Interview with Mike Tuchscherer
I must admit that ideas by Mike Tuchscherer have impacted my training philosophy in many ways. Good ways of course. His book Reactive Training Manual explained me the difference between Volume loading and Intensity loading, along with providing easy-to-use RPE system for auto-regulating training loads. He is very successful powerlifter himself and I believe he deserves more attention than he got. This is why I decided to pick his brain on some interesting topics.
Well, here is the email interview I did with Mike. I really enjoyed his answers and I hope we will continue this conversation in near future and expand more on some topics mentioned.
MJ: I am really glad to have you here Mike. Can you please share some basic info on yourself with the readers? Who are you and what do you do?
MT: My name is Mike Tuchscherer. I’m a competitive Powerlifter. I have competed in raw and single ply competitions. My best lifts are (Squat) 765/903, (Bench) 475/644, (Deadlift) 826. In 2009, I won a gold medal at World Games in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan. I am the owner Reactive Training Systems, the leader in Iron Sport training development.
MJ: I have really enjoyed your Reactive Training Manual. And that book actually made me write my article series on planning the strength training. In my opinion, that is the single most practical book that goes into using subjective indicators in powerlifting. Can you please give us a short overview of that approach in powerlifting training and why it is better than traditional, percent based training?
MT: All that your body knows is what happens inside the muscle, bone, and connective tissues. It has no idea how much weight is on the bar – only what it perceives is on the bar. The only thing a percent based program tries to do is get you to load a certain weight on the bar to provoke a desired physiological reaction. My system cuts to the chase by allowing you to select a weight based on a rep and RPE pairing (RPE is Rate of Percieved Exertion, or basically how hard the set feels). That way on any given day, you get the appropriate weight on the bar to develop your strength regardless of how the rest of life affects you. We all know that we have good days and bad days. This system takes that into account and allows your training to be at its best even when you aren’t.
MJ: How would you modify usage of RPE for different levels of athletes? For example beginners, intermediates, advanced? What were the biggest obstacles in implementing RPE with your clients and how did you solved the issues?
MT: I think both intermediate and advanced athletes can use the same RPE scale. The more experienced athlete will probably be better at judging their RPE, but they can both use it effectively. A beginner may not have enough experience to be able to judge their RPE effectively and to be honest, I haven’t solved that problem without special equipment yet.
The biggest problem is honestly people using them properly. It’s easy to overshoot your RPE. Say you were supposed to go up to @9, a lot of guys will overshoot and go to @9.5 or @10 on accident. The training effect is different, so discipline is important.
MJ: How did you come across RPE in the first place and what made you put some effort into it and build your own system?
MT: I first learned about the concept of RPE from reading Supertraining. At the same time, people around the Iron Sports community were preaching “listen to your body,” but apparently, it takes people 10 years to learn how to do that. So I sought to make the process faster by systematizing it. By having a system to use that auto-regulates your loads, volumes, etc based on observable indicators, it saves you the ten years of trial and error.
MJ: Did anything changed in terms of athlete intrinsic motivation, consistency and fun level when you implemented auto-regulatory training principles and allowed your athletes to be partly in charge of their own training?
MT: The guys I coached before RTS were a pretty good group, so I don’t know that motivations changed, but gains sure did. And since then, I’ve noticed that people are more involved in their training process, which is CRUCIAL to success.
MJ: What do you think about Westside and did it and how influenced your work? What do you think about it pros and cons?
MT: I was heavily influenced by Westside early on. At the time and in my position in life, they were the only ones printing at least quasi-scientific stuff about training. Since then, I have continued my education beyond the need to rely on just one system. I can see the system for its pros and cons, learn from it, and apply the lessons to training real people. For example, Westside (as it’s written in the articles) is not that good at developing sport form. Also, rotating exercises also won’t have that much of a restorative effect on the CNS. But it does teach us some important things, one being that the body can handle heavy weight more than just once in two months or something. I do like bands and chains when they are applied to specific problems (not necessarily a blanket prescription). Speed work is good in theory, but for many don’t need it at all and of those that do, they probably need it to be heavier than recommended.
I’m not saying Westside is a bad way to train, but in my professional opinion, there are things that could happen to make it more optimal.
