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									Matti Aksela

Barry Merriman's Periodized Weightlifting Routines

Ok, time to Rock n' Roll. I'm tired of folks asking for more info on periodized training, and folks claiming Jones/Darden/Menter style training is the scientifically validated training method. Its time for the ``HIT'' - Periodization battle to the death.

In these notes, I describe my extensive experience with different training styles, and in particular the great success I've had with periodized training over the other techniques I've tried (many HIT programs, Arnold style, etc). I present some general routines and methodologies for both powerlifting and bodybuilding, and also try and touch on all the related training issues (diet, supplements, steroids, ect).

DISCLAIMER: Think before following other peoples advice. I have survived everything described below quite nicely, but you may not. If you try to sue me over anything in here, I guarantee something bad will happen to you.

Introduction: My training history

Before we start, briefly recall my background so you know where I'm coming from: I've been training almost 16 years now. I presently train at the ``Mecca'', Gold's/Venice.

I started when I was 13 years old. My training history was:

I made great gains my first year, which I now attribute to be a beginner. Around 20 lbs (but I grew an inch or two, too).

Second year my gains slowed way down, which I now attribute to overtraining and lack of variation in the workout. I lost enthusiasm for the long hours with little results. So I was attracted to the then fairly new (and hyped) J/M/D styles of training.

I made very slow, steady gains on the J/M/D style. Its hard to quantify during my growing years, but once I stopped getting taller, they were only ~ 2 lbs of bodyweight per year.

What I can say for sure is my untrained adult weight would be about 150-160 lbs at 5'9'', based on other members of my family, and predictions based on size of frame (I have a scrawny frame, small joints, and come from a family of scrawny people.) Instead, at the end of all the J/M/D 9 years of training, I weighed 170, so those nine years of training probably added about 20 lbs of fairly lean mass to my frame.

In my first year of periodized training, I went from 170 to 195 lbs. The next year I pushed it up to 208. Those were my best gaining years--25 lbs the first year, 13 lbs the second. I was training approximately 10 hours per week, spread over 5 to 6 days per week, during this period, with no training partner.

Those gains were all entirely drug free, by the way.

As for my current size and strength: I ultimately got mass up to 225 lbs. At my peak weight, I was about 16% bodyfat, 18'' arm (cold and flexed), 49'' chest (cold and flexed), 26.5 inch quads (cold and flexed). As for stength: My bench is at 420 lbs, squat 650 lbs, deadlift 575 lbs presently (done in the legal powerlifting style, no cheating). These are up from about 320, 450, 400 prior to starting the periodized training.

DISCLAIMER: this last level of gains (208 lbs -> 225 lbs, and training 18-22 hours per week) was made over a 14 month period with the assistance of supplements and training partners which may not be readily available to you. The supplements mostly helped by allowing for greater recovery and thus the ability to withstand even more severe workouts, and enhanced ability to assimilate extra food. I also had an extremely knowledgeable and motivational training partner, who helped with improving my technique and diet, which helps a lot with powerlifting. So, while periodization was the foundation of these final gains, these two factors no doubt assisted quite a bit. The aforementioned supplements are not magic, and really don't in themselves do that much. all the principles and routines described below are ones that worked well for me without the added advantages mentioned here. I point this out primarily because most of the routines described in bodybuilding magazines, aside from being largely fictional, would in any case be routines intended for genetic freaks on heavy steroids. The routines I describe below worked very well drug-free, and I have rather poor genetic ability to add muscle (but perhaps above average general athletic ability--I was one of the best athletes in my school when I was a kid).

My personal conclusion is that I was undertraining on the J/M/D styles, and that as I increased the training time, the gains increased in proportion. However, the increase in training time to 10 or so hours per week was only possible by using periodization to avoid overtraining. As further proof that I am really a hard gainer type, note that training hard 10 hours per week, I would stagnate after approx 3 weeks of training. Only by periodizing was I able to jump over these hurdles and make gains consistently the whole year.

Also, I followed Jones/Mentzer/Darden training advise very thoroughly. There is no chance that I misapplied their directions, or did not train intensely enough. I can vouch for this because I see Mentzer train clients every day, and I worked harder, and with better technique, than the majority of his trainees do. Same for Nautilus--I followed their advice to the letter.

As for my goals: I always wanted to be as huge and strong as possible. I was and am a hardcore weightlifter. My goal is to reach my potential, or get very close. many people do not share this goal, and so that will influence what type of training is right for them. Warning:I am only interested in the training styles that can carry a person to their limits of growth and strength, not the most time efficient methods. M/J/D training is time efficient--you put in a little time, you get out a little gain (beginners exempted).


Scientific Basis For Periodized Training

Now, lets establish what I consider to be the best book I ever read on training methods. It turned me on to periodized training, and is thus responsible for the bulk of my gains:

Weight Training: A Scientific Approach, by Michael Stone, PhD and Harold Obryant, Phd. ISBN 0-8087-6942-1 360 pages, illustrated. copyright 1987. cost: about $27.

Read it. (Though I must warn you that (1) its a scholarly book, at the level of a college course; there may be more popular books available now, since periodization has come into vogue in the bodybuilding mags, and (2) it seems hard to obtain.).

You want credentials, well these guys got it up the wazzu. This ain't no Ellington Darden Phd. and Nautilus Corp. hired gun. Both guys are university professors, strength coaches for champion collegiate teams in weightliftng and gymnastics, and heads of sports physiology research laboratories, as well as weightlifters themselves. They are not selling any thing, and they sure don't earn their living from this text book (unlike folks like Darden, Mentzer and Jones). They provide an incredibly well researched survey of what modern sports science says about weight training. Guess what: state of the art is not HIT! Jones and Darden are not leading weight training researchers! Their techniques have been shown to be generally inferior to others for strength and mass training! Big surprise....

(It actually was to me when I first came across the book.)

If you really want to know the scientific status of weight training and techniques for it, it you must read this book, period. This is a college text on weight training, intended for a sports physiology/ athletic trainer course at the college level. It covers all aspects in detail: nutrition, biomechanics, physiology of muscle growth, theories of training, training techniques, exercise technique, steroids, etc. Each chapter has 100-200 references from the recent scientific literature. In particular, it has an excellent chapter on training, concerning number of sets, reps, volume, intensity, the value and technique of periodization, etc.

