RPE vs. Percentages: Pros and Cons

8492166045_816d868b60_o
Source

I’ve written in the past about how RPE is a form of intensity abstraction; it removes the need for a lot of information. This time I wanted to compare RPE to percentages and talk about some the advantages it has over percentages and even some of the disadvantages (there are some).

Take What’s There

The biggest advantage RPE has over percentages is, of course, autoregulation. It allows you to adjust your numbers on the fly. The best part (at least from a strength coaching stand-point) is that you can account for both good and bad days in the trainees program.

With percentages, if the trainee is feeling good and decides to go up in weight they have to deviate from the program. That’s okay if you’re under the watchful eye of the coach and they give you the go-ahead but otherwise the trainee might be introducing variables the coach didn’t specify. On bad days the trainee only has the percentages to go off of and will potentially dig themselves a larger fatigue debt.

Using RPE in a programming allows you to take what’s there on any given day. If you’re supercompensating and your strength has improved over last week you will take advantage of it just by following your programming.

Built-in Progression

If you run a percentage based routine over a number of weeks your strength may have increased at numerous points throughout that routine. If there’s no specified progression you’ll never take advantage of that strength increase and therefore experience an overload effect.

Even if there’s a specified progression scheme (ex. +5 lbs, +10lbs per week) there’s no guarantee it will be appropriate for the trainee. If the trainee accumulates too much fatigue on a week (due to outside stress or what not) that five pound increase could be enough to push them further into a fatigue debt. Or maybe it’s the other way around and five pound isn’t enough to really take the new strength into account.

As mentioned earlier, RPE will take advantage of what’s there. If you’ve gotten ten pounds stronger you’re going to have an extra rep or two in the tank. This is also extremely convenient for the coach. They no longer have to guess at an appropriate weight increase across the weeks.

Required Calibration

One of the downsides to using RPE is that, most of the time, you can’t just jump right into your worksets or topsets. There is some calibration required because you are autoregulating and do not know exactly where your strength is on the given day. This is most often accomplished using one or more workup sets which allow you to hone in on your worksets for the day.

Lack of Predictability

It should be obvious by now, but anyone who is autoregulating knows that it’s hard to predict training variables. With percentages (as long as they aren’t too high) you can be pretty confident in your intensity and total volume on any given day. This will allow you to make broader predictions about the training cycle.

I’m sure you can tell by now that I’m bullish on RPE but it’s a good exercise to sometimes consider the downsides.

RTS Classroom

classroom
RTS Classroom is one of the best ways to invest in your knowledge of the sport

Today I wanted to mention one of the best resources available for students of the sport of Powerlifting. I’ve read a lot of literature on Powerlifting and strength training (except for Supertraining, no one reads Supertraining). I’ve certainly learned a lot from reading but if I’m to be honest I’d have to say that I’m generally better at learning via auditory means. I find training literature to generally be extremely dull and it takes a lot of concentration to finish it.

When I heard that Mike Tuchscherer was starting a series of online lectures about powerlifting I immediately jumped on board. I’d read his book and bought several DVDs from the site and I learned so much just from those alone. I’ve been subscribed since the beginning and I can honestly say I’ve learned more about the sport in the past year via RTS Classroom than from all of the strength literature I’ve read. Mike has an amazing ability to organize, condense, and summarize important training concepts.

One of the best aspects of RTS Classroom is that Mike is constantly growing the amount of content and also the topics it covers. In the past few months he’s had Mike Zourdos (of DUP fame) come on board and give lectures he’s originally prepared for his university students. Ben Esgro has also been giving lectures on Nutrition including IIFYM and reverse dieting.

Here are some examples of the topics that have been covered in RTS Classroom:

  • Autoregulation Fundamentals
  • Block Periodization
  • Exercise Selection
  • Concurrent Training
  • Skeletal Muscle Physiology
  • Nutrition Fundamentals and Fallacies

One of the points I made in my recent article published by RTS is that you can’t go wrong by learning more about your sport. In my opinion, RTS Classroom is one of the best resources available today for those looking to increase their knowledge and become a student of the sport. I highly recommend it and encourage you to sign up.

I wanted to note that (other than being a moderator on the RTS Forums) I am not affiliated with Reactive Training Systems. I am advocating for RTS Classroom solely because I think it is a fantastic resource for anyone who considers themselves a student of the sport.

How I stopped my Squat from leaning to one side


Warning: preg_replace(): Unknown modifier 'd' in /home/forcexdi/public_html/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/class.photon.php on line 331

This one’s a bit more practical and one of those “this has worked for me”. Obviously, if you’re having the same issue this might not work for you. However, I wanted to toss this out into the ether just incase I might be able to help someone out there.

