By Nico de Villiers
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Methods & Systems

In part one of these articles, I discussed briefly what auto-regulation is, where it come from and the basic use of it in your athletes. Further we looked at what the training window of opportunity is as well as pushing your athletes a bit harder when they are in an optimal state in order to get the benefits of stress-adaptation.

In part two we are going to have a look at the various ways and methods that auto-regulation are used by various coaches to benefit from training players based on their readiness.

 

  1. ARPRE system

This system was discussed in part one. This system was developed and tested to help athletes regain their pre-injury strength levels during the return to train phase (final phase rehab) of the injury. The training protocol consists of 3 x 4 weeks blocks with a decrease in volume and increase in load based on athlete’s 1RM scores. You can find a link to the article here.

 

What I Like:

  • Every session is a repetition max test
  • Progress is well monitored
  • Protocol is designed for various training effect (size, strength, power)
  • Easy to understand
  • Athletes driven
  • Great for return to train

 

What I Don’t Like:

  • Athlete can hide effort and give sub max effort
  • Not sure if there is enough volume, basically only doing 2 sets at given optimal training load
  • The way the adjustment in the fourth set is made. While a 2.5-5kg adjustment may be appropriate for some athletes and lifts, it may be too much for some and not enough for others. If you compared the load difference between heavy squats of a front rower with years of training history to a novice scrumhalf, it would seem inappropriate for them to have the same absolute adjustment made to their load

 

 

  1. Reactive training system (RTS)

RTS is a system used by some powerlifters and strength athletes. The system utilizes a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) as opposed to percentage load. Traditionally, training intensity in the gym could be described as a percentage of your 1RM. The problem with this assumption is that 80% intensity (or 80% of 1RM) is not always perceived as 80% intensity by your body. Based on reasons discussed in part one, players’ intensity’s is all relative to their readiness. The only true way to determine if a load or intensity was the right one to use is to see how a player performs on that load in terms of the repetition, speed and form they use during the set. Unfortunately we can’t check every rep of every set of every player. This is where the RPE system is very handy.

The method focuses on how an athlete perceives each set and how well they performed on it, based on the “reps left in the tank”. Below is how the RPE scale is used by author of the system, Mike Tuchscherer:

@10: Maximal Effort. No reps left in the tank.
@9: Heavy Effort. Could have done one more rep
@8: Could have done two or three more reps.
@7: Bar speed is “snappy” if maximal force is applied
@6: Bar speed is “snappy” with moderate effort

Now how does this relate to auto-regulation? Let’s say you prescribe a straight leg deadlift 4 x 6 @ 85% 1RM. The player might be tired or stressed or just having an off day and can only do 2 reps in the last set or just power through it but is exhausted at the end of the exercise. Not one of the two scenarios is ideal. Going back to the RPE scale, the prescription would look like this; 4 x 6 @ RPE 8. Notice they are not prescribing a percentage max load but rather a self-selected load (gauged by the RPE) by the player in which he has two or three more reps in the tank after the set.

So, no more weight prescription but rather an intensity is prescribed and the players are told to select a weight required to hit the right intensity, based on their readiness to train. At the end of the day, the absolute weight is irrelevant; it’s about hitting the right intensity.

 

What I Like:

  • More flexible, adapting programs to RPE allows training at desired stress levels, even when readiness is not what is anticipated.
  • There is a system, not discussed in these articles, but one can go read up about it on reactive strength training site.
  • Fresh change. Often coaches speak about variability in a program to avoid stagnation or boredom. Applying a different load prescription methods could just do the trick the get players through a plateau or engaged in the program

 

What I Don’t Like:

  • Reliability: Some researchers suggest RPE does not reliably report set-to-set intensity, and is more effective at measuring the difficulty of entire sessions
  • RPE accuracy differ between experience athletes and novice athletes
  • Players must know their bodies well and be very self-motivated
  • The subjectivity of it

 

  1. Velocity based system 

 Velocity based training (VBT) has definitely become the current trend amongst many conditioning specialist around the world. It reminds me of when the use of GPS just came out in sport and how our world changed from all the measurable data that became possible to evaluate. VBT to lesser extend is opening up the strength and power training world and probably the most exciting tool of the last couple of years. Although it’s been around for a couple of decades, it’s only now that velocity measuring devices have become more affordable and more popular. Putting all that aside, how can we use it to auto-regulate our players?

Velocity is measured in meter per second and strongly correlates to 1 RM percentages. This allows us to estimate at what percentage load, what the velocity will be. So in the same way we prescribe training loads for training adaptation, one can also prescribe velocity zones for training adaptation.

 

To give an example:

Let’s say, based on data, that a player’s velocity at 85% 1RM is 0.35-0.45 m/sec. The training effect we get from that load is in the strength/size zone. So to determine whether a player is ready and capable of lifting a certain load, we can measure it based on the velocity they are lifting at. Load adjustments can be made to accommodate a player’s level of readiness for that specific session and lift.

So for instance, a player usually lifts 100kg at 0.5 m/sec, but today at 100kg he is getting speeds of 0.4 m/sec. The load could be made less until we get a load at which a player can move the bar at the desired velocity for the desired training effect. This could work both ways as a player might be moving the bar much faster indicating that a heavier load could be used. This may be useful when determining if how a weight “feels” is actually accurate to how well you are performing

 

What I Like:

  • Objective feedback
  • Quick feedback
  • Immediate adjustments
  • Accurate
  • Performance based
  • Load prescription without 1RM testing (Various exercises)

 

What I Don’t Like:

  • Require measuring tool
  • Velocity is specific to a movement: squat & bench can’t be compared

 

 Putting it all together

These are basically the three most popular auto-regulative systems and how they are used. The question then is how we use it for our athletes. Keeping in mind that these methods are not developed specifically for team sport players, but rather for strength and power athletes like weightlifter or powerlifters.

Theoretically all the methods covered so far should give us similar results, there is however a couple of discrepancies between some of the methods.

In a recent study it was reported that experienced squatters showed slower mean velocity at 100% 1RM compared to novice squatters. There was however no difference in velocity at loads between 60-75% 1RM. There was also a difference in the rating of the RPE between the two groups with the experienced group rating RPE higher at 1RM compared to the novice group. With these findings it can be assumed that especially at higher loads, for novice lifters the RPE system might not be the most accurate methods to regulate their training. The APRE method or the velocity based method might be a more suitable way to regulate training for novice athletes.

 As mentioned earlier, one of the things that I don’t like about the APRE method is the volume prescription, which is essentially only two sets at a given load, which might not be enough for more experience athletes, but could provide sufficient stimuli’s for the novice.

So to summarize:

Novice athletes: The APRE or velocity based auto-regulation system might be the most appropriate. It should just be kept in mind at what phase of the training plan you want to use the APRE system, since it has various protocols for various training stimulus.

Intermediate athletes: The APRE or velocity based system. You can also start introducing the RPE system to get athletes used to rating sets and start building a data base of trends for each individual athlete.

Experience athletes: Velocity based or RPE system. Once athletes are used to the RPE system it could accurately be used to regulate their training. As mentioned the APRE system might be a bit low on volume, so might only be used during the business end of the competition when the volume of training is cut significantly and strength training session are mostly used to maintain strength and power levels as oppose to developing it.

 

 

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