The reason I try to promote this book is to counter that pseudo-scientific pop crap that guys like Jones, Darden and Mentzer have produced. Jones and Darden are actually referenced in this book, but it usually takes the form:

certain people (ref Jones, Darden) have claimed X, but subsequent research (...zillions of refs...) has generally found this to false

This will undoubtedly be a big shock to those in the Jones/Darden/Mentzer cult. It was to me when I first encountered it. When I trained their style, I would argue quite vociferously that they were scientifically validated, etc,etc. I was sucked in by their pseudo-scientific jargon and trappings, and after all, I was training their style and making my slooow but sure gains in just a few minutes per week. Only later when I found this book did I realize it was possible for an advanced trained to make the big gains necessary to reach their potential, which I have subsequently done.

I know most of you will not ever find this book, because it isn't at the B. Dalton's like the Jones/Darden/Mentzer stuff. It is not illustrated with steroid bloated pro bodybuilders lifting fake plates and doing their fake screams--so it is dry by comparison. I found it by accident in the sports phys section of a medical bookstore.

(but if you don't get this book, at least read up on periodized training, such as the Ironman routine, or the Powerbuilder routine in Muscle Media 2000, etc--it is definitely the way to train for long term max gains, beyond the beginner level).

So, I will quote to you--at great expense, since my typing sucks as you surely have noticed--a few passages most relevant to these claims that HIT is the predominant scientifically validated training theory (NOT!):

Page 109, Chapter on training principles modes and methods:

At least one machine manufacturer recommends that only one set of an exercise be performed to exhaustion, and that this represents a sufficient workload for gains in hypertrophy, and strength (11,43). This method of training greatly reduces the total workload made possible by multiple sets, which means the activated motor units receive less training. Part of the reasoning behind using sets to exhaustion is that, due to fatigue, the nth repetition would be maximal. This confuses relative and absolute maximum tensions; fatigue inhibits the use of some fibers, whereas all fibers are active with absolute maximum tension (3). Tension , not fatigue, is the major factor in developing maximal strength (3). One set to exhaustion likely reduces the training effect and produces small gains in lean body mass. Stowers et al (67) observed inferior performance gains (measured by 1 rep max squat, vertical jump) from one set to exhaustion compared to multiple exhaustion sets and a program periodized over 7 weeks.

And page 115, same chapter:

Machines versus free weights

The studies and observations of this section are of a practical nature. They compare free weight training programs to machines using recommended training programs. Free weights generally produce superior results to machines (...refs...) as well as superior results in power movements (...refs...).

Now some better stuff for our discussion: from the chapter Practical Considerations for weight training, pg 141:

Frequency of training

exercise scientists and physical educators have generally recommended training 3 days per week (17,30,126). This recommendation has been base largely on experiments dealing with ... untrained subjects.It has been believed that training 3 days per week provides optimum recovery and allows efficient increase in strength... but many athletes, including weightlifters, train 5 and 6 days per week, often using multiple training sessions per day. ... Gillam (63) observed that increased frequency (2-5 days) of training produced superior results in the bench press, lending additional credence to empirical evidence,

Training theory and principles (see Chapt. 6) suggest that the frequency of training should be as high as possible without over training. Weight training is no exception. As pointed out in chapter 6, overtraining can be reduced through variations in volume and intensity. Thus frequency of training can be high if proper variation is introduced. ... A third factor (in frequency of training) concerns the training status of the athlete. As in other sports activities (...refs...) beginners may not have made sufficient adaptations to recover as fast as advanced weight trainers. Beginners may need more days of rest to avoid over training. ... To a large extent, frequency of training depends on the goals of the individual. Three days per week may fit the physical and psychological needs of some weight trainers, but both empirical evidence and careful scientific observation strongly suggest that frequencies great than the typical three day per training can produce superior results in strength, power, ... especially is advanced weight trainers, including weightlifters, powerlifters and bodybuilders.

These selections pretty much indicate the tip of the iceberg:

  1. the training claims of Jones/Darden are not accepted by the sports physiology community as the most effective methods for building mass and strength, nor by the athletic community. And many of their claims are actively refuted.
  2. more training is better, as long as you don't over train.
  3. Train however suits your lifestyle, but you won't reach your maximum potential on a couple hours a week.

The book of course shows how to set up suitable periodized training schedules for those interested in going beyond the limitations of simple training systems, and shows sample schedules used by elite strength athletes. Bodybuilding is not their prime focus, do they do discuss a periodized program for that, but you can easily apply what they say to setting up a bodybuilding program.

It also covers nutrition. Again contrary to J/M/D, you need plenty of calories and protein to increase lean body mass during high volume periodized training.

My personal experience agrees well with this text. After 9 years of mentzer/darden/Jones type training, I was 5'9'', 170 lbs and lean, so fairly muscular--people often asked if I was a gymnast or wrestler. It resulted in limited muscular gains. After just 2 years on a periodized, much higher volume schedule, I was 208 and big--everybody knew I was a bodybuilder then.

So, what is my final message to those folks who have made satifactory gains using HIT, M/J/D styles? It is this:

Yes, you can make some gains on those styles, especially if you are a beginner (In fact, I would even recommend them for a beginner). And yes, they certainly are time effective. So, if you can get the gains you desire that way, excellent. But don't expect to be able to get close to your potential with those training styles. I've never seen any advanced lifter making the sort of gains I have made using such low volume techniques, and they for sure didn't work in my case. I would guess that some small fraction of the population may respond better to J/D/M style training than to periodized training--but I think it is definitely a minority. This is evidenced by the fact that the J/D/M approach has yet to produce a top builder or powerlifter who trained predominantly that way, even though their techniques have been out and popularized for 20 years now, and their have been thousands of nautilus gyms for nearly two decades producing trainees. That is a substantial body of evidence against their claims of general superiority.


