One of the biggest misconceptions about programming I often see and take issue with is that lifting isn't fun. Most "tough" guys will say it's about the day in, day out monotonous work to grow and achieve. While training can be monotonous, I've always enjoyed training—maybe a bit less in peak due to specificity with bar choice to closely resemble competition, but I'm usually excited to train. 

I've had my share of online coaches, each of whom I've learned things from that I apply weekly and changed my ways of programming and thinking (value all on its own), but it simply wasn't for me. There is a fine line that blurs when one adapts the mindset of being a workhorse—simply going through the motions. Although it does have its time and place, it shouldn't be the prized characteristic. Passion and push trump almost everything, even the good programs if done with vigor and some open-mindedness. Knowing one's own body, when to move forward and back off, and how to accommodate for setbacks and nagging pains to advance all have a balance of risk and reward.

The Nuts and Bolts

The following program is a combination and rewrite of a five-day cycle I followed for ten weeks (two-and-a-half blocks) after a tear in my erector and some serious knee pain. I had dropped out of my meet and felt particularly down in the squat department, going from 700+ for reps, to struggling within 300-400. I knew percent-based selections wouldn't be an option if I wanted to recover and still get work done. I had to be honest with myself and go by daily feel for the RPE, taking my time with the chipping of each week. It truly made all the difference. 

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Squat volume was spread out and kept low in reps to continuously move up without doing enough damage to my knees in a single session. I frequently used Amish arnica cream (amazon buy) to help reduce pain and any swelling from wraps while flossing my knees and doing TKE's every other day.

Log Book

A log book of numbers and workout observations was crucial to the success of these blocks, allowing me to make smarter, more efficient choices in weight selection. I kept many of the "last warm-ups" and RPE 6/6.5's the same to gauge how I felt that day compared to previous sessions and know what to make jump-wise. Think of them more as "feeler" sets to feel out how to make calls for the day. This doesn't need to be fancy; a simple handwritten journal is what I prefer and use. 

There's something about physically writing that makes me better connect with my training. I write more about how I feel that session and in the moment, and I'm more aware of making educated choices.

Never count the variables you cannot measure or control. If you are going against bands, use the same bands every session. Set up the same way, so the actual weight on the bar is the one variable. If you start with 315x3 against reds at the beginning of the block and end with 335x3 against those same reds and setup, you improved. You do not need to know or guess what the band tension adds to the top. Stop overthinking and glorifying it, just do the work.

athlete wrapping knees

4-Week Repeatable Workhorse Program

Special Items Needed: 

  • Fractional or kilo chips to slowly add to the volume sets each week

RPE Scale

10At your max, you have no more reps or the ability to add more load.
9.5Could add slightly more load, but definitely not another rep.
9There’s another rep in the tank, but it is going to be a grind.
8.5Could do one more rep, possibly two
8Could do two more reps
7.5Could definitely do two more reps, and a chance at three
7Three reps are still in the tank
6.5Speed work, can do three to four more relatively easily
AMRAPAs many reps as possible
Day 1: Upper A  
Accessory Lift / ExerciseSetsReps
Banded Micro (orange) Bench at RPE 7 to 9 (Ascending) Ex. Each set goes up 1 RPE ScaleWeek 1: Week 2: Week 3: Week 4:3 x 12 3 x 10 3 x 8 3 x 10
Dumbbell Flat Bench (Angled)220, 20, 15
Landmine Row OR T Bar Row212
Incline Tri-Set: Underhand Dumbbell Fly Triceps Ext w/ Tate Twist Close Grip / Brick Press212 of each movement
Standing Dumbbell Overhead Press220
Triceps Overhead Cable Extensions Superset w/ Triceps Pushdowns on Rope Handle215 and 12
Kettle Bell Kroc Rows with a Twist (Braced against rack or Bench)212
Cable Stiff Arm Lat Pulldowns215

