Tag Archive: powerlifting


In celebration of three snow days in Athens, GA and five continuous days off after a all too generous Christmas and New Years break I offer up these photos of my holiday festivities.

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My Life and Deadlifting; A Journey


(Most recent competition deadlift video. USAPL GA 2010. Third attempt: 584@214 raw. 12 seconds to complete.)

As is much regaled in the November issue of Powerlifting USA, I have lifted weights for over 30 years at the age of only 36.  Along the way I believed at first that I was a bodybuilder, but discovered in time that I was a powerlifter. My revelation took place in 1995, after which I prepared for my first contest. There was dieting and there was a contest training cycle, but those pieces were the smallest of a puzzle which was being assembled many years before, and is still being worked on.

Like all new lifters, I was foud of the bench press.  Unlike most new lifters, I also loved to do barbell rows in my preteen and teen years.  I excelled at stiff-leg deadlifts, but with a rounded back (which quite likely was the cause for much of my squatting woes).  I loved back work.  I wouldn’t begin squatting until eighth grade, when I began playing junior varsity football.  Deadlifting would be the last lift of the powerlifting trifecta to be added to my arsenal.  It was added during my ninth grade year.  I maxed out for the first time after the annual school bench press competition, in which I took second.  Still vivid in my memory is the fact I set up too far down the bench and that the lift off had to be hell on the spotter.  That day I deadlifted 385 at a weight of 143 pounds.  I was hooked.

At home I routinely deadlifted, but only completed singles.  All my high rep work was still with stiff-leg deadlifts off of a bench.  It wasn’t long before I had to add a pair of 45 pound plates to the York set my grandfather had given me at the end of eighth grade.  In tenth grade I put all of the York set on, 300 pounds, and my extra plates, 110 pounds, and pulled away for my first 400+ pound pull.  I was still a tiny fellow and it was time to move on to new heights, but I was worried about my bar. Shortly after we made the next purchase in my lifting career, my first Texas Power bar.

Over the years my gym would grow with my deadlift.  After the Washington state USPF 1995 competition I would take off 14 years before my next competition, but even with half-hearted training I never let go of my love for deadlifting, and powerlfting in general.  Over the years I tried many different approaches.  Here are some of the programs I followed and my current approaches.  As each is presented I will talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each and we will move from basic max based programs to weak point correction.  I will close the article with some books that I have learned from and think should be a part of every lifters library.

Basic max based programs

My program for the first five years.  The Up-phase/Down-phase singles up to a max then finishes with increasing rep ranges at lighter weights.  I would often choose a “max” above my current and try to PR each workout.  It was common to succeed for three to four weeks then experience some failure.  In these cases I would just keep trying until I broke through again.  At times I purposefully attempted a weight outside of my capabilities to pull maximally against before attempting a PR.  Commonly I would only do the first breakdown in the 1-5 rep range.  Afterwords, and remember I thought I was a bodybuilder, I would do multiple pulldown styles followed by multiple row types, shrugs, and stiff-leg deadlifts.

Set 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Reps 1 1 1 1 1 1-5 6-10 11-15
Percentage 70% 80% 87.5% 95% 100% 85% 75% 65%

There are also two basic pyramid style programs I used.  When I did one of these, that was the only work done those days.  The Poundage Chart was doable without any chicanery. However, the Percentage chart usually required a bit of humility and lowering ones max for choosing the appropriate pyramid weights, 20 pounds usually did the trick.

The Poundage Chart

Set 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Reps 10 8 6 4 3 2 8
Percentage 65% 70% 75% 80% 85% 90% 70%

The Percentage Chart

Set 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Reps 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 6
Percentage 55% 62.5% 70% 75% 80% 85% 90% 94% 97% 100% 80%

Moving from Training Days to Training Cycles

When I figured out I was a powerlifter, and not a bodybuilder, my perspective changed.  I joined the Navy and began a new phase in my lifting life.  It was a bold new world where the dedicated lifted in a 60,000 ton steel can with a gym which had no level floors.  Whether it was in the teens in the gym at port in the shipyards of Seattle, or 120 degrees in port in Jebal Ali in the United Arab Emirates, dedication was what kept us all lifting.  I still returned to the Up-phase/Down-phase template, but for the first time I began using preset training cycles.  The first of these was courtesy of Randall Kea of Elite Gym in Augusta, GA, whom you may have read is one of the only men to defeat the great Lamar Gant. It was home to world champions such as Chuckie Dunbar and many state, national, and world record holders.  I’ve chosen to call the program Old School due to its origin.

