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Two Stage Trinity Powerlifting Training Plan
By Gary F. Zeolla
I began lifting hard again in the fall of 2013 after a break of a few years. I initially used my “Two by Two” Powerlifting Training Plan. That worked well, in that I made slow but steady process. But I got bored with it, so I tried a Trinity Plan, then a Two-Stage Trinity Plan, then a Tetra Plan, plus a couple of variations of these plans.
The only plans that worked were the Two by Two Plan and the Two-Stage Trinity Plan. Of these two, I prefer the latter, so I will stick with it. In this two-part article, I will explain the Two-Stage Trinity Powerlifting Plan and compare it to the other plans. I will explain what is meant by “Trinity” later, as it will only make sense once I explain the plan itself.
But here, hopefully, what I have figured out works best for me will help the reader figure out what works best for you. That is why I am being so detailed in this two-part article on all aspects of this Training Plan. For more on my powerlifting training philosophy, see my book Starting and Progressing in Powerlifting: A Comprehensive Guide to the World’s Strongest Sport.
I work out four times a week: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, taking Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday off. On the workout days, I alternate through four basic workouts: Bench Assistance (BA), Squats, Benches, Deadlifts. These four training days constitute a training week.
My “Two by Two Powerlifting Training Plan” consists of two training routines (a Post-Contest Routine and a Pre-Contest Routine). Ideally, each routine lasts 12 weeks. There are two training weeks within each training routine (Week A and Week B). Similar but different exercises are done in each of the four training weeks. As a result., each workout is done six times. A contest is entered at the end of the Pre-Contest Routine.
Two look-alike lifts are done in Weeks A and B in the Post-Contest Routine and in Week A of the Pre-Contest Routine. The actual powerlifts are done in Week B of the Post-Contest Routine, followed by one look-alike lift.
Note: By “look-alike lift” I mean a slight variation of an actual powerlift. Thus, Chain Squats, Pause Squats, and Front Squats are “look-alike lifts” to actual Squats. For details on such lifts, see Powerlift Assistance Exercises and my powerlifting book.
With the Two-Stage Trinity Powerlifting Plan, I also have two training routines, each lasting twelve weeks, but with three training weeks in each routine. I alternate through them, giving me a three-week rotation. There is thus greater variety, but each workout is only done four times.
The three trainings weeks are labeled: Week A, Week B, and Week C. The two Training Routines are labeled Stage One and Stage Two. A contest is entered at the end of Stage Two.
In both stages, two look-alike lifts are done in Weeks A and B and then the actual powerlift and one look-alike lift in Week C. In Stage One, the actual powerlift is done second in its workout, while in Stage Two, it is done first. I could have used a similar approach with the Two by Two Plan, but I never thought of it at that time.
With doing the actual powerlifts throughout, that should enable me to make better progress on them. But doing them second in Stage One should keep me from getting burned out on them, as I have found doing a lift second is quite different from doing it first. In fact, I might vary some look-alike lifts by doing them first in one stage and second in the other.
Meanwhile, the Tetra Plan consists of four training weeks, labeled Week A, Week B, Week C, Week D, with the actual powerlifts done in Week D. But there is only one training routine that is done for six rotations. That would mean, each workout is done six times.
Background and Further Details
I have found I need to do the same exercise in the same manner for at least four workouts to make progress on it. But if I do the same exercise in the same manner for more than six workouts, my progress stops and even goes backward. That is why I always incorporate a change in my workouts at the four to six workout point.
I also have found I need to backoff in the intensity of my training about every three months then build back up. If I don’t, I burn out, and my lifts begin to drop.
Both points were done with my Two by Two Plan by changing all exercises routine to routine and doing backoff workouts the first two weeks of each routine. That kept me from stagnating over a 24-training week (six month) period.
I initially designed the Trinity Plan with two routines, Trinity 1 and Trinity 2. But I was planning on using Trinity 1 for the entire six-month training period between contests, then Trinity 2 the next time, between my next two contests. But sure enough, I began to get burned out when I hit three months of training hard without backing off.
