I just attended Mike Tuchscherer’s Powerlifting Seminar this weekend at Boss Barbell in Mountain View, California. Boss Barbell is owned by Dan Green I think this was an incredible experience having 2 of the best lifters and coaches under one roof! Mike is well known for popularizing the use of Autoregulation using the RPE scale for powerlifting.
For those of you who are not familiar with Mike Tuchscherer, not only is he one of the best powerlifters of all time, having set multiple world records, but he is one of the top coaches in the world. Mike has coached multiple world record setting athletes. I’ve been a huge fan of Mike’s ever since I started powerlifting. Mike has been consistently putting out free information and training resources. Even though I was familiar with a lot of Mike’s training methods, I still got massive value
You can learn more about him at Reactive Training Systems. Make sure to check it out as there is a wealth of knowledge there. The site also has some free tools such as TRAC. Also, make sure to check out the Reactive Training Systems YouTube Channel
Watch the video:
The seminar was almost 8 hours long! There was so much great information that it’s impossible to share all of it in one post. Here is a short recap of what I learned from the seminar.
Coaching Skills: What Makes a good Coach?
Even if you’re not a coach, understanding coaching skills is very important. If you look at any successful sports team, they have:
- General Manger
As a powerlifter, in addition to being an athlete, we play a lot of these roles. If you don’t have a coach, you are essentially your own coach.
When we think of someone as a good coach, we often think of him/her as an accomplished athlete, with results from clients to show and is someone who has worked with similar athletes as yourself. While all these are important, these are not the top 3 characteristics of a good coach.
Top 3 Characteristics of A Good Coach
- Creativity: A Coach is a creative problem solver. Each coach has to take into account their individual needs, goals and unique challenges. The coach then has to use his knowledge and experience to solve the unique problems. If a coach lacks this skill, he/she will not be very successful in the long-term.
- Leadership: A coach is a great leader because a coach has the ability to guide a lifter in the right direction.
- Relationship: The relationship between a coach and the athlete is very important. Coaching is not limited to the platform. A coach has the ability to impact someone’s life.
Autoregulation is a great tool to have in our training toolbox. Nearly any successful sports team in the world uses Autoregulation. The coach of a sports team has the ability to make adjustments to an athlete’s training by making observations and getting input about the athlete’s performance.
Autoregulation essentially allows us to coach ourselves and make adjustments to our own training. It is designed for those who have autonomy. We all have a workout plan. Autoregulation allows us to make course corrections based on our inputs.
What’s The Point of Training?
Ultimately, the point of training is to put the right weight on the bar and lift it the right number of times (Weight X Reps X Sets). With Autoregulation, we can put the right weight on the bar every time. This is because our performance changes for each training session.
A fixed training program doesn’t account for the inputs we get in during the training session. On some days, we might not be able to lift the weights that are prescribed in our training session. On other days, we might be able to lift more than the prescribed weight.
As an athlete, we want to approach each training session with a Controlled-Aggressive Mindset. If our warm-up and work up sets are feeling heavy, we can adjust the weights accordingly and still get the most out of each session. On the other hand, if the weights are feeling light we can increase the weights and push for a PR.
Autoregulation Using the RPE Scale
We make adjustments depending on how the weights ‘feel’. But how we ‘feel’ is very subjective. A set may feel easy or it may feel light. But how easy is easy? How hard is hard?
RPE stands for the Rating of Perceived Exertion. It is a scale from 1-10 but for practical reasons, we use it from about 6-10. This is because lower RPEs are difficult to gauge and can be inaccurate.
RPE 10 = Max effort/failure. Could not have done any more reps
RPE 9.5 = Close to failure. Could have maybe done 1 more rep
RPE 9 = Could have done 1 more rep for sure
RPE 8.5 = Could have maybe done 2 reps
RPE 8 = Could have done 2 Reps for sure
RPE 7.5 = Could have maybe done 3 more reps
RPE 7 = Could have done 3 more reps for sure
As soon as we’re done with a set, we make a note of how hard that set felt by putting a number on it. This depends on how many sets we had left. For example, if we did a set of Squats with 225×5 and we know we could have done one more rep with it, that would be an RPE 9.