Old School

Set Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Percentage Reps Percentage Reps Percentage Reps Percentage Reps
1 60 5 60 5 60 5 60 5
2 60 5 60 5 60 5 60 5
3 70 2 70 2 70 2 70 2
4 75 1 80 1 85 1 85 1
5 85 4 85 4 90 4 90 1
6 85 4 85 4 90 4 95 3
7 70 6 70 6 75 5 80 5
Set Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week(contest) 8
Percentage Reps Percentage Reps Percentage Reps Percentage Reps
1 60 5 60 5 60 5 60 5
2 60 5 60 5 60 5 60 5
3 70 2 70 2 70 2 70 2
4 85 1 85 1 85 1 85 1
5 90 1 95 1 95 1 90 1
6 95 2 100 2 100 2 100(opener) 1
7 85 5 85 5 90 4

The Birth of 5-4-3

This was neither the first, nor the last, such cycle.  I have since used Sheiko and Westside templates, as well as my own.

My current template, to which I allude, I refer to as the 5-4-3.  It is based on what I refer to as “aggregate percentages.”  An aggregate percentage works as follows:  My goal is to hit 80% for a given day, to do so, using one-rep max estimates, I take my repetition goal for the day, say 5, and pick a percentage of my max which when done 5 times yields 80% of my base max.  The max formulas are specific to the lift and determined by referenced studies.  I also wave the intensities over the nine-week cycle.  Each nine week cycle consist of three, three-week, mini cycles.  The final week of each wave consist only of the main lifts, together with some ab work.  This acts as a de-load on volume, but is not a true deload.  You should take your time on these weeks.  Think of each as a little competition.  You will hit your percentages for each of the prior two weeks for triples before moving on to a triple at this weeks prescribed percentage.  The last set should only be taken to failure if you fail to complete three reps. No further.

What I have found by studying my results; for the deadlift you can generally get more for less intensity.  That is, a double at 95% in deadlift yields a greater max than a double at the same percentage for the squat and bench press.  My own observation tell me a double at 91% will yield my one-rep max, and it is looking like the number may be even lower. Learn your body. Record your rep PRs and your one-rep maxes and compare them by percentage. You may find you are postponing your progress by being to aggressive on your intensity levels.

The rationale for the design is that I don’t want to destroy my system neurologically, but want to reap the benefits of periodization while increasingly increases the intensity and neurological stress of the workout. The fact is, “you don’t have to train maximally to get strong, you have to train optimally.”  The prior quote I borrowed from Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 manual.  Too much volume and you will exceed your bodies ability to compensate for the load.  Too much intensity and your neurological system will shut down on you.  Both will either, in the best case, halt progress, or in the worst case, cause regression.  Here is the 5-4-3 cycle for deadlift:

5-4-3

Wave 1 Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
Set Reps Percentage Reps Percentage Reps Percentage
1 5 68.7 4 74.7 3 68.7
2 5 68.7 4 74.7 3 74.7
3 5 68.7 3 83.2
Wave 2 Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
Set Reps Percentage Reps Percentage Reps Percentage
1 5 73 4 79 3 73
2 5 73 4 79 3 79
3 5 73 3 87.6
Wave 3 Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
Set Reps Percentage Reps Percentage Reps Percentage
1 5 77.3 4 83.3 3 77.3
2 5 77.3 4 83.3 3 83.3
3 5 77.3 3 92

The contest taper for 5-4-3.

You may have noticed that I don’t have a contest taper listed here.  I generally deadlift on Tuesday or Wednesday, that being said, most competitions are on Saturday. What I recommend is that you follow the protocol suggested by Ray Koons, multiple time USAPL national champion and one heck of a deadlifter (I have altered it here a bit and added some of my own suggestions also):

Tuesday before meet
Triples on all three lifts at around 60% for maximal force output.  Move the weight technically as perfect as possible, as quickly as possible. Minimal assistance work to ensure that your muscles don’t start to release water volume or stop storing glycogen and ATP precursors.