Barry's Periodized Bodybuilding Routines

I have been promising to show you the sort of periodized training plans I used to gain substantial size and strength as an advanced weight lifter. I won't recount my gains and training history again, as I have done it several times already. Lets get busy:


Periodization Methods

The key to big gains after your first couple beginner easy growth years is to train more, but do it in a periodized fashion to avoid (mental and physical) overtraining. Without periodization (or steroids) you will rapidly overtrain on these higher volume workouts.

It is worth reading up on periodization techniques: I suggest the following:

The above three refs I have no direct experience with, but I have seen them described and they sound like good periodization systems for size and strength, and drug free training.

My personal favorite, and authoritative reference on periodization techniques as well as what is really known about all other aspects of weight training (including nutrition, proper form, steroids, etc), is the college sports medicine text book

Weight Training: A scientific Approach
by Michael Stone and Harold O'Bryant
Published by Burgess International Group
7110 Ohms Lane
Edina MN, 55435

Not only is it an excellent, well researched and referenced text, but I have also talked with a student that studied under one of the authors, and he concurred he is extremely knowledgeable able weight training. (Note: don't expect any magic bullets here--this book will just tell you what is known, and there is no short cut).

If you want references for any of the claims I make below, see the book I recommend


My sample bodybuilding routines

This routine is intended primarily to add muscle and body mass.

We must consider all factors related to growth:

  1. Diet: You need a high calorie diet to grow, with plenty of protein. You should get at least 1 gram of quality protein per pound of bodyweight, and around 20 calories per pound of bodyweight per day--that will vary a bit depending on whether you have a slow or fast metabolism. Through experiment, you will need to find a calorie intake that leads to growth without too much fat accumulation. keep your diet around 20% fat, 50% carbs and 30% protein. Calories intake will probably be in the range of 3500-4000 calories. Don't worry if you put on some fat while gaining mass--you can take it off later. But This is plenty of calories--The mega-calorie diets you read about in the mags (6000, 8000, etc calories) are only for heavy steroid users.
  2. Supplements:
    1. Use a carbo drink before and during your workouts. also, recarb immediatley after training. Study has shown athletes have a 1 hour window to effectively recarb after hard training, and then recarbing is thereafter much less efficient. So, take in 100 grams of carbs after your workout. This practice will keep your training energy high.
    2. Take cafeine and ephedrine 30 min before heavy workouts. Don't consume these more than 3-4 times per week, or you will build up a tolerance, and they stop working. This will make a very noticable boost in your workout intensity. You canalso try caffeine + ephedrine + aspirin. Dose is 1-2 vivarin + 25 - 50 mg ephed. + 1-2 aspirin.
    3. Take a good multi-vitamin and mineral tablet, just for insurance. 3 Centrum a day is about as good as you can find on the open market. I recommend the book The Complete Guide to Anti-Aging Nutrients, by Doctor Sheldon Hendler (Prof of medicine at UCSD), if you want a through survey of what is really known about the action of vitamins in humans, and if you want other recomendations for proper vitiamin suplementation.
    4. Nothing else. get your protein and carbs from food. The vast majority of supplements on the market do nothing or are just expensicve replacements for food. There is no known legal supplement that increases muscle mass. Period. The only supplements proven effective are stimulants. See Stone and Obryant for detailed literature review of this.
  3. Drugs: You don't need steroids to make good gains on these programs. I used them drug free, and am a classic hard-gainer type. If you do want to use steroids, I suggest you wait until your natural gains are pretty well tapped out, which would take at least 3 years of proper training. I also suggest you use them to accomplish a specific goal, like a 450 lb bench or an 19 inch arm, rather than just playing around with them.
  4. Sleep: Get plenty, at least 8 hours a night, and train first thing in the morning if possible. Once you get used to it, you will find you can get the best workouts then.

Ok, now its time for the periodization schedule

for each bodypart, choose 2 exercises, one compound, one more isolation. I recommend the following, for e.g.

Quads: squat (or leg press), leg extension
Leg bi: leg curl on 2 different machines
Calves: standing calf raise, seated calf raise
Chest: bench press, cable flyes
Back: bent over row, pulldown
Traps: barbell shrugs*
Shoulders: behind neck press, side lateral
Bis: barbel curl, one arm dumbell curl on preacher bench
Tris: lying tricep extension, cable pushdown
Fores: hammer curls, behind the back standing wrist curls
Abs: weighted crunches, cable side crunches

only one direct trap exercise; it gets hit by other things

In your workout, perform 4 sets of each exercise. The first should be a light, thorough warmup. Then jump to your heaviest weight you will use that day, do your set, and reduce the weight on the subsequent sets--so you do one warmup and 3 descending weight sets. Reps will be kept in the 8-12 range.

Now, split the bodyparts into a 5 day split:

day 1: legs
day 2: chest & shoulders
day 3: back and traps
day 4: arms and abs
day 5: off

Now, impose a heavy-light alteration on top of this, for a 10 day micro-cycle:

day 1 legs HEAVY
day 2 chest & shoulders LIGHT
day 3 back & traps HEAVY
day 4 arms LIGHT
day 5 off
day 1 legs LIGHT
day 2 chest & shoulders HEAVY
day 3 back LIGHT
day 4 arms HEAVY
day 5 off
HEAVY = 100% effort, trying for new best set
LIGHT = 75% of the weight used on the previous heavy day

Now that you have the micro-cycle, here is how to organize these into a macro cycle:

At the start of your training cycle, choose weights for your initial heavy days that allow you to get 8-12 reps comfortably.

Then: each heavy day, try as hard as possible to increase your reps on each hard set (you do 6 hard sets per bodypart, recall). You will need to keep a small training log to keep track of previous performance. Try to maintain the same form from day to day--don't get more reps by getting sloppy.

Every time you reach 12 reps, in your next heavy day for that set, increase the weight, but by as little as possible (5 lb increments, or even 2.5 if you have 1.25 lb plates); that will knock the reps back down to around 8 or so the next time.

On your light days, just mimic your previous heavy set in terms of reps, but use only 75% of the weight. On these days, focus on your form, move through the workout more quickly, and do not tax the muscle. A decent pump and tiny burn is all you should get.

If your muscles are still sore on their light day, that is fine and to be expected. If a muscle is still sore on its next heavy day, insert a day off.