When I first became serious about Squatting I was plagued with elbow pain (which hasn’t fully abated but has a different cause), specifically in my left elbow. This is a fairly common phenomena with Low-Bar squatters. Around the same time I noticed, from constantly filming my sets, that I had a significant lean to my right-hand side. Perhaps this is best illustrated by a video from my first meet:

This seemed to correlate with elbow pain and conceptually it made sense to me. If the bar was lower on the right-hand side it would pull up on my left arm irritating the connective tissue. I figured something was tight and pulling my right shoulder lower than my left. So I spent a lot of time hunting for trigger points on my right-side, specifically foam rolling the lats as I felt they were probably the primary issue. It got me largely nowhere.

I was able to compensate for the issue by actively shrugging my right shoulder up during Squats sets. This was suggested to me by Tom Campitelli and it worked fairly well until heavier sets where it was difficult to concentrate on keeping the shoulder higher. The pain abated but the issue persisted. Eventually the pain came back as well and I began hunting, once again, for an answer to the issue.

I had assumed that my shoulders were just asymmetrical as a result of an anatomical anomaly. I asked the 70’s Big guys if they had ever seen anything like this and Mike Battaglino made the correct call. He’d said that in the past his scalenes and traps and gotten tight in the past and he’d seen something similar. This was an entirely new idea for me as I’d spent all my time trying to treat the opposite side of the body than where the tightness had been occurring.

“Scalenus” by User:Mikael Häggström. ¹
“Trapezius Gray409” by Mikael Häggström. ²

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trap/neck area is a hard area to hit. You can’t foam roll it, it’s pretty tough to hit with a lacrosse ball (other than the top of the traps). I had some success with a theracane. But what worked the best (and has continued to work) is hitting the area with a car buffer prior to Squatting. The car buffer works well for this because the machine does most of the work (as opposed to other methods which require your bodyweight or manual pressure). You can also push on it to apply additional pressure.

What’s worked for me is starting with the top of the traps and grinding on as much trap as you can reach back for, then working on the top of the traps and grazing the scalene muscles as much as possible. The neck is a very sensitive area (at least for me) so gentle pressure is all that’s required.

For further reading on this topic check out Paul Ingraham’s post on neck trigger points.

References:

1. “Scalenus” by User:Mikael Häggström. Original uploader was Mikael Häggström at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:IngerAlHaosului using CommonsHelper. (Original text : Image:Gray387.png). Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

2. “Trapezius Gray409” by Mikael Häggström. When using this image in external works, it may be cited as follows: Häggström, Mikael. “Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 20018762. – Image:Gray409.png. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The Program is Important

8562294334_8bbf67114c_o
Source

I’ve come to realize that at this point in my life I’m a “middle-of-the-road” kinda guy. It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I followed fad diets and exercise routines. But now that I’ve, I suppose, “grown-up” I favor more of a moderate approach. Despite what I’ve personally learned, there is a lot of extremist thinking in the fitness industry. “This is bad, That’s good.” Regardless of the context. One of these lines of thinking is the “just pick a program and work hard” crowd.

Examples of this reasoning include: “Sheiko, 5/3/1; these are all good programs and they work. Just pick one, stick with it, and work hard.” Of course, I wouldn’t be a moderate guy if I didn’t admit that there’s some truth to it. You do need to work hard and you shouldn’t program hop. But jumping on any old program is rolling the dice. If it works it’s because it provides what you need at that point in time to progress.

A program isn’t a program. Clearly 5/3/1 is very different from Sheiko. We know this, it’s very easy to see that is the case. For a newish lifter, Sheiko will be unnecessary and potentially too much. For a very experienced lifter adapted to high volume and high frequency, the vanilla 5/3/1 is probably not going to work so well. The program needs to fit the lifter. If it doesn’t the lifter will often stall and regress.

This is why, in my opinion, custom programs will always be better than cookie-cutter programs. To be most appropriate for the individual their program needs to take into account their current requirements for volume, intensity, frequency, exercise variation, etc. Even those trainees that make great progress on pre-defined programs will generally modify them to fit their needs. I’m a big fan of taking charge of your own program and making small tweaks to variables over time to make it better and to learn exactly what works for you as an individual.

The lesson here is that there is no one single important variable that will make a trainee successful. Sleep, nutrition, exercise technique, these are all important but no more important than the program. All of these aspects work in synergy.

