Resetting Expectations



Resetting Expectations
By Mike Tuchscherer

A while back, I went to go see the movie “Safehouse” with Denzel Washington. Something you should know about me is that I can be a bit picky about movies sometimes. I like movies that have a strong theme. Don’t just blow stuff up and use cool special effects – I’m a sucker for a really great story. Or at least a character that HAS character.

So when I first saw “Safehouse”, I thought it was okay. It seemed like a fun movie to watch, but it lacked the compelling theme that I really enjoy at movies. Regardless, something about it kept turning over in my head for a while. And probably a week after seeing the movie, I was finally able to put my finger on it.

Denzel’s character was obviously a great spy. One would imagine that he was one of the best. But if you watch what he does at key points in the movie, it’s not his ability to manipulate people or his tradecraft that makes him so tough to catch. It’s his ability to immediately accept the circumstances around him and make the best decision of his available options.

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Genetics and Hard Work

A very good friend of mine recently asked me an interesting question. What does it take to develop a champion athlete?

I have given this question a lot of thought recently. Although it seems like a very big question, it might not be quite as big as I first thought. At first, I thought it would depend a great deal on the athlete’s natural abilities, their training age, and so on. But as I thought about things more and more, I realized that the answer for pretty much any individual is the same.
The coaching world – or at least the small segment of the coaching world in which I am involved – is undergoing somewhat of a paradigm shift. My thoughts have shifted quite a bit too. But in lots of ways, I have come back to where I started. Allow me to explain…

I was a strong kid in high school. As a freshman, I was above average. By the time I was a senior in high school, I had broken all my school’s lifting records. Some by a lot. Not only that, but I was the strongest high school student that myself or any of my friends knew. I’m not saying that I was the strongest ever. I probably wasn’t the strongest in the state. But in the context of my small-ish high school and rural region, I was a “freak of nature”.

Some of the guys on my team that were not-so-strong would often bring up “genetics”. That is to say, the reason I was so strong was because I was born with some genetic gift that allowed me to excel beyond what they could ever hope to do. That used to make me very angry because I knew there was more to it than that, but at the time I don’t know that I could articulate what it was. But now I can. You see, by the time I was a senior in high school, I had already been lifting weights for six years. That’s 150% of the time that most kids my age had been lifting. And even before that, I had probably a year to two years of bodyweight training. I didn’t take summers off like many others. I didn’t stop lifting in the “in-season” either. I was a one-sport athlete (football), so I had a very long “off season” in which I considered myself an in-season Powerlifter. I thought about lifting weights, practiced my technique, read about lifting weights, etc.

My point is that there was literally tons of work that went into my performance at the time. And at this point in my career, there’s even more work still. I was happily obsessed with lifting weights for years and still am to a large extent. Getting muscular and strong has been something I am passionate about and that passion has provided near-endless motivation for training, researching, experimenting, visualizing, and so on. Are there some genetic gifts that I possess that make it so these efforts are more fruitful for me than they are for others? Perhaps. But there’s no way to tell for sure and there’s not much I or anyone else can do about that. I can tell you that there is a ton of hard work that goes into it. It’s a level of work that many are not interested in doing. And that’s okay. I’m not placing myself on a pedestal because I’m obsessed with strength. It doesn’t make me better than anyone. In fact, outside the Iron Sport culture itself, it’s probably kind of odd. But there is a deeper explanation for my Powerlifting success than innate talent.

Part of this paradigm shift that I was referring to is a resurgent emphasis on the hard work required to become an elite athlete. We’ve always known that hard work was required, but I think it’s only been more recently that we’re learning just how much is required. In his outstanding book “Outliers”, Malcom Gladwell makes the case that to achieve mastery at any activity seemingly without exception, it takes about 10,000 hours of dedicated practice. Whether you want to be a master chess player, a master violinist, or a master Powerlifter, it takes about 10,000 hours of practice. That is, time spent practicing with the express intent to get better.


Ten thousand hours is a big number, so let’s break that down a bit. If you practiced two hours a day every single day with no days off, it would take you over 13 years to reach the 10,000 hour mark. What about if you do the more conventional 1.5 hours a day for 3 days per week? Well then it will take you about 42 years. In other words, you’re never going to get to the elite levels by being a recreational athlete. In fact, the earlier start you get, the better off you’ll be.

