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What is Autoregulatory Training?

March 09 2011

What is autoregulatory training? Is it the same as instinctive training and how can you apply it?

What is autoregulatory training?

Autoregulatory training:  It is a training method which makes sure that you are using the maximum weight for a particular repetition, say 6 repetition or 10 repetition. 

autoregulatory periodization image

Why the heck we need autoregulatory training?

Planned Training: Planned training may not be familiar to bodybuilders or the common folks. But it is pretty much the norm for athletes to plan their workouts months and months ahead. This includes the weight they should use, number of days they train, the reps and sets.  It is called Periodization.

Problem: The problem with this planned training is an athlete due to so many outside variables like sleep, food, stress and such may either find the weights too easy or too hard on a particular day than what was planned months ahead.

Solution:  One solution is to use weights based on how much you can lift that particular day than what was planned. And this weight also gives you the starting weight for the next workout. This is basically called autoregulation training.

What about instinctive training?

Instinctive training:  In instinctive training, you use a weight depending on how you feel that day. You do not test a weight like autoregulatory training from last week to change your weights accordingly.  For example, you didn’t sleep well last night and feel a bit tired and hence you pick a weight which is a bit lower than your last workout.

In autoregulatory training, you lift the weight you did last workout, AND then change the weights for the next sets based on how many reps you got with that weight. Some folks can tell how they feel from their bar speed and how they feel in their warm up sets

Are there any studies on autoregulaton?

There were 2 studies done on autoregulation comparing it a regular linear periodization.

15 week Study: There was a 15 weeks study done on untrained females back in 1996 which showed no significant difference in strength between periodization and autoregulation. In fact, the periodization showed a linear increase throughout the study while the autoregulation group showed a plateau at the later stages of the study.

6 week Study: This was a recent 2010 study done on Division 1 football players which is quoted everywhere as an example of autoregulation. The study has numerous limitations as shown below:

  • Retrospective: The study is looking comparing 2 groups . The first group trained in 2004 while the second group trained in 2005. The author looks back at these numbers in 2010. Retrospective studies usually cannot make cause and effect conclusions because there are so many variables that are not controlled.
  • Volume and Intensity: The volume and intensity was not equalized and hence says nothing about the autoregulation/periodization.
  • Pre-test and Post Test: The pre-test numbers are in fact the post test numbers after the off season. So the numbers might have gone up or gone down in that break period.
  • Results: The is a bit sketchy. The results are given in N when the training weights and such given in lbs. The results how that the Autoregulatory group went up by 90 N (20 lbs) in bench while the squat by almost 180 N(40lbs). The bench press periodization group had no increase!

The study is interesting, but only brings in a hypothesis which needs to be tested with a well designed, randomized-controlled study.

Practical Application

  • Beginners: In beginners, it is better to stick with traditional sets and reps. You need few years of training before you can really go by feel.  Also, if they go by instincts, most beginners will rather sit at home and watch TV.
  • Advanced:  Most advanced lifters use a mix of planned and auto-regulated type of training. They will have a basic template of the sets, exercises and which weeks to go hard and light. The weights, sets and reps will change based on how they feel that day. Some call it cybernetic periodization.
  • Length of Training: Autoregulation is best done for periods of 4-6 weeks. In autoregulation, you are training to your maximum weight for that particular rep and hence can easily get overtrained if you don’t have a plan to manage fatigue. And I think the duration of the cycle can be partly attributed to the results of the above studies.

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Anatoly | Thu March 10, 2011  

Nice post, Anoop.
I had no idea that the latest auto-regulation study was done in such way

Anoop | Thu March 10, 2011  

Thanks Anatoly.

I have seen a lot of articles online quoting this study and just casually concluding autoregulation is the way to go.

If I were the strength coach and if I see that bench press hasn’t gone up in the last season. What would I do? I will change up the program, make sure they show up for workouts,  and push them harder and so on. So the treatment they got this season is way different from last season. This is an example of bias that can happen in retrospective studies.

Since there is no pre-season testing, the 1RM measurements might be way off. And one of the criticisms of linear periodization is how they get the 1RM wrong and hence the whole program based on it is screwed up. So I can see that could be one reason why LP wasn’t working.

I can understand everything that they are D1 atheletes and it hard to do a good study. What I don’t get it the numbers on the graph are posted in N (newtons) and the training was done in lbs and how it shows such a big difference. And no sort of explanation for this in the discussion part. I am not sure who peer reviewed this paper.

There were a few more things in the study like how he came up with progression in LP since most LP studies are 12-15 weeks. There is no reference nor any explanation for this and this is a critical part of the study.

Corey Young | Mon July 25, 2011  

Nice write up on auto-regulation. This is the primary way we deal with our older athletes since they usually have to attend different workouts with school or other outside sources. I prefer the conjugate method but this has actually worked quite well.

What do you think?



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