Training programming or autoregulation?

Training programming or autoregulation?

When it comes to training programming, different methods have been employed in the history of Strength Training to generate positive adaptations and elicit improvement in terms of strength outcomes of an athlete 1. What seems to be clear is that certain training variables may affect the results of different training units, leading to a complex interrelation that has to be taken into account by the coach when drafting individualised programmes 2.

Matter of this discussion will be therefore providing a literature review on how this process can be conducted, using, depending on the circumstances, a more structured or auto-regulated training protocol 1,3,4. Thus, in an attempt of determining those scenarios in which one may be more effective than the other, pinpointing the reasons behind it.

In periodized protocols, the number of repetition per set, the number of sets, the recovery or the kilograms lifted are only some of those required to generate the expected adaptations 3.

If these elements are stimulated to the right degree and in the correct manner, they are capable of increasing the performance 4. On the other hand, failing to match these criteria can result in stagnation of the athlete’s progression or produce detrimental effects on the body 4.

From the first understanding of those principles that lay underneath the training process, the most crucial variables can be optimally structured in a training programme. Ideally, this should be implied to avoid a flawed random organization of a session. Thus, promoting instead a reasoned long-term development 5.

As a matter of this fact, various are the techniques commonly implemented in a Strength and Conditioning setting to ensure a stable progression of the athlete1. Linear, undulating, block periodization (just to name a few), comprise the core of reference for any S&C coach.

Even if it is true that to a certain degree a body response to training can be predicted, a project plan written prior its implementation may need further improvements along the way; so that the results both match the athlete’s expectations and satisfy the coach’s guidelines 1,6.

Periodized training (PT) is a methodology that allows a reasoned athlete’s progression in a strength development context so that almost every detail of the training is planned in great advance for a long period of time 7.

PT has been vastly adopted in rehabilitation scenarios to guide the injured athletes toward a successful return to their standard training regime, providing valuable elements for what concerns the exercise progression and the specific attention required by the athlete 8. In addition to this, it appeared to better guide the training novices; acknowledging them in the process.

When implementing Periodized Training in a Strength and Conditioning context, various authors were inclined to suggest that this methodology is somehow superior to that of non-periodized training (NPT) programmes 9. Thus, as the organization of long-term programmes was frequently adopted to predict the athlete’s performance for competition purposes 3.

Surely, this methodology needs to be cautiously implemented to prevent either the elicitation of excessive fatigue or the lack of an adequate training stimulation 10.

Autoregulation refers to an approach that can be implemented by the athlete while progressing with the training: a mechanism that allows a better control of the variables involved in the success of a specific session (fatigue levels, lack of sleep, stress etc), leaving more space and freedom to the athlete performing it 4. This does not have to be intended as a random organisation. On the other hand, it needs to be considered as the maximal exemplification of individualised training 4. No programme is structured in advance, and the expertise of the athlete, jointly with his readiness, can modulate and direct the exercises’ execution towards fruitful results 8.

Autoregulation was at first proposed as a system by DeLorme in 1945 and since then popularized by Sif 11. The idea behind the method is to consider the number of repetitions that the individual is capable of performing at a certain intensity in a single day and, from there, calculate the workload. Doing so, fatigue and readiness levels affecting the workout can be appropriately adjusted; avoiding the mere distribution of a rigid programme schedule 12. This allows a greater flexibility of the volumes and intensities of a training within a single session; more in line with the state of the freshness of an individual.

On the downside, if the athlete is not able to adequately estimate the training buffer (e.g. novices or beginners), the whole system breaks. Therefore, autoregulation requires a minimum range of expertise to be correctly implemented 13.

Nowadays, some technological devices (i.e. Gymaware) are available to visualise in a quantitative manner, the athlete’s effort during a session, focusing on the velocity of the repetition performed 14. However, in order to obtain accurate measures, the individual needs to focus on performing a fast concentric action; having a good technique; make sure not to skip any session and constantly be auto-motivated 15.

Periodized Training and Autoregulation have been compared in the literature for what concerns Strength Training, underlining the following outcomes: “autoregulatory progressive resistance exercise was found to be more effective at improving bench press strength, squat strength, and upper body endurance in trained athletes over a six weeks period” 16 and to provide “small advantage in lean mass accretion and upper body strength in strength-trained males” 17. On the other hand, others underline little to no difference between the two training methods 12. Thus, probably underlining that none of these methodologies is absolutely better or worse, but just that they can be more suitable for different goals and levels of expertise of the athlete.

In order to obtain more standardized values in future research, more attention should be directed on the choice of the samples, specifically considering untrained people and women.

Summing up, even though the outcomes of various studies seem to suggest the implementation of PT over NPT programmes and the dominance of autoregulation over PT in trained individuals, loads has still to be done in the Strength and Conditioning field to determine the de-contextualized and absolute supremacy of one method over the other.