I’ve listened to speakers at seminars talk about how this applies to sports like hockey, basketball, etc. They have found that for all the strength coaching, cone drills, and medicine ball exercises we have invented, the best hockey players still play hockey more than their peers. Same with other sports too. Then you look at groups like Bulgarian weightlifters and you start to see a pervasive trend – lots and lots of practice. Then more practice. During one presentation, Jed Smith said, “Individuals that become professional athletes practiced on their own an average of twice as much as their teammates that did not make it.” That’s in addition to normal team practices.

The irony is that to reach the 10,000 hour mark, you don’t only need a lot of time practicing. In many sports you also need an early start if you are to get to the 10,000 hours at an age where you can grab other opportunities. If you practice 3 hours a day, 7 days a week (total of 21 hours per week), it will take you about 10 years to achieve mastery. Say you are trying to become a professional basketball player. If you don’t start playing seriously until you are 12 years old, then you only play 21 hours per week, you won’t reach 10,000 hours until you are 22 years old. By that time, you are probably not going to get to play on a major college basketball team because you’re too old and your opportunities for making it to the pros are greatly reduced. You could play more than 21 hours per week. That would help you get there faster, but it does have a cost.

One case study of how lots of practice can make up for lost time is the story of another lifter that I know. I’ll spare his name from this story though. This guy was a world class powerlifter. Then he got an itch to try his hand at weightlifting. He wanted to go to the Olympics. After making the switch, he rocketed to the top ranks of his weight class relatively quickly. At first, I chalked up his meteoric rise in part as natural born talent and also as carry-over strength from his Powerlifting days. But this was not the whole of it. When he converted to weightlifting, he became obsessed. Or dedicated, depending on how you see it. A friend of mine that knew him personally told me that the lifter trained 11 or more times per week. I’m not talking about dragging a sled or doing easy stuff. I’m talking about serious weightlifting workouts. Dedicated practice. And between those workouts, you would often see him miming his snatch technique and other practice. So even when he wasn’t training, he was thinking about getting better. And after leaving the gym and heading home for the day, he would watch videos of weightlifters and do visualization drills for hours. His whole life was aimed at the goal of competing in the Olympics. And the result of all that time spent was a very fast rise in skill for a lifter who was already kind of old to be starting Olympic-hopeful weightlifting.

Of course this starts to get into some concerning areas. Who can maintain that kind of workload without burning out? Is it healthy to maintain that kind of single-minded obsession? I think this is where the conversation turns back to genetics. Or at the very least, to some other personality factors that are perhaps beyond the control of an individual. Clearly the people that can maintain the workloads required to meet their 10,000 hour mark are passionate about what they do. If they were not, then they wouldn’t put that kind of time in or at the very least, they wouldn’t be focused on getting better. So passion really becomes the lynchpin on which the whole idea of working toward mastery hinges. Where does passion come from?
Perhaps here is where we get to a more significant genetic cause. But passion for a certain activity is also just as likely to come from some sort of socio-cultural part of our upbringing. Using myself as an example, I obviously value strength. Perhaps my value of strength and subsequent passion for it is tied to my genetics. Perhaps it’s part of the way I was raised. But either way, I don’t think it’s something that can be faked.

I know a lot of people who have passion for what they do. Perhaps they don’t have the passion that my weightlifter friend has, and that’s okay. I’m not sure it takes that level of single-minded-ness. But it takes enough passion that you’re willing to put in the work. I’m sure that genetics play a role at some level. Even though some genes can be turned on and off, there is likely little that can be done about the genetic cards you were dealt. So if you’ve read this far, you probably have the passion for at least some hard work. So my advice to you is to not worry about genetics or other circumstances that are beyond your control. Work harder than anyone else and see how far your genes can really take you. If you don’t want to work that hard, it’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. But it also doesn’t mean that the other guy is just blessed with some unseen talent that allows them to be better. Chances are you’re just getting out-worked.

So to get more to the core of the question that was asked: what is required to develop a champion athlete? I think the answer to that is, more than anything else, it takes an extreme amount of hard work. That kind of work takes passion. So the centerpiece for any truly elite athlete is going to be passion enough to out-work their competitors.

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.

Using Weight-Releasers In Training

I’ve recently posted a few videos of myself using weight-releasers on my Instagram and Facebook pages.  People seem to think they are cool, so I thought I would share what I know about them.

