Recovering like a high performance athlete is a multi-pronged process. Learn how to listen to your body’s signals and auto-regulate from the inside out to take your training to the next level.
By Paul Oneid
The concept of auto-regulation in training is not new by any means. In fact, you could argue that we all do it to some extent. For those uninitiated to the term, auto-regulation refers to the adjustment of training to accommodate the level of preparedness of the athlete. It can be accomplished via modifications to training load, volume and/ or relative intensity.
The efficacy of a properly auto-regulated program is based on the premise that you can only adapt to what you can recover from. Therefore, training can be attenuated to allow for more recovery or more stress. This last point is an important one to keep in mind – training is a stress. We use the stress stimulus to create trauma to the system to elicit a response of the system to recover, super-compensate and come back stronger, faster, fitter etc.
For the average gym goer, they may simply take it easy on a day they are tired, or push limits when they are feeling froggy. This isn’t factored into a periodized training plan and there is very little attention paid to the antecedents of the daily level of preparedness. Now, for the athlete trying to push their physical limits and achieve a certain goal, auto-regulation needs to be implemented in a more pragmatic fashion. There should be metrics tracked and measures put in place depending on the situation.
The Other 22 Hours
Common strategies to implement auto-regulation into a training plan would be Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), Reps in Reserve (RIR), Velocity Based Training (VBT), Heart Rate Variability (HRV), Grip Strength, Max Vertical Jump, Omega Wave, or Resting Heart Rate. New strategies are always being developed and refined, but the overarching concept is – how do you gauge preparedness and adjust the training accordingly? This is a very valid question; however, it is missing a big part of the equation – the other 22 hrs of the day you’re not training! This model of auto-regulation assumes that the factors outside the gym are uncontrollable variables and to achieve a desired result, the controllable variable (training), is the only thing that can be modified.
In opposition to this paradigm, what if the training was a constant? What if we proposed that the training could not be modified? This is a reality when approaching a competition. You must perform a given workload in training to achieve a desired result at the end of the training cycle. If you can’t make it through the training, you won’t achieve your goal. To get to this point, we must look within ourselves and ask, “how do I modify my lifestyle to improve my preparedness and response from training?” The answer is you must implement similar strategies to the ones used to modify training. Implementing subjective metric tracking to provide measurable metrics on which to base our decision-making process. What doesn’t get measured cannot be managed and what doesn’t get managed cannot be adjusted.
From Outside-In to Inside-Out
This form of “inside-out” auto-regulation is in direct opposition to the “outside-in” model you are being pushed. You are being bombarded with devices telling you how you should be feeling and taking those results at face value. Rather than relying on a device to tell you about the quality of your sleep, you would be best served to look within and ask, “how rested do I feel?” The reality is that it doesn’t matter if your smart device tells you that you slept well if you’re exhausted when you wake up in the morning.
This model unlocks an incredible amount of insight into your life and can have a profound impact on your training. Once you establish values on the subjective metrics you determine are most valuable, you can begin to look at them and find associations. You now become more self-aware and take ownership over your own process, instead of outsourcing it to a piece of technology. You’re now paying attention to the antecedents of our preparedness, rather than accepting that it is high, or low. A low HRV score may indicate poor preparedness for training, but without having tracked the previous days’ stress, restfulness, mood, appetite, sex drive, sleep quality etc. you will have no idea of, 1- why your score is low and, 2- how to ensure your score stays as high as possible.
Recovery Doesn’t Happen In a Vacuum
Again, gauging preparedness for training is not a new concept. Dr. Tudor Bompa outlined it quite thoroughly in his book “Periodization,” on page 144. He provided athletes with a subjective questionnaire so he could ensure they were ready to train. What he did not do is propose that the subjective metrics could be controllable variables within the training equation. The reality is that you might have been missing the mark to a large degree. You can take actionable steps to reduce our stress, improve your sleep quality, be happier, have more fulfilling personal relationships and optimize your diet. Not only that, but you can develop an understanding about the interaction of these metrics and their interrelatedness.
So, how can you begin to implement some strategies to shift yourself towards an “inside-out” approach?
1. Pay Attention – Journaling, tracking, reflecting, meditating, or whatever strategy you can implement that helps to create a greater sense of awareness around your habits and behaviors and how they are affecting your life.
2. Ask “why?” – Stop accepting the day at face value and start to look at the deeper meaning behind your performance. 99% of the time, you have control over your actions and the consequences that shape our reality. By asking yourself “why?” you seek to establish a greater understanding of the consequences that led you to where you are.
3. Act Consciously – Once you’ve developed the awareness that certain behaviors lead to certain outcomes, make a conscious effort to model your lifestyle around the end goal you want to achieve. Use the information you’re gathering to improve your performance.
By seeking to find a greater understanding of yourself and taking ownership of your life, you reduce the reliance on simply “taking what the day gives you,” and can start pushing your limits to a greater degree more often and start asking, “how can I get everything I need out of this day?” Live more consciously and stop accepting that you’re not in control. You are not beholden to a number on a piece of wearable tech. Your decisions each day determine your trajectory. Start looking at your training from the inside-out.
About the Author
Paul Oneid is the owner and Head Coach of Master Athletic Performance, and currently works as a Functional Rehabilitation Specialist. Paul is also the Co-Founder of 1-Life Inc. and the MetriLife app – A mobile app that provides reminders and recommendations to help you improve your performance in mind and body. He holds Master of Science Degrees in both Exercise Science and Sports Management and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Certified Exercise Physiologist and Certified Olympic Weightlifting Coach with 14 years’ experience as a Strength and Conditioning Coach in varying capacities from youth to professional athletics. As a competitive powerlifter, his best lifts in competition are an 805lbs Squat, 430lbs Bench Press, a 725lbs Deadlift and a 1960lbs total.