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Training Routine Format

Part Three: Changes

by Gary F. Zeolla

I utilized the training format described in Parts One and Two of this article for some time with good success. But my training stagnated after a while. So over the fall of 2005, I changed to a rather different format. I am still working out every other day, alternating through four different routines (bench assistance/ squats/ benches/ deadlifts). So my training "weeks" are still eight days long. So that basic format remains the same. But many other things have changed. So in this third part of this article, I will detail these changes. Part Four of this article will provide an outline of my yearly training program.

Home Gym

Over the fall of 2005, I set up a home gym. My workout area is very small, measuring only 6'x10'. But it includes all the basics plus a few extras: deadlift platform, power rack, flat bench, flat/ incline/decline bench, power bar, 780 pounds of weights, chains, bands, boards, changeable dumbbells, power hooks (for the dumbbells), curl bar, pull-up bar, dip bars, dip belt, heavy bag, jump rope, exercise mat (for ab work and stretching). If you're wondering, altogether, this cost me about $2500. For further details, see Setting Up a Home Gym.

So I have plenty of equipment for power training and for doing a variety of exercises, but I'm still limited as compare to what you would get in a gym. So my list of possible exercises seen below reflects the equipment I have at my disposal. But other exercises could be substituted for the ones listed if you have access to additional equipment.

Reps and Gear Usage

Since I started lifting and competing again, I have utilized various forms of a "cycle" in my training. This consists of starting with higher reps, then gradually dropping to lower reps over a period of weeks. Usually, the higher reps (6-10) are done "raw" (without any supportive gear), while the lower reps (1-5) are done with some kind of gear (at least a belt and wraps, but sometimes also a suit and shirt). At other times, I have done a couple of lower rep sets with gear first, then a "back-off" higher rep raw set. 

These approaches worked good for a while. But the problem I ran into is that when I moved from the higher, raw reps to the lower reps with gear, I would have a hard time adjusting to wearing the gear and to the heavier weights. And the longer I spent on the higher raw reps, the longer it would take to get adjusted. And even using a "back-off" set just didn't seem too be helpful. There is just too much of a difference between higher raw reps and lower reps with gear.

Without getting too technical, different muscle fibers and energy systems are utilized when performing say a set of ten reps and a max single (type IIA muscle fibers and the lactic acid energy system vs. type IIB muscle fibers and the ATP/ CP energy system). Since my primary goal is powerlifting, which, of course means doing one max rep at a contest, at this point in my training, I think it is best to focus on lower reps with gear. This would include using the above mentioned gear in training, along with the use of chains and bands (more on this in a minute).

But first let me say, I do feel it was important for me to have trained doing high raw reps as much as I did given that I had just started lifting weights again about three and a half years ago. I would never recommend that someone who has been lifting less than two years do low reps and train primarily with gear and with chains and bands.

However, there comes a point at which a lifter has to decide what his or her goals are in training. And if it is to powerlift, then a focus on lower reps is a must. And once you decide to focus on powerlifting competition, you must make a decision as to whether you are going to compete raw or with gear. If you plan on competing raw, then train raw. But if you are planning on competing with gear, then you need to train with gear. And you'll never be successful with either until you decide and train exclusively for that type of competition. For me, I have no intents of competing raw, so it is time I focus on training for competing with gear.

Bands and Chains

As mentioned, I am now making extensive use of bands and chains in my training. I actually have been using these aids for some time. But I have been incorporating them into my training routine the same as other major assistance exercises, doing the powerlift first for two or three work sets, then afterwards doing the band or chain equivalents of the powerlifts for two work sets. However, I quickly found this was just too much when using gear on the powerlifts. It was too demanding, and it took too long to put on gear and to set up the chains and bands in the same workout.

So instead, I now plan on alternating doing the actual powerlifts with gear in some workouts and just the powerlifts done with chains and bands in other workouts. There are three different exercises that can be done for each powerlift with chains and bands. I call these simply (for instance) chain squats, band squats, and reverse band squats. The same three set-ups can be used for benches and deadlifts a well. So I plan on rotating through each of these three for each powerlift, and with rotating in the actual powerlift, this gives me four different exercises for each lift.

I will only be doing one each of type of each assistance exercise for each powerlift each routine, rotating through the three different exercises. So, for instance, for one routine I will do chain squats, band benches, and reverse band deadlifts. Then for the next routine, I will do reverse band squats, chain benches, and band deadlifts, etc..

I first used this approach in my Training Log and Descending Reps program for six weeks. For it, I was alternating doing the powerlifts with gear one week and doing chain, band, reverse band powerlift equivalents the next week. But then I switched to using a possibility mentioned on that page, doing the chain, band, reverse band equivalents for three or four weeks, then the powerlifts with gear for just one week.

Either way, for each rotation, I ended up doing the band/ chain equivalents three times, but the alternating weeks routine, of course, had me doing the actual powerlifts with gear more often. And I think that will be a better way to go, especially with me getting a new shirt and possibly a new suit (see below). It will give me more workouts to get used to the gear before my next contest.

I'm calling each one of these four or six week periods a "rotation" since I will be rotating through chain/ band/ reverse band powerlift equivalents and rotating these lifts with the actual powerlifts. The four weeks rotation add up to 32 days while the six weeks rotation takes 48 days.

The first week of each new rotation, since I'm doing all "new" exercises (or at least ones I haven't done for a while), I don't go quite "all-out." This gives me a chance to get used to the exercise and somewhat of a break from intense workouts. I call this my "back-off" week (Westside calls it a "de-load" week). " I'm also planning on taking an extra day off once each rotation.

See the page chains and bands for descriptions on how to set them for each lift and for further discussion on the advantages of using chains and bands.

