The Ten Day Cycle Revised
Another great training article written by someone else 😛
The Ten Day Cycle with an Old School Twist
By Pete Arroyo
Over the past few years my own training for the sport of powerlifting has taken gradual change toward a simpler but more quantifiable approach. This change began in my preparation for the 2009 APF IL state meet in which I experimented with the ten day cycle for a bench only meet in the fall of 2008. After a lackluster 2008 that produced decent results (but nothing I was extremely pleased with) I consulted with one of Illinois best coaches and lifters, Dick Zenzen. Dick is beyond the realm of the savvy veteran when it comes to the sport. He has pretty much put himself through every program imaginable going back to Frantz’s gym where he trained alongside the likes of Ed Coan, Bill Seno, Bill Nichols, Willie Wessels, Maris Sternberg, Jose Garcia, Rudy Rosales, and of course Ernie Frantz himself. Since 2002 Team Zenzen has wreaked havoc on the Illinois and national record books; featuring the likes of Corey Akers, Matt Minuth, The Liliebridge family, master’s lifters Bruce McCord, Seaver Mattison, his son Zack (teen and junior national record holder) and himself. To say the least Coach Zenzen has the credentials when it comes to making a any lifter, a better lifter so I found it imperative that I listen to everything he had to say and why.
Since 2003 I religiously followed the proverbial “Westside” conjugate program (4 days a week/ dynamic and max effort rotation) but noticed my body as well as my margin of improvement began to deteriorate. I had finally reached the 2000 lb. total mark in 2008 after two tries where I got close only to have a major screw up benching or dead lifting to keep me from my goal. Whatever the case was I figured out that my body was royally beat up, in terrible condition, nor did I truly know where my training put my competition lifts at. After the meet I again got my pep talk from coach (Zenzen) preaching about this crazy sounding 10-day training routine. The basic premise was that there were no set days (a la the typical Saturday squat, Friday bench, etc.) in which the four type of days (Dynamic squat and bench/ max effort squat and bench) would rotate within a 3 training days in a 7 day week model. Essentially each specific workout would have a 10 day recovery period as opposed to 7 days. Of course I asked myself, How could I get enough work in training 3 days a week? How will I get stronger going heavy only three times a month? How am I going to convince my training partners to come in on a Wednesday night to squat heavy? Even with all the questions and doubt I knew I had to make an adjustment for MYSELF.
At the time I was training with a lot of young, up and coming lifters full of piss and vinegar. These guys would run through a freaking wall if that’s what it took. With all the testosterone and youthful vigor floating in the air our training sessions resembled a “who can top who” pissing match rather than a defined day of efforts with quantifiable objectives. It became about who was stronger at the moment rather than meet performance; and it ran my progress, body, and mind into the ground. Enough was enough and things were going to change. Even though I expected a little resistance from my group I was still the leader and they went along with the change for the time being. (This change would eventually divide us and a few of the guys stuck to the old ways as the months progressed but as time went on a couple got hurt, another few got burnt out and I was left training alone anyways.)
The next step was adjusting and redefining what the objective of each workout were. In that time I pretty much picked coach’s (Zenzen’s) brain every where I could find him. And without giving me every detail, but rather concepts and ideas, I developed what would become the first version of my own three day a week/10 day cycle. It resembled that of my old 4 day a week, dynamic and max effort split except that max effort days would rotate “workouts (volume. loading schemes)“ instead of “exercises“ . In other words the “ME” day was essentially “heavy“ day for the squat, deadlift, and bench press. This was new to me because I was so used to maxing out then missing using a different exercise each week. My body and mind were essentially conditioned to FAIL often times without the benefit of working the technique of a specific lift. Rotating loading zones and volume allowed me to practice the competition lifts without killing myself nor going stale. Essentially what happens with heavy repetition sets (or sub maximal efforts in the 80%-95% range) is that each subsequent rep “feels heavier” because of the fatigue induced by the reps before. One thing that this taught me was to work over prolonged periods of tension, as opposed to exploding 1 rep and done. I have always been a fast lifter, early on in my carreer every lift I made (be it squat, bench, or dead) has always been made in less than a second. My problem was when the weight got heavy and it was time to grind I would essentially hit a wall. Well in this program I would learn to fight under heavy but doable weights. This developed three important weaknesses that I unknowingly developed over the years. 1) Taught me to grind. If Dick saw that I would blow up a prescribed set of 3 reps he would push me to 4 or 5 reps. The reason…the last two reps felt like 90 and 95% as opposed to the 80% that was loaded on the bar. Knowing my speed would only last so long I was often pushed to doubles and triples in heavier percentages. Much like Ed Coan and many “old school” greats have done for his entire career. 2) These higher reps allowed me to put muscle on in the places I needed it. Instead of an isolation exercises to build muscle, my body was able to learn to grow and get strong within a SPECIFIC motor task. Bang for the buck I say; my training volume doubled without having to beat it up nor having to add extra exercises. Much like the soviet philosophy stemming back to the days of Alexiev in the 70s. 3) The weights were light enough that I never ever missed a rep. This helped built tremendous confidence as I just got into a “groove” with all my lifts. Now my body was now conditioned to SUCCEED!
