I was never a big fan of strict yearly plans – it may be the Canadian in me, but I like the grey area more than the black or white area. I have developed a set of training guidelines that I use in my coaching. Those guidelines are ideas of what we should be doing in training in relation to where we are in the year and how far the next competition is from now. Add to that some recipes of how to fix technical or strength problems and you have got a good idea of what you should be doing in training. That is, my programs are very flexible – especially when it comes to weight selection. In my experience, I have found that this type of flexible programming produce more results than strict programming.
Autoregulation is the idea that volume and intensity are selected by how you feel and what kind of shape you are in. It should respect the general plan laid out – that is, the goal of the training cycle, where you are in the competitive cycle, and the rep/set scheme. Put simply, weights and sets should be selected according to what you can get out of you in a given day. N.B 1rm come after volume / strength cycles. Don’t turn training into daily maxes – that is not the point.
1. Strict programming does not account for the human factor
The biological system is complex and variable from day to day. Some days are better than others because of that. Add to that that many athletes are amateur (they work, go to school, etc.) and are not professional, it becomes easy to overload the body with stress and fatigue.
Many athletes have responsibilities outside the gym and not every athlete recover the same way. In my book, just because the program says to go heavy, I don’t see the point in doing it when you are tired/out of it/preoccupied with your life. Trying to do so can be dangerous and get athletes to feel unmotivated and make them feel like they don’t progress. Moods are everything in weightlifting.
Conversely, I don’t see the point in going light when you are having a good day. You might have planned a heavy day in a few days, but today might be the best day and if it works out, the benefits outweigh the cons. Those benefits are enhanced self confidence, motivation, and a sense of accomplishment.
2. Autoregulation develops constancy which is the most important quality for the competitive weightlifter
Missing weights should rarely happen and auto regulation is the key to not miss and develop constancy. You get to select the right weight for the rep/set scheme you are doing. By doing so, the athlete feels like he/she is doing their best, is progressing and they learn a lot about themselves and the shape they are in (and what kind of results they can get out of themselves when they feel like that).
Autoregulation is not an excuse to go to max and miss every weight. If you autoregulate your training and you are far from competition, you have to select weights that you can do with some challenge – but not miss. The closer you get to competition, the more important it is to lift some heavier weights.
3. Not everybody can lift heavy frequently or need to do so to progress
I have lifters that need to hit certain numbers on a regular basis in order to progress. On the other hand, I have lifters that can lift moderate weights and progress very well. I have an athlete that did not hit a single lift above 90% in his preparation for Nationals – yet he ended up making a 7KG total PR.
Some lifters can’t do heavy weights in training, they need the adrenaline of competition and the crowd. They should not train the same way training lions are. Training lions are people that can lift big in training all the time – some are able to do the same thing in competition and some not. However, when it comes to training, they are real lion and will attack about any weight.
A flexible program – based on an autoregulation principle – will allow any type of athlete to progress. Those that can lift heavy often get to do so and those that don’t need it/can’t stand it, get to do it their own way.
4. Autoregulation should be done by the coach
I usually ask that my athletes go to a baseline number for a given rep/set scheme and then we decide what we want to do given on how it felt and how it looks. If all is good, we will go up. If something is not right technically, we will stay there. If it looks good but feel hard, we might do some wave loading. The idea is to lift the best you can everyday – no matter what the number is.
5. This type of training is safer
As I hinted above, most injuries in weightlifting happen when you do something you should not have done (although there are some occasional accidents). Injuries happen when you go heavy when you should not have. When you autoregulate and your guideline is you go up but cannot miss, then hazardous events don’t happen. You also aren’t going heavy when you are not in the shape to do so.
6. Results happen when you feel like you are in control and in a good mood
This type of training allows the athlete to have control over what he/she does in training. Instead of following a generic plan, they can discuss and select weights with the coach. There are not many thing that you can control in weightlifting and having the possibility to have some control over your training makes you believe in your training and progress. Nobody progress by thinking they don’t progress or believe what they are doing is not good. Progress can only happen if you believe that what you are doing is worthwhile.
If you are use to making weight and know yourself pretty well (as this type of training develops), then any weight becomes possible in due time. If you are used to miss, and are scared of the weight because of you have missed it 20 times, chances are you won’t make it again. No boxer step in the ring thinking he will lose.
Note : autoregulation is only for weights and sets. You can’t skip useful and important exercises because you don’t feel like it.