Well, well, well, we’ve come to the very last program that I’m going to review: Mike Tuchscherer’s Generalized Intermediate Program using RTS principles. After this, I’m going to be writing and releasing the first real eBook from PowerliftingToWin: Programming To Win. The book will contain an updated and revised version of the PowerliftingToWin Novice Program as well as the highly anticipated PowerliftingToWin intermediate program. Multiple templates and options will be presented in the book. Stay tuned for that.
Tuchscherer’s Generalized Intermediate Program is one of the most thoughtful and complex programs that we’ve taken a look at thus far. If you haven’t already taken the time to check out my review of the RTS system, please do so now. You will not understand a damn thing in this review without that background knowledge. Even so, this program is dense enough that I will not be able to unravel all of its complexities in a simple review. Hold on to your hard hat because this is going to be tough sledding.
If you want to get the details on RTS straight from Mike Tuchscherer, grab a copy of the RTS Manual.
If you’d rather watch than read:
RTS Generalized Intermediate Program: Context and Background
For those who don’t know about Mike Tuchscherer, in my opinion, he is probably the single best powerlifter in the world. He has totaled over 2100lbs/950kg in the 264lbs/120kg weight class. He did this on the strictest platform in the world under the toughest drug testing conditions in the sport.
Not only that, but Mike runs one of the single most successful powerlifting coaching services in the industry. He doesn’t have one or two national record holders under his wing; he has multiple world record holders and world champions. That’s right; the RTS system has produced MULTIPLE world champions.
Now, the Generalized Intermediate Program was produced for a very specific type of lifter and is not a plug and play type program like so many others. In Mike’s own words, here is who the Generalized Intermediate Program is for:
“This program is written for David. David is 30 years old and weighs 215 pounds. He has been lifting for 4 years and has posted Class 3 numbers in the Russian Classification Chart. He comes from a background of various 5×5 programs and has done a short stint of 5/3/1. He is able to continue his transition from a 3x weekly template to a 4x weekly template. He has read enough articles on the RTS site to be familiar with RPE’s and Fatigue percents. He has no significant injuries and no significant time restrictions. He has basic equipment. David trains and competes raw (no knee wraps). He deadlifts conventional style and his sticking points are all at the bottom of the lift.”
There are at least three critical points to pull from that paragraph:
1) David is a lifter of intermediate classification; he is neither novice nor advanced
2) David is currently transitioning to four times per week frequency but isn’t quite there
3) The assistance exercises are carefully chosen for someone who is weak at the bottom of all three competition lifts
The closer you are to “David”, the better this program is going to work for you. If you already train four times per week, or more, this program is a step backwards. This is a transition program. This is a program you’d run to move on from something like StrongLifts 5×5, Madcow’s 5×5, Starting Strength, or the Texas Method. If you’re already doing the Bulgarian method or some other form of training full body four times per week, this program is not for you.
With these facts firmly established, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of the program.
RTS Principles: Reviewing Fatigue Percents and RPEs
Before we get too deep into the actual program discussion, I’m going to provide a very quick review of Fatigue Percents and RPE. If you want a more in-depth look at these concepts, please refer to my original RTS Review.
RPE stands for rate of perceived exertion. For lifting, RPE tells us how “easy” or “hard” a set was in terms of how many reps we feel we had left in the tank. For example, an RPE 10 would mean zero reps left in the tank; RPE 9 would mean one rep left; RPE 8 would mean two reps left; RPE 7 would mean three reps left and so on and so forth.
Fatigue percents are a little more complicated. Say you work up to a set of 5 at 100lbs with an RPE 9. If you take the weight down to 95lbs, and do five more reps, the RPE might only be RPE 8. If you keep repeating sets until you get to RPE 9, well, at that point you’ve accumulated “5% fatigue” because your performance from your initial set has dropped five percent. On good days, you might take six or seven sets to hit 5% fatigue. On bad days, you might only take one set! In this manner, volume is autoregulated. We don’t judge how many sets you do; we judge what effect those sets have on your performance! This is far more precise.
