In January 2016, RTS issued a free experimental training program to anyone who signed up.  It was called Project Momentum.  At the outset, we were pretty sure the protocol would work, but we had no idea how well or for whom.  It worked better than expected.  This article is an attempt to digest some of the information, learn some lessons, and become better coaches and lifters in the process.

Why did I write this?  Well, a cursory view of the statistics showed that the training worked.  So why did I spend a huge amount of time crunching all these other numbers?  Initially it was because I wanted to know what type of lifter was best suited for this type of training strategy.  But what I ended up learning was much more about how to tailor strategies for all my lifters, whether they are suited for this particular strategy or not.  I also gained some statistical backing for some things I’ve had a feeling about for a while now (i.e. the importance of the subjective TRAC questions, etc).

A quick word on the limitation of it being an online, self-report project… Yes, this is a limitation in the sense of us trying to learn biological truths.  But I coach people in an online setting, so this is actually much closer to applicable information than it would have been had I walked each individual through the training in person.  You can read more about the limitations in the dedicated section near the end.


The Training Program

Project Momentum was based on a high frequency model.  Each of the four training sessions per week consisted of all three powerlifting style competition movements.  In addition, each day also had emphasis items that added additional volume or intensity to some of the lifts.  Sometimes it was via heavy singles in the competitive lifts.  Other times it was via assistance or supplemental lifts.

The assistance and supplemental lifts were chosen based on where the majority of raw lifters show weaknesses.  Also factored into the decisions was equipment availability.  Since this program was executed in a decentralized way with varying gym equipment, we limited our exercise selection to only the most commonly available pieces for Powerlifters.  If a lifter could not perform one of the lifts for any reason, substitutions were recommended by the coaching staff via the Project Momentum Facebook group.

There was an overall linearity in the periodization of the mesocycle.  The beginning of the training was at a higher volume and lower intensity than the end of the training.  The training mesocycle spanned seven loading weeks, plus one “meet week” where the athletes tapered and then performed a practice competition.

Including the written program in its entirety probably wouldn’t work in this article due to the length, but for the sake of understanding, I’ve included a sample training week below.  This is the third week of the loading block:

Squat w/belt x1 @8 Then move to 74%x5x2 (-19%).
Competition Raw Bench work up to 68%x5 5 sets
Pin Press (mid range) x1 @8, x4 @9 plus 3 down sets (load drop)
Deadlift w/belt x1 @8 Then move to 74%x5x2 (-19%).
Snatch Grip SLDL x10 @6, x10 @7, x10 @8 plus 4 down sets (repeat)
Squat w/belt work up to 68%x5 4 sets
Front Squat x4 @6, x4 @7, x4 @8 plus 4 down sets (repeat)
Competition Raw Bench work up to 68%x5 5 sets
Close Grip Bench x4 @6, x4 @7, x4 @8 plus 4 down sets (repeat)
Deadlift w/belt work up to 68%x5 4 sets
Squat w/belt work up to 68%x5 4 sets
Competition Raw Bench x1 @8 Then move to 74%x5x3 (-19%).
8cm Towel Press x1 @8, x4 @9 plus 3 down sets (load drop)
Deadlift w/belt work up to 68%x5 4 sets
Rack Pull (mid shin) x1 @8, x4 @9 plus 3 down sets (load drop)
Squat w/belt work up to 68%x5 4 sets
2ct Pause Squat x1 @8, x4 @9 plus 3 down sets (load drop)
Competition Raw Bench work up to 68%x5 5 sets
Push Press x10 @6, x10 @7, x10 @8 plus 4 down sets (repeat)
Deadlift w/belt work up to 68%x5 4 sets


After the mock meet, participants were also provided with a two week “washout” cycle that was designed to further deload them from the volume and frequency experienced during Project Momentum.  It was also designed to restore adaptability and promote progress in their subsequent training cycles.

Instructions for all of the required training was provided at the beginning of the project.  Coaching staff were also available to answer questions during the project via the Facebook group.

The Gains…

There were 420 lifters who applied and were accepted to Project Momentum.  By the end of the project, 113 responded to the exit questionnaire.  It’s unclear what happened to the other ~307 lifters.  Were they depressed?  Were they raptured?  Were they just freeloaders?  The world may never know.
Of the 113 lifters who participated in the project and took the time to fill in our exit questionnaire, 74% of respondents gained 10kg on their total or more during the 8 week program.  The median improvement was 19.5kgs.  The mean improvement was 21.9kgs.

