Thoughts on using circa-max work in your Westside training.
Let's start with some words from Jim Wendler (Elite FTS):
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
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
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.
Awesome thread. Will read, digest and respond later.
Most sporting literature talks of working in these mini-cycles. They're usually in duration of anywhere between 2-8 weeks. The Bulgarians were known to work in 4 week cycles with all of their 'restoratives', 3 week cycles are relatively common and 2 week cycles are excellent for the older and/or stronger trainees.
This is yet another area where there just isn't as much information which is being used and applied for powerlifting.
Most of my training life has centred around this type of loading/unloading.
Interesting read. Thanks for posting.
Most lifts are doubles. The weight is gradually increased over the workout, and heavier singles are left for the end. Because week 3 is essentially max effort work on a dynamic day, I will cut out the max effort day and do some light speed/plyo work instead.
Now, I'm no seasoned powerlifter, but this method of training has allowed me to add nearly a plate to my squats over a 6-month period. My goal is to squat 500 pds at the IPF meet in July in the 93 kg class, and I'm well on my way.
I'm curious how you guys wave your circa-max workouts - will definitely read the 'Increasing Strength' thread...
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