Next, was the dynamic effort/ Speed (what I have come to realize as Acceleration Day) workout. Basically the “speed day” was about developing starting strength from one’s sticking point and learning to accelerate the bar at different rates. For example the first time I went to box squat at Zenzen barbell was a lesson in humility to say the least. I have religiously done my dynamic box squats off a parallel or below box, which has built tremendous pop out of the hole. But in recent meets I have missed PR attempts from an inch or two above parallel several times. I was constantly wondering why this was until coach (Dick) made me (literally switched box heights mid set on me) use a higher box for my “speed” work. BLASPHEMY!!! I thought, I would never squat high on my light days. After practicing and applying it, the point coach was trying to get across to me was that force generated from this higher position would carry over to generating more force to get THROUGH the mini max. This philosophy was never more evident then when doing the heavy day box squat workouts, which I have dubbed the “Zenzen mini band mania.” This workout is so extreme it can only be done once a month, if you are lucky enough to survive. Well I thought this would be easy given I have done workouts with heavy band tension before but as I came to find out this was a MOTHER OF A DAY! As I worked up on this high box (about an inch from across) I thought about where I missed squats in the past and how awkward it felt sitting to something this high. BINGO!!! That was most likely my problem all along; my “awkwardness” in this position. It finally dawned on me that the speed I was getting out of the lower box heights made me “coast” through this point. This time I had to really knuckle down, keep tight and explode with everything I had out of this “weak” spot. My best workout, at the time, ended with about 500 lbs. in bar weight and 300 lbs. of tension at the top. In this workout you start with a base band and add DOUBLED mini bands until your head explodes for a top triple. But let me tell you every inch felt like the world was coming down on you at an exponential rate. This is why I have come to find that “speed” is a demonstration of when the maintenance of optimal posture and the attempt to ACCELERATE the bar (through the lift) come together (AKA the relationship between force and posture). Of course this extreme workout only occurs once every third (or once a month on the ten day approach) dynamic squat workout; the other two are the basic 50-55% waves using a high box as well. As my training partner Corey Akers has said, “Don’t worry about depth when you’re not at the meet. Squat high and fast, save your hips, and let’s go pull.“ One can use accommodating resistance tools but in moderation and the percentages are based off of current training personal bests as opposed to all-time meet bests. I also find that this loading parameter fits in well doing the sets of three in a cluster approach where a 20 sec. rest interval can be used for 3 sets for several rounds (3 to 4 would work) for up to 12 sets total. Included on this day, Zenzen and crew chase their light squats with the heavy deadlift workout since the hips are loose and the body fatigued enough to get a good gauge on a meet pull. Coach uses a 4 exercise rotation pulling form rack pins descending in height over two workouts, a reverse band from floor, and speed (de-load) on fourth workout. Here 1 to 3 rep records are the order of the day. Simply work up at set 2.5% greater than last time and aim for a PR.