Autoregulating the Texas Method Part 3: Template and Exercise Selection

This is the third article in a series on Autoregulating the Texas Method.
Click Here for Part 1: The Basics
Click Here for Part 2: Fatigue Management
Click Here for Part 4: Periodization and Final Thoughts

8572250887_a9f1e450b6_o
Source

The original Texas Method program utilized a very simple template and exercise schema: three full-body days with very little exercise variation. Other than rotation of the Press with the Bench Press and Front Squats on Wednesday the program was very vanilla. This post will present some of my ideas on how to customize the template and exercise selection to the individual.

Full-body vs Split

Before we get into the nitty-gritty I wanted to comment on whether the split template is better or worse than the original full-body template. The reasoning behind the split template is that Recovery Day doesn’t really do much and using a Split allows for more accessory work after the competition lifts. This is true but a consequence of this change is a potential drop in frequency of the lifts. If you’re Squatting and Benching (maybe even deadlifting) 3 times a week and you drop to two it could have negative consequences. One way of thinking about this would be comparing it to practicing a musical instrument. If you practice the oboe three times a week but then drop to only practicing two times a week do you think you will keep making progress at the same rate? Probably not. Now, Squatting and playing the oboe are quite different but Strength is a skill. A workout is as much practice as it is training. In my opinion the split template is only good for those who are only using a two times frequency to start with.

The Microcycle

While the original template used kind of hand-wavy justifications for the microcycle setup I think we can provide some better descriptions:

Day Name Definition
Monday Volume Day Focus on hypertrophy and work capacity adaptations
Wednesday Development Day Focus on weak-point and technique training
Friday Intensity Day Focus on neurological adaptations

The biggest change between this version and the original is renaming Recovery Day to Development Day. The reason for this is two-fold: Recovery Day was meant to provide “active recovery” to allow you to recover from Monday’s workout by Friday. I believe the name was part of the reason it was eventually dropped in a lot of Texas Method implementations. The other reason for the name change is that we can use this day to work on improving the lifts in a more specific fashion, with technique work, weak point training, etc.

Template and Exercise Selection

Here is an example template with some suggested exercises:

Monday

Squat: Competition Squat, beltless Squat, Front Squat, Tempo Squat
Bench: Competition Bench, Touch and Go Bench, Close-Grip Bench, Slingshot Bench
Deadlift: Competition Deadlift, beltless Deadlift, Deficit Deadlift, Paused Deadlift, Deadlift w/ chains

Wednesday

Squat: Paused Squat, Pin Squat, Squat w/ chains, Front Squat, Tempo Squat
Bench: Long Paused Bench, Pin Press, Bench w/ chains
Shoulders: Overhead Press, Push Press, Incline Bench

Friday

Squat: Competition Squat
Bench: Competition Bench (~1s Paused)
Deadlift: Competition Deadlift

Discussion

For Monday’s workout we use hypertrophy focused exercises. If you’re not sure what to use you can just use the competition exercise. But if you know you’re lagging in musculature in a certain area this is a good day to work on it. Wednesday is focused on your weak point. If you’re a raw lifter (and more than likely you are) that will be out of the hole in the Squat and off the chest in the Bench. If you’re not sure what to do here start with paused variations. Friday is of course Intensity day and it remains unchanged. It’s conceivable that you could rotate exercises on this day but more than likely you should stick to the competition lifts.

For Monday’s and Wednesday’s workouts you have a lot more flexibility in which exercises you select. If you’re a fan of variation and get bored easily you could select something new every week. On the other hand you could stick with the same set of exercises for several months. In my opinion, something in the middle would be best. Select a set of exercises and stick with those for 3-4 weeks at a time so you can easily track improvements.

A Note Regarding The Deadlift

If you’re coming from a traditional TM setup you’re probably only used to deadlifting once a week. If you’re still making good progress on that setup you can certainly sub Monday’s deadlift slot for something else (perhaps another Bench slot). However, if your progress is slowed you will more than likely see good results from increasing your frequency.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the series where I’ll discuss periodization and my Final thoughts on the program. I’ll also present an 8 week version of the program in a free downloadable PDF.

Emotional fluctuations for the analytical lifter

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bklemens/8495662541/in/set-72157632745215082
Source

Most powerlifters have a training style which lies somewhere on a spectrum between emotional and analytical. On one end you’ve got lifters who will head-butt the bar, sniff ammonia and have their training partners punch them in the back of the head. And on the other there are guys who barely even make a facial expression. I count myself among the analytical bunch and wanted to share some observations and tips I’ve picked up.