The RTS Generalized Intermediate Program
Now onto the actual program! I cannot lay out the program in its entirety because there are a full nine weeks of training included and not a single week is the same. If you want to see the entire program, check out it here. I highly encourage you to take a quick look before reading the rest of the review.
Now, while I cannot lay out the whole program, I can provide you with the general structure of the program.
During the first four weeks of the program, you’re going to be lifting four times per week on a full body schedule. During the latter half of the program, you’ll be switching to three times per week frequency. Remember, this is because “David” is still transitioning to higher frequency training.
You’ll notice that, for the most part, the competition lifts are always performed early in the week. This is perfect because you are freshest early in the week after taking the weekend to rest. You perform your primary “assistance” exercises, such as deficit deadlifts and pause squats, in the latter half of the week when you’re a bit more fatigued. The competition lifts take precedence.
Though it isn’t shown by the table, the competition lifts and main assistance movements are generally not performed for more than 5-6 reps at any point in the cycle. However, the supplemental movements are always performed at 5-6 reps or higher. This has to do with their purpose: competition movements, and their close variants, are in the program to build movement-specific strength. The supplemental lifts are for general strength and overall hypertrophy. This makes good sense.
The entire program is designed to lead you into a peak in Week 9. Let’s take a look at what that looks like:
As you can see, you’re maintaining frequency, squashing volume, and keeping intensity relatively high. Monday, you work up to your openers. On Wednesday, you do all your warm-ups up to your openers, but you don’t go over 80%. You’d then compete on Saturday or do a mock meet that Friday to test your new 1RMs.
This program uses a rather complex mixture of periodization schemes to be honest. There are elements of traditional linear periodization and concurrent periodization.
For one, the supplemental exercises target primarily hypertrophy and you’ll notice that they are all higher rep ranges. You’ll occasionally have very low rep assistance movements. And, often times, the main competition movements are done for volume in moderate rep ranges.
For those of you who are familiar with the concept, this is similar to undulating periodization which is a type of periodization where you train for strength, power, and hypertrophy specifically all on different days of the week. In other words, this is a form of concurrent periodization where all important attributes are trained within the context of a single training week.
However, the program isn’t truly a concurrent periodization scheme because, as you’ll clearly see in a moment, the program progresses from high volume and higher reps to lower reps and lower volume as time goes on. This is more akin to basic linear periodization or what I’ve often referred to as pendulum style periodization – my favorite form for the vast majority of trainees.
The RTS Generalized Intermediate programming is broken up into a volume phase and an intensity phase.
Referring to the above chart, it should be obvious that we’re dealing with rich programmatic variety here. There isn’t a single week where intensity and volume aren’t manipulated relative to each other.
The first week of the program is what you could call an introductory week. Because “David” isn’t used to four times per week frequency, he is exposed to that level of frequency with no added fatigue. This gives him time to make some basic adaptations before we start beating the hell out of him.
However, in Weeks 2-4, the beating commences. In RTS, 30% fatigue is generally considered the maximum amount you can recover from inside of one training week and is thus classified as medium stress. You’ll notice that the pattern goes: medium stress, high stress, medium stress, which means that in those 3rd and 4th weeks you are not going to be fully recovered. You’ll accumulate fatigue in Week 3 and, because you’re performing a maintenance dose of fatigue in Week 4, you won’t be fully recovered at the end of the week either.
You do get SOME relief in Week 5 with a 25% fatigue week as you switch back to three times per week frequency. This should allow some, but not all, of the fatigue from Week 3 to dissipate. Too bad you get hit with another strong dose of fatigue in Week 6 at 37.5%. So, at this point in the cycle, fatigue levels are still elevated.
It isn’t until Weeks 7 and 8, where the intensity block draws to a close that you get two weeks in a row of relatively reduced fatigue at 25%. Even still, you should have some fatigue accumulated. Do the basic math: 45% + 37.5% – 30% – 30% = 22.5%. And you’ve only had three weeks at 25% for a total of 15% recovery surplus into that 22.5% debt. In other words, you’ve done ~7.5% more fatigue throughout the cycle than you can reasonably expect to recover from inside of eight weeks.
