Tag Archives: RTS

RTS Tracking Resource – RPE Training

Here is a fantastic (free) resource by Bryce Lewis for recording your training using RTS training principles such as RPE.  Bryce has a great youtube channel too, Find it here


For more information on RTS, you will find a range of articles in this blog using the search bar. For a comprehensive review of RTS, have a look at Powerliftingtowin.


Strong Body. Strong Mind

RTS – The Demise of Percentage Based Programs Part II

In Part I of this series I addressed the less than optimal features of a program centred around percentages. I hope, rather than arguing for a case of universal abandonment of percentage programs for everyone, instead it asked you to question your training; to ask what new ideas presented could be effective for you at your current stage of training level.

In the second part of this series I present, again, points of interest and discussion that hopefully make you question your training on specificity. Whilst this doesn’t actively address this idea of ‘the demise of percentages based programs’, I believe this article is important as precursor to part III coming soon.

Don’t be one of those categorical, either-or thinkers that jams every round method in its square categorical box. Avail yourself to the nuance of viewing this as a sliding scale.

The above quote is by Mike Tuchscherer (the owner and founder of Reactive Training Systems) in an article on discussing specificity. I have put this here because above all with these articles at Standontheshouldersofgiants we want you to think. We’re big advocates of logical and rational thought, and when it comes to specificity the sliding scale Mike talks about is imperative here.

Specificity (in Powerlifting) for those that don’t know essentially refers to the degree to which a movement mimics a competition lift with regards to the movement itself and the loading parameters. So as an example, a ‘1 rep max’ deadlift attempt is as specific as you can get. A set of 20 one legged dumbbell stiff legged deadlifts would be at the other end of the scale.

Mike Articulates eloquently the need for specificity, but importantly, specificity that meets in the middle. If you’re interested in this topic, give the article a read, it won’t disappoint. Rather than regurgitate Mike’s arguments, instead I’m going to discuss my experience with specificity and why I believe the strength community is only recently emerging from a  phase of damaging non-specificity. 

Mike T

Recently I had been caught up in the ‘Conjugate’ system hype, where non-specificity reigned king. Accessories and supplemental work were the fundamentals providing the volume, and non-specific main movements were the order of the day in the form of ‘max effort’ and ‘dynamic effort’ movements.. As Dave Tate (a man I highly respect and full of knowledge)  advocated, a lifter needs to know the difference between lifts that are ‘testers’ and those that are ‘builders’. Seemingly in my mind this apparent identification and utilisation of ‘testers’ and ‘builders’ fundamentally advocated non-specificity as your bread and butter to ‘build’ the contest lifts (Notably for some (mostly geared) even the ‘testers’ themselves were non-specific to the competition lift. For example, I remember Dave saying his ‘tester’ was a floor press. If his floor press went up, he knew his competition bench had gone up). This rotation of exercises and never directly lifting the main lifts apart from in competition allows training without burning out. Something a raw lifter will unlikely experience given the (relatively) less strain on the CNS involved with raw lifting vs geared.

At the time this made sense to me. My triceps are weak, I should therefore target my main movement for a few cycles around JM presses to bring them up. Makes sense huh? Well no, it doesn’t, and it especially doesn’t for raw lifters. I’m very aware that I’m close to going off tangent here towards a Conjugate vs all other (more specific) methods for raw training discussion here. This has been done extensively by others and Mike himself (search Mike’s name on this blog for more on this).  I’ll resist and simply bullet point some important advantages of more specific training that I have found in my own experience of running both general methods.

  • Practising, and therefore becoming proficient at, the competition lifts is imperative for everyone at all levels. Practice makes perfect right? A 2 inch high box squat with a bowed bar with chains and bands attached will not create that proficiency and may in fact  be detrimental (who am I kidding it’ll be down right useless..) to your technique development. Dynamic effort training that closely mimics your competition lift will not replace that loss of practice. Technique and form will not be challenged at these low weights for anyone but a beginner. Only at medium to higher weights will your weaknesses be challenged and therefore your technique improved.
  • Training analysis over the long term becomes very difficult. Medium to long term manipulation of volume and intensity requires a comparison over time. Comparing and adequately planning future cycles becomes warped, and arguably meaningless when volume fluctuates so drastically. An example, cycle 1 where my main movement is 2 board bench, and cycle 2 is Paused JM Press; the volume for each cycle are so drastically different to the point that overall training volume in this main movement essentially becomes meaningless. If you don’t hold the importance of volume over time in your main movement as a high priority, you’re training sub-optimally (very sub-optimally).
  • I personally found I’m injured less. When my training days are filled with, to a large degree specific movements, it allows me to hit hard those specific movements that will make me stronger (ie Squat, bench and deadlift), whilst allowing my ‘off’ days to be filled with all those accessories and supplement movements that alternatively would clog up my training days. So in a way my off days whilst as ‘non-specific’ as you can get movement wise to squatting etc, they are in fact specific to the aims of; keeping me healthy, helping me recover for the next session, so that I may be better prepared for those ‘specific’ training days. So for example, every off day for me is filled with rows and rear delts to ensure I don’t develop imbalances that would hinder my benching – i.e. non-specific to the bench movement itself but specific to enabling me to actually bench. So building on Dave Tate’s idea above I’d advocate a slightly different specific approach – think ‘builders’ and ‘enablers’ and leave the ‘testers’ to the actual 1 rep max attempts.
  • The best raw lifters in the world do not train around the non-specific ideas of the conjugate system. I don’t think there’s much left to say here. The IPF world records are dominated by those that train to a large degree specifically around the competition lifts. There’s no getting away from it.
  • Absolute specificity is as much a mistake as absolute non-specificity. Unless you’re Dmitry Klokov and his mates in the Olympic weightlifting circles, maxing your squat, bench and deadlift each session will break you down both mentally and physically. There needs to be a balance and this is where this idea of a sliding scale comes in. Read Mike’s article for more information of it’s importance.
  • The confidence you create by staying specific is invaluable come testing or competition. I remember coming off cycles of box squats or good mornings supplemented with glute ham raises and dimmel deadlifts for example and attempting a new squat PB. As the weight got higher the more shaky I become both physically, and also mentally with respect to my confidence in my technique and ability to complete the lift. It was simply a case of treading uncharted water. I had no idea what a heavy competition squat felt like, because I rarely did them exactly to competition standard, as a result my form was always horrible and my weaknesses flared up repeatedly (and they were almost always different to what I thought my weaknesses were).
  • There’s no ego lifts to hide behind. When you realise that 3 board 1 rep max PB that is a good 25kg (55lbs) more than your actual bench PB is essentially meaningless; you’ll be free to pursue actual strength where it matters.


I hope this article has awakened some ideas on how you can optimise your training. Finally I’ll leave you with one of my favourite articles written by Mike. The Seven Principles and You. Notice the case for specificity cropping up again and again. Don’t be distracted from the bread and butter of training and getting strong.

Here’s to part 3 coming a little sooner than part 2 did (hopefully)

Thanks for reading



Strong Body. Strong Mind.

RTS – The Demise of Percentage Based Programs

…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.