The bench workout differs here a bit as 220/242 bench monster, Matt Minuth’s evil mind has wreaked a severe influence on the teams major improvements. Matt’s dynamic day does not look like much on the surface but by the end of this workout you will most likely WILL NOT posses the capability to lift up your arms. Every muscle in your shoulders, shoulder girdle, and arms will basically get “destroyed” but in a good way. You basically work up in doubled or singled mini-bands (depending on strength level) with ONLY THE BAR for the weight equivalent of your 5 rep max. For example each doubled mini band equals a 45 lb plate or 90 pounds at the top, and each single mini band represented a 25 lb plate or 50 pounds at the top. The way you figure out the maximum number of bands you will workup to is to essentially get your 5 rep max since you will be doing sets of 5 here. For example a lifter with a 5rm of 315 lbs. would use up to 3 doubled mini bands per side. You start with only the bar (yes only the bar!!!) and one doubled mini per side for 10 fast reps then immediately add another set of doubled minis for 5 fast reps, then a third pair for 5 more. Now your next set you will take off a set of minis and add a 45 lb. plate (to leave with 135 lb. bar and 2 mini bands per side) for 5 reps as quickly as possible; then nix another set and add a plate (225 bar/ 1 set of minis) for 5 more reps. You will end your fives with 315 lb. of regular weight. Then comes the fun!!! Immediately strip off a plate and go for a 225 rep record ( a la NFL combine). Then immediately to a single plate per side for another rep record, then to the bar. In about 7 minutes you are BEYOND PUMPED. By the end of this day I would curse Matt to no end, but I have personally privileged to have watched this kid go from benching 480 at 181 to 800 plus at 242/220. Matt, you are the man my friend!
When putting it all together I started 2009 off with a bang and nailed a PR total by 120 lbs. That’s right! I went from 2000 to 2120 training less often, focusing on the competition lifts, and resting more. WTF? How could that be? More rest, recovery, and time was devoted to the meet lifts. Either way you slice it the validity of the program was proven to me.
The Old School Twist
The ensuing year brought many more success and more lessons learned but in November of 2009 my training was cut short with my first official injury. During a bench meet I suffered a “minor” tear of my long head triceps tendon (and thank god it wasn’t a complete tear) when 655 drifted back over my face. Well, this one sidelined me (literally could not straighten my elbow for 6 weeks) for a whopping 16 weeks, in which I did NOTHING. Mentally and physically I went to hell. It was a long winter as work was ok but slow, lifting was non existent, and I unfortunately was no longer welcome at a gym that I so adored. The only good thing was that this time allowed me to reflect on what happened? Why? And how was I going to fix it? First thing’s first, I had to get my elbow functional. After three months of rehab I was ready to get back in the game. With getting kicked out of the gym I had brought my team to and the rehab time it was about five months without ANY heavy weights. In other words I was severely out of shape and still protecting my elbow. With this in mind I had to make even more adjustments to my already adjusted program. In my time of healing I also armed myself with more knowledge and (with help of my old friend Ron Fernando, R.I.P.) came to learn of several “old school” philosophies of training pertaining to heavy, medium, and light training days. What I once wrote off as the bantering of crazy old men started to make a lot of sense as I developed my own heavy, medium, light system within my three-day a week training module. This was out of necessity as I could only train heavy (for safety sake) once a week on Saturday; for the given fact that I had no gym during the week and was still getting my elbow healthy. Essentially my three days would rotate bench press and squat/deadlift except that Monday’s would be my “light” day, Wednesday’s my “medium” and Saturday would be the balls out “heavy day.“ Now instead of 10 days between like workouts I would now have 14 days recovery. Here the “light day” was added as a special exercise or assistance day in which the goal was to choose drills that worked on weaknesses but utilizing higher rep ranges (6-10) and more total volume, which helped me heal but gain back lost conditioning. The “medium day” would essentially resemble the dynamic effort day as I was doing before. The “heavy day” was reserved for the competition lifts done on the gear because that is when I could train with more guys in my friend Rudy Rosales‘ garage.
This “lazier” adjustment did not deteriorate my competition lifts as I quickly regained my strength squatting 800 for double, pulling mid 600s for triple, and benching in the 600s for doubles within three gear workouts or six weeks.
