The Circa-Maximal Squat Phase

TAGS: Jim Wendler, squat, powerlifting, strength training, Elitefts Info Pages, training

Circa = Near

The circa max phase is a three week squat phase designed to peak you for your contest. Technically, you don�t need bands to do the circa-max phase because all you are doing is getting �circa� (or near) your max. This is very much like a traditional peaking phase. What the bands do offer is the opportunity to exceed your maximal weight at the top portion of the lift. Before we go on, let�s take a look at some general parameters of the circa-max phase; realize that there are some variations and certain people will do different things, but again�these are general.

  • Circa-max phase is a 3 week phase.
  • After this phase there is a deload period. This deload can last for 1-3 weeks.
  • All percentages are based on your box squat done with the same equipment that you usually squat in. If you are a raw squatter, then it would be based on your best (or approximate best) 1RM on a box. If you don't know your max, you should have a very good idea on what it could be. If you don't have any clue, then this phase isn't for you.
  • Approximately 6 work lifts will be done per workout. Please read the first word of that sentence before moving on.
  • All squat and deadlift training prior to this should be geared to getting ready for this. You have to be preparing your body throughout the training cycle for getting ready for this.
  • All squat and deadlift training during this phase needs to be tailored for this training; i.e. don't be pulling for heavy singles on Monday.
  • This is very important: the circa max phase cannot exist by itself. There has to be a prep period and a deload period. All aspects of training have to be accounted for and evaluated. You cannot simply add something in and not take something out or make adjustments. This is one the keys of training; please understand this.

The Circa Max Phase

Now that we have established some general guidelines, let's look at the actual training. We will first look at the three week phase.

Week 1: 3x2 @ 55% + 1 strong band/1 average band per side

Week 2: 3x2 @ 60% + 1 strong band/1 average band per side (You can also do 1x2 @ 55% and 2x2 @ 60% with the same band tension)

Week 3: 1x1 @ 55%, 1x1 @ 60%, 2x2 @ 65%; all sets done with 1 strong band/1 average band per side

The Real World

In the real world, let's use a powerlifter that has a box squat of 750lbs. The first week would be 415. It would be 415 if he had a squat bar (55lbs). If he had a Texas Power Bar (45lbs) it would probably would be 405 because he wouldn't want to put the 5lbs. plates on each side. Again, this is the real world.

The second week would 455 or 465, depending on the bar. He may do a set at 405 to 'warm up' for his sets. He may also do one single (if he felt good) at 65% at 495 to prep himself for the next week. He does not count sets and reps but will strive for at least 2 sets of 2 reps at around 55%. If the 495 feels great (and it should because he took a very calculated risk on attempting it) he may strive to increase the weight on the next training day or at least work up after his heavier sets.

The third week is definitely 5 plates per side. No matter what the bar. This is how it goes. He will do a set a 405 for a single or double. He will then move up to 455 or 465 for a single or a double. The next set will be a double at 495. If this is good and fast, he may do another double at the same weight. If this is good and he felt strong, then he will begin to work up heavier and heavier. This may mean one more set; it may mean 3 more sets. The purpose of this phase is to handle maximal weights. The box allows for easier recovery and the bands allow you to handle more weight at the top than normal.

For example, if the strong bands add approximately 200lbs at the top and the average bands 100lbs, then you have approximately 300lbs at the top of the lift. If the top bar weight is 495 then you have about 795lbs at the top of the lift. Now I'm going to be the first person to tell you that squatting with bands, calculating band tension, figuring your squat based on what's 'at the top' and other nonsense is just that; nonsense. But it does allow you to overload the top portion of the lift.

On the last week, those last couple of sets should really be slow and brutal. This is because you are near your max! This is not done for speed. Now if this is not the case, then there are a couple of things that you could do. First, keep on working up so that it does become a grind. Second, if the first week is so easy (and if you are an experienced lifter you know that there is a difference between it being too easy and you being in 'the zone') you will have to readjust your bar weight. This does not mean that you add another week to the phase. This means that your second and third weeks are going to have to change. Because you don't want to be guessing at this stage in your training cycle, the best thing that I can tell you is take a couple of training sessions and work up to your 55% and 60% weights (with the added bands) and see how they feel. If they suck, then you are good to go. If they fly up, you have to add bar weight.

Now the question that some of you may have right now; why add bar weight? Why not add more bands? Because more bands = more grounding. More grounding will disrupt your squat form and it will be harder to get used to your regular squat. Anyone that has squatted with a lot of bands (a lot of bands means more than 2 strong bands per side) will tell you that added band tension will make you feel like you are squatting on a smith machine. The bands will guide you up and down. This is not a good thing when the squat is your sport. If you were a quarterback, what do you think would happen to your throwing mechanics if you threw a ball that (somehow) had band tension throughout the entire range of motion? It would not be good. So the consensus, at least for this article and this author, is that more band tension is not always a good thing.