Cycle termination: continue these 10 days micro-cycles, progressing every heavy workout as described, until: you fail to improve over your previous best on a lot of your sets and for 2 consecutive heavy days. for example, if my best bench sets were 225 x 10, 200 x 9, 180 x 7, and then the next two heavy days I got 225 x 8, 200 x 8, 180 x 8, and 225 x 8, 200 x 8 , 180 x 9, that would indicate that your progress has truly stalled and your are starting to over train. Consider your set performance increases as votes--every set that improves is a vote to continue the cycle, every set that stagnates or regresses is a vote to stop. When the stop votes win, terminate the cycle.

When you terminate the cycle, do one whole 10 day cycle using very light weights -- 50-60% of your heavy weights. During this period, focus on quick workouts and very good form--try to undo the inevitable sloppy-ness that builds up during the load cycle. Don't tax the muscle at all, just get a nice pump.

Resuming the next cycle: after your 10 day VERY LIGHT cycle, restart, using as your starting weights around 95% of your previous cycle best weights. Begin working up in this cycle as before.


I like the above style because it is self-regulating: you use your rate of improvement to decide when to stop the cycle, thus guaranteeing you will not overtrain. basically, you should either always be making improvement on heavy days, or be deciding it is time to terminate the cycle.

Initially, I could carry one one macro cycle for about 3 months before I had to terminate it. As I got more advanced, using more weight and intensity, and closer to my limits, I would have to terminate the cycles every month or so. After a couple years of this style, I reached a point where I was spending as much time off cycle as on cycle, and that was about the limit of its effectiveness. But I had gained 30 some pounds of bodyweight from it, so I was satisfied.

Don't be afraid of light days!!! Lifting addicts often fear that unless they always train hard, they will shrink. The evil HIT cabal also try and reinforce this idea that intensity is a must. In fact, this attitude is a big barrier to progress. learn to have fun on your light days. Save your intensity for the heavy days. Have fun during your very-light cycle. Don't worry if you lose a bit during this time--you have to be willing to step back, to take two steps forward in the future. In practice, I usually came back from the very light cycle at stronger than I had been ever before.

As for progress: progress is built into this system--if you are doing it, you are progressing. Go mostly by rep and poundage progress--your bodyweight will change slowly, at most 2 pounds per month. Derive your satisfaction from the heavy day to heavy day improvements, and the big picture (muscle mass gains) will take care of themselves.

Don't worry if your reps sometimes drop down to 6--just keep working to bring them up towards 12 as always. But don't make the mistake of jumping too much weight when you get to 12: jump as little as possible. For weights > 100 lbs, a 5 lb jump is plenty. For weights < 100, try to make 2.5 lb jumps if possible. Never take a 10 lb jump--just save it for next time.

There are many other possible periodizations. See the refs above for more idea. You can have a lot of fun designing periodized programs, but don't stop using one if it is still working well. Conversely, if it seems not to work well, scrap it early and try another one. Don't waste months on unproductive routines (as I did). You should be able to make workout to workout gains most of the time.

When you count reps for measuring improvement, count 1/2 reps and quarter reps and cheat reps as well. For example, I might record a set as 200 lbs x 8.5 reps if I felt a did a valid 1/2 rep at the end. Or, if I did a cheat rep, I might record it as 200 lbs x 8 + 1 cheat. If that turned into 200 lbs x 9 next time, that would be a improvement.

Barry's Periodized Powerlifting Routines

Well, as of Sunday, July 3, 2:00pm 1994 I'm a retired powerlifter, so now there is no excuse for not posting my promised powerlifting routines. I'll briefly touch on all major aspects of putting together a routine.

INTRO The fundamental goal of powerlifting is to get strong. This is different from bodybuilding, where the goal is to develop large muscles and low bodyfat. Because of this, different training techniques are required. Strong and big are different things.

Strength is embodied by the three basic lifts: squat, bench press and deadlift. These are lifts that the human body can move the most weight in, and have a good chance of not breaking.

A real powerlifter does all three lifts, to develop overall strength. A huge number of so called "powerlifters" only do the bench press, but bench pressing is really just the tip of the power ice burg. The real challenges lie in the other lifts. Not to mention that bench pressers generally have twigs for legs, and a light bulb-like physique. If you are going to powerlift, do all three lifts.

REFERENCES I don't know of any good books specifically devoted to powerlifting. I've seen the books by Hatfield, and was unimpressed. If you go to a major powerlifting meet, you will find a lot of manuals by various top lifters. They vary a lot in quality. The magazine Powerlifting USA has many training and diet articles, but these also vary a lot in quality. It is most useful for finding out contest dates and results and ordering equipment. There are now some good videos on powerlifting available. The series by Ed Coan is probably a worthwhile purchase, and Powerlifter Video Magazine is entertaining and informative (call 1-800-BARBELL for subscription information).

As for scientific references, I again prefer to rely on the book "Weight Training, A Scientific Approach" by Stone and Obryant. This contains a fair amount of material directly relevant to powerlifting, but at a very scholarly level.

I wont cite any references below. This is just distilled knowledge. What I know comes from 16 years of weightlifting, and 2 years of powerlifting as the training partner of one of the best lifters in the world, and a couple years of training at the Mecca, Golds/Venice, as part of the "in crowd" there. But, I am a research scientist, so I try and filter this against some general principles as well.

Diet Calories: to maintain bodyweight, get about 15-20 calories per pound of bodyweight (a rough estimate). If you need to bulk up, this should be closer to 25 calories per pound. If you want to lose fat, keep calories in the 10-15/lb range, and use a cyclical low carb diet (always keep the fat low, about 10-20% of calories, but do 2-3 days in a row of very low carbs (0.0-0.5 gm/ lb) and high protein (2-3 gm/lb) followed by 1 day of high carbs (2-3 grams/lb) and moderate protein (1 gram/lb). The low carb days force your body into a state of fat burning.

Composition: aside from dieting to lose fat, keep the protein/carb/fat percentage of your diet around 30%/50%-60%/10%-20%, and get 1 gram per pound of quality (meat, preferably red or dairy) protein per day.