RTS: the neo-philosophical epiphany
The great thing about this “off time” is that each and every minute of my spare time went into researching and discovering my new approach to the 10 day/ 3 day a week cycle. After hours and hours of scouring the internet, an e-mail exchange with Marc Bartley, and consulting many of the best books on power lifting training in modern time, I was finally able to solve the problem of managing the myriad of workouts in this scheme. To borrow a line from RTS author, Mike Tuchshcerer, “RTS is the scope on the rifle” that would aim my training in the proper direction. The ability to manage the types of efforts (H-M-L) along with the regulation of volume (using the drop off guidelines of fatigue stops as presented in RTS) allowed me to review my approach more precisely and accurately to give me a realistic goals to each and every training day. I had now developed my new version (or evolution as I like to look at it) of my 3 day a week approach. First of all the layout is very reminiscent of the original 10 day cycle but with an “old school” twist of heavy, medium, and light days. Instead of rotating two means (max effort and dynamic effort) I would now rotate three means within the same time frame. And with the added precision on the RTS concepts of fatigue drop-offs, RPEs, and stress management I was able to easily DEFINE what I had to accomplish each day in order to get the most out of the next. Well, given my newly humbled mindset (let’s just say a bit older and wiser but full of piss and vinegar when I need it) my plan would now put my “heavy” workouts scheduled 14 days apart. Yup, a whole two weeks between “heavy” squat, bench, and deadlift days. Again I was mocked by my training cohorts; “you’re too lazy” they said, “not enough heavy days,“ they complained. Wow, where have I heard this before? The great thing about this scheme is that it forced me to train my weaknesses (raw work, lifts with different stances, etc.) by spreading out the volume within the H-M-L scheme. I suppose you can rotate the H-M-L scheme on a 4 day a week plan but I have grown so accustomed to training 3 days a week that I decided to stick with this rotation. After all I was still bombing my CNS with heavy or fast workouts that the “light” day was a welcome day of recovery, rejuvenation, and technical practice. The “light” day consisted of doing a full range, raw exercise in which I would never exceed 6 reps nor go lower than 3 reps for the days best effort always leaving a rep or two in the tank. Staying within the parameter of 7-8 rating of perceived effort and using a relative drop off percent (see RPE chart and fatigue stops in RTS manual) allowed me to get in more volume without killing myself (2). Also on this day I opted to choose exercises that put me at a leverage disadvantage but still resembled the competitive lift. Using variants of lifts with closer stances, hand spacing, or bar position has always been prevalent in Soviet programs so the muscles are made to work harder given the body is at a leverage disadvantage without negatively effecting the competitive motor task. The rule here was to follow the guidelines of Anatoly Bondrachuk’s Principles of Dynamic Correspondence, that presents a several criteria that revealed an exercise’s “carry-over” to the sporting movement. On my light days I opted for front squats, safety bar squats, and pause squats for the squat; good mornings and RDL variants for the back work; and close grip, wide grip, and rotational dumbbell presses for upper body work. It is my educated guess that the “light” day provided a low CNS stress day that allowed me to re-build the structure I had lost while keeping injuries (due to imbalances) at bay. To put it in in modern terms my light days were heavier repetition effort days raely going below 5 reps and with easier drills sometimes to 20 reps never exceeding a 7-8RPE range. My medium days were reserved for dynamic/ speed/ explosive efforts where I would apply max force to moderate to moderately heavy weights often using accommodating resistance tools like bands, chains, and weight releasers attempting to not exceed an 8RPE. The heavy days would rotate a la Zenzen max effort method. A lot of triples, doubles, reverse band, and heavy band sets were taken to 9-10 efforts for that day and most always breaking a PR. Occasionally we would do the “80%” day for 5 rep max when we felt like we did not want to go heavy. Still in question was managing the myriad of workouts in this scheme. To borrow a line from RTS author, Mike Tuchshcerer, “the scope on the rifle” that would aim my training in the proper direction was the management of the types of efforts (H-M-L) along with the regulation of volume (using the drop off guidelines of fatigue stops as presented in Tuchsherer‘s RTS)(2). In essence my days were guidelines in which my volume was dictated by the perceived effort of each set whether it be heavy, medium, or light day. The main concept that H-M-L now represented was just not in “feel” but in how intensive that day was going to be on the CNS and my body as a whole. With the old school rotation combined with the philosophy of quantifying efforts and drop off calculations; my current training was the powerful marriage of old school arrangement and new age auto-regulatory management.
My competition lifts did not suffer as I was able to return to full gear lifting quick and was back squatting 800 for double, pulling mid 600s for triple, and benching in the 600s for doubles within 3 gear workouts. And given that I was not in ideal training circumstances at the time (read: I had no training partners on my light and medium days I had to do things I could do on my own then go heavy on the weekends when I had help) this rotation worked extremely well.
