Singles for Assistance Work — Why?
By Mike Tuchscherer, August 8, 2017

Summary points

  • All exercises should be placed in a program for a reason.
  • If the reason is enhanced by high intensity work (i.e. singles), then it’s worth considering.
  • High intensity work will cause your volume to dip, but don’t let it get out of balance. Find the sweet spot.
  • There are many reasons not to do singles. Some are contingent on the exercise.  Some are contingent on the lifter.  Be smart.
  • Not all tools are appropriate for all times.

My early training background was heavily influenced by the Westside articles of the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  So taking heavy singles in assistance lifts is nothing new to me.  But when as my training moved further and further away from Westside influences in my training, my heavy assistance singles went away too.

Fast forward some years and I was considering the assistance work that I was doing – things like pin squats, pause deadlifts, and incline benches.  What was the purpose behind including those movements in my training?  For some movements like pause work, the intent is time at high tension at the critical position being trained.  For other movements like pin squats or incline benches, the intent was to ingrain a certain mechanical pattern.


It should be noted that as I was considering these things, I was already training with heavier singles on the comp lifts.  My thought was that using singles at 8RPE on an assistance lift – basically using high intensities – would provide an enhanced training effect of the variety I was looking for.  In short, if I was looking for a training effect that was enhanced by high intensity work, then training at high intensity would be better.  Seems kind of obvious put like that.

So, I tried it.  And it worked.  I had slightly better results when doing this.  If Pin Squats forced me to brace and drive from the bottom position properly, taking the pin squats heavier helped to enhance this effect.

But this is just a tool.  And every tool has limitations.  In this case, some lifters don’t respond well to it for no obvious reason.  In this case, we won’t use it with them.  There are also instances where the training effect is not enhanced through higher intensity (movements like overhead press, single leg work, or isolation exercises).  And still other instances present a risk:benefit that is inappropriate (good mornings).  And finally, some lifters are unprepared for higher intensity work.  For example, if a lifter has trouble deriving benefit from Pin Squats, then high intensity Pin Squats will not be a great idea.

Like any tool, there are good uses and poor uses.  This one is no different.

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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.