How to Make Adjustments to Training?
There are multiple ways of autoregulating our training using the RPE scale, but the most common way is to gauge the RPEs of our work-up sets leading up to out target top set of the day.
For example, if our training program has a top set of 200 X 5 at an RPE of 9, we would do 2 work-up sets leading up to the top set. The work-up sets will have the same number of reps as the top sets as the top set.
Sample Bench Press Workout
Normal Training Day
1st Work-up set: 180×5 @7 (90% of Top Set)
2nd Work-up set: 190×5@8 (95% of Top Set)
Top Set: 200X5 @9
Back off sets 190×5 @8 (5% load drop)
When Performance is Down
1st Work-up set: 180×5 @7.5 (90% of Top Set)
2nd Work-up set: 190×5@9 (95% of Top Set) – Don’t increase weight. This is your top set.
Back off sets 180×5 @8 (5% load drop)
As you can see, our 2nd work-up set felt like an RPE 9 and we adjusted our training by not adding weight that day. We still got to maximize our training for that day.
When Performance is Up
1st Work-up set: 180×5 @6.5 (90% of Top Set)
2nd Work-up set: 190×5@7 (95% of Top Set)
Top Set: 210X5 @9
Back off sets 200×5 @8 (5% load drop)
As you can see here, the work up sets were feeling light. On these days we can adjust and increase the weights accordingly.
Typically, increments of 5% would represent an increase in the RPE by 1 point.
The point of autoregulation for strength training is that our strength levels are not the same every day. It is common to have fluctuations based on levels of stress and recovery. Autoregulation allows us to maximize each session and keep pushing with a controlled aggressive mindset.
The RPE scale is an objective way of autoregulating our training based on our performance in the moment.
Limitations of using the RPE Scale:
- It is difficult to accurately track the RPE for higher rep sets. This is because higher rep sets can induce a different kind of fatigue via endurance.
- Lower RPE sets (RPE 7 or lower) can be harder to track accurately. We know for sure if a set is an RPE 10 because it is a max effort set. As we get lower with the RPEs, it gets harder to tell whether we could have done 3 more reps or 4 more reps.
- Learning curve. Beginners and people who are new to using autoregulation may take a while to learn how to track their RPEs accurately.
- Doesn’t work for all athletes. Some powerlifters may try to push themselves too hard when given the flexibility to do so whereas others may not push themselves hard enough.
Training intensity simply refers to how heavy we lift in relation to our 1 rep max.
As you can see from the chart above, the RPEs are listed on the left and the number of reps are listed on the top. We can find out our intensity by using plugging in how many reps we perform in a set and the RPE for that set.
For example, if we perform 5 reps at an RPE of 9, it corresponds to 84% on the chart. The intensity of that set was 84%.
For example, if we do a set of squats with 225×5 @9, our 1 rep max can be estimated as 225 ÷ 84% = 267.5
If we know our 1RM and want to find out our working weights, we can do this as well. For example, If our 1RM on Deadlifts is 400 lbs., and we want to do a set of 5 @9, our working sets will be 400 x 84% =336 lbs.
We can keep track of our 1RM and it should go up over time.
Why Training Intensity Matters
Intensity Determines training effect. The majority of a powerlifters results will come from training at the right intensity. Powerlifters will have to spend a significant amount of their training at higher intensities ~90% (Red area in the chart) if they want to be good at improving their 1 rep max. Training below 80% (Yellow area on chart) for a significant amount of will not be very effective at improving a lifter’s 1 rep max.
This is known as the SAID Principle – Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. This simply means that your adaptation depends on the specific stimulus. If you want to be the best at lifting heavy weights, you will have to train with heavy weights.