So, realistically, it isn’t until the end of Week 9, meet week, that you’re truly fully rested and ready to go.
This is masterful programming – just absolutely masterful. Look, as an intermediate trainee, the only time you should be truly peaked is at the meet! In Mike’s program, that is exactly what happens.
Now, this program also features intelligent variety inside of each training week as well. Though you don’t get variations in fatigue from workout to workout, you do get important variation in absolute intensity through movement selection. The competition movements are always performed early in the week after your two days of weekend rest. This allows for improved performance on the lifts that matter most. In the latter parts of the week, you don’t use your belt and you do primarily assistance work. This reduces the total poundages you deal with and thus recovery is promoted.
And, of course, because volume and intensity are fully autoregulated on this program, you’ll get variety on both of those variables throughout the cycle and throughout each training week.
There isn’t a single program that we’ve looked at thus far that beats this one in terms of specificity. As you can see, Mike programs absolutely ZERO fluff bodybuilding movements. Everything has a definite, clear purpose; everything is ultimately highly specific. This is a glimpse into proper programming.
I honestly have nothing to say because of how good the specificity is on this program. Again, two-thirds of your volume is coming from the competition movements and close variations carefully chosen to attack your personal weak points. That is the way to do it.
The last third of the volume comes from muscle building exercises that still retain a great deal of specificity as well. Your supplemental work on this program isn’t tricep pushdowns or leg extensions: it is closegrip bench press with a barbell in your hands and front squats.
In my opinion, this is how it should be done. This is training specificity employed to its fullest potential.
This program uses progressive overload. As the weeks march on, you go from doing medium weights at higher volumes to heavy weights at medium volumes. The program is fully autoregulated, but you should be handling heavier and heavier weights as the program progresses due to the fact that the reps you perform will be lower and lower.
This program is explicitly designed to transition a lifter from three times per week frequency and/or lower volume programs like 5/3/1 into more serious styles of powerlifting training.
So, with that said, it doesn’t exactly feature optimal fatigue management for the lifter who is already accustomed to such training. A well-conditioned lifter doesn’t need a 0% fatigue week at any point outside of a planned deload or a peak week. A well-conditioned lifter doesn’t need to restrict himself to four week “pulses” of higher frequency. He can use the higher frequency throughout the entire cycle.
Remember, this was designed for “David” who is still transitioning to higher frequencies. If you don’t fit this description, if you don’t fit the avatar, the fatigue management wasn’t individualized for you.
That said, if you look at my own training, you’ll quickly realize this is my preferred set-up for intermediate trainees and beyond. In general, I prefer full body templates for natural lifters. Splitting the workload apart allows for better recovery on higher volume programs and higher volume programs eventually become necessary for the natural to continue to progress. You’ll notice that you’re doing upperbody work four times per week, squatting three times per week, and pulling twice per week in that first month of training. That is how I like to see things set-up and it is how I personally do it as well.
I would note that older lifters (35-40+) often benefit from split templates rather than full body templates. For masters lifters, I don’t think this is an optimal fatigue management model.
Well, we can’t exactly criticize RTS on autoregulation, can we? This program is fully autoregulated in terms of intensity and volume. This is the second strongest aspect of the whole program (because specificity takes precedence over EVERYTHING else).
With a fully autoregulated program like this, you don’t merely give everyone a cookie cutter prescription for volume and intensity. However well prepared you are that day is however well you will perform. On good days, you’ll be able to hit higher weights because the RPEs will be lower at your usual weights. On days where you’re particularly resistant to fatigue, you’ll get more volume in. And the exact opposite will be true on bad days. You’ll do less volume in order to hit your fatigue percents.
Unlike so many other programs which give static volume recommendations, the RTS Generalized Intermediate conforms to YOUR volume needs and not the other way around.
This is what sets RTS apart from other training systems.
