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Routines Review and Preview

By Gary F. Zeolla

I finished my 12-week Post-Contest Routine on Monday, June 6, 2016. I am now taking a short break, and then I will start my 12-week Pre-Contest Routine on Sunday, June 12 in preparation for APF/ AAPF Ohio States in Mansfield, Ohio on Saturday, September 10. In this article I will review my recent routine and preview my next one, noting changes I will be making to both of these halves of my Two by Two Powerlifting Training Plan.


50s PRs and Off Days


I began my Post-Contest Routine on March 13, a week after competing in IPA PA States. I experienced a more pronounced post-contest letdown than usual, and it took me a month to really get psyched for hard training again. That was in part due to starting too light on several exercises, so I didn’t need to get psyched up to get my planned reps. But as the routine went on, it went well, and I hit 50s PRs on most exercises by the end of the routine. My training has thus been going well, and I thank the LORD that.

However, many of the 50s PRs were only increases of 5-10 pounds. But I am happy with that progress given that most men my age (mid-50s) are struggling just to maintain strength, and small increases will add up over time. But still, at this stage of my training I think I could do as little better. But to do so will require starting with more challenging weights at the beginning of a routine. To that end, I added my 50s PRs to my current workout charts and will continue to do so in the future. Along with the benefits mentioned in the afore linked to article on 50s PRs, noting my 50s PRs will enable me to better pick my starting weights so as not to start too light.

In fact, I will think of my initial workouts in a routine more as “starter workouts” rather than “backoff workouts” as I have been. By this I mean rather than looking at those workouts as a break from hard lifting, I will look at them as workouts for figuring out correct starting weights to get me into hard training, but I don’t want them to be super difficult either. My plan is to use my four rep 50s PR weight for my top set of two reps, and to figure out the weights for the other sets from there. That should give the correct intensity, hard but not super hard, ensuring that I get my planned reps for the first workout. Then it should only take one or two workout until I tie my 50s PRs, then the rest of the routine I can work on setting new 50s PRs.

With this new plan, rather than backoff workouts, I will get my rest from off days from lifting, as I have found off days do much more for recuperation both physically and mentally than “light” workouts. Specifically, I always take a week off after a contest and an extra day off once a month. Well actually, that extra day off has been every fourth Sunday. But I think it will be best to now take it after every fourth training week, thus after Week 4 and Week 8 of each routine. Then instead of backoff workouts the first two weeks of my Pre-Contest Routine, I will take off two days rather than my normal one after Week 12 of the Post-Contest Routine, which will be in-between the two routines.

With usually lifting four days a week (Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday), taking Wednesday and Thursday off as I am now will give me a full five days off of lifting. In that way, I will be refreshed and ready to start with hard training on Sunday at the beginning of the Pre-Contest Routine. I will thus only lose one day of hard training rather than two weeks. Hopefully, that will set me up for greater 50s PRs at the end of the routine. Then during my Pre-Contest Routine, I will take an extra day off after Week 4 and Week 8. Then my last workout the week of the contest will be on Monday, meaning I will again take two days off (Wednesday and Thursday). With the contest on Saturday, that will give me four days off before the contest.

Another advantage of this plan is with my previous schedule of taking every fourth Sunday off, I would always change which workout I did after the extra day off. But with this schedule, most of the time I will be doing my Bench Assistance or Bench workout after the extra day off, and then squats or deadlifts before a regular day off and deadlifts before my regular plus extra day off. That matters as I’ve been feeling feel a little lackadaisical the day after my extra day off, but I've found bench work to be easier than squats and deadlifts, so that enables me to ease back into lifting. And I drag somewhat the day after squats and especially deadlifts, so I will be able to rest afterwards.

But the downside to this schedule is driving me crazy not lifting for five days, but this will be better than beginning with two weeks of less than vigorous workouts. Actually, I would lose more than that as lately, after the two backoff weeks, I would feel lackadaisical and find it difficult to start to work hard again.

Thus overall, this should be a better schedule. However, this well-planned schedule could of course get messed if life gets in the way and forces me to take an unplanned day off.  If that happens I will have to adjust as need be, but this new schedule is the ideal.


Bench Assistance Day


The main exceptions to hitting 50s PRs in my Post-Contest Routine were the exercises on my Bench Assistance (BA) day. My basic plan has been: Week A: inclines, dips, chin-ups, reverse curls. Week B: declines, overhead presses, pull-ups, curls. The only one of these that I hit 50s PRs on were gymnastic rings dips, but that was probably because I just began doing them in my pervious routine and thus had lots of room for improvement. I thus began to make changes to my BA day at the end of in my Post-Contest Routine and will continue to do so in my Pre-Contest Routine.

Specifically, as I mentioned in my logs, I think that alternating inclines and presses has not been going well, as doing each of them every other week is not sufficient, as they are too dissimilar to alternate. Of the two, inclines would have the greater carryover to benches, and my left arm has been hurting me on the presses. As such, I will substitute a variation of inclines for the presses.