Break Between Day 1 and 2

Day 2: Lower A  
Accessory Lift / ExerciseSetsReps
Back Squat at RPE 6.5 to 9 (Ascending) May use a bowed bar such as a Duffalo or buffalo in order to help with elbows/shoulder pain if needed.Week 1: Week 2: Week 3: Week 4:5 x 2 4 x 3 4 x 2 3 x 3
Kneeling OR Seated Leg Curl212
Front Cable Squat w/ Handle OR Goblet Squat220
Alternating Leg Press (switching between legs and width)220 together, 10 left, 10 right, 10 narrow
Single-Leg Split Squat (May use smith or rack to balance and keep the rear foot elevated) -OR- Walking Dumbbell Lunges (10 down, 10 back)215
Lying Leg Curls w/ dumbbell OR Machine215
Cable Pull Through OR Banded Kettlebell Swing Through215
Chain Curls w/ Rope Handle212
Day 3: Upper B  
Accessory Lift / ExerciseSetsReps
Paused Bench at RPE 8 to 9 (chip each week using small amounts such as fractional or kilo chips) May use a Buffalo or Duffalo bow type bar if needed for elbows and shoulders.All Weeks 1- 4 3 (ascending) 1 (back down)  5, 4, 3, 10
Speed Pulls Against Mini Bands (red) at RPE 6 to 8Week 1: Week 2: Week 3: Week 4:4 x 4 5 x 3 4 x 4 5 x 3
Incline Rolling Skull Crushers on EZ Curl215
Seated Military Press with Dumbbells220
Floor Press w/ Dumbbells Superset w/ Kettlebell Pullovers220 and 12
Bent-Over Rear Delt Fly Superset w/ Cable or Band Face Pulls212 and 12
Alternating Single-Arm Triceps Cable Ext Underhand215 each arm

Break Between Day 3 and 4

Day 4: Aux Squat w/ Back and Bi Split  
Accessory Lift / ExerciseSetsReps
Tempo Squats w/ SSB Bar (4 Count) at RPE 7 to 8.5 (chip each week)44
Swiss Bar Larsen Press at RPE 7 to 9 (chip each week) Sub in Close Grip Larsen if no Swiss/football bar/multi-grip is available!3 (ascending)6 to 8
Medium Width Pull-ups OR TRX Reverse Rows (Can use assisted machine or band under the knee if needed!)3AMRAP (Set load)
Trap Bar Rows210
Seated Close Grip Rows on Cable210
Close Grip V Handle Lat Pulldown212
Underhand Lat Pulldown on MAG grip210
Dumbbell Hammer Curls (Alternating Arms / 12 each!)224
EZ Curl 20 second Timers (only 20 seconds of rest between sets)610
Reverse Curls on EZ bar210
Day 5: Lower B  
Accessory Lift / ExerciseSetsReps
Paused Deadlifts at RPE 7 – 9 (Ascending) Use what bar is legal for your federation as far as power or deadlift bar!Week 1: Week 2: Week 3: Week 4:4 x 3 4 x 3 5 x 2 5 x 2
Standing Cable Quad Extensions (Brace opposing side of tower!)325
Elevated Single-Leg Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlifts212
Leg Extension Machine w/ Holds at every 10 reps230
Lying Single Leg Curl Machine210, 5 left, 5 right x 2, 10
Standing Single Leg Curl215 each leg and then 10 each = 1 set
Glute Ham Raises Superset w/ Back Extensions2AMRAP with bodyweight for both
Dumbbell Step Ups (Alternating Legs)  3 Rounds60 Seconds


At the start of this block, I was working with 385x5, 395x4, and 412x3 with a back down of about 320x10 for the 5-4-3-10 scheme on heavy bench days. I ended (after repeating the block and a half, about ten weeks) with 415x5, 430x4, and 441x3 with a back down of 340x10. 

I made about two-and-a-half to five-pound jumps for the sets over these weeks to achieve this. Being honest and keeping the log to "chip" away at the numbers was absolute key. By the time all three sets were in the 400s, I was pretty much only making two-and-a-half-pound jumps per week (405 to 407.5, etc.) and not biting off more than I could chew, knowing it would be slightly higher the next week. 

At the end of week 10, I also ended with a wrapped all-time triple squat on the Duffalo bar of 717x3. My deadlift grip improved dramatically. Pulling against the bands and having to brace harder from the floor while maintaining that brace was obvious during the heavier pause deadlifts. 

Continuing this block, I have made adjustments as the weights grew heavier before a deload; squats have changed to ascending 4x2, sometimes with a pre-fatigued single after the last double, and bench has changed to a 6-4-2 scheme with a back down of 12 reps. Deadlifts with bands go up one gauge/level of thickness every four weeks, IF I make it into the 600s with relative ease while still sticking honestly to the RPE scale.


The most important thing to remember is to have fun and start slow. Give yourself room to grow each week and not shoot yourself in the foot Week 1. For so long, I got lost in competing and forgot the reasons that attracted me to the sport and community in the first place. This program honestly gave me my motivation back after being so disheartened from dropping out of two registered competitions back to back. 

Stay strong, stay loyal, and look up; this could be true north.

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Travis Rogers currently resides on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he owns and operates a USPA training facility, The Bear Cave. He also works as a graphic designer, 10th and 12th grade ELA teacher, and is active in the community with his 501(c)3 charity organization for underprivileged children. He is the USPA Maryland and Deleware state chairman, a national level referee, and a meet director for the surrounding area. Travis has been in the top-10 198 rankings for the last three years in both sleeves and wrapped divisions.

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