The same thing happened both times I tried a Tetra Plan. I was going to use one routine for an entire six-month training period but got burned out after three months.
However, I am planning on entering just two contests a year, which gives me about 24 training weeks between contests. As such, my Two-Stage Trinity Training Plan is a better alternative.
For it, rather than using Trinity 1 for an entire training period, then Trinity 2 the next time, I switch to Trinity 2 for the second half of the routine. That keeps me from getting burned out. But again, I now call these two halves of the Training Plan Stage One and Stage Two.
In addition, with my Two by Two Training Plan, there were two natural places to back off in the intensity of training, at the beginnings of each routine. But the way I initially designed the Trinity Plan and with the Tetra Plan, there was only one, at the beginning of the Training Plan. But the Two-Stage Trinity Plan is similar to the Two by Two Plan in having two parts, giving two natural places to backoff, at the beginning of each stage.
With the basic design of the Trinity Plan, with rotating through three different sets of workouts, the first three weeks of each routine are backoff workouts, rather than just the first two weeks as with the Two by Two Plan. That gives me more time to recover from the normal post-contest letdown.
Specifically, with a week off after a contest and the three backoff weeks, by the time I get back to hard training, it is about a month post-contest. In that way, I am fully recovered and regenerated and ready for hard training again.
Why I prefer the Two-Stage Trinity Plan to the Two by Two Plan is the greater variety of only doing the same exercises every three weeks rather than every two weeks. But that means, I only do each workout four times rather than six times.
However, that is still enough time to make progress, even with backing off at the start of each routine. Normally, it takes two workouts to get back to where I was the last time I did a given exercise, then the next two workouts are enough time to progress from there.
Ideally, the same exercises are done each time I do a particular stage, so over time, I should make progress on all exercises. It won’t be a rapid progress, but at my age (late 50s) and stage of development, I don’t expect to make rapid progress.
Since this Training Plan rotates through three training weeks, I could just call it a “Three Week Rotation.” But I wanted something a bit fancier. Since the basic design for each routine is to combine three training weeks into the one training routine, I call it my “Trinity Powerlifting Training Plan.”
The word “Trinity” is of course a Christian term. The Confession of Faith for my Christian ministry defines the concept as, “Within the one Being or essence of God, there eternally exists three distinct yet equal Persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.”
I hope it is not blasphemy for me to use this term for a powerlifting training plan, but it does fit, as the three training weeks are “distinct yet equal” but comprise one training routine.
To keep with the theme of being a bit fancy, I use Roman numerals to number the rotations, so the first rotation is “Rotation I.”
I include a year designation to differentiate between successive Training Plans. Since each plan lasts six months (whether Trinity or Two by Two), one exists entirely within a given calendar year while the next crosses over two years. Thus, my current Training Plan is my “2018-19 Training Plan.” The next one will be my “2019 Training Plan.” The one after that will be the “2019-20 Training Routine,” etc.
As mentioned, I work out four days a week, alternating through four different basic workouts: Bench Assistance / Squats/ Benches/ Deadlifts. The basic design of each workout is to do two major exercises, plus a form of rows on Bench Assistance (BA) and Bench days. I do different exercises each training week. That means, in each stage, I do a total of six major exercises for each powerlift (the actual powerlift plus five look-alike lifts), and six forms of rows.
Sets x Reps
A full Summary of my planned sets x reps will be presented in Part Two. But here, I will say, I have long done on the powerlifts and look-alike lifts 3 sets x 5-6, 3-4, 1-2 reps, increasing the weights 5% set to set. That plan works great, as it gives me the right amount of volume and of variety in the sets.
On the former point, I’ve tried doing four sets, but that is just too much volume if I am doing two major exercises in a workout. Conversely, two sets do not seem to be enough volume.
Also, two sets do not enable sufficient variety. By that I mean, doing three sets, dropping two reps set to set, gives me a higher rep set, a medium rep set, and a low rep set.