Similarly, declines and dips are too dissimilar to alternate. I really like doing dips, but I am always leery about hurting my shoulders on them if I were to lose control and go down too far. I never have, but it is always on my mind, especially as I get near the end of a routine and am using heavier weights. And again, declines would have a greater carryover to benches, so I will do a variation of them each week.

But to incorporate this idea into my Two by Two Plan I need four variations of each exercise. I have been alternating using a barbell and dumbbells for inclines and declines. That would give me two variations. A third could be to do the dumbbell version with an alternating arms fashion as compared to the arms together fashion I’ve been using, but that would still only be three variations. Moreover, I am getting tired of using dumbbells due to the added time it takes for them, since I only having changeable dumbbells.

Also, I am always leery about hurting myself with them if I miss a rep and have to dump the weights on the floor. That leeriness is getting more pronounced as I handle heavier dumbbell, making them feel even more unwieldly. I have never missed a rep the whole decade plus I have trained alone in my home gym, but that means I cannot ever truly push myself to the limit on them.

As such, I think a better approach would be to vary the barbell versions of each of these in the same manner I do regular benches, namely by using my regular (medium) bench grip, a close grip, a wide grip, and a 3 count pause. I could also use chains and bands and even my new cambered bar if I want more variety. I will mix it up by doing a different form of each in each routine, e.g., CG Declines in the Post-Contest Routine and CG Inclines in the Pre-Contest Routine.

Meanwhile, along with presses, I have not been making progress on pull-up/ chin-up type exercises. Part of the problem for these exercises and for overhead presses is probably my messed up right shoulder. After all of these years, I tend to forget about my bicycle accident back in 1999, as I only notice my still stiff and weak right shoulder when doing something over my head. I’ve tried ever since then to improve the flexibility and strength, but to no avail. And besides, over the head type of exercise do not have much carryover to the Big 3, which is all I am really concerned with.

However, I want to do some form of upper back work on all of my BA and Bench days. I had been doing variations of rows on Bench days, which is considerably different from the pull-ups/ chin-ups on BA day. But how to work the upper back in a different manner on each day? I don’t have a low cable pull in my home gym, so those exercise are out. All I have is a barbell, a curl bar, and dumbbells, but with them I can come up with sufficient variations.

Specifically, on BA day I will do a variation of rows underhand pulling the bar to my stomach, while on Bench day I will do a variation of rows overhand pulling the bar to my chest. Hopefully that will be a sufficient difference so as not to overtrain the involved muscles. And the underhand rows should have greater carryover to the lockout on deadlifts than pull-ups/ chin-ups, and the overhand rows to benches. To get four variations of each form, I will use a similar approach as with inclines and declines and use three different grips on the barbell or curl bar: my regular (medium) grip, a wide grip, and close grip, and then use a dumbbell for the fourth variation.

Otherwise on BA day, I also have not made progress on curls and reverse curls. That again could be because they are too dissimilar to alternate. I have found reverse curls help with the grip on deadlifts. They are thus the more important of the two, so I will do them in both training weeks and forgo the curls. The biceps should get sufficient work from all of the rowing (along with from the reverse curls) for injury prevention. And that is all I care about when it comes to the biceps, having long ago given up on having impressive looking biceps. My four variations of reverse curls will be: barbell curls, curl bar curls, preacher bench reverse curls, and dumbbell reverse curls.


Pre-Contest Routine


I will begin my Pre-Contest Routine on Sunday, June 12, 2016. If I’ve counted out the weeks correctly, and if I don’t miss any workouts, I should get in twelve training weeks, minus my Week 12 Deadlift workout due to the double days off before beginning this routine. I will still be doing “look-alike lifts” in Week A, as I had been doing in both training weeks in my Post-Contest Routine. But I will now do the actual powerlifts in Week B. In my previous two pre-contest routines I began with this approach, but then switched to doing the actual powerlifts both weeks. But I will resist that temptation this time, as I think that caused me to get burned out on squats and deadlifts last time, and I thus made no progress on them the last month before my last contest.

As always, I will change all of the exercises from my Post-Contest to my Pre-Contest Routines, except that this time I already started a couple of exercises at the end of the former as I wanted to try them out before incorporating them into the latter, such as the aforementioned CG Inclines. Also, I will continue to use my new cambered bar, as I really like it and think it is proving beneficial. But I will make a couple of changes in how I am using it.

First, I will change from doing the cambered bar benches first to second in the workout, after regular benches. Second, in my Post-Contest Routine I was doing them in a “dead stop” fashion, resting the bar momentarily on the safety bars in my power rack. I mainly did them that way as I was not flexible enough to actually touch the cambered part to my chest. But now I think I will be flexible enough to do so, especially with being more warmed up with doing regular benches first. I will thus lower the safeties one hole and do the cambered bar benches in a regular bench fashion, with just a brief pause at the chest. If this works out, I will probably continue these two variations hereafter.

