In the past, both in recent years and in the long ago past, I've tried using templated programs like Sheiko or, in the old days, the programs in Powerlifting USA or the seminal powerlifting book, Inside Powerlifting. It seemed like every time I tried one of those programs, I always fell short of the pre-programmed final goal weights. In the end, it was definitely me not the programs. I realized that I lift at a fairly average level for a competitive powerlifter and the routines printed in magazines were either written by or for champion level lifters.
As I resumed my powerlifting hobby in 2007, I also realized that I have limited resources both physically and with respect to the time I can commit to it. Based on reading about other people's successes and the literature that was available now that wasn't available when I first started lifting in the 1980's, I started to compile training concepts that worked for me.
My current training strategy is probably 80% "lifting weights" and 20% pre-programmed. That is to say, I have a rough idea of what I'm going to do each workout but the actual weights I'll use will be determined by how fast I'm moving the bar that day. I may have goals for total sets and reps but it's never set in stone.
I realize it may not be the optimal plan for increasing my strength but it's what I enjoy doing.
In no particular order, the concepts I consider when I plan my training sessions:
Based on the weights I handle, I still consider myself a beginner. I find that plain, old linear progression with periodic de-loads still works very effectively for me, even years into my lifting history.
Mentally, I don't trust that working at 80-85% intensity levels for 80% of my training will translate to increases in my 1 RM. I need to include a lot of work at 90-95% in order to have the faith that 100%-102% attempts in the competition will be successful. *revised, Jan 2013* I still feel that way for a pre-meet peaking cycle of about 6 weeks but I now spend 80% of my training in the 80-90% intensity zone. I don't do as much work in the 90-95% range in my peaking cycle as I used to. After a few years, I feel more confident in the predictive ability of reps in lower intensity ranges.
Training sessions involve as little 'psyching' as possible, I've found that I have a very limited capacity to recover from workouts that involve alot of mental energy. It takes me almost two weeks to recover from a competition even though the total workload is much less than a training session and I have much longer to recover between lifts.
I never intentionally train to failure on any of the competitive lifts and very rarely on any other compound joint movement.
I plan to lift three days a week for 60-90 minutes a session. I train the competitive lifts along with compound joint movements that complement the competitive lifts.
I will typically ramp intensities for the various lifts in a 3/1 undulating wave pattern unless it's the deadlift where I'll also frequently alternate heavy weeks with lighter weeks.
Light squat and bench days are 3 sets of 10-15 with approx 40-50 of my 1 RM. Medium squat and bench days are 3 sets of 5 with 60-70% of my 1 RM
On powerlifting back squat, heavy overhead presses and bench press days, I'll usually utilize a pattern of working up to a training max single and then 3-10 worksets at anywhere from 80-90% of that session's training max. That's not set in stone, I'll go as heavy as I can without letting the bar speed slow to a grind. *updated Jan 2013* I will often not work up to a training max unless I'm in a pre-meet peaking cycle.
I train heavy deadlifts with singles. When I train to increase work capacity, I'll use timed rest periods in between singles to increase the time density of work performed. On light deadlift days, I'll do doubles or triples for speed. My weak point if off the floor so I will often pull from a slight deficit on heavy or light days. In the pre-competition peaking schedule, I'll do singles but with rest periods for as close to full recovery as possible. *updated Jan 2013* I'm also working with higher repetition sets for deadlifts, 2-3 sets of 5-8 repetitions.
If I'm peaking for a competition, I'll do
I believe I can gain strength with intensities between 75-85% of my 1 RM but only if I try to move the bar as quickly as possible. I don't notice any issue with doing frequent work sets with weights over 90% of my 1 RM as long as I don't have to psych up for the sets.
I track every workout and make sure total workloads of work sets and total repetitions show a trend upwards.
My competition peaking schedule is 3 weeks of escalating intensity singles and doubles, a de-load week, and then two more escalating weeks of singles with the meet being the third week.