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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 this 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 each 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 article.

Training Frequency and Exercises

I lift either four days a week (e.g. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday) or every other day, alternating through four different workouts. With the former, I work each powerlift once a week and each body part twice a week. With the latter, I work each powerlift every eight days and each body every four days.

Lifting four days a week with this type of routine is a common frequency, and I used it for some time. But after a while, it seemed to be too much. So that is why I reduced it to every other day. Some might even find it is best to use this routine and only lift three times a week. With this frequency, you'd work each powerlift every 9-10 days and each body part every 4-5 days. All you can do is experiment and see which works best for you.

After each powerlift, I perform 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, usually band, reverse band, or chain benches. But raw benchers could use a variety of other exercises. Various minor assistance exercises are performed after the major assistance exercises. See the Powerlift Assistance Exercises pages descriptions of these exercises.

I change all 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:
1) 1st Bench Assistance:
Rotate: Band Bench, Reverse Band Bench, Chain Bench.
2) 2nd Bench Assistance:
Choose from: Barbell Declines, DB Declines, Barbell Inclines, DB Inclines, DB Bench, Alternating Arms DB Bench, Dips.
3) Overhead Press:
Rotate: Barbell, DBs, Alternating Arms DBs.
4) Reverse Curls:
Rotate: Barbell, Curl Bar, DBs.
5,6) 2 Abs.

Day Two:
1) Squats.
2) Squat Assistance:
Chose from: Chain Squats, Dead Stop Band Squats, Reverse Band Squats, Pause Squats, Olympic Squats.
3,4) 2 Upper Back:
Choose from: Barbell Rows (close, medium, wide grip), DB Rows (elbows in, elbows out, underhand grip), Curl Bar Rows, Cable Pulls (with various handles).

Day Three:
1) Bench.
2) Bench Assistance:
Choose from: Rack Bench, Board Bench, Close Grip Bench, Pause Bench.
3) 1 Biceps:
Chose from: Barbell Curls, Curl Bar Curls, DB Curls, DB Rotations.
4,5) 2 Abs.

Day Four:
1) Deadlifts (done sumo, my competitive stance).
2) First DL Assistance:
Rotate: Stiff-leg DL (legs straight or bent), Platform DLs (conventional stance), Chain DLs, Reverse Band DLs.
3) Second DL Assistance:
Good Mornings (legs straight or bent) with Chain DLs and Rev. Band DLs.
Shrugs (Barbell or DB) with SLDL and Platform DLs.
4) Calves:
Alternate: Barbell, DBs.

A couple of 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 five or 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 One 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 and maintaining muscular balance in the shoulders.

Workout Time, Rest Periods, and Warm-ups

After my lifting workouts, for my conditioning work, I either hit a heavy bag or ride an Airdyne exercise bike for six minutes at a high intensity. I do six minutes worth as I saw a news report about a study that showed six minutes of very intense exercise produces the same cardiovascular benefit as two hours of exercise done at a moderate pace. So six minutes is all that is needed if the intensity is high enough. And doing it after my weightlifting workouts only adds to the intensity and benefit. I then stretch for about 15 minutes after my workouts.

My total workout time is between 1-1/2 to 2 hours. This includes everything I do while in the workout area of the gym. This includes set-up, warm-up, lifting, stretching, cardio, and clean-up.

My rest periods between work sets are as follows:
Squats and deadlifts and major assistance: 6-8 minutes.
Benches and major bench assistance: 5-6 minutes.
Remaining exercises: 2-3 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 4-5 sets of decreasing reps, specifically: 12, 8, 5, 3, and sometimes 1. The first set of 12 is done with just the bar. This serves as a more specific general warm-up. The second set of 8 is with 135 for squats and DLs and 95 for benches. The final set is with 10-15% less than what I will be using for my first work set. The other one or two sets are then spaced out in-between the first and last sets. The single is used only when I am doing less that 5 reps for my first work set.

The first three or four warm-up sets are done raw. I then use the same gear on the final set as I'll be using  for the first work set. An example would be: Squats: 45/12, 135/8, 205/5, 285/3, first work set: 315/4-5. 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. The number of reps is within the range for the first set (e.g. reverse band squats: warm-up: 295/4, first work set: 320/4-5). 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.

