The Importance of Auto Regulation: Knowing When to Call it a Day – by Ben Coker

I love volume in my training. Anyone who knows me closely and has watched me train will agree with this statement. On the whole I prefer to train insanely hard with a large workload and then take an extended succession of rest days. This system has worked very well for me and continues to do so. This isn’t to say that a more frequent training approach with less volume each session would be ineffective for me, it’s more to do with my mindset…I like to train insane.

100% agree, but not 100% of the time...

With all this said though, I can easily fall into the trap of overtraining if I fail to listen to my body. Short of having preset lower intensity days incorporated into a training cycle, having an intimate awareness of you body and its current state is crucial to all performers.

I have never actually been over trained but I frequently flirt with overreaching in my methodologies, therefore I need to have a good auto regulation and periodization scheme in place to know when enough is enough for each particular day.

There are times when I just don’t feel that surge in my body to go to that ‘dark place’ again. Today was one of those days. After my first exercise (squats) where I ramped up to and then performed 3 sets of 1 on 165kg, I moved on to my ‘accessory section’ which to me is pretty much where the session begins!.

Well today, after 5 sets on the leg press, with another couple of sets to go I detected my body feeling different. I can’t really describe it anymore that I felt different. I’m sure many lifters out there can relate to this.

Now, often lifters with a hard mindset or even an innocently ignorant mindset will push through this, battling themselves with self talk… ‘stop being a whip’, ‘I need to man up’, ‘I lifted 20kg more than this last week I need to push harder’, ‘I cant stop as that means I’m giving up’.

Walking like a foal after a heavy leg session is good, but not necessarily after every session...

These guys haven’t developed a good auto regulation system. They feel they need to do exactly what is written in their plan, even if your body is saying ‘hey just modify the plan so I can catch up’.

Today, my body wasn’t revving like I normally does. I had a cold sensation in my skin and my head felt a bit stuffy all of a sudden. It was like the very early signs of a cold. Despite still being very strong, I knew that this sign needed to be used NOT abused.

Sensibly, I decided to finish the presses two sets early and then got a quick complex in of hamstring curls, calf raise and leg raises (three times through) and got out of there. The session was half the time and volume it would normally be. Despite it being one of my low intensity days already, my body detected that low needed to be lower and I made it so.

I thought I would share this experience to bring home the importance of knowing when to call it a day and modify your programme where nexcessary based on what your body is telling you.

Programmes are good, but I prefer to think of them as templates. Your body doesn’t fall into line with what a set of percentages say on a page. Develop your own bodily ‘awareness’ as it were and know what your body is saying and learn how to act accordingly. If you can master this you will be lifting a lot longer and with a lot more consistency. It is these two points ultimately that form the foundation for any high level of performance.

Remember. Train hard. TRAIN SMART. Be strong.

Deloading 101 – by Jamie Bolton

The deload. The lazy-man’s excuse to not work hard. The hard grafters way to grow. It’s a delicate balance, but one too often abused in favour of the first option, if it’s used at all. 

I can imagine some of you sitting there thinking, what the **** is he on about and what the hell is a deload?

A deload or back-off week is a planned reduction in training volume and/or intensity. This can be from a few days up to a full week.

Why? Well, let me ask you how much muscle is built whilst training? None. Muscle is built when you recover from training. The longer and harder you push it in the gym without, the more fatigue, aches and pains you start to accumulate. In other words, you under-recover. A deload allows the body to super-compensate and allow you to hit the gym with renewed vigour and new-found strength.

Now before you all start taking it easy in the gym in the name of deloading, there’s one crucial point to remember here. Only deload when you need to

As a rule of thumb, the need and regularity of deloads will increase with training experience and age. The advanced trainee can’t push as hard for as long as the beginner. Nor can the old timer when compared to a young whipper-snapper. The more developed you are, the heavier you’re training loads are (or should be at least), and the greater the toll your training is taking on the body, so the need for recovery is greater.

At this point some coaches will give out prescriptions for deloads. One week in every four is a very common and popular one. For the developed lifter there is some merit to it for sure. For the beginner, this is far too frequent. My biggest argument with this kind of recommendation is that it’s far too standardised to be optimal for every lifter. My training isn’t your training. I might need a deload every four weeks, but your training might warrant a mini-deload every three weeks, or you might be fine with one in every eight!

You want to push every training cycle for as much as its worth. Deloading for the sake of deloading won’t get you anywhere fast.

So how can we tell when to deload? Well, the human body gives us plenty of simple cues, we just have to be clever enough to listen to them.

Cues for Deloading:
1. You’ve stopped progressing (and calorific intake is high). The point in brackets is crucial, you must be in a calorie surplus for this cue to be true.
2. Weights that you were dominating are starting to feel heavier.
3. Decreased motivation to train. And I’m not talking about the, ‘I went out last night’ type of not wanting to train (but this won’t be helping you anyway), but when you are getting to the point of almost fearing training.
4. Need for sleep increases. For this cue, it must be a given that all else is equal, i.e. you are getting as much sleep as you usually do, other general stresses are the same etc.
5. Explosiveness decreases. For me, in particular on lower body days, I tend to throw in a lot of jumps between main sets. When I start to notice a sustained decrease in vertical height over a few sessions, it’s time to back off.
6. Chronic ‘Achyness’. Not just the regular DOMS, but when you start to really ache, even days after a session and usually you would be recovered.
7. Inability to get ‘in the zone’. You do your regular activation movements, even some extra, but you seem to be struggling to get that fire going at the moment.

There are probably a few more of these the veterans among you have noticed over the years but you get the picture. Listen to those nagging cues, whatever they may be, and thank me later.

If you have to ask yourself if any of the above apply, you don’t need to deload. If you need a deload, you should have been reading the above whilst nodding your head, heck chances are you’ve been noticing these things for a while. Any one of the above may occur from time to time; deloading is only required when a few of the above are persistent cues from the body for a good week or so.

Deloaded Training

Deload training doesn’t really need to be a whole heap different to regular training. The ‘keep it simple’ approach is to just decrease intensity (read: weight lifted) by 40% and follow the program otherwise unchanged. If you’re a beginner, then you can get away with decreasing volume by 40% (read: same weight, less sets and reps).

But we can take a different approach also. I like to sometimes use deload periods to try out new exercises, or plain just ‘wing it’ in the gym. The key is to make sure the training is non-fatiguing and sub-maximal. Heck even consider taking a week out of the gym and hit up the park with just bodyweight movements. I’ll often try to ‘plan’ the need for a deload before a holiday, when I’m not sure what the training facilities will be like so I can do one of the above! The key is to keep it a bit easier and recover, you won’t get weaker by taking a week off when you really need it.

How long to deload? It depends, it might be four or five days, it might be a full week or even slightly more; again, listen to the body. When you’re starting to feel somewhat sadistic and crave a heavy squat session again, you’re ready.

Wrap up

We progress by challenging ourselves in our training, but unfortunately we are only human (well most of us are!). We don’t grow when training, we grow when recovering from training. Over time we accumulate more fatigue than can be recovered from between workouts and gradually the body tells us to back-off, but we must listen to it. After a period of reduced intensity/volume, we come back stronger, bigger and more eager to hammer away at our training again. One small step backwards for a many further steps forward.

And that’s it. Deload to recover and start progressing again. But only if your body needs it.

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