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Restoration Blocks

(C) Copyright 2015 Adam Palmer
Photo courtesy 9for9 Media

A friend of mine used to tell me “health is cumulative.” What he meant was that you could think of your health like a bank account of sorts. Doing certain things added to your overall state of health. Other things subtracted from it. And if you work yourself into a hole, you’ve got to work yourself out of it again.

The same concept applies in the strength world. There are some things that you need to do to stay injury-free. You can neglect them for a while, but the longer you do, the more risk you take. Often, this comes in the form of neglected muscle groups, but can also include other aspects of overall fitness (flexibility / mobility, energy systems, etc).

Recently I was having a conversation about this with another coach. We were both remarking that high-specificity training (even extremely high specificity) undeniably gets good results in the short-to-mid term. But left unchecked for longer periods of time, lifters get injured. We know that a major key to long term progress is avoiding injury. So this very-high-specificity training cannot be a long term solution to your progress.

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Build Your Momentum

(C) Copyright 2015 Adam Palmer
Photo courtesy 9for9 Media

Watch an old movie about boxing and you’re sure to see it. The young brash fighter wants the title shot, but his older manager isn’t sure he’s ready. “Why is this guy always holding me back?” the fighter thinks. He doesn’t get it. He can’t see what’s going on.

If you were to ask the manager why he wanted to wait, he’d probably say something like, “The kid isn’t ready.” The manager knows that confidence is critical to the fighter’s success. But it’s a lot more than just confidence. It’s momentum.

The young fighter doesn’t know it at the time, but he needs to build his momentum in order to continually improve his skills. Strength athletes need this too. Momentum is a stem-to-stern concept. It starts with small stuff like improving your technique. It includes selecting attempts in a competition. And yes, it’s even about confidence.

Have you ever noticed that when you miss a couple of sessions, your strength drops off? Or on the other side, if you’re hitting big PR’s in training, you can usually expect a big PR in the meet? That’s momentum.
It’s not just training. You see it at meets too. Ever notice how if you miss your opening squat, it’s an uphill battle after that? And show me a guy who is 1 for 3 after squats and I’ll show you a guy who, more often than not, will miss at least one, probably two benches. And if he’s 2 for 6 after the bench, how do you think deadlifting is going to go? On the other hand, if you’re 3 for 3 on squats and benches, then you’re probably in a good place mentally and feeling “on” for the deadlift. That’s momentum.

(C) Copyright 2015 Adam Palmer
Photo courtesy 9for9 Media

If you try to force yourself into perfect technique or great PR’s, it won’t happen for you. That’s not how you control your momentum. Trying to control momentum this way is like trying to divert a river from downstream. You can’t do it – even with monumental effort.

A far better way is to start with small decisions. Do something small that moves you in the right direction. Let those effects snowball and become something great. You don’t make momentum – you give it a nudge and momentum emerges.

Here’s what I mean. If you’re going backwards and things are not going well in your training, try taking some weight off the bar and execute the session with good technique and make it successful. Sure, it wasn’t as heavy as you wanted, but you executed the session well. That’s better than executing it poorly. Then in the next session, make a small improvement over the previous session. Then another and another. It begins to snowball.

Setting a PR is not a function of one monumental effort to lift a weight. It’s a thousand small efforts over the weeks, months, even years leading up to it. It’s doing one thing right so that next time you can do another thing right. These things build on each other.


It’s like pushing a big truck (which is why we call it momentum). At first, it’s hard. You push and push and it just barely moves. This is the beginning phase as you start building momentum. But once you get it going, it APPEARS easier to someone watching. Then you approach your top speed and it almost appears that you’re just running beside the truck. People standing by watching (who are all struggling with their own trucks) think, “Gosh, some guys have all the luck”.

(C) Copyright 2015 Adam Palmer
Photo courtesy 9for9 Media

But it isn’t luck at all. It’s maximum effort at each step. But each step snowballs on all the ones before it. You will always have to train hard and do things right. Emotionally it’s easier once you get moving because it’s easier to see your reward. It’s harder to see that the reward is a result of all the steps that came before it. And just like the boxer, you still have more momentum to build before you’re at top speed.

No matter where you’re at or what kind of momentum you have right now, the next step is always the same. Do one more thing that furthers your goals. Make the choice. Remember each step builds on the one before it. Momentum can help guide your choices.