The Proof is in the Pudding: 100+ lb on my total in 4 months!
Now its meet time! I chose the Chicago Summer Bash 7 on August 15th, 2010 as my comeback meet after not competing in a full meet since April of 2010. Local, small, and low pressure was just the meet I needed to post consistent numbers again. My goal was a 9 for 9 day with moderate. Prs in each lift. But sometimes life throws in an obstacle and in this case in came in the form of an under-cooked egg. Exactly 13 days from the meet I caught a moderately severe food poisoning.
From late Monday through the Saturday one week before the meet I battled several fevers, extreme diarrhea, dehydration, complete loss of appetite; then extreme constipation followed by more diarrhea. I never weighed myself but buckets of Gatorade and pedialite were not enough to get me back to my normal weight (as I was ten pounds under my training weight at weigh in). As fate has it I was not in the best of shape to lift but still managed a decent day with 804 (-26 lbs.) squat, 639! (+4 lb PR) bench, and a paltry 606 (-55lbs.) deadlift and a 2048 total. At least with the bench everything I trained for did not go completely to hell and I really have no reason to be displeased with my squat and dead as I did what I could given my physical state. The wonderful thing is that I now have a quantifiable plan of attack for next time, in which I will train more precisely rather than “feeling things out.” I now have the confidence in my elbow with heavy weights and in my new approach in general. To completely change things like I did and result within 90-95% of my best is better than expected but assures my trust in this cycle. The next meet (UPA power weekend in Dec 2010) was even better. With the added duty of having to hang with Corey Akers (2200 plus total at 242) each and every session my squat jumped to an easy 854; benched 633 on opener (missing twice on technicality and butt cramp); and pulling 606 and missed 639 on technicality. Even though I went 3 for 9 I totaled 2087 and took home best lifter for the first time in my career. I can only imagine if I would have put together a decent meet. With two more meets on schedule in March (Lexen Coalition Pro/Elite and the APF IL state meet) my confidence, strengthm and durability have never been better. The first of or two meets in 3 weeks brought us to Colombus Ohio for the Lexen Xtreme Coalition meet. To say this was a huge meet was an understatement being in the warmup room with the likes of Al Caslow, Chuck Vogelpohl, and Evegn Yarambash was inspirational. Warmups went well in the squat and ended with another easy PR of 865 (+21 lbs.). The bench brought a bit of adventure as I missed my opener of 635 because it flew up so fast I jolted myself off the bench and fell to one side making the bar recoil down. I ended up jumping to 645 on my second and made it easily, I had a real good crack at 685 on my third but jumped the gun on the press call. A plus 6lb. PR here. Now came diaster in the form of a broken bar. The first 4 guys in my flight all had trouble holding on to the bar in the deadlift after a second look the deadift bar was warped into a bow that would have made robin hood proud. So they grabbed one from the back room that was a bit stiffer than the normal deadlift bar. I lowered my opener by ten pounds. Was called for hitch on my first, snapped forward after lockout on my 2nd, and couldn’t get it past my knees on my third. Caught the Bomb Bug on the dead, damn, was lined up for a PR day. But fear not as redemption would be sweet 2 weeks later in Dekalb, IL. Again Everything went well in warmups and it carried over to the platform 829 good, 880 (+15 lb. PR) good, and 920 (+55 lb. PR) good. Bench missed opener, 639 and 656 (+11 lb. PR) good, and finished with a 611 deadlift (still -50lb PR but good for that day) for 2188 total. Rejuvenated, re-charged, and READY TO GO; the ten day/ fourteen day cycle and Team Zenzen resurrected my lifting. As the great Jon Cole said, “The seven day week is an arbitrary aberration.” Look forward to future articles regarding specific workouts and training cycles on the Zenzen Method.
Pete Arroyo is a private strength coach and elite power lifter (sponsored by Overkill Strength Equipment) in the Chicago area. Owner of Legacy Strength systems, Pete is currently contracted with Acceleration in Naperville (Strength and Conditioning Dept.) and has helped develop the some of the area’s finest high school, collegiate, and professional athlete’s since 2002. Pete is also available for consultations, programs, and other training services at test firstname.lastname@example.org