As I’ve said, I consider myself an analytical lifter but I wasn’t always that way. I used to get really psyched up to lift. When I used to run the Texas Method I would use a pysche-up to PR on Intensity day. And it definitely worked. I could make the bar feel lighter on my back just by getting pissed and listening to loud music. But there was only so much in the tank. The Squat was the first lift that day and it was the one that got the benefit of a big psyche-up. By the time I got to Bench and deadlift there was only so much emotion left.

I found that the more I psyched myself up the more my technique suffered. My Squats started to get looser, sloppier. There was less cognitive room for technique and cue concentration. When you’re under a heavy bar there’s not a lot of mental space period (which is why I’ve likened it to a form of meditation in the past). If you’ve whipped yourself into a frenzy all you can think of is go go go. It’s easy to forget about simple cues like “knees out” or “big breath”.

I also became scared of the weights. The more I had to psych up to PR the bigger importance I put on that weight which required more intensity and drove me into an emotional spiral. I walked away from the lift very drained both physically and emotionally which resulted in a big pile of fatigue.

Clearly I had found that getting emotional and psyched up (purposely) did not work well for me. I ratcheted down my emotions and found I did much better with a calmer, more focused demeanor. The emotions don’t just disappear, however, they fluctuate naturally based on how much importance I place on a set. If I’m shooting for a PR on Competition Squat, yeah my heart rate will be higher and I will definitely be feeling some apprehension. However, if it’s a PR on Floor Press instead I’m going to be a lot more chill.

I’ve found pre-lift visualizations to be useful in this regard. Also, I like using Dr. Zourdos’ “Do Your Job” quote a lot to remind myself that it’s something I’ve done thousands of time, the only difference is the weight on the bar.

I want to be clear, this was not my attempt to advocate for the analytical style over the emotional. Clearly some do very well with emotional lifting. I have a hunch that this has something to do with personality and where you fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. There’s some evidence to suggest that introverts are overall more sensitive to stimuli and so that could explain my reaction to emotional-style lifting. If I’m not mistaken, Matt Perryman suggested something similar in Squat Everyday (it’s been a while since I’ve read it).

How you feel is a lie?

 

8562395032_8ecd4c7735_o
Source

I bring up the concept of autoregulation a lot and one of the keys to autoregulation is “listen to your body”. “Listen to your body” is a very nebulous decree which is one reason why RTS is a useful system. It takes a nebulous process and creates a defined system. On the other end some argue that “how you feel is a lie”. You might feel like shit but then go into the gym and set a PR. Just like “Listen to your body” this is a nebulous concept but has some legitimate aspects to it. Let’s tease it apart.

One of the reasons that “how you feel is a lie” is nebulous is that it doesn’t specify what kind of feelings and where they arise from. Is it speaking of motivation? Emotions? Subjective feelings of fatigue? Certainly your subjective feeling of readiness and fatigue can’t be considered extremely accurate measures. Motivation can be an indicator of readiness, in spite of its subjectivity. One type of feeling that definitely cannot be ignored is of course RPE. This is because RPE is directly linked to performance.

Certainly the accuracy of subjective measurements exist on a spectrum. I think RPE is going to be on the more accurate end of the spectrum because its a responsive rating. It’s a “feeling” that occurs after a set. It’s still subjective; you can be bad at calling your RPE. But rather than a feeling based on a state, it’s a form of feedback based on a performance. Couple this with another form of RPE rating, such as rating via video, and RPE is one of the most solid subjective indicators.

How you feel is not a lie but it depends upon what you’re feeling. You should pay more attention to certain feelings, such as RPE and maybe motivation and less to others.

Periodization is not mutually exclusive; some is better than none

This is kind of in-response to a couple of reddit and facebook threads. I don’t like replying to threads much on those respective networks but I still wanted to express my thoughts, ergo this blog post. My hope is that some of my thoughts/opinions filter back into the collective consciousness. Whether that’s realistic or not is another question…

block-periodization2
Source: http://atlanticlongtrack.wordpress.com/resources/block-periodization/

This article has been making the rounds lately. In it the authors compared three styles of periodization: Linear, Non-linear (or contemporarily known as Undulating), and Block. Their conclusion was essentially that there was no clear winner with a possible slight advantage to Undulating. It was interesting that some on the internet took this to mean that periodization wasn’t important, all that matters is consistent hard work over time. However, the authors were not comparing periodized and non-periodized training in this analysis. They even have another analysis which concluded that some kind of periodization is better than none. So this analysis did not say, “It doesn’t matter, just work hard”. It concluded, “The way in which you periodize your training does not matter that much”.