Feigenbaum, M., & Pollock, M. (1997). Strength Training. The Physician And Sportsmedicine, 25(2), 44-64

Turner, A., & Comfort, P. (2018). Advanced strength and conditioning: An Evidence-based Approach

Lorenz, D., & Morrison, S. (2015). Current Concepts in Periodization of Strength and Conditioning for the Sport Physical Therapist. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 10(6), 734–747

Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. (2009). Supertraining. Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky.

Kornspan, A. (2009). Fundamentals of sport and exercise psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

NSCA Strength and Conditioning Professional Standards and Guidelines. (2009). NSCA. Retrieved 25 March 2018, from

Fleck, S. (1999). Periodized Strength Training: A Critical Review. The Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 13(1), 82

Hoover, D., VanWye, W., & Judge, L. (2016). Periodization and physical therapy: Bridging the gap between training and rehabilitation. Physical Therapy In Sport, 18, 1-20

Rhea, M., & Alderman, B. (2004). A Meta-Analysis of Periodized versus Nonperiodized Strength and Power Training Programs. Research Quarterly For Exercise And Sport, 75(4), 413-422.

10 Issurin, V. (2010). New Horizons for the Methodology and Physiology of Training Periodization. Sports Medicine, 40(3), 189-206

11 Mann, B. (2011). A Programming Comparison: The APRE vs. Linear Periodization In Short Terms Periods (PhD). Faculty of the Graduate School at the University of Missouri-Columbia

12 Fraser, J. (2018). A comparison between a traditionally periodised programme and a load autoregulated periodised programme for maximal strength gain in the squat, bench press, and deadlift in weight-trained males (Master Of Science). Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand

13 Eston RG, Wiliams JG. Reliability of ratings of perceived effort regulation of exercise intensity. British Journal of Sports medicine. 1988;22:153–155. Available at:

14 Jovanović, M., & Flanagan, E. (2014). Researched Applications Of Velocity Based Strength Training. Journal Of Australian Strength And Conditioning, 22(2), 58-69

15 Kawamori, N., & Newton, R. (2006). Velocity Specificity of Resistance Training: Actual Movement Velocity Versus Intention to Move Explosively. Strength And Conditioning Journal, 28(2), 86.

16 Mann, J., Thyfault, J., Ivey, P., & Sayers, S. (2010). The Effect of Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise vs. Linear Periodization on Strength Improvement in College Athletes. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 24(7), 1718-1723.

17 Rauch, J., Ugrinowitsch, C., Barakat, C., Alvarez, M., Brummert, D., & Aube, D. et al. (2017). Auto-regulated exercise selection training regimen produces small increases in lean body mass and maximal strength adaptations in strength-trained individuals. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 1.

To strength train or not to strength train? The complexity of the matter

To strength train or not to strength train? The complexity of the matter

The aim of this piece of work is to display the complexity that lays behind strength training; shedding some light on the positive and the negative aspects of its usage in physical preparedness. In fact, within the lack of control in professionals sporting realms, strength training has been too frequently implemented without full awareness and consciousness. Evidence-based training (EBT), jointly with the direct experience on the field, is by the date the most comprehensive ways to enhance the athletes’ growth and progression, in a safe and controlled environment.

Back in 1988, Zatsiorsky defined the physical strength as the ability of a given muscle or group of muscles to generate muscular force under specific conditions1. Inside this definition lies the understanding that strength is a specific phenomenon that is not easily transferable from one scenario to another. Humans are able to impress strength in various situations under a specific typology of resistance in a specific time frame and for a certain duration, to producing a specific outcome2. Therefore, talking about “strength training” in general is misleading.

A great example of this concept can be that of a powerlifter who, despite his/her capacity of deadlifting three times his body weight, runs a one hundred meters race extremely slowly.

Moreover, when considering general (GPP) or specific (SPP) physical preparedness for a given sport, strength is just one of the abilities, alongside with “speed, endurance, skill, structure or flexibility”, that an athlete needs to develop 2.

It can be said that all these elements merge with one another in the reality of actions, creating a “biologic continuum” useful to interact with space 3.

Given the complexity of this matter, and the specificity of bodies adaptation, is it worth implementing strength training in someone’s routine?

Strength training has proven to be useful to avoid injuries, increase performance and protect from different diseases. Moreover, it appeared to effectively stress physiological changes, improving both kinetics and kinesthetic qualities 2.

From a brief analysis of the literature, strength training appears to be extremely valuable in various contexts 4,5,6. First of all, physiological and muscular functioning; jointly with a greater responsiveness to training were registered in samples of adults and elderly people7,8. In addition to this, strength training appeared to benefit cerebral palsy patients, specifically in reducing the detrimental effects of their illness on the muscles9,10. Strength training was successfully implemented both for pre-habilitation 11 and rehabilitation 12 purposes. In addition to this, it has been shown to enhance multiple conditional and physiological parameters when accurately added to the training schedule5. As a matter of fact, in less than three months adding ST to the routine elicited substantial adaptations for both “aerobic power” and “short-term endurance” in a male sample13.  Similar results were found for healthy, untrained males in another study, where strength training implementation produced relevant outcomes in terms of endurance, following heavy resistance training14.