I tried dropping just one rep, doing say, 3 x 5, 4, 3, but it is not enough of a difference set to set. But with a two-rep drop, it makes each set seem like a new challenge. That is why I never do straight sets, repeating the same weight for the same number of reps for two or more sets, such as a “5 x 5” program. After I do a given weight for a given number of reps, I don’t want to do it again. I feel like, “Been there, done that.”
Note also, I have generally used a one-rep range for each set due to my method of training to “almost failure.” With this method, I train very hard, but I try to stop just short of actually missing a rep. For further details, see my articles Training to Almost Failure and Sets x Reps Plan and Philosophy.
In the latter article, I discuss that trying to hit a specific number of reps forced me to work too hard, as at times I would work to failure trying to get the last planned rep. And for a single, if I missed it, I would have worked to failure.
But now, with only doing each workout four times, I have been shooting for a specific number of reps on each set, namely the lower reps in the ranges of 5, 3. 1. That is because, these lower reps are more suited for powerlifting,
But to accommodate not having a range for my reps requires a different mindset towards my weights and reps. For the first set, I try to pick a weight which I figure requires a near but not quite full effort to get the planned number of reps. Then based on how hard that set is, I adjust my weights for the next set so as to get the planned reps for that set with again a near full effort.
If the first set is easier than expected, I increase my planned weights for the next set. If it is harder, I decrease the weights. If I get less than the planned reps, then I decrease the weights that much more. The same approach is used for the second set to the third set.
When moving to a single for the final set, based on how hard the triple is, I try to pick a weight for the single that I figure I can get but which makes the single very hard but just short of a full max. That solves the problem of a missed single being too hard due to having training to failure.
As mentioned, the starting point is to increase 5% from set to set, as I have found that to be most appropriate to force a two-rep drop set to set. I can hit that rather close due to using 1-1/4 pound plates. For dumbbell and isolation exercises, I have fractional plates for even finer adjustments.
Backoff Workouts and Extra Days Off
As indicated, I do “backoff” workouts the first three weeks post-contest. For them, I drop the weights by 10% from the last time I did each exercise. That gives me just somewhat hard workouts. That amount of backing off is needed due for the previously mentioned reasons.
Since, as just mentioned, I normally do three work sets, increasing the weights by 5% and dropping by two reps set to set, the way I figure out the weights for my backoff workouts is to use the weight I used for the first, highest rep set the previous time for the third, lowest rep set in the backoff workout, then I figure out the other two sets from there. That gives me a 10% decrease.
I also usually take an extra day off about once a month to aid recovery. With lifting Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I try to make the extra day off a Sunday or Thursday. That way, I have three off days in a row. When I do that, I usually feel refreshed and like it has been a long time since I last lifted.
When I take that extra day off, I either move my workouts back a day, doing the workout I was supposed to do on that day the next training day, or I skip my BA workout, my least important workout.
The former method gives me extra rest between all of my basic workouts. Specifically, rather than doing each lift once a week as is my normal practice, the next training week, I do a given type of workout after eight to ten days.
As indicated, usually, that extra rest helps. But sometimes, it seems to be too long, especially for the workout that gets pushed back three days, giving me ten days since doing that workout. Also, it gets a bit confusing, having the day changing on which I do each basic workout. It also makes it difficult to calculate how many training weeks I will get in until a contest, as the extra day off makes my trainings weeks different than calendar weeks.
That is why I have tried the latter method of skipping my least important workout, my BA workout. That keeps the day I do each workout the same, so if I start a routine on Sunday, then I always do my BA workout on Sundays, Squats on Monday, Benches on Wednesday, and Deadlifts on Fridays. That keeps things from getting confusing. But it means I go 14 days without a BA workout when I skip a BA workout.
But in a way, that might be good, as I could be overtraining Benches by doing Bench work twice a week. I tried benching just once a week, but that did not work. I always felt sore, like I was not staying used to benching. Most likely, I would probably do best benching something like every five days. But designing a training plan for that frequency would be difficult and confusing.
