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Autoregulation and De-Loading: How to Approach Them Correctly

Autoregulation and De-Loading: How to Approach Them Correctly

With consistency being preached as the primary driver for progression in today’s climate, it is easy to misunderstand the necessary time and place for consistency within a fitness program. Being regimented in your approach to training in terms of tracking progression and efficient programming is essential for progression, however, training sessions may not always go to plan, unexpected circumstances may come into play within the training week/block and adjustments will need to be made. Along with this, it is important to be accountable for the accumulation of fatigue throughout the course of a training block, with progressions being made it is natural for correlating fatigue to set in. There is also room for error when trying new exercises/movement patterns as these may not quite be suitable for individual biomechanics, these then may need to be rotated out. This is where autoregulation and de-load come in to focus.

What is autoregulation?

Autoregulation of training refers to making certain training-based decisions during the workout as opposed to during the planning process before the session and applies to all sports and training methods, it is a specific framework, not a program. You have more than likely used this method in your training, you just haven’t understood that it is an applicable strategy. Some examples of autoregulation of training include:

  • Resting an extra minute to increase performance in the next set
  • Reducing weight to compensate for form breakdown 
  • Added an extra 5kg as opposed to 2.5kg

It is important to understand that these are methods of training regulation used in accordance with a structured training plan. It is important to realise that autoregulation is based on performance as opposed to being based on “how you feel” on the day, overall performance is the key indicator for the need to autoregulate. 

Autoregulation (when used correctly) is a great tool to use to mitigate stalls in progression, although a zealous approach may not be your best option, changing/ manipulating more than 2 variables at a time may prove detrimental to progress. This along with changing variables too frequently are both risk factors that may detriment the success of autoregulation. Understand the goal and prioritise it, the goal is not to stick solely to a program, it is to progress and if changes are needing to be made, it is important to understand when/ how to make them. 

The discussion surrounding autoregulation of training provides an excellent bridge when introducing the topic of de-loading, which is an exponentially valuable tool when aiming to reduce training fatigue over the course of a training block.

When to autoregulate?

Autoregulation may be necessary when the below factors are becoming exceptionally hard to control:

  • When volume is impeding recovery
  • When intensity is impeding recovery
  • When sleep quality is diminished on training days
  • When specific movements are not progressing at the rate of others 

What is de-loading?

A de-load is considered a temporary reduction in weekly training stress to accommodate fatigue onset, aiding in reduced risk of injury.

There will come a point in everyone’s training block where fatigue has begun to set in, causing detriment to performance, recovery and sleep.

 De-loading protocol is subjective to the individual and their ability to recover if you are a beginner lifter it may be the case that simple reducing weekly set/rep volume or reducing RPE per exercise is all that is necessary to sufficiently de-load. On the other hand, if you are slightly more experienced it may be the case that several days completely off of training are the necessary route, with a gradual re-introduction to training across such week. The de-load protocol is subjective to the individual and one should take a pragmatic approach in assessing the right de-load strategy that coincides with their goals, lifestyle and recovery capabilities.

When and How-to de-load?

A de-load should be considered around every 8 weeks provided progression is somewhat linear before plateauing. However, this is subject to the individual and their recovery capabilities. Other factors that may influence the need for a de-load include:

  • Poor sleep
  • Poor appetite 
  • Plateau in training across the board
  • Lethargy 
  • Lack of motivation
  • Reduced cognitive function
  • Increasingly lasting effects of DOMS

By Tireoghain O’Neill


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