A simple, methodical way to hit new PRs on all the major lifts in just four weeks.
"The best laid schemes of mice and men,
Go often askew," – Robert Burns, To A Mouse (English translation).

Lifting programs, like life, don't always go as planned.

Sometimes you don't have 12 or 16-weeks to commit to a training program. Or maybe you thought you had the ideal training cycle all mapped out to the very last set, rep, and FiniBar, when life decided to rear its ugly head.

Whether it's an unexpected career change, an upcoming vacation, or even just hearing those two little words every single guy has nightmares about ('I'm pregnant'), sometimes life can throw a major monkey wrench in your best laid training plans. The purpose of this article is to help you during those times, or whenever your fancy six month Russian training block gets shot down like a wayward Soviet Mig.

Ask any successful athlete about peaking for an event and they'll tell you that the most effective way is to pick a meet a few months down the line and train for it accordingly. Great advice to be sure, but what if you're a powerlifter and Dave Tate emails you to ask if you'd like to come down to lift for a day at EFS? What if you're a collegiate athlete and an NFL scout calls to see if you'd want to fly in for a workout?

Do you say to either offer, "Sorry, my program doesn't peak until Easter Sunday, 2013. Can I call you back then?" Obviously not. What you should do is toss your previous program out the window and hop on this bad boy.

The following program is intended to help the intermediate to advanced lifter be ready for a max with just three weeks to prepare. It's not designed to be optimal under all circumstances, and I'm definitely not suggesting you follow this routine for the next National Championships; but if you want to test yourself to see where you are and you don't have four months to devote to a max, this program works very well.

Fresh & Prepared

The name of the game is to be both as prepared and as fresh as you can possibly be, which is a challenge for the serious lifter. An untrained person is fresh from doing nothing ('fresh' meaning the CNS is primed and ready for action) but obviously unprepared to lift heavy weights.

A hard training lifter who frequently handles heavy loads is often prepared but not fresh, as serious lifters often walk the fine line of overtraining. The goal of this program is to leave you both fresh and prepared. It isn't necessarily going to make you stronger than you already are; it's intended to make you perform as optimally as you can, given a relatively short preparation time.

I wrote the original version of this program for my training partner. To help illustrate things, I'll include his exact weights and the percentages.

Going into this program, his squat was 385, bench 300 (untested), and his deadlift was 507, all at 181 lbs raw. You'll need to have a very good idea of what your own 1RM is in the squat, deadlift, and bench press; something that every serious lifter should know along with the names of most of their kids and the entire cast of Pumping Iron.

Here's the program:

The Four-Week Max Program

(Foam roll and dynamic stretch as part of a general warm-up before beginning warm-up sets.)

Day 1: Squat Day

Percentages (of 1RM squat)
Week 1 72.5% x 1 80% x 1 87.5% x 1 72.5% x rep out (6-10)
Week 2 77.5% x 1 85% x 1 92.5% x 1 77.5% x rep out (6-10)
Week 3 82.5% x 1 90% x 1 97.5% x 1 82.5% x rep out (6-10)
Week 4 87.5% x 1 95% x 1 102.5% x 1 whatever you want x 1

Here's what the numbers would look like if your 1RM squat was 385 pounds.

Week 1
Warm-up 45x12 135x8 185x5 215x5 245x3  
Workout 275x1 305x1 335x1 275x8    
Week 2
Warm-up 45x12 135x8 185x5 225x5 265x3  
Workout 295x1 325x1 355x1 295x8    
Week 3
Warm-up: 45x12 135x8 185x5 225x5 255x3 285x2
Workout 315x1 345x1 375x1 315x8
Week 4
Warm-up 45x12 135x8 185x5 225x5 275x3 305x1
Workout 335x1 365x1 390x1 (PR) 405x1 (goal hit)

A note about squats: If you wear a belt I'd suggest you belt up on all non warm-up sets, including the rep out set. Feel free to make it tighter as you get heavier. If you're interested in competing, I think that every rep should be done to competition depth, and filming your squats is invaluable for feedback.