Training Intensity is like a compass that points us right direction with our training. Training volume determines the magnitude or the speed at which we go in that direction.
Training volume is the total work we do at the gym. This can be calculated with the total number Sets and Reps. Some lifters also like to calculate their total tonnage by multiplying their Weight X Reps X Sets.
If volume determines how much work we put in, why is it that we don’t do more and more volume to speed up our progress? The reason for this is that we all have a limited ability to recover from training stress.
Stress vs. Recovery
The 2 biggest contributors to a powerlifter’s stress levels are:
- Training volume
- Psychological Arousal
In addition to training, stress from all sources in life can add up. Many people overlook things such as psychological arousal. For instance, the week of a powerlifting meet does not have much training that would be stressful. Yet, the psychological stress can affect an athlete’s recovery and ability to perform on the platform.
In the seminar, Mike Tuchscherer used the ‘Sink Analogy’
Basically, water flows in from the faucet (Stress) and water drains out (Recovery)
This is when Stress = Recovery
This is where we should spend most of our training. This is also known as MRV (Maximum Recoverable Volume). The water level in the sink will remain about the same.
This is when Stress > Recovery
This is when we exceed our recovery capacity. This should be avoided most of the time but some athletes may have to intentionally overreach in order to disrupt homeostasis and cause an adaptation. A period of High Stress is usually followed by a period of Low Stress in the form of a deload or taper. The water in the sink will ultimately overflow.
This is when Stress < Recovery.
Usually this is done to get rid of excess stress and fatigue from a period of High Stress. This results in a super compensation effect and the athlete is able to exceed his/her levels of strength than before. The sink will be empty.
Learn more about Stress Management for Strength Training
How Much Training Volume?
Training volume is highly variable between individuals. A person’s training volume depends on:
- Training Goals
- Work Capacity
- Stress Levels
- Stress Tolerance
- Lifting Age
- Strength Levels etc.
Maximum Recoverable Volume vs. Minimum Effective Dose
To get the best results we want to stay in a period of medium stress. This will be somewhere between an athlete’s Maximum Recoverable Volume and The Minimum Effective Dose. If we exceed this for too long, our strength will regress. If we train below the minimum effective dose, the stimulus will not be enough to cause an adaptation for strength.
Use the chart below to find out the correct level of training volume for you.
Green: The green square represents medium stress. This is where we want to train most of the time.
Red: We don’t want to stay here too long. If we want to overreach, we will be in the red square. W
Purple: If our training is not progressing well and our recovery levels are poor, we may want to reduce our stress/volume.
Blue: If we don’t supply the body with enough stress to cause an adaptation, we will not make progress. If your recovery levels are good but training levels are not it may be an indicator that we need to increase our volume.
Work capacity of an athlete represents his/her ability to handle more stress over time. As an athlete becomes more advanced, he/she would ideally be able to handle more stress and recover from it.
Using the sink analogy, if we can increase the size of the drain, we can handle more stress flowing in without the sink overflowing. A bigger drain means increased work capacity. An increased work capacity means that the athlete’s fitness levels are higher.
How To Increase Work Capacity
- Better Nutrition
- Stress Management
- Improved Fitness: Cardio, GPP, and Conditioning
- Better Sleep
Keeping Track of Stress/Recovery Levels
Most of us track our training by keeping a training log. Very few of us actually track our stress/recovery levels. Mike Tuchscherer has a tool called TRAC (Training Recovery Assessment Computer) to keep track of your stress levels. You will have to create a free account to use it. It uses heart rate and a set of subjective questions to give you feedback.
Powerlifting Exercise Selection
We discussed the SAID Principle (Specific Adaptations To Imposed Demands) when it comes to training intensity. The same applies to which exercises we choose.
As a Powerlifter, these are the Squat, Bench Press and the Deadlift. For specificity, most of our training volume comes from these movements. This is especially true as we get closer to competition.