Another point I wanted to make was that periodization schemes are not mutually exclusive. I ran into one comment where the user was proclaiming that you should do linear then undulating then block, etc. Although I feel like this sort of comment is a symptom of being overly-categorical I think a lot of people don’t necessarily realize that periodization schemes aren’t mutually exclusive. You don’t have to be using either Linear or DUP or Block. You can mix and match. DUP only concerns itself with intra-microcycle periodization, therefore you can easily use DUP within a week and then linearly periodize from week-to-week. Block Periodization is really a sub-set of Linear, as specific instance that addresses exercise selection and fatigue. IMO a good program will include aspects from all of these periodization-styles. After all, if you can take and use the best from each, why wouldn’t you?

Autoregulating the Texas Method Part 2: Fatigue Management

This is the second article in a series on Autoregulating the Texas Method.
Click Here for Part 1: The Basics
Click Here for Part 3: Template and Exercise Selection
Click Here for Part 4: Periodization and Final Thoughts

In Part 1 of this series I presented a basic program in which I applied Autoregulatory tools on top of the Texas Method. The fatigue protocol I specified was rather simple. However, if we’re going to adequately describe the Texas Method using the RTS model we will need to use a little more finesse when we talk about the fatigue protocols. After all, the Texas Method works via the intimate interplay between fitness and fatigue.

The Two-Factor Fitness/Fatigue Model

simple1
Source: Science and Practice of Strength Training 2nd Edition

The two-factor training theory roughly states that there are two products resulting from training, a positive, fitness product, and a negative, fatigue product. These products are transient and their summation determines an athletes performance.¹ The two-factor model is useful in explaining the body’s response to training. I specifically bring up this model because it’s crucial to understand that to utilize their newly developed strength the athlete must first dissipate some of the fatigue developed.

Developing the Fatigue Protocol

The Texas Method works on a weekly time-scale. Monday’s workout builds strength and hypertrophy while also accumulating significant fatigue. By Friday, the fatigue should be mostly dissipated allowing the athlete to set a new PR. Therefore, in determining the fatigue protocol we need to have the athlete do enough work on monday such that it produces strength gains without accumulating too much fatigue so that by the time Friday rolls around they can’t perform.

The Reactive Training Systems, developed by Mike Tuchscherer, specifies the following fatigue protocols:

Stress Fatigue Definition
Low 1-3% Ample recovery between weeks
Medium 4-6% Complete recovery between weeks
High 6-9% Incomplete recovery between weeks

This protocol wasn’t really designed to specify fatigue intra-week but they can still be useful if we keep in mind their limitations. They also assume 6 exercises per pattern (upper/lower), however, I think they’re still useful if we’re talking about half that. In Part 1 I gave the fatigue protocol of 4-6% for each day. Clearly this doesn’t fulfill the requirements of this program. What we really want is to have higher fatigue towards the beginning of the week and lower fatigue towards the end. We still need to keep in mind the amount of volume and cannot decrease this too drastically. With these goals in mind we can come up with the following fatigue prescriptions:

Monday Wednesday Friday
6-9% 1-3% 4-6%

Explanation and Practical Considerations

Now that we have our fatigue prescriptions how do we apply them? The following are my recommendations to achieve the desired level of fatigue:

Volume Day

Repeat from 8 to ~9.5. Then Drop 3% and repeat until 9.

Development Day²

Pyramid up to topset (@7, @8, @9) then drop 3% and repeat until 9.

Intensity Day

Pyramid up to topset (@7, @8, @9) then drop 5% and repeat until 9.

Volume Day is where we’ll accumulate the most fatigue. We’ll use repeats here to be true to the original Texas Method. We’ll also use some dropsets to get to the level of fatigue we’re looking for. Development Day will introduce some slight fatigue but not enough to increase it beyond what we can dissipate within the week. This will allow us to garner some more volume and keep frequency high. Intensity Day is of course PR day. Hopefully the fatigue has dissipated enough for us to peak. We’ll also use this day to do some more volume to continue progress on into the next week.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the series where I’ll discuss my thoughts on the overall Template.

References:

1. Zatsiorsky, Vladimir M. “Basic Concepts of Training Theory.” Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1995. 12-13. Print.

Notes:

2. You’ll notice I’m calling Wednesday “Development Day”. I want to get away from the notion of Recovery Day and all of its implied unimportance. It is important and we can use it to our advantage to work on our weak areas. But more on this in another part of this series.