Day 2: Bench Press Day

Week 1 78% x 1 83% x 1 88% x 1 75% x pause rep out (4-8)
Week 2 83% x 1 88% x 1 93% x 1 80% x pause rep out (4-8)
Week 3 88% x 1 93% x 1 98% x 1 85% x pause rep out (4-8)
Week 4 (Max Out) 91% x 1 97% x 1 102% x 1 whatever you want x 1

Bench Press Actual (based off 300-pound 1RM)

Week 1
Warm-up 45x12 135x8 135x8 175x5 205x3  
Workout 235x1 250x1 265x1 225x6    
Week 2
Warm-up 45x12 135x8 135x8 185x5 225x3  
Workout 250x1 265x1 280x1 240x6    
Week 3
Warm-up 45x12 135x8 135x8 185x5 225x3  
Workout 265x1 280x1 295x1 225x5    
Week 4
Warm-up 45x12 135x8 175x5 205x3 235x2 255x1
Workout 275x1 290x1 305x1 (PR)

Day 3: Deadlift day

Week 1 74% x 1 82% x 1 90% x 1 80% x rep out (6-10)
Week 2 78% x 1 86% x 1 94% x 1 84% x rep out (6-10)
Week 3 82% x 1 90% x 1 98% x 1 skip rep out set
Week 4 (Max Out) 85% x 1 94% x 1 104% x 1 whatever you want x 1

Deadlift Actual (based off 507-pound 1RM).

Week 1
Warm-up 135x8 225x8 275x5 325x3
Workout 375x1 415x1 455x1 405x6
Week 2
Warm-up 135x8 225x8 295x5 345x3
Workout 395x1 435x1 475x1 425x7
Week 3
Warm-up 135x8 225x8 315x5 365x3
Workout 415x1 455x1 495x1 skip rep out set
Week 4
Warm-up 135x8 225x8 315x5 385x3
Workout 435x1 475x1 525x1 545x1 (hitch)

A note about the deadlifts: We skipped the last rep out set in week three to save energy for the max out day the following week. If you wear a belt, I'd suggest you belt up on all non warm-up sets.

Other Notes

  • I realize the weights in my example don't always match perfectly with the percentages, and that's okay. Simply round to whatever works for your gym equipment or your personal level of obsessive-compulsivity. In other words, it's acceptable to use convenient loads, just try to pick weights that are at least close to the listed percentages.
  • Remember, the goal is to be fresh and prepared. Don't do this routine and then throw in 12 sets of bench press to failure on another day cause that hot girl from sociology class is on the stairmaster behind you.
  • Feel free to add some assistance work. For legs, do one to three assistance exercises that are not ridiculously draining such as glute-ham raises, hyperextensions, reverse hypers, leg curls, and abductor stuff. For upper body, do a few assistance exercises of whatever you think works best for you, just don't overdo it.
  • You can either do your squats and deadlifts on the same day (squat first) and then finish up with one or two assistance exercises, or you can separate them out by three or four days in the week. If you do choose to separate them, do deadlifts on a back day and throw in one to three upper back assistance exercises.
  • You can also do some stuff for your shoulders and arms but don't go insane with it, and decrease the volume and intensity on week 3.
  • You can do all of the maxes in week 4 in one day if you want to simulate a meet, or you can do them individually to give them your full energy.
  • For more information on how to warm-up for your max, please see this article I wrote on the subject.
  • Most importantly, do NOT go above the highest percentages presented for any given week, as that will likely drain the CNS and make you unprepared for the actual max out.

Still Confused?

If you need to be spoon-fed like a 230-pound Gerber baby in a Zubaz diaper, here's a sample routine that puts it all together for you (you lazy bastard).

Monday: Chest

  • Bench routine as described above.
  • Dumbbell Incline Press: 3 x 8
  • Ring Push-ups: 3 x 15

Tuesday: Back

  • Pull-ups: 3 x 8
  • V-grip Cable Row: 3 x 12
  • Pullover Machine: 3 x 15
  • Ab wheel rollouts: 3 x 10

Wednesday: Legs and Lower Back

  • Squat routine as described above
  • Deadlift routine as described above
  • Prowler push: 2-3 rounds of 50 yards

Thursday: Conditioning


Friday: Shoulders and Arms

  • Dumbbell Military Press: 3 x 8 supersetted with
  • Dumbbell Rear Delt Raises: 3 x 12
  • Lateral Raise Machine: 3 x 12
  • EZ Curl supersetted with Pullover Triceps Extensions: 3 x 8 each
  • Dumbbell Hammer Curl supersetted with Reverse Grip Triceps Pushdowns: 3 x 12 each

Saturday: Conditioning


Sunday: Off

(not an option. Stay away from the gym, you addict).


"Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." – John Lennon.

Although a carefully planned out peaking process is still the way to go for any serious lifter, sometimes you have to step up to the plate on a lot less notice. It may not be ideal, but hey, that's life. As the saying goes, you can't control your environment, you can only control your reaction to it.

Now toss your daytimer and your calendar and start working on some damn PR's! Post any questions you might have in the discussion forum. I'd love to hear from you.

Tim Henriques has been a competition powerlifter for over 20 years. He was a collegiate All American Powerlifter with USA Powerlifting. In 2003 Tim deadlifted 700 pounds (at 198), setting the Virginia State Record. Follow Tim Henriques on Facebook