Timing: consume simple carbs about a 1/2 hour before your workout (either fruit or carbo drink, 200-400 calories), and re-carb with about 100 grams of simple carbs within an hour of training. Get a good dose of protein about an hour after training. Protein can be taken in large amounts, contrary to the 30 gram per meal myth. My partner and I always consumed our protein in 1 lb of beef (or more) increments (120 grams), and that seemed fine. It stays in the intestines for nearly a day, so the body gets plenty of time to process it. Eating 3 meals a day plus a couple snacks is convenient and effective (vs the 6 meals a day bodybuilders recommend).


Get you nutrients from normal food, and a good multi-vitamin. (over the counter, 3 centrum/day is good. The best vitamin I have ever encountered is Broad Spectrum, From Nutriguard Research, in Encinitas, CA, mail order:

PO BOX 865, Encinitas, CA 92024; 619-942-3223)

Use protein powders and weightgainers only if you need the convenience.

There are no legal supplements that are known to "work" at increasing muscle mass. You can increase your strength and muscular endurance by using stimulants, blood buffers and carbo drinks, though. I recommend UltraFuel, before and during workouts, as it provides the carbs, needed co-nutrients, and blood buffers in one. You can drink it after to recarb as well. As for stimulants, caffeine is very effective, ephedrine less so. I usually use vivarin + ephedrin + aspirin as a stimulant stack, (the aspirin is to block pain and enhance blood transport). Take these about an 1/2 hour before doing your powerlifts. Note: there seems to be a very very small danger of ephedrine causing strokes. I have never seen anyone have a problem with it, even at doses several times larger than these.

I have tried creatine, and didn't notice much from it. But other people I have talked to think it makes them a bit stronger. I personally doen't recommend it.


You can get plenty strong without drugs (steroids, clenbuterol, growth hormone are the substances in use these days). And drugs are more effective for bodybuilders than powerlifters, i.e. they seem to work better at increasing mass/reducing fat than at actually increasing the strength of a muscle. In any case, I say stay away from drugs until you can at least squat and deadlift 2.5 x bodyweight and bench 1.75 x. Those are numbers that can certainly be achieved without drugs, so there is no need for them up til that point. If at that stage you want to use them, learn about them and then set some specific goals and timetables for using them. Plan to limit your lifetime exposure to them to at most a year (since, except for rare reactions, most harmful side effects don't set in til at least one year of "on time"). If you do want to use them, you should also get well educated. Minimally, read Dan Duchaine's Underground Steroid Handbook, Bill Phillips' Anabolic Reference Guide (these are advertized for sale in Muscle Media 2000 magazine), and Bob Goldman's Death In The Locker Room (advertized in Weider muscle magazines). Also, read the Febuary (Jan? March?) 1995 issue of Scientific American--the cover story is on steroids, and is very reasonable.


Belt: You will need a good regulation power belt. Order one out of Powerlifting USA magazine. Get a single prong belt (two prongs are too hard to put on tight). Buy a good belt, it is the most important gear--expect to pay $60 dollars. It should be be very stiff, not soft and comfortable.

Wraps: Knee wraps are also a necessity. I like goldline superwrap 10's from Marathon. About $15.00 a pair. These are worn for squating. not deadlifting.

Shoes: a good cross trainer shoe, like nike air, seems to be good for general purpose powerlifting. Once you get strong, you may want to use squat shoes for squating ($100) and a good flat soled shoe (wrestling shoe or tennis shoe) for deadlifting.

Powersuit: once you can squat and deadlift > 2 x bodyweight, you may want to consider wearing a powersuit. These can be ordered from Powerlifting USA mag. I prefer Marathon supersuits. $40. These are a pain in the ass to put on wear though--they are very tight and leave lots of bruises on your legs. But they do provide added safety when moving heavy weights, as well as adding 20-50 lbs to what you can lift.

Chalk: buy lifting chalk out of Powerlifting USA mag, and use it on all powerlifts. Always on your hands, plus chalk knees before wrapping them, and chalk the back for squating and bench pressing. $10 gets you plenty of chalk.

Baby Powder: you put this on your thighs for heavy deadlifts, to reduce friction. Its only really needed as part of contest preparation, not day to day training. Try and get the un scented kind.

Power bar and Collars: you need a good olympic bar and 5 lb collars for the powerlifts. Always use the collars on squat and deadlift; optional on the bench. Hopefully your gym has good bar and collars. We train at the mecca, but theirs are not good enough to heavy powerlifting, so we had to buy our own ($150 for the bar). the number one thing to look for in bars is that they are straight, not bent. Put them on a rack and roll them to check for bends. If they are bent at all, they can change positions during a lift and really toss you around.

Bench Shirt: don't wear them, they are a cheat, i.e. the shirt is there solely to move the weight, not for safety. But, you can bench more with them, for sure. You also look like an idiot wearing them, and they are hard to put on take off without help. At least, wait till you can bench 1.5 x bodyweight before messing with them. And then, consider getting a denim shirt from Frantz--these are not legal in all federations, but they are easy to put on/off, don't make the wearer look like a total idiot (i.e. you can put your arms by your sides), and they are more "effective" too.

(The difference between a bench shirt and squat suit: in the squat, you are unsupported in the bottom position--with a heavy weight, you could easily strain the support muscles, inner thigh and hams. The suit basically reinforces these muscles. In the bench, at the bottom position you are supported, since the bar hits your chest if it goes too low. There is no safety need for the shirt. In fact, I have seen guys injured by their shirt--either by losing control of the bar when the shirt rips, or by having it pull them out of their groove, so that the bar lands in an undesirable spot, like the mouth.)

Things to avoid: Also, never wear wrist straps for deadlifts--that robs you of your grip development.

Same for gloves--plus they are illegal equipment.

Wrist wraps are optional, but I would use them only if you have an injury. Same for elbow wraps (which are not legal for bench press competitions).

Training Partners

A training parter is almost mandatory in powerlifting, since you need at least one spotter on heavy lifts, and you also need someone to critique your form. In powerlfiting, the more training partners the better. I highly recommend training partners, especially ones you can learn from.