MJ: What is work capacity and how do you train it for powerlifting? Is pushing the sleds enough?
MT: Work capacity is your ability to do work and recover from it. Developing it is MUCH more than just pushing a sled around, though a sled can be part of an overall strategy. Making sure you have enough aerobic development is a big part of it. So is recovery / restoration work. Getting appropriate volumes to condition your body to handle greater volumes without “shutting down” is also part of it. Developing work capacity can be a complex problem, especially with a more advanced lifter in the context of meet preparation – as there is almost always a meet to prepare for!
MJ: What is your opinion on ‘peaking’ or sport form development in powerlifting? Are you using high intensity training (not HIT) all the time or there is a time and place for de-loads, anatomic adaptation phases and how do you implement them?
MT: What I’m doing right now for Powerlifters is something I’ve termed Force Curve Shaping. I watch videos of lifters and based on the way the barbell moves, I can determine the lifter’s force curve. Then, once I see the force curve, I address the deficient areas with respect to the overall shape of the curve. I overlay a block approach on top of this idea. In the early stages, I address anatomical / morphological needs for that particular force curve deficiency. Later, it becomes more neurologically focused. During the Realization or Sport Form blocks, I typically use very high intensities to ensure the maximum amount of carryover to the contest. We do employ deloads as well, but these are almost always done on-the-fly as needed by the athlete.
MJ: You have just developed TRAC system. Can you please expand what it is and how do you use it?
MT: TRAC stands Training Recovery Assessment Computer. It’s a group of three tests that you take every morning when you wake up. These tests are sensitive enough to detect subtle changes in the body and can give you feedback on the functioning of your Central Nervous System, how much stress your body is under as a whole, and the current state of adaptive reserves in the body. This is incredibly valuable information from a training standpoint as you can see exactly how certain stimuli affect you. TRAC even gives you day to day recommendations on how you should adjust your training parameters based on your test results. This allows for an unprecedented level of reactivity in your training. You can actually hear what your body is saying, even when it just speaks in whispers. There is a ton left to say about TRAC, but for more information, check out this page.
MJ: You are really good powerlifter yourself. Where do you compete, what are your PBs and what are your plans for the future? Where do you plan to be in the next 5 years?
MT: I have competed in the IPF and in some raw events as well. My best competition lifts are: Squat (903 single ply / 765 raw), Bench (644 single ply / 475 raw), Deadlift (826 raw). The only definite plan I have for the future is to continue to train and get stronger. I will continue to compete, but I’m not sure of the format. Powerlifting plays second to several things in my life and the way I compete will be driven based off of those things, so as things change so do my plans for Powerlifting. One thing is for sure, though. I enjoy training and getting stronger. I also enjoy competing and displaying what I have gained.
MJ: How would you modify your system for team sport athletes, and in your opinion what is the importance of strength training in this case? Can you give us some ‘number’ of strength levels?
MT: I’m not sure the system needs modification for team sports. It’s already intended to be an overlay onto another program, so if you have a program for training athletes, RTS just makes it better. I often use the analogy of a scope on a rifle. The “rifle” is your base system and the “scope” is RTS. The scope doesn’t make the rifle any more powerful, but it just allows you to employ it better. So if you’re training team sport athletes, just make sure your “rifle” is designed for that job. RTS will still help make it more effective.
The importance of strength depends on the requirements of the sport. Some sports (shot put) require higher levels of maximum strength, while other sports (golf) do not. Most will fall somewhere in between and the exact needs of each sport will have to be determined by the coach. Since they vary so much, it’s really impossible to give concrete recommendations for all team sports with any sense of accuracy.
MJ: Can you give us some good reads? What are the book you consider a must read and which one you consult on weekly basis?
MT: The two best books I’ve found are “Science and Practice of Strength Training” by Zatsiorsky and “Fitness and Strength Training for All Sports” by Hartmann and Tunemann. I refer to those a lot. Honestly, if you dig into those and really study and understand them, you’ll have a pretty great knowledge base to build off of.
MJ: Thank you for this great interview Mike. You shared a lot of insights and food for thought.
MT: Thank you! It was my pleasure, as always!