Sets and Reps

With the change to alternating the powerlift with chain and band equivalents rather than following up the powerlift with a major assistance exercise, this has entailed a change in my approach to sets and reps. I generally have been doing two to three sets of the former and two sets of the latter, for a total of four to five sets. But for the weeks of only the chain and band equivalents, I am now doing five sets for that one exercise.

As for reps, what I will be utilizing on the powerlifts and on the chain and band powerlift equivalents is a "descending reps" approach I often used in my college lifting days. for the band/ chain powerlift equivalents, I'm doing five sets, starting at five reps for the first set, then adding weight for each subsequent set and dropping the reps, down to a heavy single for the last set. Ideally, my reps will be 5,4,3,2,1.

For the powerlifts with gear workouts, I tried the same approach, but the sets of 4 and 5 seemed to tire me out too much. And five work sets was a bit too much. So instead, for these workouts, I’ll start with a triple and only do 4 sets, going something like 3,2,1,1. The triple and double will still give me some volume, but doing two singles will give me practice in that regard. And come contest time, I’ll probably use the triple weight for my opener.

For additional assistance exercises, I will stick with 2 sets of anywhere from 4-12 reps depending on the exercise, except for my first exercise on bench assistance day where I will also use a descending reps approach, but only do three sets, of 5-3 reps.

Training and Competitive Gear

My gear consists of a Crain power belt and wrist wraps for all three powerlifts, along with Genesis Power Wraps on squats and pull-up type knee wraps on deadlifts. This has been the case for some time. But with my new approach, I am now wearing the double-ply suit I use in competition on squats and DLs.

I decided to make this change in my training gear as even with wraps, when I miss a lift it is generally at the bottom. But with the double-ply suit on, I never miss at the bottom. This is most pronounced on DLs. When I am lifting without a suit and miss a rep, it is always at the floor. IOW, if I can get it up a few inches I know I can get it the rest of the way. But at my last contest, I almost missed my third attempt around my knees and missed my fourth attempt at the same place. So I need to train the top half of the lift more.

Using chains and bands is one way to do this, so I will be emphasizing those for my assistance work. But it also seemed futile to keep squatting and deadlifting without a suit knowing that I was not fully working the part of the lift that needed the most work. And with lifting at home, it will be easier to put the suit on and off. I no longer have to run into a locker room or restroom to change. I can just do it in my workout area, since I will be lifting alone.

Initially, I tried using my single-ply CMW Genesis Power Suit and Genesis Deadlift Suit. But I found I was still missing at the bottom, especially on DLs. So I switched to using my double-ply Genesis Power Suit for both squats and DLs. I had avoided using it in training before as I was afraid I would wear it out. But with only using gear once a month, I don't think this will be a problem.

Getting the suit on by myself is usually not that difficult, but getting it off can be a problem. But what I do when squatting is to put one of the safety bars in the power rack in the bottom hole, bend down as best as I can, loop the straps over it, and then stand up. That pulls it down enough to get it off. When deadlifting, I simply put the straps over the end of the bar and pull up.

Initially, I went back to wearing 2.0 meter Genesis Power Wraps on squats in training. But when I switched to using my double-ply suit, I also went back to using my 2.5 meter wraps. So there really is not any difference anymore between my training gear and my competitive gear.

Similarly for benches, I was using my size 36 single-ply Power Shirt in training, but it wasn't doing much. So I switched to my size 30, Double Extreme Power Shirt. However, it was now stretched out and fitting too loose. So it was time for a new shirt. I was thinking of getting one of CMW’s new “Xtreme Plus” shirts, but they weren't ready yet, and I needed the new shirt as soon as possible so I could train with it for my next contest. So I decided to go another direction and ordered a Karen Klein shirt. So I will be using it for my full gear workouts and at contests. If I like it, I might also get a KK suit as well.


My warm-ups are still similar to what is described in Part One of this article. Specifically, for my first exercise of the day, I do 15, 10, 8, 5, 3 reps. For the powerlifts with gear where I start with a triple and at contests, I add a single at the end. I start adding gear with the 5 rep set. For subsequent exercises, I do one or two warm-up sets. But I'm trying to decrease my rest periods between sets, to improve my conditioning and to shorten my workouts.

After my lifting workouts, for my conditioning work, I either hit my heavy bag (bench days) or jump rope (squat and DL days) for 4-6 minutes at a high intensity. This limited amount of cardio is more than sufficient. The last I checked it, my blood pressure was 107/71 and my resting heart rate was 48. Not bad for someone in his mid-40s.

After the cardio, I stretch for about 10-15 minutes. My total workout time is between 1-1/2 to 2 hours. This includes set-up, warm-up, lifting, cardio, stretching, and clean-up, everything related to my workouts except for changing before and showering afterwards.

Off Season Training

Although the focus of my training will be as discussed above, I do see some benefit in engaging in "off-season" training. By this I mean the time right after contest and when I do not have another contest for a few months. For a break from the heavy lifting, it would be good to go back to doing higher rep, raw work. It would also be good to do exercises that would be more in line for those who compete raw. This will provide a break from the gear-oriented exercises and will strengthen those  areas that are not strengthen in geared training. It will also provide a chance to do some quality exercises that there simply is not room for during in-season training.

For this off-season training, I will go back to doing two sets on the powerlifts and major assistance exercises, doing both on the same day. I will do 6-10 reps on the powerlifts, 6-8 reps on  most major exercises, and 8-12 on minor exercises. I will only follow this off-season training for 4-8 weeks before returning to in-season training. Any more would lead to the problems discussed above.

Putting the in-season and off-season training together, this is a full yearly training program. For an outline of this program, see Training Routine Format - Part Four: Outline.

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

The above article was posted on this site November 14, 2005.
It was updated December 16, 2005.

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