Primary Lift Technique

It is futile to try and pass on technique via the written word, or even still photos. You have to see live action and get running commentary. If at all possible, find an experienced powerlifter to critique your style periodically. If a mentor is not available (and even if they are) buy a training video out of Powerlifting USA. I suggest the ones by Ed Coan (the alltime best powerlifter), as he is known as a great technician who gets the most out of his lifts.

But, a few comments:

First, always do your powerlifting with good form--never cheat to get the lift (bouncing in the bench, squating high, avoiding lockouts in bench and deadlift, bouncing the bar on the floor during reps in the deadlift, etc). If you cheated, you got nothing. Zero. Its that simple, because thats what you'd get in a contest.

Bench press: there are two styles: touch and go, and pause. When training specifically for competition, you have to practice the pause: the bar must come to a complete stop touching your chest. In power training not specifically for a contest, its better to move the bigger weights by using a touch and go style. That means you press up as soon as the bar touches the chest--but there is still no bounce or cheat at the bottom! Typically the pause takes 10 lbs off your bench.

Squat: power squats are different from bodybuilding squats. The motion is pretty similar to that of sitting down on a toilet with a wide stance.

Deadlift: there are two legal styles: sumo and conventional. In conventional, your feet are together and your hands wider than your feet. The bar comes off the ground easy, but there is a sticking point near the knees where the back is put under tremendous stress in a rounded position. I don't recommend this style,m as it is more injury prone. (My partner once ruptured his discs like popping popcorn pulling 675 this way some years ago. Then he passed out from the pain, and had to spend a month in bed to recover). I recommend sumo: you take a wide stance, and your hands go inside your legs, similar in position to the bottom of a squat. The hips take up much more of the load, and the hard part of the movement is to get the bar off the floor; after that it glides up.

Important note: when doing reps in the deadlift, set the bar down completely at the end of each rep (keep your hands on it tho)--don't cheat by bouncing it off the floor or cutting the motion short and coming up early. You want every rep to be like a single, otherwise you will be weak in the starting position.

Psyching Up

It is important to mentally psyche up before attempting a heavy lift. Based on my experience, I'd say the difference between psyched and unpsyched lifting is about a 10-20% drop in strength, plus the weight feels ponderous and heavy when there is no psyche. Proper psyching should put you in a state of extreme rage or fear--the primitive emotions. By the time you start the lift, the conscious mind should be completely shut down--there is no thought, and then even no emotion. You want to completely lose your mind, and perform the lift using only instinct. When you can reach this state (it takes a lot of practice), there will be no physical sensation at all during the lift--your body is numb, you are not aware of your limbs, you may lose your sense of hearing as well, and for that brief time there is just a direct link between the mind and the muscles, with out the normal conscious interface. Its a pretty weird mental state, one that can't be reached any other way than by putting extreme demands on your body.

Many people try to psyche up by making a ruckus--they swear, stomp around, have people slap them, bang their heads on the wall, yell at themselves, etc. But, its really all in your mind. I advocate the silent psyche. Keep it in your mind. I look totally calm on the outside while psyching up, but inside there is a violent storm raging in the brain.

Assistance Movements

The training lifts are divided into the three primary power lifts, and all other movements are classified as assistance lifts. The purpose of the assistance movements is to develop and maintain muscle mass over the entire body, and to be sure that muscles get worked through a full range of motions and angle. This will assist with the stability during the primary lifts, and helps prevent weak links from developing. (The older style was to train weak parts of a primary lift directly, e.g. work on the sticking point in the benchpress. The modern approach is just to do assistance work to build a good foundation of strength and mass).


Thorough warmup is important prior to the power lifts, since you are going to stress the body severely. I suggest the following warmup sequences: (sets x reps)

1 x 8, 1 x 5, 1 x 3, 1 x 1, work set(s)

where the work set(s) are the actual sets you want to do that day. The weight jumps should be roughly equal between each set above: i.e. the first set is with 20% of the target weight, then 40%, etc til you reach 100% for your work set. If you are using more than 5 plates on the bar, insert more 1 x 1 warmup sets. For example, I usually warm up by adding plates (45 lb plates), so that my sequence is (reps x weight)

8 x 135, 5 x 225, 3 x 315, 1 x 405, 1 x 495, 1 x 585

in the squat if I am squating > 600. For bench, I stop at 1 x 315, though.

Gear for warmups & sets:

  1. use you chalk on all warmups for all powerlifts.
  2. always wear your belt for all squats and deadlifts.
  3. don't wear a belt to bench press--it interferes with arching your back.
  4. wrap your knees to squat after your first two warmup sets.
  5. if you are going to wear a power suit to squat and deadlift, use it only on your last two warm ups and your heavy sets. (same for bench shirt)
  6. If you deadlift with baby powder, only use it on your heaviest set--it's really only needed for singles.
  7. if you use special shoes to squat/bench/dead, wear5 them for the entire warmup and lifting sequence.


Minor injuries are a part of power lifting. You will always have cuts, bruise, aching joints and sore muscles when you start taxing the body. It requires skill to decide which injuries to ignore and which to pay attention to. Here are some simple rules of thumb (but don't blame me if you end up in the hospital :-)

  1. Bruises and broken blood vessels on the skin and in the eyes are generally harmless, although they can look pretty bad.
  2. Same fro all manner of skin abrasions.
  3. Deep muscle aches and aching joints are common but not a sign of serious injury. Same for tendonitis.
  4. Minor muscle tears occur frequently. If a muscle tear actually causes a loss in strength, you need to avoid working that area til it heals. If a muscle tear results in no loss of strength (even though it may hurt while lifting) you can train as usual.

The bottom line is usually: if an injury makes you get weaker, do something about it. Otherwise, ignore it. Its not unusual to train with fairly (even extremely) painful injuries, as long as you stay strong.

Here's a tip: ibuprofin helps a lot with the pain (at least you can get to sleep at night :-)

Similarly, you can train through most minor illnesses. But don't train with a viral chest infection and a fever--it can damage the heart, according to what my doc told me.

Routine Design

The powerlifting routines I present are periodized routines, in which you hit all three lifts roughly once a week, an progress in poundage--with fixed reps--from week to week. The reason for the fixed number of reps is (a) to build strength you need low rep sets with heavy weights, plus (b) when using heavy weights, a one rep change is a huge change, so varying reps is not a very gradual way to vary the intensity. Instead, the reps are kept about the same and small changes are made to the poundages. this allows for a gradual increase in intensity.

