Self-regulation: the basics
|Stress is stress, no matter the source.|
A Detour: Understanding the Tradition
In order to better understand self-regulation, let’s take a quick look at another approach to training, employed by beginning and intermediate lifters. Trainees will typically perform a prescribed number of reps for a prescribed number of sets: 3 sets of 3 reps, 5 sets of 5 reps…whatever the specifics might be, the total workload is prescribed at the beginning of the training session – if not weeks in advance.
Making the Leap
So, then, the question becomes: how can an athlete make the leap from a prescribed routine to a routine which accomodates their own unique recovery ability? How does the athlete move from doing a 5×5 or a 3×3, to listening to their body, adjusting the workload, and continue to make progress? How can an athlete make the move from doing the “Madcow 5×5” program, to doing a program specifically tailored for that athlete?
A large part of the answer to this question is autoregulation, and the use of RPE’s and drop sets to manage fatigue, both on a daily basis, and in the longer term. RPE stands for “Rate of Perceived Exertion,” and was originally introduced in the context of aerobic exercise, where it’s a means for measuring and controlling the intensity of exercise based upon how hard that exercise feels to the trainee.
In the new world of autoregulation, we could program this work as 1 set of 3 reps at an RPE of 9 – that is, we want the athlete to work up in weight, based on how the weight feels during the actual session. That weight may turn out to be 225; however, it may turn out to be 200, or 240 – the key is to have the athlete use the weight which achieves the desired intensity.
Wrapping Things Up
|A Tendo unit.|
I also mentioned that it takes a certain kind of athlete to accurately use RPE’s. However, there’s another more objective method which maps well to RPE’s: bar speed. Bar speed is well correlated with RPE; if the athlete trains in a group, having a dedicated observer to monitor bar speed can give the athlete great perspective on how much intensity the last set generated.