Two years ago when I began working with Boris Sheiko I began giving my lifters similar style programs.
Over time I analyzed the programs and asked a lot of questions. As I began to learn more and more I realized that there were some weaknesses within the programs that I write for my lifters.
You see, I am no Boris Sheiko. He has fine-tuned his programming over decades of coaching. I am not at this level of coaching and probably never will be. I am constantly analyzing my lifters’ strengths and weaknesses and I need to be able to do the same thing for myself as a coach.
I look at their programs and see what worked, what didn’t work, and what can be improved upon. Over time I have developed a pretty good system as everyone is seeing positive results. However, this is not good enough for me.
I realized that I was guessing more on the progressions of volumes. For example, we may perform 5 sets of 2 reps at 80% on squats 2 to 3 times before I progress this to 5 sets of 3 reps at 80%. However, the lifter may not be challenged enough with 5 sets of 2 and I could have progressed faster.
This may add 5 more squats performed at 80% in this training block. This may not seem like a lot, but over a training year it will add up. It also will increase the exertion load of the squat volume. That 3rd repetition will require more effort from the lifter and we will have greater effort of volume, yielding a greater training affect. This is better than adding 5 more reps at 50%.
I wanted a more concrete structure to figuring out what volumes my lifters are capable of managing. The program is already setup in a way where we have 1 to 2 days per week that stress the athlete beyond their baseline to force adaptations, 1 to 2 days at baseline that maintain strength qualities, and 1 day below baseline for recovery.
With that said I am not too worried about daily training volumes as there are enough days programmed at or below baseline to allow for recovery. Also, if we do too much one day we will not turn to dust and blow away. Too much volume just means it will take longer to dissipate and you to realize your strength. This should not be an issue with this layout.
I then began researching auto-regulation and of course I started with Mike Tuchscherer of Reactive Training Systems (RTS). Mike is really smart and any lifter can learn a lot from him. I also happened to stumble upon his ideas of auto-regulating a Sheiko program here.
Mike recommends using a fatigue percent to auto-regulate daily fatigue. This means that you would perform as many sets as you could at a given RPE until it goes up by 1 point, making the fatigue 5%. He also recommends using a rep drop style of training here as well. You would work up to the weight and reps that correlates with the prescribed RPE. From there you would decrease the reps and complete as many sets as you could until you accumulated 5% fatigue.
This idea makes sense at face value and got my wheels turning. I have a few issues with this. For one, Mike did this with the free Sheiko templates that people use online. Lifters of varying skill levels run these programs so for that population Mike’s recommendations are awesome.
However, it will not work for my lifters. If they reach the fatigue percent before they hit the required number of sets I do not want them to stop. There are lighter days programmed within the same week that will allow them to recover from this higher volume day. I also do not want them dropping the reps on the top sets as this will negatively affect exertion load. Not saying Mike is wrong, just saying we view things differently here. Hell, I may very well be wrong in the end who knows.
I did like this concept of calculating daily fatigue somehow. The more volume we perform and the closer a set gets to failure, the greater the fatigue accumulation. Those are the two things that I want to calculate as they are most important to me. Average intensity is already managed on a Sheiko program as it averages out to be 68% to 72% of one rep max when all lifts are calculated from 50% of one rep max and higher.
This is where I came up with fatigue points. One of the barriers I faced was with using RPE and the athlete’s themselves. I feel too often I watch athletes using RPEs overshoot their RPE all of the time. This can lead to too many days above baseline for the lifter and a plateau or decrease in performance. I do not want the lifter dictating daily volumes and intensities. I have analyzed their programs and watched them lift closely to find a sweet spot for the volumes and intensities.
However, I want them to let me know how hard or easy an exercise was at a given top set. I usually gather this by asking them. Now, instead of asking them I have them rate their top sets with RPEs.
- I use Mike’s chart for this where if you can DEFINITELY do 1 more rep it is a 9.
- If you can MAYBE do 2 more it is an 8.5, but DEFINITELY 2 more it is an 8.
- DEFINITELY 3 more is a 7 and MAYBE 3 more is a 7.5.
The lifter does not need to be accurate with their RPEs as long as the change of effort is noted in a change in RPE. We are not using RPEs to alter daily intensities and volumes, but on a larger scale. If a lifter is constantly rating doubles at 80% as a 7 than I will take note of this and we will program a test for new maxes or increase the current volumes.
Each lifter now rates all of their top sets as follows:
80% squats 5 sets of 2
- Set 1 RPE 8
- Set 2 RPE 8
- Set 3 RPE 8
- Set 4 RPE 8.5
- Set 5 RPE 8.5
Total fatigue points earned in this training session was only 1. This tells me that this was a pretty easy training session for the lifter and they will be able to recover fully for the next training session. This also tells me that I should program 5 sets of 3 at 80% if I want to accumulate a higher amount of fatigue to stress the lifter to get stronger. This 5 sets of 2 will help maintain strength, but is not likely to be stressful enough to create great adaptations.
This lifter may have had 1 more programmed day of 80% for 5 sets of 2 that I thought was fatiguing them more than what it is. After that they see the jump to sets of 3 with this weight. Gathering this info lets me increase the next 5 sets of 2 at 80% to triples. This gets 5 extra 80% squats within a training block and the correct amount of volume to stress the athlete.
With that said, I will not do that in all cases within a program. I now know that I can use 80% for 5 sets of 2 as an easy recovery day for the lifter. If day 1 squats was a stressful day, this could be put in day 2 as it does not accumulate much extra fatigue, allowing the lifter to recover. It will be a day that is at baseline, put in to maintain our gains.
Performing a rep drop here would not make sense due to the exertion load of the volume. For example, if we drop the sets down from 5 sets of 2 at 80% to 10 sets of 1 at 80%, the 10 sets will be much easier for the lifter even though the volume is the same. The adaptations are caused more from the second rep than the first due to exertion load. This is because there is a time component to stress your physiology enough for maximal recruitment. This is why I say that movement intent is more important than movement velocity. Story for another day as I do not want to get too far off topic.
What I will do instead with my athletes, after raw Nationals, is I will give them choices on the following week based upon the points. Using the same example as we did earlier, this lifter only accumulated 1 fatigue point. This means that the next week the lifter will choose the option. However, this is not really an option to choose as the points choose for you.
If the lifter scored 3 points or less (this value may change over time as I gather more data) they will perform 80% squats for 5 sets of 3. If they accumulated more than 3 fatigue points they will perform 70% 2 sec pause halfway down squats 5 sets of 3. You may be saying “Wait, what?”
Over the course of analyzing my own training I have realized that certain exercises are interchangeable from a fatigue standpoint. This type of pause squat, at this intensity, creates equal fatigue to the 5 sets of 2 at 80%. If the previous 80% for 5×2 was too stressful this substitution does 2 things. It one, decreases the weight and ensures proper technique, and it gives the nervous system a bit of a break as we slightly increase volume. As intensity comes down volume goes up.
The above is an example of how the fatigue points will work.
You can see for the squats in Week 1, the lifter performs 70% for 5 sets of 5 reps.
On Week 3, you can see the lifter has choices due to how Week 1’s training session went.
If they accumulated less than 3 points, they increase the volume for 5 sets of 6 reps at 70%.
If Week 1’s training session was difficult, they repeat it, except with chains this time. This allows them to increase volume through the chain weight and acts as a stepping stone to get to the 5 sets of 6 at 70%.