But skipping a BA workout once a month mimics such a plan, possibly giving me just enough extra rest on Benches so that they will progress better than they have been. In addition, this latter plan makes it easier to figure out how many training weeks I will get in between contests, as my training weeks are the same as calendar weeks.
On the other hand, skipping my BA workouts means I do not get any extra rest between my other workouts, which sometimes I need.
Adding to this confusion is sometimes taking an extra day off when I don’t feel I need to messes me up, making my training the next week seem more difficult. But if I don’t take an extra day off once in a while, I begin to feel over-trained.
What all of this means is, I need to play it by ear, taking an extra day and how to do so based on how I am feeling after a month or so of steady training and what body parts feel like they need extra rest. That is why it is always a bit up in the air as to exactly how many training weeks I will get in before a contest until I get close to it.
Method of Competing
I am planning on competing raw with wraps for the foreseeable future. I used to compete equipped back in college in the late 1970s to early 1980s and in my 40s in the ‘00s, but I now find using suits and shirts to be too exhausting and time-consuming. On the other hand, every time I tried to train for competing raw without wraps, I ended up injured. Consequently, raw with wraps is my only option.
By “with wraps” I mean a belt and wrist wraps on all three lifts, plus knee sleeves or knee wraps on Squats and knee sleeves on Deadlifts. The latter are just drugstore knee sleeves (Ace or store brand). Those provide just enough support to keep my aging knees from aching, but they do not add anything to the Deadlift.
However, the knee sleeves I use for Squats with Sleeves are the now defunct APT’s heavy knee sleeves. These are about twice as thick as the Ace knee sleeves and do add a bit to the lift, maybe about 5%. But these are not allowed in any Raw with Sleeves division, as they are made of “wrap-like” material, not neoprene.
For Squats with Wraps, I use Crain Genesis wraps. For Stage One, I use 2.0-meter wraps. For Stage Two, I use 2.5-meter wraps for my regular workouts, then I use 3.0-meter wraps for my peaking workout and at the contest. For more on these sleeves and wraps, see my article Knee Wraps and Knee Sleeves for Powerlifting.
But here, I have gone back and forth over the past twelve years training for and competing Squats with Sleeves and Squats with Wraps. Both styles work, but there are advantages and disadvantages to each. Namely, sleeves are much easier and less time-consuming to use than wraps, but they do not add near as much to the lift as wraps. Also, I prefer the top-end type of assistance work for Squat with Wraps over the bottom-end type of assistance work for Squats with Sleeves.
Since I cannot make up my mind, I am planning on training both about evenly, but with a slight emphasis on Squats with Wraps. This plan makes sense, as Squats with Sleeves is a great assistance exercise for Squats with Wraps, and vice-versa.
On Deadlifts, most of the time I have trained for and competed with a Sumo stance, going all the way back to college. But I also competed with a Conv stance once back in the ‘00s. Generally, I can handle about 5-10 pounds more Sumo than Conv, but with such a small difference, it is worth training both about evenly. And again, Conv Deadlifts is a great assistance exercise for Sumo Deadlifts, and vice-versa. Therefore, I will train both about evenly, but with a slight emphasis on Sumo Deadlifts.
As indicated previously, in Stage One, the actual powerlift is done second in its workout, while in Stage Two, it is done first. Doing the actual powerlift second “handicaps” it. By that I mean, I have found I need to use about 5% less weight when doing a major lift second in a workout, after another major exercise, as compared to doing it first.
To make the difference a bit more significant, I also use a slight “handicap” on the powerlift in Stage One. Thus, for Squats with Sleeves, I go a bit lower, ¾”, than for regular Squats with Sleeves. That might not sound like much, but it does make about a 5% difference in the amount of weight I can use.
For what I call “Extra Low Squats” (a look-alike lift), I go 1½” lower, which gives about a 10% difference. Therefore, the handicap is not as great of a difference from the regular lift as for the look-alike lift. I hit each depth exactly due to using my extra low foam squat box and a system of placing ¾” thick boards under the main box.
