Some days an athlete’s energy will be through the roof and they will be able to display much greater strength than usual. But on other days, and not necessarily through any fault of their own, they may be suffering the effects of poor recovery.
For example, a bad night’s sleep, a row with their partner, or bad news from the doctor may leave them in a stressed or emotionally drained state, neither of which is conducive to productive training.
Attempting to push an under-recovered body through a grueling training session will only knock it into a deeper state of fatigue, which will not only further delay recovery back to full strength, but also increase the risk of injury.
On the flip side, if an athlete has the potential for a much better workout than initially planned, they should take advantage, since they’ll be able to develop strength faster and may not have so much energy again for a while.
Both scenarios warrant changing the planned training session that day, since what has been planned may present a stimulus that is either too strong or not strong enough for their current state.
Autoregulation can be used in both of those scenarios. Autoregulation is defined as adapting the training session to suit the current state of the athlete.
Let’s look at how a training session could be modified in each scenario.
If an athlete will be incapable of performing the planned training session, a number of options are available.
Adapting the training session using any of the following options will enable the athlete to still train but without stressing their body further, which will help to improve their recovery back to full strength.
1. Maintain intensity but reduce volume
- The athlete trains with the prescribed weight, but for fewer sets.
- For example, if the planned workout called for 5 sets of 5 reps at 150 kg in the Squat, they may just do 2-3 sets.
2. Maintain volume but reduce intensity
- If the athlete is incapable of using the planned weight, it can be lowered while the training volume is maintained
- For example, if the planned workout called for 5 sets of 5 reps at 150 kg in the Squat, they may drop to 130-135 kg
3. Reduce both volume and intensity
- The athlete lowers both the weight and the number of prescribed sets.
- For example, if the planned workout called for 4 sets of 10 reps in the Bench Press with 100 kg, they may just do 2 sets of 10 reps with 85-90 kg.
4. Drop accessory exercises
- The athlete performs only the main exercise(s) with the prescribed volume and intensity.
- For example, if the main exercise is the Deadlift, followed by 3-4 accessory exercises, only the Deadlift is performed.
5. Active recovery
- The athlete drops all weight training exercises and instead performs lower intensity training, such as mobility drills and corrective exercises.
If the athlete arrives at the gym capable of handling a greater training load, this could be done in any of the following 5 ways, and will help them to build strength faster:
1. Increase intensity but maintain volume
- Weight is increased by more than planned, but the training volume is maintained.
- For example, if the planned training session called for 4 sets of 4 reps in the Overhead Press with 75 kg, but the first set feels easy, the weight could be increased by 2.5 kg every set until 4 reps cannot be completed.
2. Increase volume but maintain intensity
- Weight is kept the same, but more sets are performed.
- For example, if the athlete is scheduled to perform 3 sets of 6 reps in the Squat with 140 kg, but they have more in them after the third set, they can perform a fourth, and even a fifth, set
3. Increase both volume and intensity
- Both the weight and the number of sets are increased.
- For example, if the planned workout involved 4 sets of 5 reps in the Deadlift with 180 kg, but the first set feels too easy, then the weight can be ramped up every set until they complete the fourth set.
- If they still feel they can handle more sets, they can perform an additional 1-2 sets with either the same weight or heavier.
4. Add a back-off set
- If the athlete completes the prescribed number of sets and reps, but still has energy for more, they can reduce the weight by up to 50 percent and perform a single set of max reps.
5. Add a finisher
- If the athlete completes the entire training session and still has energy at the end, they can perform a finisher to maximize the training volume for a particular lift/body part.
- For example, if the athlete has completed an arm workout, they could do further work for the arms by training them to absolute failure at the end of the training session
It’s extremely important to note that these unplanned overload training sessions apply a training stress that is much greater than the athlete is accustomed to; therefore proper recovery is of paramount importance.