Now, the one criticism we can make in terms of individual differences comes down to exercise selection. If you’re not weak at the bottom, well, the assistance exercises aren’t really appropriate for you, are they? That is the problem with any cookie cutter template. If the person receiving the template doesn’t fit the “avatar”, the program won’t be optimal for them. This is why having a coach personally select your assistance exercises based on your personal weaknesses can benefit you so much. That is one of the most beneficial services offered at PowerliftingToWin. Nonetheless, Mike couldn’t very well give away his entire system in a short article, now could he?
For those of you who have finished out the easy gains from novice and early intermediate training, I highly recommend RTS. The RTS Generalized Intermediate Program is the perfect transition program for you if you’re close to the “David” avatar.
However, this isn’t a program you can simply repeat over and over again. You can’t run this program for long term progress. This program was designed to give people an idea of how Mike does things. First of all, it is only nine weeks long, features an introductory week, and is explicitly designed to transition a lifter to Mike’s actual style of coaching. Again, this is not a long term program. You need to either personally develop a long term plan or get a powerlifting coach to help you do so.
All this said, I really can’t recommend the RTS system more highly. You can apply the autoregulation principles to ANY program. And I damn sure hope you apply the lessons in specificity and exercise selection as they might be even more important than the autoregulation aspects. Mike’s website is one of the single most informative resources on the entire internet for lifters who are serious about powerlifting.
I cannot say it any more clear than this: Tuchscherer’s Reactive Training Systems is currently the single best programmatic system in powerlifting today. I feel that strongly about it. This is the best of the best; this is the cutting edge. Do yourself a favor and learn as much as you can from Mike while he’s still offering so much info for free. Visit his website at www.reactivetrainingsystems.com.
Alternatively, you can grab a copy of the RTS Manual to get all of the information directly in one place.
Alright, ladies and gentleman that wraps up the programming review series! I will probably sporadically review programs here and there in the future when something particularly juicy comes up, but as we head forward the next release is going to be: Programming To Win – the first real PowerliftingToWin eBook. As I said, this is going to be a more substantial product than the PowerliftingToWin Novice Program eBook. I cannot say how long it is going to take, but please do stay tuned for the release.
Spread the word, PTW fam! Programming To Win will contain step-by-step instructions with full guidance on how to take yourself from the true novice stage all the way through to the end of your intermediate gains (and slightly beyond). In other words, you’ll have my full, personal blue print for how best to spend the first 3-5 years of your training; you’ll have my full plan to making optimal gains as a relatively new trainee.
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Table of Contents
Powerlifting Programs I: Scientific Principles of Powerlifting Programming
Powerlifting Programs II: Critical Training Variables
Powerlifting Programs III: Training Organization
Powerlifting Programs IV: Starting Strength
Powerlifting Programs V: StrongLifts 5×5
Powerlifting Programs VI: Jason Blaha’s 5×5 Novice Routine
Powerlifting Programs VII: Jonnie Candito’s Linear Program
Powerlifting Programs VIII: Sheiko’s Novice Routine
Powerlifting Programs IX: GreySkull Linear Progression
Powerlifting Programs X: The PowerliftingToWin Novice Program
Powerlifting Programs XI: Madcow’s 5×5
Powerlifting Programs XII: The Texas Method
Powerlifting Programs XIII: 5/3/1 and Beyond 5/3/1
Powerlifting Programs XIV: The Cube Method
Powerlifting Programs XV: The Juggernaut Method
Powerlifting Programs XVI: Westside Barbell Method
Powerlifting Programs XVII: Sheiko Routines
Powerlifting Programs XVIII: Smolov and Smolov Junior
Powerlifting Programs XIX: Paul Carter’s Base Building
Powerlifting Programs XX: The Lilliebridge Method
Powerlifting Programs XXI: Jonnie Candito’s 6 Week Strength Program
Powerlifting Programs XXII: The Bulgarian Method for Powerlifting
Powerlifting Programs XXIII: Brian Carroll’s 10/20/Life
Powerlifting Programs XXIV: Destroy the Opposition by Jamie Lewis
Powerlifting Programs XXV: The Coan/Philippi Deadlift Routine
Powerlifting Programs XXVI: Korte’s 3×3
Powerlifting Programs XXVII: RTS Generalized Intermediate Program