Back Friendly Exercises on the RTC Program

Q: I am 19 years old and will be a sophomore in college this fall. I major in Criminal Justice and hope to one day become a law enforcement officer. I am 6 feet tall, 170 pounds, and in the worst shape of my life. I had back surgery for a herniated disc in January and haven't worked out since. 

While browsing articles on law enforcement fitness, I read a piece you wrote for bodybuilding.com. I loved it. My surgeon has advised me to stay away from heavy deadlifts and squats for a long time. Basically, anything that could reherniate my disc is a big no no. In regards to the workout you listed, is there anything I could replace "high risk back" exercises with?

My goal is to become as agile as I used to be, and I would also like to put on a few more pounds of muscle. 

Thanks, 
Jacob W.


My Answer: If you want to remove the deadlift and back squat from the RTC program, then I suggest you substitute cable pull-throughs and Bulgarian squats.  You will not add on as much muscle with these exercises, but the RTC program will be tough on you even with these substitutions.








Below is the program without deadlifts and back squats, but with cable pull-throughs and Bulgarian squats.  I've kept the front squats in the program, since the front squat does not stress the lower back as much as the back squat.





Weeks 1 and 2: Density Phase

Workout #1:

Quads Compound Set:

  1. Front squats, 6-8 reps, then go to
  2. Sissy squats, body weight only, as many reps as possible (AMRAP)
  3. Rest three minutes, and then repeat compound set two more times.


Back Giant Set:

  1. Wide-grip pull-ups (overhand grip) to failure, rest 10 seconds then go to
  2. Medium-grip pull-ups to failure, rest 10 seconds then go to
  3. Medium-grip chin-ups (underhand grip) to failure, rest 10 seconds then go to
  4. Narrow-grip chin-ups to failure.
  5. Rest three minutes, and then repeat the giant set two more times.


Wide grip upright barbell rows: 4 sets, 12-15 reps, 1 minute rest between sets

Biceps/Brachialis Compound Set:

  1. Zottman curls, 6-8 reps, then go to
  2. Lying dumbbell curls, 10-12 reps
  3. Rest two minutes, and then repeat the entire process two more times.

Dips, bodyweight only, 3 sets, AMRAP, 1 minute rest


Workout #2: High intensity interval training (HIIT), 20 minutes (90 seconds walk, 30 second sprints)


Workout #3:

Seated cable rows, 6 sets, 4-6 reps, 90 seconds rest

Arms Superset:

  1. Kettlebell curls or reverse grip barbell curls, 4 sets, 4-6 reps, 90 seconds rest
  2. Lying barbell triceps extensions, 4 sets, 4-6 reps, 90 seconds rest


Gironda dumbbell swings, 3 sets, 10-12 reps, 1 minute rest


Workout #4: HIIT – 20 minutes (Farmer’s walks for 30 seconds, walk with no weight for 90 seconds)



Weeks 3 and 4: Decompression Phase

Workout #1:

  1. Side to side pullups, 4 sets, AMRAP, 3 minutes rest
  2. Dumbbell military press, 4 sets, 6-8 reps, 3 minutes rest
  3. Bulgarian squats, 4 sets, AMRAP, 3 minutes rest


Workout #2:

  1. Sternum pull-ups, 4 sets, AMRAP, 3 minutes rest
  2. Close grip bench press, 4 sets, 5-7 reps, 3 minutes rest
  3. Cable pull throughs, 4 sets, 4-6 reps, 3 minutes rest


Workout #3:

  1. Subscapularis pull-ups, 4 sets, AMRAP, 3 minutes rest
  2. Weighted dips, 4 sets, 4-6 reps, 3 minutes rest
  3. Front squats, 4 sets, 4-6 reps, 3 minutes rest
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