Friday, 8 days out
Three singles on all three lifts at your openers. Concentrate on technique and maximal force. Be given all commands and follow them.  Make sure your pause is adequate in length.  Good rule of thumb; one Mississippi, then press.  On your deadlift, hold all of your reps for a couple seconds.  Hold your last pull as long as you can.  The latter rule always holds.  If you have ever dropped a deadlift you should be holding all of the last reps on your heavy sets as long as possible.  You should also pull without chalk and overhand until you can’t do so without dropping the weight.  This only becomes a problem when it is humid.  Chalk when it is humid, or exceptionally hot, from the start to avoid tearing callouses off.  Torn callouses can end progression on a good deadlift training session and cycle.  On a similar note, save baby powder for the meet.  You’ll be happily surprised if you do.

Monday or Tuesday, 11-12 days out.
Hit openers and then double second attempts on all three lifts.  Assistance work should be minimal, but aggressive.

With this in hand lets make a quick comment about competition.  There are a number of adages you will hear about winning meets. Two I live by are 1) “people who go 9 for 9 win contest,” and 2) “the meet isn’t over until the bar hits the floor.”  The second quote is the driving onus for this article and goes without saying. The best subtotals can’t win when they are followed by a crappy deadlift.  The first needs more information.

A Segue: Competition Strategy

There is a strategy to competing.  Although the goal is to lift the most heavy stuff, this is a means to an end if you expect to record the best total.  My feelings on each of your attempts:

Openers:  openers are to keep you in the game.  If you don’t get one in each lift it really doesn’t make a damn bit of difference how much stronger you are than the next guy.  They should be easy.  Real easy.  A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to triple your opener.  I think of each opener as my last warm-up and together as the basis for my confidence on second attempts, and ultimately as the mood setters for the entire meet.  This is especially true for the squat.  A bad squat opener can destroy everything that follows.  I suggest pick a weight you can triple, then go a bit lighter. Bury that first squat. Don’t leave room for doubt.

Second attempts: This is not your attempt if you are on a team, or want to secure a prior total.  Second attempts should lock in previous lift PRs, and secure a good place for your team for scoring purposes if you are on one.  An example, my recent meet was crap because I prepared poorly.  I knew I was in trouble.  To secure a total PR I took 451 for my second squat.  I had hit it in training recently and it was only 5.5 pounds below my best meet squat.  All I had to do was match my best lifts on bench and deadlift to not regress.  Bench was iffy, and I knew I would pull my third attempt for the prior year as my opener.  As it turned out I missed my third squat, so my second attempt choice was a good choice, hit a PR on bench and pulled 22 pounds less than my best deadlift, giving me a PR total.  Second attempts are not there for PRs.  There is a strategy to winning. Use it.

Third attempts:
If you have a pair use them now, but be reasonable.  Be epic if you can.  Grind past what is reasonable and give everyone there something to remember.

Weak Point Training

Whether you aren’t a competitive lifter, or have competed often, eventually you will have to address week points.  It may be your grip, speed off the floor, or your lockout. In my most recent meet and the prior I have had strength off the floor but slowed after passing my knees on limit pulls. Here are some problems I have encountered, or you may encounter, and some suggestions that may help:

Weak grip:  Best remedy.  Pull overhand and without chalk as long as you can in each workout.  Reverse your grip as soon as things get sketchy, but avoid chalk the entire workout, if possible.  The only exception with chalk is if it is humid or hot out.  Humidity and/or sweat is a recipe for serious injuries due to torn callouses.  When a callous tears it can take more than just the callous. It may tear into live skin and flesh.  Use chalk to avoid this.  With these chalking precautions in mind, you should also hold the last rep of each of your heavy sets for five to ten seconds.  Hold the last rep of the last set until you feel you are going to drop it.  You should only use straps on shrugs and rack pulls far in excess of your best pull.  I would recommend never.  I just reverse my grip and add chalk.