Things going very badly in your training? Take a step back and see where you really are. Then take a step to improve it a little bit for your next session. You’re just starting your momentum. The truck is stopped. So just move it forward a tiny bit. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still a maximum effort. But the expectation is just for some forward movement or at least less negative movement! And next time build on that first step, then the next one, then the next.

Things going very well in your training? Don’t ease up. If you’re pushing a heavy truck and you stop pushing, it slows down and stops. KEEP PUSHING. Keep doing the things that built your momentum to this point. Plus more. Remember, even when it looks easy to outsiders, it’s still a maximum effort. You still have to push as hard as you can to keep things moving.

How far can you take it?
This is important. Build it into your character. Building your momentum is what you need to do to improve in so many aspects of life – not just lifting weights. Look at your job. Look at your relationships or finances. Take a step. Improve your situation. Build on that step, then the next and the next. Gradually the momentum of your life builds and it takes you places you never thought you’d go.

Build your momentum. This is what we’re all about.

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.

Hold, Damn Grip!

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Photo courtesy of

Probably the most frustrating part of powerlifting is KNOWING in the marrow of your bones that you can do a task, then being unable to do it for some pain-in-the-ass detail. This could be an injury, a technical “tick”, or one of the most frustrating for me personally, a failing grip.

Dropping an otherwise easy deadlift due to grip issues is a special kind of suck. It’s an awful feeling that leaves many lifters looking at their hands in disbelief. It’s also incredibly stubborn. Many, many lifters have tried all kinds of crazy stuff to improve the grip. Almost all of it fails.

Stuff that just doesn’t get the job done
Reporting negative results is just as important as reporting successful trials. And boy, have we tried some things and failed some things!

There are a ton of gadgets out there that all promise to improve grip. And perhaps it’s a little misleading because there are so many different kinds of gripping strength and the hands are such complex organs. But one way or another, we tried a lot of them that did nothing. Crushers, fat bar work, active grippers (like Grip 4orce), rolling, etc… none of that helped me or my lifters.

Even the old wisdom of doing more double-overhand work didn’t help. In this idea, you would do double-overhand work (without a hook) until you couldn’t any longer. Then you’d switch to a mixed grip. Some even advocate extra double-overhand work in the form of rows and similar lifts. This too got us nowhere.

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The RTS Generalized Intermediate Program

(C) Copyright 2015 Adam Palmer
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I get lots of people coming on the site asking for a program check. Actually thoroughly checking a program is an involved process and it usually requires more information than the poster supplies. What’s more, it turns out that “is this a good program” is actually a bad question. Yes, there’s science and some hard rules when it comes to planning training. But there’s also a lot of art to it. So posting a program and asking if it’s good is kind of like posting a picture of a painting and asking for a critique. You can critique some stuff, but how you paint isn’t going to be the same way I paint. Read more…

Strength Doesn’t Care

(C) Copyright 2015 Adam Palmer
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This past June, I went to Russia for the IPF raw world championships. I met one of the Austrian lifters in the 120kg class — Alex. He was a real nice guy and we had a good chat about training and such. Fast forward until a few weeks ago. Alex emailed me to let me know he would be on a road trip and they would be passing through my neighborhood. So they stopped by yesterday and we trained. It was really cool to have a training partner, even if we did tend to chat too much between sets.

One of the things we talked about was the feeling you get after going to a big competition. For both of us, it’s this imperative feeling that you MUST train more. You MUST find a way to get better. In lots of ways, it makes the obsession deeper. It’s a reality check of sorts. “Hey, there are plenty of other strong folks out there. I better get back to work!” Speaking for myself, it makes me want to train more, train harder, and basically pour more effort into perfecting this craft. Read more…

Beginning RTS

(C) Copyright 2015 Adam Palmer
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When an athlete approaches me for coaching, I have a big task on my hands. There is a lot of information I have to gather about them so I can write the most effective training programs possible. For each athlete, there are many small details that affect the way they will respond to training and my job as a coach is to find out what those details are and address them in training.

Since I conduct the majority of my coaching via email, I have developed some specialized questionnaires to help me extract these details about each new athlete. I then pair that with the general knowledge base I have built and the results speak for themselves.

But how can you as a powerlifter do this for yourself? How do you get a training program tuned in to your body’s unique responses? Fortunately for you, you have much of the information you need already. Many lifters who are in the intermediate and above stages of powerlifting will already know many nuances of how they respond to training as well as the fundamentals of how a powerlifting training program should work; things like having adequate recovery, training with low reps, etc. Read more…