Introduction to Autoregulation

One very common question I receive about my programming is, “Is it percentage based?”. The answer is no, I primarily use a technique called autoregulation for planning weights in my programs. In this article, I’ll start to dig into autoregulation a bit and how I implement it with my athletes.

First, many coaches do use percentage based systems, and that’s perfectly fine. For those who don’t understand, percentage based programs will prescribe weights for each movement based off of either a projected max or an actual max in that movement. For example, a lifter with a 100k clean might received a program with 6x2@80%, so they would perform 6 sets of 2 cleans at 80 kilos. There are more nuances to percentages throughout micro- and mesocycles, but that’s pretty much the basics.

So, now to get into autoregulation. Autoregulation, for me, is a system primarily based off of how an athlete feels. Major considerations for each day are: how is the athlete recovering? How is their mental prep? How involved is the athlete in understanding their body and the goals of their program? These are all very important for me as the coach to be able to prescribe lifts each day. One advantage of autoregulation is that if an athlete feels great on any given day, I do have the leeway to allow him or her to chase some big weights. There are still some constricting parameters that I’ll get into below, but it’s nice for everyone to have that flexibility. Communication between the coach and the athlete is absolutely huge for autoregulation. As the coach, I have to be able to communicate the goal of the day and how that fits into the weekly and program goals, and the athlete has to be able to communicate accurately how they feel on each training day.

For my autoregulation, I focus on two primary intensity modulators that are applied on an every-other-week basis. These are “static” weeks and “ramping” weeks. These usually alternate within a 4 week program, so one week would be static and the next would be ramping, and so on. I’ll now describe each in more detail.

Static weeks are exactly what they sound like. An athlete will do all of their sets at one weight, or within a tight range of weights, based off of their weights from the previous week. So if someone did a clean double at 110 the previous week, I might have them try to get 6 doubles at 102 or 105. Static weeks see athletes get more volume at a higher percentage of their max, and so they are able to gain more and more consistency at higher weights. Despite how most of my lifters feel about static weeks versus ramping weeks, static weeks are where the major gains are made.

Ramping weeks, again, are fairly self-explanatory. The athlete will probably start their working sets at a lower weight, and then work up to a near-maximal effort for that day. These are the weeks that athletes love. They get to really test themselves and their previous week’s effort and just smash weights. Ramping weeks are important for me because they can serve as a test of how well the static weeks have been working. As a lifter gets more and more successful static weeks in a row, the ramping weeks will blow up.

However, there is one potentially large drawback to ramping and static weeks. Athletes will occasionally absolutely destroy their ramping week and then either be so wrecked from that or set their target numbers so high that the static week falls well short of goals. Again, this is why communication is so key between the athlete and the coach in this system, so we can assess how each day is going and how it will impact the coming days and weeks.

That’s a pretty solid introduction to autoregulation and how I apply it in my training. Be on the lookout for more articles that will go deeper into how I program for my athletes.

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