Speed of the floor: Bands and chains work best here.  Some also advocate pulling while standing on a block.  I have had bad experiences with the latter idea.  If you have low back problems avoid it all together.  For chains you can drop the weight after your top set by 20-40% and add around 10-30% of chain and work on explosive and crisp reps.  A few sets of a few reps unless you are intent on replacing your actual workout with chain pulls for the day.  In the latter case I would add 1.5 times the chain weight to the bar that you take from the strait weight on each set.  It has only been recently that I began using bands, and don’t know the best suggestion on how you should introduce band to your training, but be warned they add weight to the bar exponentially, and not linearly, as with chains.  This means that the relative load with bands will increase at a greater rate the more the band is stretched. In contrast, a given distance will always add the same amount of weight when using chains.

If you are a sumo puller, speed off the floor becomes the biggest issue if we exclude any grip problems.  Look at your hip strength and flexibility first.  Sumo demands that the lifter be as erect as possible throughout the lift.  Ensure you are not leaning, or falling, forward.  If you get forward in sumo it is almost impossible to “ugly it up” like a conventional puller.  Brooks Conway, a USAPL 600+ puller in the 181s, has had great success from pulling off various box heights.

Bar getting out in front during the pull: This could be caused by poor starting position and/or weak lats.  As a conventional puller the bar should be between the middle of the foot and an inch from your shins before the pull.  Although I rarely have the bar tear my shins up, if the bar is dragging up your shins, then you are certainly starting with the bar close enough.  If you have weak lats when you attempt to pass your knees you will not be able to stop the bar from drifting forward.  A healthy dose of one-arm rows, chest supported rows, and various forms of pull-ups and chin-ups should do the trick.

A note about starting position: If your hips rise before the bar you are starting with your hips too low.  You should initiate your pull as soon as your scapula are over the bar.  In this position your arms will not form a line perpendicular to the floor, between the bar and your shoulder blades. They will point slightly back towards the bar.  If you are inflexible, like I am, a pre-stretch of the hamstrings will enable you to obtain the correct starting position.  This is a problem more for larger lifters who pull conventional.

Stalling at the knees: The suggestion I would make is based on my experiences with the Sheiko template. Whether a correct translation, or not, pulling to the knees, without a belt, and pausing for a three count, then either lowering and repeating, or completing the rep, has been an incredible boon to my pull. You will find that your abs never worked harder and your lats and mid traps hurt more than from shrugs and chin-ups.  Make sure you maintain proper spine position.

Problems above the knees: As stated earlier, I am stalling above the knees in my own pulling.  Numerous suggestions abound on the issue.  Here are a few:  1) try pulling off a box that puts the bar at a height as near to your sticking point as possible and pull a set rep scheme, 5,4,3, or 2, and work up to a top set. This can also be a great fix for your grip issues.  I pulled 725 from above the knees and held it for four seconds after doubling 585, 635 and 675.  This translated into the video you saw above.  My grip was solid and I held on for 12 seconds to complete the attempt.  I have also done the same with reverse bands.  Try enough band tension to take 70-100 pounds off at the start of the lift and none from your sticking point on.  You should also try shrugging heavy and doing all types of rows.  I am especially found of chest supported rows, which make it near impossible to cheat the weight to completion.

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USAPL Georgia days 4 and 5

Working hard to regain strength lost during deadlift focus and add new strength.  Rough day, but we moved some iron and it was better than our first bench day back, by miles.  I like the heavy negative concept to work on getting used to the heavier weight and improve my strength at the chest for pausing.  Here are the numbers, followed by the video, and there is info about D4, squat, afterwards:

Bench press—set intensity following wave protocol 44 x 25, 132 x 10, 176 x 5, 220 x 3, –begin pausing first rep
281 x 3, 297 x 2, 314 x 1, 286 x 3,
297 x 2, 314 x 1, 286 x 3, 303 x 2,
319 x miss
Heavy negative BP 341 x 10 seconds down, 9 seconds paused at chest
Close-grip BP 154 x 5, 198 x 5, 231 x 5, 281 x 4
Superset Tricep pushdowns 70 x 7, 90 x 7, 110 x 5 ½
Front lateral raises 20 x 8, 25 x 8, 20 x 8

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With regards to D4, squat day, I deleted some of the video and decided to just call it a loss. It was a rough workout to say the least. I decided to hit some waves and go for volume at various intensities to jar the system back into action. The session was performed on Sunday, 31 October 2010 and here are the numbers:

Squat—set intensity following wave protocol, volume 44 x 10, 132 x 8, 198 x 5, 264 x 3,
331 x 2, –added belt 374 x 2, –heavy, lot of work to do 264 x 3, 331 x 2,
385 x 1, 286 x 3, 352 x 2, 308 x 3,
374 x 3, 331 x 3

Needless to say, everything felt heavy. On Friday we will hit some walkouts and look to go back up to 420 for 4 reps, should that be an issue, I’ll hit doubles until I cry.