Individual Workouts

A good way to structure the individual workouts is as follows:

Primary Assistance
squat quads,hams,calves
bench chest,delts,abs
dead back,traps
<none> bis, tris, forearms

This gives you a total of four different workouts. If you would rather just have 3 workouts (they get a bit long tho) add the tri's to chest day and bis and fores to dead day.

As for the assistance work, here are rules of thumb for selection and performance:

  • stay away from straight bar work--too much stress on joints only use a straight bar for your power lifts.
  • do all your work with cables, machines and dumbbells.
  • never do work that puts your back in an unsupported position (e.g. T-bar rows). Only use back machines that support the torso.
  • never wear belt or wraps or straps for assistance work. Those are all tools to allow you to lift heavier weights, while the goal of assistance is to work the muscles without stressing the joints and tendons to much.
  • use full range of motion and decent form on assistance; again, moving biggest possible weights is not the purpose. Muscular conditioning is the goal.
  • try to avoid doing anything that involves bending over during assistance--conserve the back and keep the blood pressure down.

Here are good exercises from which to select the assistance:

quads: leg press, hack squat, leg extension, thigh abductor/adductor

hams: various leg curl machines

calves: seated and standing calf raise

chest: flat bench flyes, flat bench dumbbell presses, incline bench flyes, incline dumbbell presses, pec dec, cable crossovers.

delts: dumbbell shoulder press, over head machine press, dumbbell laterals, machine laterals, cable reverse cross overs (for the rear delt), rear delt machine.

back: pulldowns to the front or behind the neck, with various hand positions, machine rows on machines that provide chest support. For the lower back, oat most only do light work on a lower back machine--deadlifts are enough intense lower back work.

traps: shrugs and upright rows (straightbar is required here).

abs: all manner of crunches and leg raises--just contract the abs; the range of motion is very short (otherwise you work the upper thigh)

bis: dumbbell curls, cable curls, preacher machine curls

tris: cable pushdowns, machine french curls, cable french curls.

fores: hammer curls, behind the back wrist curls (need a straight bar for these).

assistance performance: for each muscle group, select 2-4 assistance exercises (the more complex the muscle, the more exercises) (be sure to hit front side and rear delt). For each assistance exercise, do 3 sets of 8 reps each: the first set is a light warmup, the second set is moderate, and the third set is hard, so you can barely get eight reps. But always get eight--that is your goal. Never do more reps, and if you do less, back off on weight the next time. If you are using a lot of weight (e.g. leg press with many plates), you can add in an extra set to build up to your hard set more gradually.

Weekly schedule (micro cycle)

Here are three common and reasonable ways to arrange the basic workouts into a micro-cycle: If you have an arm day, it can go on any empty day except before bench day (since you need fresh arms to bench)


day workout
M bench
T squat
W -
Th -
F dead
S -
S -


day workout
M squat
T -
W bench
Th -
F dead
S -
S -


day workout
1 squat
2 -
3 bench
4 -
5 dead
6 -
7 bench
8 -

The latter (III) is an 8 day cycle, in which you bench twice in 8 days. This allows for somewhat faster bench progress, taking advantage of the fact that upper body generally recovers faster than lower body.

Lifting Cycles (Macro Cycle)

Now these weekly cycles need to be arranged into larger training cycles. I present two basic ways: the former is better for people who are starting out, and who are not training for a contest. It is more open ended and lets you develop your strength in a less planned way.

I. Self-Regulating Cycle

Progression on the power lifts:

start the cycle for each lift with a weight you can handle fro 5 sets of 5 reps. Every week for the lift, you increase the weight (by 20 lbs in the squat and deadlift, 10 lbs in the bench; cut those in half if they seem like big jumps for the weight you are using). Whenever you can't get 5 reps on a set, you throw that set out in the future. Continue this way, until you are left doing just one set of 5. At that point, if 8 or more weeks have gone by, stop the cycle (for that lift). If not, and you want to keep going longer, continue increasing the weight, and drop at least 1 rep each workout: i.e do no more than 4 reps the next time (its ok if you can't get that many though), and continue, planning to drop one rep each time. You will reach a single in at most 4 weeks (probably less) and stop the cycle after that (you can stop any time before the single as well).

Apply this procedure to each of the powerlifts. You can stop them at different times as they peter out. When you stop for one lift, just go into a holding pattern for it by doing one set of 5 with a fairly light weight, until you terminate all the others. Make the cycle run at least 8 weeks, but no more than 12. 8-10 is best. Starting with 5 sets of five, and assuming you drop one set per workout and then one rep per workout at the end would result in a 9 week cycle.

Progression on the assistance: *unlike* the power lifts, there is no projected steady increase in the weights used for assistance. These sets are done more instinctively, and you should just look at them as little contests: your goal is to pick a weight for your hard set that you can barely get 8 with. If you get 8 easy, you were a wimp. Use more weight next time. If you miss 8, you lose, it was too heavy. Be more conservative next time. Never do more than 8; if you have something left, save it for next time. There is no need to take these sets to failure all the time. Also, if you feel a little weak, there is no harm in dropping down, and vice versa. Just use instinct to select the weights, and have fun with it. The rigid progression is for the power lifts.

Also, towards the end of the cycle (the last couple weeks), start to go easy on the assistance, and you can even cut back on the number of sets some. The power lists will be pretty draining by then.

II. Pre-Planned (Contest Training) Cycle If you are training for a contest, you can't afford an open ended cycle like the above. You have to know you will peak on a certain day. So, you have to plan a cycle of a known length and plan the weight jumps you will need to reach your target lifts. You may not quite reach your goals, but that is ok.

You may also want a planned length cycle to coincide with the quarter system at school, or any other time marks in your life.

Again, use all sets of 5 reps. For each power lift, you will do one hard set, and one backoff set. The backoff set is there as a gauge and to practice the movement: your hard set may degenerate into a single double or triple, which can make it hard to judge your performance (e.g. if you miss a single, how strong are you?). Use how you feel on the backoff to gauge status in that case.

