Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Analysis of Reactive Training System

Although I have promised in Periodization confusion article that I am going to make a real-world practical example on planning the preparatory period for 8-weeks long pause between two halves of the soccer season, I am first going to make another example by 'disecting' Reactive Training System (RTS) by MikeTuchscherer based on the slides and material from Progressive Powerlifting Seminar which was held in 2008. Mike certainly evolved his really good system even more, thus take a look at this only as an example of what I talked in Periodization confusion article.  Please note that RTS is aimed at ADVANCED powerlifters. I am going to repeat that one more time: ADVANCED POWERLIFTERS.

The crux of RTS is autoregulation of training load based on RPE (how hard does the set feels, or proximity of failure) and fatigue percents (the way to regulate training stress). I am not going to expand on this further since I covered that in Planning the Strength Training series of articles, and Tuchscherer covered it extensively in Reactive Training Manual (which I am going to re-read) and in free articles on his website.   It could be said that autoregulations and fatigue percents are the training principles utilized in Third Level of planning strategy.  

One interesting concept is RPE chart which should be custom tailored and provides an insight into correlations between RPEs and reps at certain percentage of 1RM.  This chart is 'consulte' when programming your workouts in a certain phases that demands certain intensity percentage and/or certain RPE zone. 

The system also revolves around weekly template which can be flexible based on your obligations and needs, and can also be modified whether you are in Frequency or Fatigue cycle (more on this in already mentioned sources).

The basic template includes

(Raw Bench)
(shirt bench)
1. Equipped Squat Variation (ex, Suit Squat, Bands, Chains, etc)

2. Deadlift Assistance (ex, Reverse Band DL, Pause DL, alternate stance, etc)

3. Squat Supplement (ex, SSB Squats, Hi-Bar Oly Squats, Pause squats, etc)

 4. Abs
1. Main Raw Press (Raw Bench, Ply Press, Pause Bench, etc)

2. Raw Assistance (Close Grip, Moderate chain usage, long pauses, etc)

3. Shoulders (Incline, Military, etc)

4. Lats
1. Main Deadlift Variation (Deadlift, Chains, Bands, Gear, etc)

2. Raw Squat Variation (Box Squat, varied depths, moderate chain usage, Squat, etc)

3.Deadlift Supplement (SLDL, GM, RDL, etc)

4. Abs
1. Main Lockout Variation (Shirt Bench, Bands, Chains, Full ROM, etc)

2. Lockout Assistance (Bands, Chains, some partial ROM)

3. Lockout Supplement (Partial ROM for higher reps)

4. Lats

It is important to stress that in the days between, the lifter is doing GPP work that includes single leg lifts, upper body pulling and pre-hab work, stretching and conditioning.

Tuchscherer uses it's own classification of exercises which he adapted to sport of powerlifting:

Shirted Bench
Raw Bench
Equipped Squat variation

 Raw Squat variation

 Squat Supplement
Primary Deadlift

 Secondary Deadlift

 Deadlift Supplement
Shirt Bench Main

 Shirt Bench Assist

Raw Bench Main

 Raw Bench Assist


It is clear that Tuchscherer utilize certain exercise classification system based on the similarity with the competition lifts-, and since I wanted to give an example for Periodization Confusion article, I will need to bastardize this a little bit to fit it into Bondarchuk's classification system (I probably did make some errors, and I will accept recommendations for this classification):

Specialized Developmental
Specialized Preparatory
General Preparatory
Geared squat, deadlift and bench press
Squat Assistance

Deadlift Assistance

Equiped squat variation

Equiped deadlift

Equiped bench press variations
Raw Bench Press

Raw Bench Assistance



Lockout Supplement

Raw Squat  variations

Deadlift supplement

Squat supplement


GPP work

CEs are the competitive movements with full gear and competitive ROM. SDEs are slight variations of CEs to emphasize certain performance aspect and weakness (based on the analysis). SPEs are movements that hit same muscles in similar function. GPEs are general exercises targeting neglected muscle groups and aimed at rising of general physical preparedness.

You will see soon why this classification is important.

To further explain RTS we will need to take a real world situation. Mike Tuchscherer calls this Cycle Design.  Similar to First Level of planning, one needs to chart down meet dates, travel, vacation and other things that are fixed and which provide constraints for further planning. Based on this basic Annual Plan,  further macrocycles are designed. Each macrocycle is a time period between two (major) meets.

For each macroycle there should be S.M.A.R.T. goals set for total and each individual lift, also based on strengths~weaknesses analysis (which is similar to SWOT analysis in strategic planning) and time and environmental constraints (context). After this process, each macrocycle is further split into training phases.

In European terminology, training phases are usually (1) preparatory period, (2) competition period and (3) transition period and in American terminology they are (1) off-season, (2) pre-season and (3) in-season. This is not set in stone and it is based on the situation at hand. Mike Tuchscherer utilized his own names for training phases based on the sport of powerlifting and individual characteristic of each phase.

Each phases has its own characteristics (and goals) and thus can be considered a blend between Second and Third level of planning.