Chart 1

The chart above shows how many lifters fell into various ranges in terms of progress.  Overlaid in the orange line is the average Wilks score for each category.  I expected that the higher the gains, the lower the average Wilks.  Based on this data set, that doesn’t seem to be true – at least for this program.  The maximum Wilks score of project participants was 469 and the minimum Wilks score was 189.  It should be noted that Project Momentum was recommended only for people with a Wilks of 300 and above.  Of the 113 respondents, 94 met this criteria.

Graph 1

The chart above shows how the improvements were distributed across all three lifts.  Unsurprisingly, the squat and deadlift improved the most with the bench trailing slightly.  This is not surprising to me because the bench gain is typically less as it’s a smaller weight in absolute terms at a AP1_1208maximum.  So as a percentage, bench gains are typically smaller than squat / deadlift gains.
I want to make sure you didn’t miss what I said here…. Yes, it’s a Bell curve. But it’s a bell curve with the mean improvement at +20kg! We had 18 lifters (16% of the field) add 100lbs to their total or more in 8 weeks! And these aren’t novices either. The average lifter had ~4.5 years of experience under the bar and a 345 wilks (which is generally around a Class 2 total using the old Russian classification system). There is no question that the program worked and did so exceptionally well. The questions we now want to answer are 1) is there some population that this works better for than others and 2) is there something we can learn and apply to all strategies to make them more individualized and more effective?

What made the difference for these lifters?

So the gains were very impressive across the board.  We were pretty sure they’d be good, but didn’t know how good or what would make the difference.  To be honest, I was surprised by just how successful Project Momentum lifters were.  I mean… adding 20kg to your total in just 8 weeks sounds almost like click-bait, but that was just an average gain!  But let’s peel back the layers to see if we can find a difference between these different response types.


I got several emails and comments during the project from lifters who felt that the program was just too much for them due to their advanced age (usually mid-to-late 40’s).
Chart 2

There is practically no linear correlation between age and gains in this year’s Project Momentum.  So if you complete the project, regardless of age, there is little reason to think you wouldn’t respond well.  However, there are other issues in play, particularly related to injury, that are interesting.  See the section below regarding injury.

Some other interesting facts about age:

The maximum age was 51.  The minimum age was 18 (as required for entry).  Several responses had to be thrown out due to incorrect entry of their date of birth.  Seriously.  See the limitations section for more information.  The average training age was 4.4 years under the bar.  This ranged from zero to 27 years.
Graph 2

Predictably, the average gain went down as training age went up.  Injury rate also went up, except for the anomalies in the 6-8 and 8-10 year groups, which is likely due to the small group sizes.


Inherent to any discussion about extreme training and extreme progress, there will be a question of anabolics.  This is a thorny issue due to people’s reluctance to share information if they are using.  Even so, I thought that it never hurts to ask.  We asked two questions about anabolics.  The first, “Have you used anabolics, pro-hormones, or other WADA-banned substances during this project?”  The second, “Have you ever used anabolic steroids or pro-hormones, even in the past?”  Acceptable responses to this question were Yes, No, and Prefer not to answer.

Only one respondent chose to use “Prefer not to answer”.  There were three respondents who admittedly used anabolics during the project.  There were five others who admitted to using anabolics in the past, but not during the project.

Now given that we are talking about groups of three or five lifters, it’s hardly enough to be a significant sample.  Plus the effects of anabolics on training have been thoroughly covered elsewhere.  That said, of the three who admitted using anabolics during the project, one lost -11kgs on the total.  Another was +2.3kgs.  And the last was +20kg.  Of the five who admitted using in the past but not now, the high was +81kg and the low was -61kg.  The average was +7.6kg.

It’s not really possible to draw any conclusions from this data.  Some anabolic users gained, some didn’t.


Did the respondents do the training they were asked to do? Well 38% of respondents said they were perfectly compliant with every set they were asked to do.  Then 31% said they were Very compliant, only modifying once or twice during the entire program.  Thirteen percent said they were Quite Compliant, modifying training less than once per week.

Chart 3

This chart bears some explanation.  First, we have gains on the horizontal axis (in kgs).  Then compliance is on the vertical axis – the higher up, the less compliant.

With nearly 70% of respondents saying they only modified training less than a handful of times, it’s difficult to say much other than this was a very compliant bunch!  There aren’t any really clear trends that I can see regarding compliance, but according to the reports, people rarely modified the training, so that shouldn’t account for much of the difference in results.