Sets and Reps

I have found that two or three work sets seem to work best for me. For my work sets, there are various rep schemes that I have used with one degree of success or another. But the important point is to be continually changing the reps. So I vary the number of reps during a routine. Specifically, for the powerlifts and my first exercise on bench assistance day, in some manner I incorporate higher reps (5-8) done raw (without any supportive gear) and lower reps (1-5) done with training gear. For major assistance exercises I generally do from 2-8 reps depending on the stage of a cycle I am in, while minor assistance exercises vary from 4-12 reps depending on the exercise.

Higher rep sets and all assistance work with one possible exception is done raw. For the most part, I see no reason to use gear for higher rep work on the powerlifts and on assistance work. Doing so would only detract from the specific strengthening effects.

Specifically, lifting raw keeps the joints and low back strong. The higher reps also build muscular endurance and overall conditioning. But I keep the reps low enough for these sets to be a significant strength builders as well. The only possible exception to this is the first exercise on bench assistance day. At times I will use a similar reps scheme for it as for the powerlifts, so I use a belt and wrist wraps when I am doing lower reps.

Gear Usage

My "training gear" on the powerlifts includes a belt and wrist wraps for all three lifts. Up until September 2005, I was also using 2.5 meter wraps on squats, a single-ply shirt on benches, and pull-up type knee wraps on DLs. But I then added in wearing a suit on squats and DLs. These are my single-ply Crain Genesis Power Suit and Deadlift Suit.

I decided to make this change 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 no 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.

Getting the single-ply gear on by myself is usually not that difficult, but getting it off can be a problem. But I do is put one of the safety bars in the power rack in the bottom hole, and then loop the straps over it and pull up. That pulls it down enough to get it off.

I then went back to wearing 2.0 meter Genesis Power Wraps on squats in training, and save my 2.5 meter wraps for full gear workouts and contests. I originally started using the 2.5 meter wraps in training so the difference between my training lifts and competitive lifts would not be too great. But with wearing a suit in training, this will no longer be a problem. And I do want some difference. Moreover, the 2.0 meter wraps are easier to put on and are less expensive. So it makes sense to use them in training.

If I don't have a contest for a while, I'll occasionally use full competitive gear. This includes again a belt and wrist wraps on three lifts, 2.5 meter wraps on squats, and instead of single-ply suits ands shirt, I use all double-ply gear. After the week of full gear workouts is when I change all of my assistance exercises.

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 for these workouts I take three attempts for each lift, all being singles, as in a contest. The week of using full gear 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 these workouts, I don't do any assistance work. That way, the workouts aren't overly taxing.

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, another single with full gear after the single with a belt and wraps.

Picking Attempts

As for my attempts, my method for figuring them depends on what rep scheme I am using prior to the full gear workouts or a contest. For instance,  I might start with a conservative estimate of what the full competitive gear adds to my lifts done with training gear. I then add this amount to what I did for a single in training. That then will be my third attempt. I then decide how much I want to jump between attempts, and then subtract that from my third attempt to get my second and first attempts.

For instance, before IPA World 2004, I had squatted 380 in training. Figuring my suit adds 25-30 pounds, my attempts were: 370 - 390 - 405. All three attempts were successful.

Or I might figure things out in the opposite direction. I'll open with about the weight I used in training for 3-4 reps. My second attempt would then be about  the weight I used for 1-2 reps, and my third attempt will be figured out from there. For instance, before the Iron House Classic 2005, my best squat workout was 365/4, 385/2. At the contest, I my attempts were: 370, 390, 410.

Between my first and second attempts I generally jump 20 pounds on squats and deadlifts and 15 pounds on benches. For my third attempts I then jump 15-20 pounds on squats and deadlifts and 10-15 pounds on benches. But these amounts would need to be adjusted proportionally for those lifting more or less than me (my contest bests are: 410 - 215 - 410).

Changes for Other Gear Usage

I compete in the IPA, which allows 2.5 meter wraps and double-ply gear. Those who compete in federations that only allow 2.0 meter wraps and single-ply gear will have to make a few minor adjustments. Of course, only 2.0 meter wraps will be used throughout, and you may or may not want to use a suit or shirt for low-rep workouts. If you do, you should use one a couple of sizes larger than your competitive gear. Federations that only allow single-ply shirts usually also only allow closed back shirts, and these can be rather difficult to get on and off. And tight suits can be very difficult. But by having your training gear be a little larger, it won't be as difficult to get on and off, and it won't be as demanding to use as the tighter gear.

The above scheme would also work for raw competitors as well. The only difference is that gear would not be used, except for maybe a belt. The "full gear" workouts should still be done, but they would probably be better called "practice contest" workouts.

Part Two of this article discusses 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.

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 November 2, 2004.
It was last updated November 14, 2005.

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