By Mike Tuchscherer 07 March 2018

Many of us treat “what works for you” like a math problem and it’s not.  If I ask you “What is 247*53”, you likely don’t know the answer right off the top of your head.  But with a little calculation, you can pretty easily figure out that the answer is 13091.  Now if I ask you again “what is 247*53”, you don’t need to go through the same steps.  You just remember that the last time the answer worked out to be 13091 and assume it’s the same answer this time.  And as long as you did the math right, that’s a good assumption to make.  It saves you time.


But the human body is a fundamentally different entity and it’s not a math problem for you to figure out.  If you go through the trouble (and it is trouble) to figure out what works best for an individual athlete, no sooner than you’ve figured it out the situation begins to change.  It actually begins to change before you’ve figured it out, but I hope you see the problem here.  If you intend to develop training that is as close to ideal as possible for a given athlete, it’s not only very complex, it’s ever-rapidly-evolving.


Why does the situation change?  Well you are TRAINING.  And we hope that this training will have EFFECTS.  So you are changing their organism in small ways all the time.  You’re changing muscle, bone density, neuromotor abilities, etc.  But adaptations don’t stop with the things that make us better athletes.  The entirety of the stimulus is adapted to — and in detail.  It’s like if I asked you “what’s 247*53,” but the right answer changed every time in many different ways.  You couldn’t just recall what the answer was last time.  You had to pay attention and continually solve the problem for an ever-changing organism.


Let’s face it, if you’re hiring a coach then solving this problem is what you want them to do.  This is their JOB.  If you don’t want them to figure out what works best for you, then I can promise you that you’re overpaying for their service when a static program will work just fine.  But if you want what’s promised to you with a “custom training program”, then this is part of the problem that needs to be solved.


The way we approach this is in a bottom-up fashion.  The fastest and most logical way to figure out what works for an individual athlete is to start with the very small — what exercises, volumes, intensities.  Then we progress to gradually higher and higher levels until we’re looking at what sequences of training blocks works best for the lifter.  But the problem gets ever more difficult to solve because as you progress toward the higher and higher levels, the lower levels have changed.  So some of the assumptions you’re building on are no longer valid.  So those base structures in the program have to be refreshed regularly.


The thing is there’s no other way to do it that I can see that makes sense.  If you start with a “block periodized” program or whatever is in fashion… with all its interlocking cycles-within-cycles… how would you begin to have any clue as to what stimulus is causing which response?  You’ve effectively multiplied the complexity many-fold until you have some impossible knot to untangle.  Will the program “work”?  Maybe so.  Will it be an “ideal program”?  Not hardly.  Will it tell you anything about what you need to do next?  No way that I can see.


This is the problem you face if you’re trying to develop a custom training program — i.e. if you’re trying to be worth your salt as a coach.  You can ignore it, but that doesn’t make it go away.  You can hand-wave about your observational powers, but forgive me if I’m not supremely confident in those.  Having a method that helps you tease out the signal from the noise is the only way I can see doing “custom training” that delivers on its promise.

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About the Author:

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.