get fully psyched up and go all out on my work sets.

After a contest, I take at least a week off of lifting. I then find I need to drop my weights on the powerlifts by about 10% from what I was handling before the contest. I then plan on it taking at least a month to get the weights back to where they were pre-contest. But what this means is, my plans are to enter only 2-3 contest a year and to never enter two contests that are less than about three months apart.

By limiting myself in this manner, I have been able to significantly increase my total at each contest I have entered since I started competing again in the spring of 2003. To try to enter more contests than this or to enter contests closer together would only ensure that my lifts and total would stagnate at best or even drop from contest to contest. In fact, this is what cost me winning a second National title back in my college lifting days.

I had won USPF National Collegiates at 114s way back in 1981. By 1982, I had moved up to 123s and entered Pennsylvania State Collegiates in February. At that contest, I totaled 1095 and easily won my weight class and won outstanding lifter in the lightweight division. However, at National Collegiates just a month later, I only totaled 1055 and took second place. The wining total was 1075!

In retrospect, since I had already qualified for Nationals in November of the previous year, I should have skipped State Collegiates and just entered Nationals. If I had, I probably would have not only won my weight class but best lifter as well. And let me tell you, I would have much preferred to have won my weight class and outstanding lifter at Nationals than at States. The moral of the story is that you need pick your contests carefully and think long-term progress rather than short term-goals.

Modifications for Non-Powerlifters

As mentioned in part one, the routine format outlined in this article can be used by non-powerlifters, especially those who engage in strength sports like football and wrestling. It would also be good for those looking for general fitness through weight training. But a few modifications will need to be made.

1. You might want to go a little higher on the reps. There's no reason for non-powerlifters to do singles or even doubles. So for major exercises, the higher rep workouts would be 6-8 reps, while lower rep workouts would be 3-5 reps. For minor exercises, do anywhere from 5-12 reps depending on the exercise.

2. There obviously would not be a need for the full gear workouts. Unless you are a powerlifter, there is no reason to be using a squat or deadlifts suit or bench press shirt. But I would recommend using a belt and wraps when doing lower reps. And if you feel a need to "max-out" with a single at some point, then definitely wear a belt and wraps.

3. Rather than some of the specific major powerlift assistance exercises you might want to substitute other exercises that work the same body parts in their place.

4. The presses should be included after the benching movements on Day One or Three, alternating between doing them with a barbell and with dumbbells. You can also alternate doing the DB presses with pressing the arms together and alternating the arms. But keep to two or three major pressing moves on each chest, shoulders, triceps day.

5. Deadlifts should be done with a conventional (close) stance. This stance works the hamstrings and lower back more than the sumo (wide) stance I utilize, and these are two often neglected areas of training.

6. Good mornings and stiff leg deadlifts are excellent exercises for working the low back and hamstrings. However, they are definitely "advanced" exercises. They should only be done by those who have already built up these areas with deadlifts. And much care must be taken to use correct form when doing them. So avoid them unless you are an advanced lifter and really know what you are doing or can get proper instruction. However, many gyms have machines designed to work the low back and hamstrings. And such machines can be used in their place.

For general fitness purposes, a more basically program of two or three straight sets would be best with the reps being a little higher, and thus less warm-up sets would be needed. So for the first lift of the day, the set/ rep scheme would be: warm-ups: 12, 8; work sets: 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps. Then for subsequent exercises, do one warm-up set and 2 work sets of 8-12 reps.

And finally, some cardio should be included. The cardio should be done after the weightlifting part of the workout or on an off day. You should also include a few minutes of light cardio at the start of the workout for a general warm-up.

Below is a sample routine with these modifications.

General warm-up (5 minutes of light cardio)

Day One:
Incline Benches
Close Grip Bench
Wrist Curls
Twisting Reverse Crunches

Day Two:
Leg Presses
Lat. Pulldowns
Dumbbell Rows

Day Three:
Dumbbell Curls
Reverse Crunches
Bicycle Ab Exercise

Day Four:
Hamstring/ Low Back Machine
Leg Curls
Machine Calves


For descriptions of these exercises, see the Powerlift Assistance Exercises pages and the Proper Performance of Exercises pages.

Pressed for Time/ K.I.S.S.

If you regularly have very little time to train, the easiest way to shorten the above workouts is to shorten the rest time between sets. Taking no more than a minute or two of rest between sets would enable you to get through these workouts rather quickly. Also, if you keep the reps higher, like the above recommended format of 2-3 work sets of 8-12 reps, this would enable less warm-ups sets to be done thus shortening the workout even further. But it should be noted that this put the emphasis on general fitness rather than strength. To focus specifically on strength requires somewhat longer rest times and lower reps.

So if your goal is mainly strength then try to do the above workouts as prescribed if you usually have time for the full workouts. But if occasionally you are pressed for time, the simplest modification is to just do the first lift for that particularly workout day and go home. The powerlifts are such that just doing them works just about every muscle in the body. So you shouldn't lose anything if you only do the major lift of the day. But if you have just a little more time, I would recommend doing one of the ab exercises on Days One and Three and one of the upper back exercises on Day Two.

In fact, some powerlifters train rather successfully by doing just the powerlifts and very little else. Now I do feel that a few judiciously picked assistance exercises would enable even greater progress, hence the design of my workouts. But the main point is, it is not necessary to do a whole bunch of different exercises. Just a few major movements and a few minor ones is all that is needed. Remember the acronym K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid). For further help in this regard, see the two-part article Designing A Training Routine.

Training Logs

Even though I won't be posting full details on each of my new routines, I will continue to post my training logs showing the weights and reps I used in my workouts for the powerlifts and major assistance exercises. With the training logs, I'll indicate what rep scheme I'm using for that particular routine. I will also indicate when my next contest will be and how many weeks I'll be using each new routine. See Training Log (11/30/04 - 4/16/05) for the first of these logs.

See Training Routine Format: Part Three for changes made to the basic format during the fall of 2005.

Training Routine Format. Copyright 2004-2005 by Gary F. Zeolla.

The above article first appeared in the free FitTips for One and All newsletter.
It was posted on this site December 5, 2004.
It was last updated November 14, 2005.

Powerlifting and Strength Training

My Training Routines and Training Logs

Training Routines and Program Design

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