A training program isn’t much good if it hurts the athlete.  So how did this Project Momentum fare when it came to injury?

Of all respondents, 84% reported only minor aches and pains or less (42% reported not even that much).  Eight percent reported significant injury that forced them to modify the training in meaningful ways.  Seven percent reported that they were unable to complete the program due to injury.

Graph 3

As you can see, as injuries become more severe, the average age of the respondent increases.  This is telling, as no one wants to get injured.  The reported average gain also decreases reliably as injury severity increases, except for the most severe level.  This doesn’t really make sense to me as those who failed to complete the program due to injury really didn’t benefit from the program at all.

On the surface, it does appear that there is more risk of injury as age goes up, but this is true with any program.  To know whether this particular program is more difficult for older lifters, we’d need a good basis of comparison.  That said, don’t let age deter you from high frequency programs or cause unnecessary fear from injury.  If you go back to the section where we looked at age specifically, you’ll see that many lifters of nearly all ages completed the program successfully.  Age itself should not be a deterrent, but injuries could be.  And on the whole, given that this was a fairly experienced population, total injury risk seems fairly low.


As mentioned above, the training frequency of the competition lifts during this program was 4x per week.  We expected that this was quite a bit higher than most lifters were used to.

Chart 4

In this chart, the lifter’s average training frequency from before the project is listed on the horizontal axis.  The vertical axis is their total gain over the course of the project.

The correlation between prior training frequency and progress is not “strong”, but it is stronger than any other factor we have seen so far and the result is a little bit surprising.  At the outset of the project, I asked for lifters who were used to an average of 2.3x frequency (2x squat, 3x bench, 2x deadlift).  My thinking was that the program would be too much for those who were accustomed to very low training frequencies.  As the chart above shows, those who were accustomed to much lower training frequencies (and presumably volumes too) saw bigger increases on average than those who were already accustomed to high frequency training.

But what about injuries?  In the previous section, we said that injuries hampered gains (obviously).  And here, big increases in frequency (and presumably volume) result in larger payoffs.  Is there a correlation between the frequency jump and injury?

Chart 5
Surprisingly, not one that is apparent from this data set.  In the above chart, Frequency is on the horizontal axis and injury severity is on the vertical axis.  If the jump in training frequency predisposed one to injury, we’d expect to see higher injury numbers paired with lower frequency numbers (remember, this is the frequency that people used in the months prior to starting the project).  We just don’t see that.  In fact, most of the more severe injury categories (i.e. injuries requiring significant modification or forcing a stopping to the program) come from people who are fairly accustomed to high-ish frequency training (i.e. training a lift an average of 2-3x weekly).

What I learned from this is that you don’t necessarily have to ease someone into a higher training frequency.  You can push them into it fairly rapidly.  They will feel bad for a time, but as long as it doesn’t go too far, they will make the adaptation and excel without being overly exposed to injury.  HOWEVER, it still remains to be seen if this is a good long-term strategy or not.  My gut feeling says a more gradual approach is better for long term progress.


Just how important was nutrition to the success of our participants?

Graph 4

From the table above, you can see that the majority of our lifters were simply maintaining.  Twenty three were bulking up and only six were trying to lose weight during the project.  There was not a huge difference in the average gain between bulking and maintaining groups.  The official average for the cutting group was still +32kg on the total, but one of those was a serious outlier adding 109kg to his total in the 8 weeks.  If we remove that outlier, then the average for the group is 16.4kg.  Adding 16.4kg to your total even during a cut is still an excellent result.  But it does illustrate a difference between bulking and cutting groups – 7.1kg (adjusted).

Another question I had was whether caloric intake affected injury rates.  In this case, it doesn’t seem to.  The table above counts only injuries that required that training was modified (the top two categories with regard to severity).  There was practically no difference between any of the groups.


Chart 6

As I examined the sleep of the respondents, there’s no clear trends here either.  It appears that, for this program at least, sleep was not a big predictor of success.  Some who slept very little did well.  Others that slept a lot did well too.  While there were big differences between the average gain in some groups, there are also disparities in the number of lifters who fell into each.  There were 13 lifters who got 5-6 hours per night, followed by 36 who got 6-7 hours.  There were 50 lifters who got 7-8 hours per night and 14 who got more than 8 hours.  This also explains why there were no injuries in the 5-6 hour group – just luck of the statistics.  I don’t think anyone will make a coherent argument that getting less sleep will result in less injury!  But at least from this data set, it doesn’t seem to lead to more injury either, which was interesting.