For Squats with Wraps, as mentioned, I use 2.0-meter wraps in Stage One rather than the 2.5 meter wraps I use in Stage Two. That again makes about a 5% difference.
For Benches, I normally pause just momentarily on all benching exercises, but to handicap Benches in Stage One, I pause for a full second. To ensure that pause, I count the reps at my chest while pausing, saying to myself “1001” – “1002” etc. That again, is less than the look-alike lift of “3-Count Pause Benches.” Again, the handicap gives a 5% difference and the look-alike lift a 10% difference.
For both Sumo and Conv Deadlifts, for the handicap, I use a ¾” (1 board) Deficit, whereas for the look-alike lift of “Deficit Deadlifts,” I use either a 1½” (2 boards) deficit or a 2¼” (3 boards) deficit. Again, the 1 board deficit for the handicap gives a 5% difference, while the 2 or 3 boards give a 10 or 15% difference, respectively.
With all of these handicaps giving a 5% difference, and with the second in the workout placement also giving a 5% difference, and with, as indicated, backing off by 10% at the start of Stage Two, when I move the powerlifts from being done second in Stage One with eh handicap to first in Stage Two without the handicap, I just repeat the weights from my last workouts in Stage One for my first workouts in Stage Two, and that gives me the needed 10% backoff.
Two by Two vs. Tetra vs. Trinity Training Plans
As indicated, my Two by Two Plan has me doing each lift every other week. That works in terms of making progress on each lift. But it is a bit boring doing each lift that often.
On the other hand, my Tetra Plan has me doing each lift every fourth week. That works in terms of there being plenty of variety to prevent boredom. But I don’t seem to be able to make progress with that little of a frequency for each lift.
Also, that greater variety is actually a drawback, as it forces me to use exercises that were not that effective, or which are awkward or time-consuming to do in my home gym to fill all of the slots. That is especially so since I wrote it up in a similar manner as with my original Trinity Plan, with two routines to alternate between: Tetra 1 and Tetra 2.
For instance, I would need to do Dumbbell Benches and Decline Dumbbell Benches to fill all of the slots for my Bench and BA workouts, respectively. Now Dumbbell Benches are a great exercise in that they utilize more musculature than Barbell Benches due to having to keep the unwieldy dumbbells in a straight path.
However, that unwieldy nature makes them a bit dangerous to use without a spotter, and if I miss a rep, my only choice is to dump the weights on the floor. That could damage the Power Hooks I use to get them in place, or worse, it could cause an injury. As a result, I tend to not work as hard on them as other exercises by not trying a final planned rep if there is any chance I might miss it. That is probably why I have not found them to be very effective.
Also, since I only have changeable dumbbells, not a nice long rack of preset dumbbells like in a commercial gym, it is quite time-consuming to change the weights for all of my warmups and work sets. But Dumbbell Presses and Rows do not have the same problems, so I will be doing them.
In any case, my Trinity Plan has me doing each lift every third week, in-between the Two by Two and Tetra Plans. Consequently, the Trinity Plan gives me the balance of consistency and variety that are not quite right with these other two plans. That variety is further enhanced by the two stages, with different exercises, or at least a different placement of a given exercise, in each stage.
Also, with the two stages, I am able to incorporate almost every effective exercise I can do in my home gym, and I am utilizing just about every piece of equipment I have purchased for it. That makes me feel good, knowing I did not waste money over the years buying all of that equipment, but I am putting it to good use. All of that variety should also keep the Two-Stage Trinity Training Plan effective and interesting for a long time to come.
Two Stage Trinity Powerlifting Training Plan - Part Two
Two-Stage Trinity Powerlifting Training Plan. Copyright © 2018 by Gary F. Zeolla.
Powerlifting and Strength Training
Powerlifting and Strength Training: Full Workout Logs: 2018 - Present
The above article was posted on this site December 26, 2018.
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