…for anyone other than relative beginners?
Woah, whats going on here, Percentages now!
Yes, and this article will put forward the arguments why you can benefit from taking out percentages from your program pretty much entirely, and instead replacing them with RPE’s. All will be explained.
I always think it’s important to outline who this can benefit, and only then moving onto what this idea is, and why it can be so useful to you.
Who is this for?
This is for the relative beginner to intermediate upwards. The lifter should have some lifting experience under their belt which has enabled them to have a relatively good grasp of form, general protocols that work for them within a program, and an open mind intent on always learning and bettering yourself. I dislike putting a time scale, and I especially dislike putting lifting totals as gauges of a lifter’s level with respect to the strength community.
I prefer to not create “barriers to entry” to this program or that program dependent on a lifters experience. Obtaining more knowledge is never a hindrance, only the practical aspect of implementing that knowledge effectively for you is where people can slip up. The answer to avoid this problem is not denying someone access to that knowledge in my opinion. I believe in displaying the information and allowing that person to learn how to critically assess how that new knowledge can be useful for them.
So, whatever level you may be at, please read on. Just make sure you’re ready to analyse and question what if anything is, or can be, useful to me at my current level.
Why can using percentages be suboptimal to a lifter
- It doesn’t take into account the physical preparedness of the lifter on any given day. A lifter can have scheduled in a light day of 75% at 4×3 for example, and walk in the gym that day feeling really strong. They subsequently lift that 75% like it’s nothing. Alternatively the same lifter the week after may have scheduled 90% at 2×3, and walk in the gym feeling weak and tired. Perhaps they were working late the night before and didn’t get enough food and sleep. Subsequently the session is a struggle, or perhaps they don’t even get through the session without dropping the weight, the number of reps or both. Maybe they have to drop the weight on the bar down to 85% or even 80%. Taking into account the whole two weeks of training, clearly that two weeks hasn’t been as optimal as the lifter would like.
- It doesn’t take a medium term view of the lifter’s strength progression throughout the cycle. A lifter will be stronger at the end of a 8 week cycle than at the start of the cycle (one would hope). Using percentages, or even “adding 2.5kg every 4 weeks” is at best a very general estimation of the lifters strength progression over the course of the 8 week cycle. To make this more accurate you’d have to test 1 rep maxes every 4 weeks in order to update your program calculator. Again, is strength really that linear? In the very very long term perhaps arguably it is (at least up to a certain level taking into account a general trend). But is it not conceivable that after many months of training, you could finally overcome your plateau in week 2 of a 4 week cycle, and as a result, for the next two weeks you’re simply cruising with the prescribed reps, sets and percentages?
- Your training cycle is based off the performance of a single day, testing day. So, you’re going to base the next 8 weeks of your training on what you lifted on that one day? What if you had an off day, or even a one off fantastic day filled with adrenaline because it’s testing day that isn’t indicative of your actual strength levels. Again, your program is less than optimal.
Mike Tuchscherer uses the phrase, “Best, Better, Bestest” (Yes I know and I’m sure Mike knows, incorrect superlative all you English teachers out there). Experienced lifters are well known for having the experience and skill to regulate their training; to shut things down when they know their body needs a break and when to push it when they know it’s time to go hard and big. As less than advanced lifters, we simply don’t have the experience to be able to do this ourselves. Instead, we need built in autoregulation into our programs…
An Introduction to rates of perceived exertion (RPE’s)
For most people I think using percentages in their training is set in stone. Some of the most famous programs such as Wendler 531, Sheiko, The Cube to name a few, utilise percentages as the fundamental building block of the program. If you search on the internet you’ll find excel formula sheets or calculators of these programs whereby all that is needed is for the lifters to enter their respective 1 rep maxes and bingo, there’s your 4 week program all laid out for you. It’s easy, it’s simple to understand, and it allows the program to be structured in a way of the authors choosing. For example 531, as the name suggests, involves the increase of intensity week on week culminating in the lifter lifting in the 90%+ range for a single (or as many reps as they can get out) come week 3. Whereas in week 1 they are lifting at around 80% for sets of 5. The result also sees a general regulation of volume throughout these 3 weeks. There’s a reason 531 is such an effective and popular program. It works, it’s as simple as that.
However, what if you could fine tune a program like 531 to suit you, and only you. What if there was some system that you could attach to a program like 531 which autoregulated your volume and intensity to suit exactly how you felt on any given day in the gym. Interested? You should be. Up steps the Reactive Training System by Mike Tuchscherer. That website is a fantastic resource and if you’re interested in this system I encourage you to check out the section named Beginning RTS on there. It is full of fantastic information that is easy to understand. It’s the perfect place to start if you want to take your training to the next level.
Mike Tuchscherer describes his program as similar to a scope on a sniper rifle. It can be attached to any program, resulting in the fine tuning of the program to the individual. The results see a more effective and efficient program tailored to that individual every time they step in the gym through the process of autoregulation. Not only that but this program can also stand alone as a very effective program in and of it’s itself. It’s a win win situation in my opinion.
That’s a lot of information, where should I start? Fundamental concepts of RTS should be your first port of call. This article explains everything you need to know when it comes to implementing RPE’s into your training program. Mike does a much better explanation than I ever could (not least since it’s his system) on explaining these ideas. Give that article a read.
I will most likely turn this article into a mini series in which I will introduce and discuss certain aspects of the RTS system. Keep your eyes peeled.
I am not paid to endorse the RTS program in any way. I’m simply a lifter that knows a bloody good program when I see it.
Strong Body. Strong Mind.