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Russian Power Lifting Program

Powerlifting Bench Press


  • Basic 6 week Russian Cycle
  • Applying it to the bench and deadlift
  • Peaking for Powerlifting Competitions
  • The Extended Russian Routine
  • Sumo and Traditional Deadlifting Peaking Cycle

Basic 6 week Russian Cycle

This is a six week cycle for the squat (though it can be applied to the other lifts - see later), training three times a week, aiming to increase your 1 rep max (1RM) by 5%. Alternate light and heavy days are used. The poundages are fixed for the first three weeks, whilst the volume is increased. In the second three weeks, the volume is decreased, whilst the weight rises to a new 1RM.

The notation used is 6*2@80% = 6 sets of 2 reps at 80% of your 1RM.

          Day 1                   Day 2                   Day 3
Week 1   6*2@80%                 6*3@80%                 6*2@80%
Week 2   6*4@80%                 6*2@80%                 6*5@80%
Week 3   6*2@80%                 6*6@80%                 6*2@80%
Week 4   5*5@85%                 6*2@80%                 4*4@90%
Week 5   6*2@80%                 3*3@95%                 6*2@80%
Week 6   2*2@100%                6*2@80%                 1*1@105%
The cycle starts easily for the first 1.5 weeks but soon becomes very hard - the 6 sets of 6 on 80% of your max is a real killer. But, since the increments are gradual, you are soon doing sets you thought were impossible when you first converted the percentages to kgs/lbs. Then the poundages go up and the sets and reps come down, and it seems to get easier both physically and mentally.

This cycle is hard work and novices would be advised to try a less intense peaking cycle first. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Another thing is not to stick religiously to the same routine - you can't keep doing the Russian routine year after year and expect to keep on gaining. Your body needs some variety.

Applying it to the bench and deadlift

This cycle can be used equally well on the bench press and deadlift, with the percentages holding quite well - although everybody is different and you should modify them slightly to fit in with how you lift.

Example: For me personally, the deadlift percentages remain the same, but the bench percentages change slightly to:

80% becomes 83%
85% becomes 88%
90% becomes 92%
95% becomes 96%
100% stays at 100%
105% becomes 103%

Peaking for Powerlifting Competitions

If you want to use the routine to peak for a competition then you must take into account which lifts you'll do with additional equipment (e.g. wraps and/or super-suit), and how much to adjust the poundages by. The percentages still hold - i.e. for sets without suit/wraps use your 1RM without suit/wraps, for sets with use your 1RM with suit/wraps. This is where a bit of experience will help you decide what to do. You should continually monitor your progress, and make slight adjustments to the poundages as appropriate.

Example: My personal preference when peaking for a competition is to use just a belt upto sets of four, then I use light wraps and super-suit bottoms (i.e. straps down) for the sets of three reps, and use everything for the doubles and singles. So based on my 1RM of 160 kg (with just a belt), and 1RM of 185 kg (with everything), my percentages would be:

upto 6*6@80%  = 128 kg
     5*5@85%  = 136 kg
     4*4@90%  = 144 kg, all based on the 160 kg 1RM
     3*3@95%  = 162 kg, based on an est. 170 kg 1RM with wraps/suit bottoms
     2*2@100% = 185 kg
     1*1@105% = 194 kg, based on the 185 kg 1RM
Note that I have calculated these lifts to the nearest kilo. That way you can dig out those tiny 0.5 kg discs to get a weight that is as close as possible to the desired percentage.

Another point is that some lifters peaking for a competitions prefer to do the singles (the 105% day) at the competition, however I like to do the squat and bench singles in the gym for two reasons:

  • since you will have done the new maximum in the gym you will be confident when you go and do it in the competition

  • and, it allows you to "fine tune" your last attempt in the competition to be right on the limit, ensuring that you get your third attempt and maximise your total. The key to a maximal total is nine lifts out of nine - but not by being over cautious on the third attempts.
I don't like doing the single deadlifts in the gym as I find it a real "mind lift" which is better left to the day of the competition - see later

The Extended Russian Routine

How do you combine the three powerlifts together in a single Russian cycle ?