For the backoff set, use about 90% of what you use on your hard set.

Here is a reasonable schedule of planned jumps: Let W be the target weight you want to lift for a set of 5 at the end. Assume there are 8 workouts during the 8 week cycle.

Then: for the squat and deadlift, start at W - 100lbs and take the following weekly jumps:

20lbs, 20lbs, 20lbs, 10lbs, 10lbs, 10lbs, 10lbs

and for the bench, start at W - 50 lbs and take jumps half that size.

(You can of course reduce the jumps listed in proportion to the weights you will be lifting).

Assistance progression: same free format as described in the other macro cycle strategy.

Assembling Macro Cycles

The 8 week (roughly) macro cycles described above should in turn be strung together to for a sequence of several cycles. At the start of each new cycle, set a reasonable goal (e.g. add 20 lbs on your best set of 5 in squat and dead, 10 in bench) and start the new cycle that much heavier (e.g. up by 20 in squat and dead, up by 10 in bench). You can do as many as six of these cycles in a year, and that gives you plenty of opportunity to increase you squat and dead by ~ 100 lbs and bench by 50 lbs, which would be plenty of gains for one year. Alternatively, you could do two power cycles in a row, and then do two of the bodybuilding cycles I described in previous posts, so that you alternate between strength gains and mass gains. In this case it would probably be good to throw in a 4-6 week fat reduction cycle every year, too (i.e. use a maintainance workout, and the sort of cyclical diet I described above for 4-6 weeks.)

Choosing a Weight Class

If you compete, you need to decide what weight class to go into. It is a fact that anyone can get stronger by getting fatter--but who wants to look like a pig? I suggest you try to compete at 8-13% bodyfat, and try to squeeze in the lower weight classes. It is a much more athletic thing to do. Also, you can easily drop 3-5 lbs over the last three days before the contest and then pop back to you final weight with a little recarbing and sodium loading. The trick is to eat zero carbs the last three days before weigh in, and go on a low sodium diet (no added sodium at all--keep intake to < 600 mg /day) and drink a gallon of distilled water per day fro the last two weeks before the show. use a sauna to drop any remaining weight if you have to, and don't eat or drink anything within 18 hours before the weigh in. After the weight in, recarb (complex day before, simple same day) and sodium and water load as much as possible.


There are three major organizations: ADFPA (for drug free), USPF (the largest, most official (and officious) organization, currently drug free at the national and international level) and the APF (formed by the lifters, for the lifters. Drugs are ok, and they are more lenient on judging criteria and choice of gear). USPF has the most shows.

When training for a contest, use the preplanned workout style. It is also helpful to "bring up a single", I.e. take an additional hard set which is just a single rep, to practice technique on the single. This starts out easy. and should be your first work set, and you jump it in weight each week similar to the set of 5. By the end, it turns into a max or near max single done with good single technique (which differs subtly from rep technique).

Contests are always rushed and disorganized, and conditions usually rang from bad to worse. You'd think they'd have it down by now, but they don't. Before you compete, attend a show and try to sit in on the rules briefing as well, if you can. It help to have someone with you at the show to help with your gear as well.

There are three major organizations: ADFPA (for drug free), USPF (the largest, most official (and officious) organization, currently drug free at the national and international level) and the APF (formed by the lifters, for the lifters. Drugs are ok, and they are more lenient on judging criteria and choice of gear). USPF has the most shows.

When training for a contest, use the preplanned workout style. It is also helpful to "bring up a single", I.e. take an additional hard set which is just a single rep, to practice technique on the single. This starts out easy. and should be your first work set, and you jump it in weight each week similar to the set of 5. By the end, it turns into a max or near max single done with good single technique (which differs subtly from rep technique).

What Constitutes Strong?

Good strength--for anyone--is a 600 lb squat, 400 lbs bench, and 600 lbs deadlift. These are the sort of lifts a good college level athlete is capable of, if they trained for it.

Good powerlifter strength is those weights + 100 lbs, and the strength level good high school level athletes are capable of is those weights - 100 lbs.

I ignore the weight of the lifter above, but I'm talking about someone weighing at least 200 lbs.

More generally, squat and deadlift 3 x bodyweight and bench 2 x bodyweight is good strength for a power lifter. That is nearly national level.


Powerlifting mottos to live by:

That which does not destroy you will make you strong.

Tired does not mean weak, injured does not mean weak, only weak means weak.


here are the top lifts and lifters for
some representative weight classes:

Lift Wt Lifter
Men 165 lbs
S 760 Perez
B 505 Perez
D 733 Inzer
Tot 1890 Alexander

Men 181 lbs
S 843 Bell
B 562 Confessore
D 790 Coan
Tot 2110 Bell

Men 198 lbs
S 870 Bell
B 600 Lee
D 860 Coan
Tot 2204 Coan

Men 220 lbs
S 965 Coan
B 628 Confessore
D 865 Coan
Tot 2370 Coan (But I thought he hit 2430?)

Men Overall
S 1030 Passanella (275 lbs bodyweight)
B 705 Arcidi (308 lbs bdywt)
D 920 Heisey (> 308 lbs bdywt)
Tot 2460 Pasanella (308 lbs)

(But Anthony Clark has hit 730 in unsanctioned meets recently, weighing 330, and a fellow named ``Ziggy'' did a 740 bench weighing around 360 at an APF meet, 1995).

The all time best lifter overall, based on formula, is Ed Coan with his 2370 total at 220 lbs.

Here is a selection from the women, just to make the guys reading this feel weak:

Women 125 lb
S 440 Jeffery
B 248 Jeffery
D 408 Jeffery
T 1100 Jeffery

Women 165 lb
S 567 Dodd
B 363 Harrell
D 534 Dodd
T 1317 Dodd

Women 181 lb
S 579 Reshel
B 352 Grimwood
D 589 Reshel
T 1483 Reshel

Women 198 lb
S 633 Reshel
B 385 Harrell
D 604 Reshel
T 1565 Reshel

(Note: these records are close to my own best lifts at 198! Its time to retire when the women are stronger than you!:-)

(The latter are also the overall best for women).

Barry Merriman