The Deload Phase

Why do we need to deload? You deload for a number of reasons. First, the deload that I recommend has no chains or bands. Again, the squat is the sport and by using bands, the mechanics of the lift can be altered. Plus, the grounding effect of the lift can give a lot of people problems. People have problems setting up, falling forward/backward and trouble on the descent. Not everyone that uses bands has this problem, but enough have had them that warrant me writing this. By taking off the bands you can now get your squat back to normal.

The deload phase is also done for recovery. The circa-max phase is a grueling phase and your body needs recovery time. Deloading allows you to maintain your sporting form while not beating the crap out of yourself.

There is no real set guideline for what to do on deload weeks, but I will try my best. As Louie has stated about a million times when you are this point of your training, 'You are not going to get any stronger, but you sure as hell can get weaker.' Basically, don't do anything that is stupid. For many this is easy. For others, we can only hold our breath.

Here's how the deload phase works. We will move backward from the week of the meet.

Meet Week: Nothing but general mobility work and recovery work. It doesn't matter what I do, it matters what YOU do. Since these two things should already be staples in your workout, you do not want to introduce anything new during the week of the meet.

2 Weeks Out: Work to about 60-65% of your best 1RM on the box squat. You can do about 2-3x2 or work up to an easy single. This is kind of up to you. What I like to do is do nothing that would screw up my confidence. Prior to this workout, I will do a great job on preparing myself for this workout; both mentally and physically. This means a lot of mobility and flexibility work throughout the week and prior to training. Because of the bloat and the added weight gain (and lack of conditioning), a lot of this stuff gets thrown out the window, but I feel it's necessary to get things 'on track'. I want to feel strong and tight, but not so much that it puts my body out of position in the squat. Believe me, there is no amount of mobility work that is going to really make me loose in the hole. It is the curse of the fat man.

  • To make it simple: 2x2 @ 65%, no chains or bands

3 Weeks Out: This is where I would like to hit about 90% or so of my best 1RM on the box squat. Or you can go for a record if you feel like you can get it. There should be no doubt that you can get it if you are going to attempt it. This day is used for two things:

  • Getting used to heavy weights without bands/chains
  • Building confidence

Again, because you are using this to build confidence, you must prepare yourself physically and mentally for this workout. What happens if you screw this up or take a weight that you are not ready to handle? Physically, I think we all know we can handle more weight but mentally, we must prepare ourselves. This is something that few people seem to write about or take into account. It took me almost 20 years of athletics to really realize how important the mental aspect is. The next question is "what books do I recommend on mental training?" I have yet to read one that can really help you prepare for anything. I may be 'old school' in my approach, but success and prior training is what builds confidence. Mental training happens overtime.

Getting back on track, this is also a great time to put on your squat suit and briefs and work up to a single. This can (and should be done) without a box. This does not mean work up to a new PR. This means work up to a single that does two things: 1. Allow you to feel your suit; the pull, the push and know where your body is during the squat. 2. Allow you to feel stronger than hell and get your confidence high. Let me show you an example : Before my last meet, I worked up to 825 (or around there) for two singles with my suit and briefs on. Each rep was fast, explosive and allowed me to think that I was stronger than ever. I made sure my form was good and everything was where it should've been. I could've have gone heavier but why? Mentally, I do not work myself into a frenzy and there is a HUGE difference in my head during meet time and my time in the gym. I would NEVER expect myself to replicate what happens on the platform in the gym. So that squat may have been about 90% of my best on that day; who knows. What would have happened to my head if I tried 900 and barely squeaked it up? Now I'm left thinking that I'm weak and slow. Better to leave some questions that remove all doubt. Think about this sometime.

  • To make it simple: work up to a heavy single but do not miss. Feel free to put on your squat suit and perform a free squat.

4 weeks Out: This is your first week after the circa-max phase. You are probably a little tired; both physically and mentally. This is a good week to take off the bands and get used to straight weight again. This day is designed to bring back stability and recognition to your squat form. Since this is the goal of the day, here is what a general workout will look like:

      1x2 @ 50%1x2 @ 55%

1x2 @ 60%

1x2 @ 65%

1x1 @ 70%

1x1 @ 75%

1x1 @ 80%

This should put you on track and ready for the next week (which you already read about). I hope to god that I'm not confusing you too much by working backwards.