These Exercises are close variations of the competition movements. These are done to improve weaknesses in the competition movement. These have a direct carry-over to the competition movements.
- Overhead Press
- Close-Grip Bench Press
- Front Squats
- Block pulls
- Paused squats
- Paused Deadlifts etc.
The exercises we choose for our program depends on each athlete’s unique weaknesses.
Supplemental Exercises are general exercises, which may not have a direct carry over to our competition lifts but are important to do.
- Bicep curls
Benefits of Supplemental Exercises:
- Strengthen Weak Muscles
- Build Muscle (Hypertrophy)
- General Fitness
- Avoiding Muscle Imbalances
- Connective Tissue Health
- Improved Work Capacity
- Training Variety
- Rehab from Injury
Fixing Weaknesses in Range of Motion
In general, most raw powerlifters will be weakest in the following ranges of motion:
- Squat: About parallel out of the hole
- Bench: A couple inches off the chest
- Deadlift: Off the floor.
Assessing Movement Weaknesses
One of the best ways of identifying weaknesses in an athlete’s Range of Motion (ROM) is to see where the force production is low. People make the mistake of looking at their sticking point as their weakness. In reality, the actual weakness is where the bar starts losing speed.
Video recording of our lifts can help us see where the bar starts slowing down. Usually, the weak ROM is 2-3 inches lower than the sticking point, where the bar stops completely.
Many lifters have different weaknesses. Once we identify the weakness in the ROM, which is the point at which the bar slows down we can do the following:
Step 1: Fix Technique
Many times weaknesses can be fixed by fixing technique. For example, if someone deadlifts with a rounded back, they will be weak at lockout. Pulling with a flat back can solve this.
Step 2: Assistance exercises
The next step is to use the correct assistance exercises. The 3 ways we can use these assistance exercises are:
- Volume Approach: Spending more Time Under Tension in the weak range of motion. E.g. long paused bench press.
- Intensity approach: Overloading the weak ROM. E.g. weight releasers, isometrics etc.
- Combinations: Use both volume and intensity. E.g. Pin presses
Step 3: Strengthen Weak Muscles
This includes doing supplemental exercises to strengthen weak muscles and gain size. This includes hypertrophy techniques such as:
- High Reps
- Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) Training
- Myo Reps
- Density training etc.
In the seminar, we then went over individual differences. This topic so vast and complex, that it’s beyond the scope of this post. A Coach is a creative problem solver. Each athlete has unique individual differences and problems, which need to be addressed in a creative way.I will address this topic in the future.
Overall Seminar Experience
Even though I was already familiar with Mike’s work and training methods through Reactive Training Systems, I got a lot of value from it. I still got to learn a lot of new things, which will make me a better coach and athlete.
This was only a brief overview of what I learned at the seminar. The seminar was about 8 hours long including a training session with Mike. Mike went into great detail with all of these topics and used some great slides and visuals throughout the seminar. Dan Green also took interest in Mike’s presentation as time permitted. The seminar ended with a Q&A session and there were some great questions asked. We were even given books and training logs with the RTS Scaled Variation Program. Using the knowledge we got from the seminar, we can use this program to design our training for the next 6+ months.
This seminar is ideal for Coaches and Athletes who want to:
- Get better at coaching
- Take their training to the next level
- Train with one of the best Coaches
- Learn about
- Autoregulation and using the RPE scale
- Exercise Selection
- Identifying weaknesses and fixing them
- Training Intensity, Volume, Stress, Recovery and Work Capacity
- Individual Differences
- RTS Toolkit including online apps for tracking training and recovery
Overall, I highly recommend this seminar to athletes and coaches of all levels. I’d like to thank Mike Tuchscherer for doing this seminar. Special thanks to Dan Green and Sparkle Green for this event at Boss Barbell.
Have you attended a seminar like this? What was your experience like?