After eight weeks of volume work within the 8-8.5 range on the Rates of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale to both increase my base and rehab my injured shoulder I undertook a two-week intensity cycle. For those of you who don’t know about Mike Tuchscherer or his RPE scale I suggest you check it out CLICK.
My previous intensity cycles consisted of a fixed weight, lifted for five sets of three repetitions, at an RPE of 9. This time around I borrowed a page from Mike Tuchscherer’s Reactive Training Systems (RTS) Manual CLICK and started at a low weight, worked up to a set of three repetitions at an RPE of 10, then dropped 8% of the weight, and performed sets of three repetitions until I again reached an RPE of 10. Below is an example of yesterday’s deadlift session (weight in pounds). There are endless opinions about sets across the top versus ramping. If curious to view those opinions Google is your friend CLICK.
How I Executed Top Set and Fatigue Percent per RTS Manual
135×3 @ RPE of 5
225×3 @ RPE of 6
315×3 @RPE of 8
375×3 @ RPE of 10
Drop 8% to a weight of 345
345×3 @ RPE of 9
345×3 @ RPE of 10
All of the above lead to a lot of self-discovery during this two-week intensity cycle. Here are my take-aways:
1. Eight weeks are too long for a volume cycle. My body forgot how to strain. The first week of the intensity was a wake-up call both physically and mentally. I think that five to six weeks, for me, is the best length for a volume cycle.
2. I realized that when I was previously using sets across the top my goal was to finish the workout more than achieve a level of intensity.
3. I realized that prior to this cycle I had never been at an RPE of 10. For me, performing a lift at an RPE of 10 means my body does something that I cannot control like yell loudly during an overhead press, or collapse into a heap with an uncontrollable deep chest cough after a squat. The difference between RPE 9 and RPE 10 is gigantic.
4. All of my previous lifting, whether volume or intensity or ladders or sets across the top all put money in the bank so to speak and the two-week intensity cycle working up to an RPE of 10 withdrew that money. Strange analogy but it’s the best I can think of.
For the newby lifter, like me, in search of maximum strength, I would suggest the following order of operations so to speak, which I executed and continue to benefit from:
A. Perform a lift at an RPE of 7 but no more than 8, using Shaf’s Ladders CLICK for a total of five ladders of 1-2-3 (30 repetitions total). The goal here is to learn technical proficiency to safely execute the lift under moderate load and low to moderate intensity. Do this for 3-5 weeks.
B. Perform a lift at an RPE of 8 but no more than 9 using a fixed weight for five sets of three repetitions (15 repetitions total). The goal here is to learn safely execute the lift with an increased load while straining under higher intensity. Note that straining is not something that is learned overnight. There are multiple levels of strain and this is the beginning. Do this for 2-3 weeks.
C. Do a one week rehab / deload routine doing the same lifts but at a lower volume and an RPE of 4-6.
D. After you have done 3-4 cycles of A-B-C-D continue to E below.
E. Perform a lift at an RPE of 8 but no more than 9, using Shaf’s Ladders CLICK for a total of five ladders of 1-2-3 (30 repetitions total). The goal here is to learn technical proficiency to safely execute the lift under an increased load with moderate intensity. Do this for 3-5 weeks.
F. Start at a low weight, perform sets of three repetitions, increasing the weight with each set, until you perform a top set of three repetitions at an RPE of 10. Drop the weight a certain percentage that you determine, and perform sets of three repetitions until you again reach an RPE of 10. The goal here is to safely execute the lift under maximum load, strain, and intensity.
All of the above, for me, was a safe and gradual journey which ended with me learning how to safely execute lifts at an RPE of 10. The sets across the top were valuable and extremely necessary as they let me learn to strain as I moved towards maximum effort work at an RPE of 10.