Max Effort Work

Since you are doing max effort work on your dynamic day, there is little need to do it on max effort day. Do not drop your assistance work during the circa-max phase. This needs to stay in place. Since you are losing some dynamic work, you may want to what I did; box jumps on Monday. This was an easy way for me to retain some kind of explosiveness. This was done after a warm-up and done for 3 sets of 5 reps. So for the three week circa-max phase, cut out your max effort work. If you feel that you need to deadlift, do it on your squat day. This will ensure that you are putting all of your heavy days on one day and getting adequate recovery.

Sample Training Cycle

Here is a training cycle, with a circa-max phase and deload phase. All supplemental and accessory work is up to you and based on developing and maintaining your strengths (Why would you ditch what got you strong in the first place? That never made any sense to me.) and trying to strengthen your weaknesses. We are going to base all of this on the fictional 750lbs box squatter that was used above.

Week 1: 8x2 @ 415 Week 2: 8x2 @ 465 Week 3: 8x2 @ 505 Week 4: 6x2 @ 415 + average band Week 5: 3x2 @ 415, 3x2 @ 455; all sets done with average band Week 6: 1x2 @ 415, 2x2 @ 465, 2x2 @ 505; all sets done with average band Week 7: 2x2 @ 415, 3x2 @ 465; all sets done with strong band Week 8: 1x2 @ 415, 2x2 @ 465, 2x2 @ 505; all sets done with strong band Week 9: 1x2 @ 415, 1x1 @ 465, 1x1 @ 505; all sets done with strong/average band; this is a test week to see if how the weight is for circa-max phase. If it is going to be too light, then adjust the circa-max weights accordingly. We will assume that it is good to go. Week 10: Deload week  8x2 @ 415 Week 11: 1x2 @ 415, 2x2 @ 465, 2x2 @ 505; all sets done with strong band Week 13: Begin circa-max phase - 3x2 @ 415; all sets done with strong/average band Week 14: 3x2 @ 465; all sets done with strong/average band Week 15: 1x1 @ 415, 1x1 @ 465, 2x2 @ 505; all sets done with strong/average band Week 16: 1x2 @ 375, 1x2 @ 415, 1x2 @ 465, 1x2 @ 505, 1x1 @ 555, 1x1 @ 595, 1x1 @ 645; all sets done with straight weight. This is a week just used to get used to real weight. Week 17: Try on suit or work up to a heavy single on the box. Week 18: 2x2 @ 505; all sets done with straight weight Week 19: off

Important Notes:

I know that I gave percentages and a sample cycle but please use this as a guideline. What the sample training program is designed to do is prepare you for the circa-max phase. You may have to prepare yourself in a different way, but notice how there is a gradual increase in band tension throughout the cycle. This will help your body adapt to the training and get you ready for the three week phase from hell.

I have seen people use more band tension and have good results, but there haven't been that many. You can play around with it and it may work, but let me throw you a pearl of wisdom. What works once will probably not work again. I have seen a lifter try to repeat a cycle that gave him great results only to have it blow up in his face when he tries it again. That is why you have to learn new things. Also, more band tension can wreak havoc on your shoulders and elbows. So be careful.

On the dynamic days, if you feel strong, work up. I liked to do this all the time because I felt like I needed to work on my form on the squat with heavy weights. I do not need to work on my form on the suspended good morning. Some people can do this, but most cannot. I am with most of you on this one.

The next question that I know I'm going to get is,  "How will I adjust the sets and reps if I work up?" The answer is, "Just work up and things will fall into place." If you do a few more sets, I wouldn't worry too much about it. Remember in my last article about the Standard Template I which I talk about planning your training to work up? If you do work up on a Friday and the next Monday you don't feel too strong (this doesn't give you license to be a wimp, though), take that day off of max effort work. Not training, but max effort work.

Don't overcomplicate this; on the three week circa-max phase you are basically going pretty damn heavy. That's about it. Don't try to wrack your brain on figuring out band tension (I swear I will come to your house and beat you with a wet mini-band if you ask about this).

Rest periods: I almost forgot this. Remember when you first began training and you read about training very heavy and how much time you should take between sets? Well the information they gave you was correct. So take as long as you want, but I recommend about 3-5 minutes. You are not graded on how in shape you are, but by how much you lift.

Another Pearl: If you are like me and just like to do the heavy work on Friday and always work up, the circa-max phase isn't too bad. When I was doing the regular max effort work and true speed work, the circa-max phases would kill me. I've had success with both. I don't know what is best for you; all I'm doing is giving you some tools. It's time for you to build your squat. (That's quite possibly the dumbest thing I've ever written. I will condemn myself to one hour of listening to R.E.M. and staring at pictures of Michael Stipe.)

Don't throw 2.5 plates on the bar. That is sacrilege.

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