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It had been about a month since this table was updated and what better time then when we are looking forward to our next competition and laying out the groundwork for success at it?

Lift Reps: 1 2 3 4 5
Squat

460

Dec 9, 2009

450 

Sep 24, 2010

445 

Aug 13, 2010

420 

Sept 17, 2010

390 

Aug 6, 2010

Bench

320

Oct 10, 2010

315 

Feb 16, 2010

308 

Sep 25, 2010

308 

Sep 25, 2009

281 

Apr 23, 2010

Deadlift

606

Oct 23, 2010

555

Aug 11, 2010

555

Aug 11, 2010

518

Sept 15, 2010

518

Sept 15, 2010

Here are the last three training days strung all together. A bit behind at this moment leads to a giant post:

Monday, 25 October 2010, D1, Bench assist

Pretty decent day. Normally wouldn’t have worn a belt on presses, but my back was still out of sorts from a twinge on my last warm-up and first attempt at the NOTLD (which I am still reveling over). I am pretty sure that is my best triple. I know I’ve hit 209 for a single at least, possibly a double. On incline dumbbell presses I couldn’t have been more pleased. Never played with the 120s on it. In fact, I tied my flat bench dumbbell press PR with this set.

I am most concerned with jump starting my bench and squat after the deadlift focus the past month, or so. If I am going to qualify for Raw Unity, or make a push for the state total record, they have to be up to snuff.

Typing this 21 days out I can say that my bench was weak yesterday, but I expect a quick return. Best contest numbers are 457-308-457 for a 1328 total at the Georgia last year and 451-319-562 for a 1332 total at the Battle on the Borer in March. Of course, I pulled 606 at the NOTLD. I need a whopping 1509 to qualify for Raw Unity and 1485 to beat the USAPL GA Raw total record. The other Georgia records are: 534-380-639.

Here is the particulars:

Military Press 44 x 15, 88 x 8, 132 x 5, 154 x 5,
176 x 5, 198 x 3 ½
Incline Dumbbell Press 50 x 10, 90 x 6, 100 x 6, 110 x 6,
120 x 4
Bench Dips —x 10, +55 x 10, +88 x 10, +110 x 10
Side Lateral Raises 20 x 8, 25 x 8, 30 x 8

Wednesday, 27 October 2010, D2, Deadlift

Rough day.  My low back was still unhappy at the point I did this workout, and is still, slowly, improving.  I had a light day planned to day and decided to run beltless with the pause to work on weak points.  The pause fries your mid back and upper back and should help with my slow down point.  I only rested enough to cut the prior video, so a minute, or so, and it was brutal.  Lets you know what kind of shape you’re in real quick.  Here are the numbers:

Deadlift 165 x 8, 275 x 6, 385 x 2, 429 x 5,
429 x 3, 429 x 3, 429 x 3

Thursday, 28 October 2010, D3, Bench

Weak on bench due to ignoring it.  All-in-all it went well.  Super-setted last two exercise.  Not much else to say. Here are the numbers:

Bench press 44 x 35, 132 x 10, 176 x 5, 220 x 2,
264 x 5, 264 x 5, 264 x 5
Close-grip bench press 154 x 5, 198 x 5, 231 x 5, 264 x 5
Super-setted Front lateral raises 20 x 8, 20 x 8, 20 x 8
Tricep pushdowns 70 x 7, 80 x 7, 90 x 7

I am writing this Sunday and this afternoon it will be time to squat. This is the big day to push. It will also entail some heavy shrugs to continue working on my lockout. Tomorrow I have some random assist work which will probably not make it to video. Although, I may be looking to hit a pull-up PR, so it may? Then we start over again at bench assist. Next week will be much heavier.

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