Off-season phase is used following a major competition and it is usually 1-3 weeks long. The goal of this phase is recovery, promoting overall health and setting up for real gains in later phases, along with rehabbing injuries and tweaks. It could be said that off-season phase  is “training to train”, or a training phase aimed at bringing up the factors that allow injury-free, serious training afterwards. This includes a lot of GPE exercises/methods, like single leg movements, abs, rowing, overhead pressing, aerobic training. Thus the content of off-season phases is as follows:

In-season phases is “Bread and Butter”  training phases. It mostly consist of non-CE lifts (SDE, SPE) whose relationship and exercise selection is determined by the strengths~weaknesses analysis and goal settings.  GPE are also presented but in non-lifting days as GPP work. The duration of this phases is variable.

Peaking phase is aimed at entering into the state of sport form in CE and turning potential that is developed into contest results. It can last from 4 to 12 weeks. The exercise content of this phase is mostly specific exercises (CEs), although others are also presented (SDE, SPE, and GPE). For the sake of illustrating the differences between phases I’ve kicked out SPEs, although they might be presented and SDE being kicked out. Please note that this is only for the sake of an example and doesn’t represent the real content of peaking phase in RTS.   

So, from the sport form point of view, these stages fit nicely into the idea of break-up, build-up and maintenance of sport form.  

Next smaller level than training phase is a training block. They are somehow independent of training phases and used to help out load planning for advanced lifters (Third level of planning).
There are four training blocks:

Re-training block is characteristic for the off-season phase and it characterized by low training load (stress) and training intensity (% of 1RM) and intensiveness (RPE, proximity of failure).

Accumulation block is “volume oriented” and it aimed at preparing the lifter for higher intensity work to follow. It lasts 3-5 weeks. The load mainly compromise of higher number of sets, lower intensity (% of 1RM) and lower intensiveness (RPE, proximity of failure) and maybe a slightly higher number of reps per set. The example for accumulation phase is 6 sets of 3 reps @8-9 RPE (the weight you can lift for 4-5 reps, or around 80-85% 1RM).

Transmutation block is “intensity oriented” aimed at bringing up (expressing) the potential developed by accumulation phase. It lasts 2-4 weeks.  The example for transmutation phase is 3 sets of 3 reps @9-10 RPE (the weight you can lift for 3-4 reps, or around 85-90% 1RM).
In the Planning the Strength Training series you can find more info regarding Volume/Intensity phases.

Realization block  is very similar to transmutation block. It is used in the final stages of the peaking phase. The difference is that “intensity oriented” loading is only applied to CEs, while other exercise categories are receiving lowered loading to allow fatigue to dissipate and for real gains to be expressed in CEs. It lasts usually 2-3 weeks.

Next smaller level than the training block is a training microcycle. There are no any different types of microcycles in RTS. Microcycles provide a certain stress level (loading) and average intensity for a certain training block and are usually planned in wave-like manner for each block, to provide for variations and fatigue management. During the accumulation block, microcycles can have low, medium and high stress (based on fatigue percents) and low and medium intensity (averaging around 80-85% for the top set of the day). In transmutation block, microcycles can have medium to high stress and medium to high intensity (averaging around 85-95% for the top set of the day), while in realization block they can have low to medium stress and medium overall intensity. In the Progressive Powerlifting seminar Mike Tuchscherer didn’t go into a further discussion why he uses a certain progression of microcylces in a given block, thus I cannot provide any more info on this topic.  

Now you see how does the cycle planning goes from First level (which includes planning of the sport form development based on competition schedule, analyzing strengths~weaknesses of the athlete and developing SMART goals taking into consideration time constraints and other factors outside of training (context)) to Second Level (planning of the development/reaching of the goals and addressing strengths~weaknesses) and finally to Third Level (planning loading strategies, auto-regulation, specificity of exercises, microcycle planning, etc).

It is hard to make clear cut boundaries between “Planning Levels” and they usually blend into each other. This is why “Tool of Three Levels” is only used as a tool and not something written in a stone.

I will also use  a hypothetical example Mike Tuchscherer presented in Progressive Powerlifting seminar  for a lifter who has 18 weeks between major meets to “summarize” everything written here.

Putting this more into a table where weeks are listed from top to bottom would provide better readings for practical purposes, but graphically this looks better (I hope Carl Valle will agree with this since he is big into design).

The question is now whether the RTS is block training, complex training, stage, mixed-parallel or whatever? Hopefully by now you can see the ‘stupidity’ and ‘purposeless’ of that kind of discussion, since RTS is based on sound training principles for training ADVANCED powerlifters (some of those principles are covered in Planning the Strength training articles).

Hopefully this provides a neat example of real world training system and in this case it is Mike Tuchscherer’s Reactive Training System. Please note that I based my analysis on the information from Progressive Powerlifting Seminar held in 2008., and from talking to Mike over email he did evolve his system over the last two years. For this sole reason, please look at this analysis only as an example and if you are more interested into RTS I highly suggest that you contact Mike Tuchscherer himself. 


  1. Mladen - I love the fact that you keep on educating people about training.

    I've read tons of your articles, and I've learned tons from you.

    I really appreciate what you are doing.
    Claes from Sweden.

  2. Thanks Claes! At least I know someone is reading all this rant of mine :)

  3. Great article!

    Thank you for sharing, you worked with James Smith correct Mladen?

  4. @Bojan,

    Thanks. And no, I did not work with James.