It’s been a while since I have followed a strict, progressive training program. While it’s true that I made some of my best progress on linear progression models such as Starting Strength, or when I was a client of Steve Maxwell’s, it seems I’ve been able to maintain or at least progress in ways I did not expect. Progressive training models work, but the problem is that in order for one to make linear, or even periodized progression one must follow a predictable delivery of stimulus. In order for this stimulus to be effective however, it requires extraneous factors of training to be uniform, meaning you need to have fixed circadian rhythms, good nutrition, regular and evenly spaced out training sessions. I have had none of those.
My schedule has been weird. Some weeks I’ll sleep 4-5 hours per night with an occasional mid-day nap, and then I’d sleep 10+ hours one night to “make up” for it. My client base, although growing larger and stronger, is one that fluctuates constantly, as most of my people travel a lot for work. My weekends have been varied and fun, but not always the best for physical recovery. The time, day, and energy levels I have for exercise have varied from day to day. Not exactly ideal for following linear progression. Stubbornly however, I plugged away, and found myself not only lacking progress, but in some cases regressing. Also, I often found that when I did progress in the gym, I would regress in some other area of my life, such as feeling lethargic and mentally drained, or getting sick.
This bugged me for a while, and I always dismissed the idea of autoregulation. I thought it was just a fancy word for “winging-it”. And yes, it is just winging-it if you don’t put some thought behind it. I’ve been using autoregulation for 6+ months now and I’ve been training often and hard but also smart. I believe I have made progress, but other than that I feel great outside my workouts. I have more energy, am happier, and can think more clearly.
Some thoughts on Autoregulation:
- Progress happens (if you do it right) but I don’t seem to be able to control what I progress on. Since my training is reactive, I have to work on what I am primed to work on, not what I plan to work on. As I have matured in my training, I’ve grown to welcome this. It takes me on paths I would not necessarily have taken.
- Exercise is a stimulus, and as such, knowing when you have successfully applied that stimulus requires experience and body awareness. Autoregulation for beginners often leads to overtraining or understimulating. Note, when I say beginner I don’t just mean “un-fit”. There are many very fit people out there I would consider beginners when it comes to exercise.
- To be a successful autoregulator, it requires some zen-like acceptance of imperfection. “Perfect” is the enemy is progress.
So, a week’s autoregulating template for me might look like this:
Monday: Early start, morning clients. Feeling exhausted mentally but physically energized after good sleep in the weekend. I perform a morning upper body strength workout, high tension weighted dips and pullups, one set to concentric failure, and some light assistance work after. takes me 15 minutes and I feel fresh after. Mid-day nap.
Tuesday: More sleep than Sunday night but not too much. Busy with clients all day with some free gaps here and there. Energy is good still so I do “easy-strength” style reps multiple times a day of slow barbell snatch-grip deadlifts, and thoracic mobility drills.
Wednesday: Slept 10 hours night before, feeling recovered and relaxed. Some soreness from previous day but not much. Perform high frequency mobility drills dispersed throughout the day and hanging, one arm and two. Evening clients.
Thursday: Early start, ok sleep. Barbell back squats 4×4 with anterior core work. Both not taken to failure but until movement speed significantly slows down and I inroad the musculature moderately. Quick mid-day nap, with evening clients, low-back and hip mobility drills and some light handstand skill work.
Friday: Very early start, morning clients. Not feeling too bad but energy is low. I focus on floor drills, pilates-style activation patterns, and foam rolling. After my last client early afternoon I perform clubbell mills and locomotive patterns, “easy-strength” style.
Saturday and Sunday: Sleep, walking, and socializing with friends and girlfriend.
Bear in mind, this will vary from week to week, and month to month. Progress comes unexpectedly. I don’t know where the next PR is coming but.. I found out I don’t really care. I feel strong, healthy, and I’m enjoying movement more than ever now that the “pressure” is off.
Maybe I’m just growing up.