Fatigue Percents Revisited
By Mike Tuchscherer

In the RTS Manual, I introduced Fatigue Percents as a reliable, effective way to autoregulate volume based on stress. In the Seminar DVD, I discussed them in more detail and outlined several more dynamic examples on how to use them. Today, I want to outline some different ways that you can use fatigue percents to effectively control your training volumes for other various training effects.

Down to the essentials
At the most fundamental level, a fatigue percent is simply trying to measure how tired you’ve gotten. If you’re familiar with the principles of RTS, you’re aware that it is possible to reasonably estimate a 1RM on most sets given the load, number of reps, and RPE of the set. If we watch how this estimated 1RM behaves from set to set, we can easily see when fatigue begins to creep in.

This is essentially what you do with a traditional fatigue percent anyway – you work up to the heaviest set that you will do on that day (i.e. your “initial”) and you drop the bar weight by the specified percentage. You continue to do sets with the reduced load until your reps and RPE matches that of your “initial”. Then you know you have achieved the desired level of fatigue. This is what is known as a “load drop” because it is the load on the bar that is dropped after the initial. If you were to look at the estimated 1RM’s of each lift, you’ll see that this also correlates to the desired fatigue percent. And it is this realization that allows us to do more interesting things with our post-initial sets.

AP1_5251Can you repeat that?
The next style of working a fatigue percent is called “Repeats”. As the name implies, you try to repeat the same load and reps on subsequent sets. As fatigue rises, your RPE will also rise. By monitoring this rise in RPE, you can determine the level of your fatigue. Here is an example…
Let’s assume that the standard RPE chart is accurate for you. You start with a warm up. The programmed protocol was x3 @8, 5% fatigue, so you do the following:
405×3 @7
415×3 @7.5
425×3 @8 and let’s assume this is our initial for the day. Now, you repeat this until you get 5% fatigue.
425×3 @8
425×3 @8
425×3 @8.5
425×3 @9 …and we stop here.
This method is limited by how accurate you can be with a certain RPE. If you can normally be accurate with your RPE’s to a half point, then that will necessarily be more accurate than a person who is only accurate to a whole number.

Rep Drops
A “Rep Drop” is also logically named. To perform a rep drop, after your “initial”, you keep the load on the bar the same and reduce the number of reps performed with each set. You continue performing each set with the same load and fewer reps until your RPE matches and your fatigue percent is reached. Check your estimated 1RM’s to see if you reached your desired level of fatigue.
Here’s an example.
405×3 @8
425×3 @8.5
455×3 @9 This is our “initial”
455×2 @8
455×2 @9 and we stop here. This is 5% fatigue by the standard RPE chart.

The training effect for this depends on the protocol you are using, but it obviously emphasizes the higher intensity loads, but keeps the effort down a hair compared to Repeats.

You can combine methods, too. For instance, you could create 5% fatigue by combining a 2.5% load drop with the “repeats” method and get a combined effect. That said, I would advise a little bit of caution in a couple of regards.
First, the way these combinations work can be slightly complicated. So to alleviate that, just spend some time with each standard method to get a good understanding of that first. Then, if you feel like a combination would suit you better, you can try it with better chance of success.
The second caution is that of training effects. Now, the training effect of any protocol is mostly determined by a) the number of reps and b) the RPE that you’re working at. The volume will determine the magnitude of these effects. So the method you use, Load Drop, Rep Drop, or Repeats, will have some influence on the overall training effect. This isn’t a huge deal, but it does exist. Therefore, combining methods can possibly complicate your training effect a bit as well. It’s not something to be afraid of, just aware of.

AP1_2902Proper Employment
One of the obvious truths of training is that the work that we do causes a physiological reaction. This reaction is what results in the training effect. So, if we can better manage the type of work we do, we can get more specific training effects. Everyone wants to get stronger, but stronger is a very broad, very general training effect.
The Load Drop method will keep the reps the same for subsequent sets, but due to a drop in the bar weight, we can predict the RPE will be down for subsequent sets. This will have the effect of producing more total rep volume during the course of the exercise. This makes the Load Drop method better for producing physical (morphological) adaptations. And depending on how the actual sets play out, it can also slightly emphasize power production.
The Repeat method keeps load and reps the same as the initial, so it is the RPE that climbs. The influence of this method on the overall training effect is varied. At lower RPE’s (below 8), the Repeat method tends to enhance work capacity. At higher RPE’s, this effect is lessened. Instead, the increased RPE will serve to improve your ability to grind out tough reps. Of course, this can be taxing depending on the way the protocol is implemented, so be aware of your recovery when using this method.
The Rep Drop method keeps the load the same while reducing the reps for each set. Since using this method allows you to repeat the top weight of the day for subsequent sets, it will clearly result in a higher overall intensity. Experience also shows that it will result in fewer overall sets and a lower rep volume. This method will emphasize neurological adaptations.

There is always something else to learn. Knowing how to train, what methods to use, how to assess fatigue, etc, are all important pieces to optimizing your training process. The above methods are three general methods for assessing fatigue. There are others, as well as other ways of doing things altogether. The best way to improve your odds for success is to understand what each method does and apply the best ones to fit your current needs.

About the Author
Mike Tuchscherer is the owner and head coach at RTS. He has been powerlifting since 2001 and since has traveled all over the world for competitions. In 2009, he was the first man from USA powerlifting to win a gold medal at the World Games – the highest possible achievement in powerlifting. He has coached over a dozen competitors at the world championships, a score of national champions, and multiple world record holders.