It is very difficult to do the Russian routine for all three lifts concurrently, I would actually say impossible on the really hard days. One way you can fit all three lifts in the same peaking cycle is to stretch the routine over nine weeks, squat/benching and deadlifting on alternate days. That is, insert the heavy deadlifts between the light (ie 6*2@80%) and heavy squat days. This means no light deadlifting, but the squats hit the back pretty well. The benching days are opposite to the squat days, so Day 1 is light squat/heavy bench and Day 3 is heavy squat/light bench. Therefore:

Day 1 - Light Squat/Heavy Bench
Day 2 - Heavy Deadlift
Day 3 - Heavy Squat/Light Bench
So the extended routine would look something like:

          Day 1                   Day 2                   Day 3
Week 1  SQ:6*2@80%              DL:6*3@80%              SQ:6*3@80%
        BP:6*3@80%                                      BP:6*2@80%
Week 2  SQ:6*2@80%              DL:6*4@80%              SQ:6*4@80%
        BP:6*4@80%                                      BP:6*2@80%
Week 3  SQ:6*2@80%              DL:6*5@80%              SQ:6*5@80%
        BP:6*5@80%                                      BP:6*2@80%
Week 4  SQ:6*2@80%              DL:6*6@80%              SQ:6*6@80%
        BP:6*6@80%                                      BP:6*2@80%
Week 5  SQ:6*2@80%              DL:5*5@85%              SQ:5*5@85%
        BP:5*5@85%                                      BP:6*2@80%
Week 6  SQ:6*2@80%              DL:4*4@90%              SQ:4*4@90%
        BP:4*4@90%                                      BP:6*2@80%
Week 7  SQ:6*2@80%              DL:3*3@95%              SQ:3*3@95%
        BP:3*3@95%                                      BP:6*2@80%
Week 8  SQ:6*2@80%              DL:2*2@100%             SQ:2*2@100%
        BP:2*2@100%                                     BP:6*2@80%
Week 9  SQ:6*2@80%              DL:1*1@105%             SQ:1*1@105%
        BP:1*1@105%                                     BP:6*2@80%

Even then, when the hard sets come around you can drop some of the light sets to save energy for the main lift.

The actual day of the week you do the lifts on is also quite important. Since a week has seven days (!), there will be three rest days between two of the sessions. These two sessions should be used for the heavy deadlifts and heavy squats, to maximise the time you have to recover before working the legs again. This is particularly important if you use the sumo deadlift style

Example: Say you train on Mon/Wed/Fri, then you should arrange the days as follows:

Mon - Heavy Squat/Light Bench
Wed - Light Squat/Heavy Bench
Fri - Heavy Deadlift
I don't do much in the way of assistance exercises - I try to fit some in if I have the energy (e.g weighted dips, lats, shoulder press etc).

Sumo and Traditional Deadlifting Peaking Cycle

For those who deadlift sumo style, one option is to start the cycle using traditional deadlifts (narrow stance), as this is better for building upper back strength. Then gradually switch to sumo style as the competition approaches, so that you get into the groove and feel of heavy sumo deadlifts.

Also, I personally do not like atempting maximum deadlifts in the gym (as generally I can only pull them in competition), so I change the deadlift part of the cycle to:

          Day 2
Week 1  Trad DL:6*3@80%
Week 2  Trad DL:6*4@80%
Week 3  Trad DL:6*5@80%
Week 4  Trad DL:6*6@80%
Week 5  Trad DL:4*5@85%, Sumo DL:1*6@80%
Week 6  Trad DL:2*4@90%, Sumo DL:2*5@85%
Week 7  Trad DL:1*3@95%, Sumo DL:2*4@90%
Week 8  Sumo DL:3*3@95%
Week 9  Sumo DL:2*2@100%
where the % refers to percentage of 1RM for that particular style of deadlift.

My 1RM for traditional deadlift is about 190 kg, whereas my 1RM for sumo deadlift is 220 kg. So using the above cycle, on the days where I do both traditional and sumo styles, there isn't such a big jump in poundages when I switch from one style to another - just a few kgs more and an extra rep.

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