I asked lifters how recovered they felt throughout the training.  Here were their responses:

Chart 7

This was a very interesting response, even if not terribly surprising.  Those who felt recovered generally performed better and had fewer injuries than those who felt worse.  The differences were large and consistent across groups.  A full third of respondents fell into the top two categories of generally feeling fairly well recovered.  This result, while not unexpected, is very important from a coaching standpoint.  If you have a coach that is just beating you down, it might be time to ask them what the purpose is.  Of course there are times where pushing volumes and letting yourself get a little beat up makes sense.  But that’s not all the time.  Even the people who felt “quite beat up – more than normal” added an average of 12.5kg to their total.  But my question is whether they could have added more had they done a program that matched up well with their ability to recover.

I am particularly surprised at this result considering the result of the frequency changes discussed above.  Recall in that section, we found that those who experienced large jumps in training frequency, such as going from 1x to 4x, on average experienced the most improvement.  For me, I would also expect those people to also feel the most beat up.  This is evidently not the case.

Methodology LimitationsDSC02820

Let me be the first to say that this is not a scientific study.  I’m not sending this for to any journals, nor did I intend for it to be at the outset.  But I do think there’s a lot that can be learned here if we are just mindful of the limitations of this information.

The data was collected via self-report.  As evidenced by the fact that some people were unable to enter their date of birth correctly, this aspect itself poses some serious limitations.  The hope is that by pulling out all the obviously incorrect data points, the rest more or less averages out.  Besides, we aren’t looking to draw concrete prescriptions from this project – only to gain insights into principles and generally how people respond to training.  Given the aims, I feel like there is still plenty of value here.

The project was fairly short term.  Eight weeks might be a mid-length training study (if it were a study at all), but in the real world with real lifters, eight weeks is a drop into a very large bucket.  We had lifters with training ages of 27 years participate in this program.  That means this study encompassed barely over half-a-percent of their training life.  The questions I had in the beginning were related to short-term effects of a method like this, and I think we gained some great insights into those effects.  But there are always more questions to be answered.  My next batch of questions have much more to do with long term responses.  But that will have to be another project entirely.

There were no controls to this study.  I simply wanted to look at responses to this program, so I did not set up a control group.  It would have been quite difficult to do that anyway, especially in an online setting.  Having control numbers as a basis of comparison would be useful.  Again, I don’t think that prevents us from learning something from this project though.

This article looks primarily at the total.  We do have data for individual lifts, however this behemoth was getting long enough already without making it approximately 3x longer to look at each individual lift.  It’s assumed that the responses to individual lifts are similar to one another as the program’s strategy was similar across the board, however it has yet to be seen whether this is a good assumption to make or not.


So what can we learn from this year’s Project Momentum?  Once again we learned that age is just a number.  We had several older lifters perform absolutely fantastically during the project.  There is no reason you can’t gain just because you’re older.  Now with that said, there are some other things you should be thinking about.  If recovery is a problem (regardless of your age), then address recovery.  And if your training age is higher than 6-7 years, you probably won’t be seeing those humongous gains in 8 week periods (but some individual participants did).

Filed into the “obvious” category, we saw that those who avoided injury had far better gains than those who didn’t.  But possibly less obvious was that if a lifter felt more rested and recovered, their injury incidence was lower.  And regardless of injury or no injury, gains were much higher when lifters felt generally more rested and recovered.  Those who felt trashed and beat up still produced good results, but not nearly as good as those who were better recovered.

Also possibly obvious was that those lifters who made large increases in workload by joining Project Momentum saw larger increases in their total.  Less obvious however is that this did not seem to predispose them to injury.  Those who were already used to high training frequencies and volumes still saw good results here, even at a 4x frequency.

Bulking, maintaining, or cutting weight did not seem to affect injury rates at all, however it did seem to affect gains.  It would be interesting to look at how the bulking / cutting affected Wilks score, however that data is unavailable.

Sleep was somewhat predictive of overall progress, however it wasn’t a huge difference and there were some anomalies.  That said, sleep is also a big factor in how recovered an individual feels.  And we did find that perception of recovery was important to progress.  Feeling generally well recovered was important and if you’re not getting enough sleep, you won’t feel recovered.

In general, the respondents of Project Momentum 2016 had excellent results and they are much stronger lifters as a result.  We were also able to gain a little more insight on what makes a lifter successful.  We can use this information not only to create programs similar to the Project Momentum program, but to tune any program to make a lifter more successful on the individual level.  I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it.


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.