Another change I tried at the end of my recent routine was to add a warm-up set for squat and deadlift exercises so as not to have such big jumps in weights. That seems to be working in terms of the number of sets, but the 11 reps set I added was too much. I will thus add a lower rep warm-up set, doing for my first exercise of the workout six warmup sets of 15, 9, 7, 5, 4, 3 reps. For subsequent exercises I will omit the first set of 15 reps. That’s assuming a first work set of 5-6 reps. With a first work set of 6-7 reps, I will do warmup sets of 10, 8, 6, 5, 4 reps. I know that looks like a lot for some, but I have found I do better with more warmup sets, but that is also why my workouts tend to be rather long, usually about of two hours.


Possible Future Modifications


I will continue to use the same set x reps approach I have been. On the powerlifts and most look-alike lifts this will be 3 x 5-6, 3-4, 1-2, on upper back and speed work, 3 x 6-7, 4-5, 2-3, and on isolation exercises 3 x 9-10, 7-8, 5-6. But if I stagnate, I might try a modification of a basic periodization plan.

Such a plan usually involves starting with higher reps at the beginning of a routine and gradually dropping to lower reps at the end of it. But I will continue to use my drops reps approach and write it up as 3 x 5-7, 3-5, 1-3. But ideally, for each major exercise I will do: 3 x 7, 5, 3 for two workouts, then 3 x 6, 4, 2 for two workouts, then 3 x 5, 3, 1 for the final two workouts. For minor exercises I will use the same approach but with higher reps. But this approach will only work if I have time for the full 12 weeks of each routine.

However, looking ahead, between my upcoming contest and the probable one after that, I most likely will only have time for 22 training weeks. In that case, the periodization reps approach would not work. I would also need to modify the weeks of the two routines. I could do one 12-week routine and on 10-week routine or do two 11 week routines. But the problem with the latter is my training plan is based on an alternating weeks scheme, with somewhat similar exercises being done in Week A of both routines and in Week B of both routines.

For instance, this pattern was seen above in doing CG Declines in Week A of the Post-Contest Routine and CG Inclines in Week A of the Pre-Contest Routine. To keep this pattern intake with two 11 week routines, I will skip Week 1 of the Pre-Contest Routine, thus doing Week 11 of the Post-Contest Routine, then Week 2 of Pre-Contest Routine. In this way I will still alternate Week A and Week B at the transition point. This plan will have the added benefit of enabling me to do the full six workouts for the powerlifts in Week B of the Post-Contest Routine.


Contest Registration and Goals


During this break between routines, I sent in my entry form for APF/ AAPF Ohio States. I am calling this contest “APF/ AAPF” as both wings of the federation will be contested at this contest. “APF” stands for American Powerlifting Federation, the USA affiliate of the World Powerlifting Congress (WPC). The extra “A” in AAPF stands for “Amateur.” The difference between the APF and the AAPF is the former is not drug tested, while the latter is drug tested. Since I am strictly drug free, I entered the AAPF. Specifically, I entered the 114-pound weight class, the 55-59 age division, the Classic Raw (raw with wraps) gear division.

There are separate records for the APF and AAPF. Currently there are no AAPF records in this specific division. As such, as long as I don’t bomb out, I will automatically get four AAPF national records, but those will be rather meaningless. However, I have several much more meaningful goals for this contest, including of course to better my lifts from my last contest, which were: 315 – 175 – 380 – 870. I will hold off explaining my other goals until if or when I meet them. But here’s praying my training continues to go well, so that I can hit those goals at APF/ AAPF Ohio States.

For a follow-up to this article, see Workouts Summary.

For my first workouts in my Pre-Contest Routine, see Two by Two Powerlifting Training Plan - 2016; Pre-Contest Routine, Weeks 1-6 of 12.




As often is the case, I know I have been overly wordy in this article. But I have found writing out my plans in a manner that others can understand enables me to better think them through. And in fact during the time I was writing this article I kept adding to it as I made changes in my plans, as writing them down enabled me to think of things I might not have otherwise.

Routines Review and Preview. Copyright 2016 By Gary F. Zeolla.

Powerlifting and Back Pain

    The first book is geared towards the beginner to intermediate powerlifter. It presents sound training, competition, dietary, and supplement advice to aid the reader in starting and progressing in the sport of powerlifting. The second book details how I overcame years of crippling low back and was able to return to the sport of powerlifting.

Starting and Progressing in Powerlifting: A Comprehensive Guide to the World's Strongest Sport

Overcoming Back Pain: A Mind-body Solution (Second Edition)

See also this series on Amazon (#ad).

Powerlifting and Strength Training
Powerlifting and Strength Training: Full Workout Logs: 2014 - Present

The above article was posted on this site June 9, 2016.
It was updated June 18, 2016.

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