Moreover, integrating it in endurance programmes, appeared to effectively increase “economy, muscle power and performance” both in trained and untrained individuals15. Neurological and muscular improvements (muscle size and function), leading to a greater coordination of the muscle groups, were registered in samples of prepubescent boys 16 and women 17; however, caution is required.

Besides from all the advantages displayed above, the implementation of strength has some limitations. In fact, if the training adaptations are not adequately adjusted and contextualized, they might elicit states of neuroendocrine system impairing, better known as “overtraining syndromes” 18. Thus, leading to fatigue and decrements in the performance19. This state is normally triggered as a consequence of excessive volume and intensity levels, or when the recovery time between sessions/cycles is not designed correctly 20.

Consequently, in order to achieve satisfying results for what concern an outstanding performance, strength training should always be adjusted to the specific needs and the current state of the athlete, appropriately selecting valuable exercises and training prescription; so that precious time and energies are not wasted 21 and both acute and chronic injuries can be limited22. Expertise in the programming structuration field can surely help better defining the most accurate strength training regime for every athlete 21.

As a matter of this fact, implementing systematic and individualized programming (IP) appeared to be superior to non-individualised ones when the ST addition was aimed at improving the jumping performance for a sample of trained soccer and rugby players23.

Even if less harming as a factor, when talking about athletic performance, it is necessary to consider the needs of the sports. As a matter of this fact, for what concerns shot putters, the rate of force development (RFD) has been shown to be superior in predicting performance rather than maximal force output 24. This implies that training in order to reduce the explosive strength deficit for shot putters would be more beneficial than improving the 1RM.




Given what underlined above, it is clear that strength training can serve as a valuable tool for a great variety of contexts, ranging from the performance enhancement of trained and untrained athletes 14,15 to medical9,10 and rehabilitation 12 applications. It was clearly pointed out that successful outcomes (when it comes to the integration of ST in a programme) were both related to the coach’s determination of the athlete’s needs and his/her ability to structure an individualized training regimen 21. Lastly, the typology of movement context, the sporting scenarios, and the personal long-term goals will dictate which form of strength training should be used to elicit the most effective results 1,2,3.



Zatsiorsky, V. (2005). Biomechanics in sport. Oxford: Blackwell Science.

Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. (2009). Supertraining. Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky.

Ludovic Seifert, Keith Davids. Ecological Dynamics: a theoretical framework for understanding sport performance, physical education and physical activity. CS-DC’15 World e-conference, Sep 2015, Tempe, United States. CS-DC’15 World e-conference.

Sale, D. (2008). Neural Adaptation to Strength Training. Strength And Power In Sport, 281-314.

Burger, M., & Burger, T. (2002). Neuromuscular and Hormonal Adaptations to Resistance Training. Strength And Conditioning Journal, 24(3), 51-59.

O’Connor, P., Herring, M., & Caravalho, A. (2010). Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training in Adults. American Journal Of Lifestyle Medicine, 4(5), 377-396.

Tsutsumi, T., Don, B., Zaichkowsky, L., & Delizonna, L. (1997). Physical Fitness and Psychological Benefits of Strength Training in Community Dwelling Older Adults. Applied Human Science Journal Of Physiological Anthropology, 16(6), 257-266.

Frontera, W., & Bigard, X. (2002). The benefits of strength training in the elderly. Science & Sports, 17(3), 109-116.

Taylor, N., Dodd, K., & Larkin, H. (2004). Adults with cerebral palsy benefit from participating in a strength training programme at a community gymnasium. Disability And Rehabilitation, 26(19), 1128-1134.

10 McBurney, H., Taylor, N., Dodd, K., & Graham, H. (2003). A qualitative analysis of the benefits of strength training for young people with cerebral palsy. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 45(10).

11 Hejna, W., Rosenberg, A., Buturusis, D., & Krieger, A. (1982). The Prevention of Sports Injuries in High School Students Through Strength Training. National Strength Coaches Association Journal, 4(1), 28.

12 Latham, N., & Liu, C. (2010). Strength Training in Older Adults: The Benefits for Osteoarthritis. Clinics In Geriatric Medicine, 26(3), 445-459.

13 hickson, R., Rosenkoetter, M., & Brown, M. (1980). Strength training effects on aerobic power and short-term endurance. Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 12(5), 336-339.

14 marcinik, E., Potts, J., Schlabach, G., Will, S., Dawson, P., & Hurley, B. (1991). Effects of strength training on lactate threshold and endurance performance. Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 23(6), 739-743.

15 Beattie, K., Kenny, I., Lyons, M., & Carson, B. (2014). The Effect of Strength Training on Performance in Endurance Athletes. Sports Medicine, 44(6), 845-865.

16 ramsay, J., Blimkie, C., Smith, K., Garner, S., Macdougall, J., & Sale, D. (1990). Strength training effects in prepubescent boys. Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 22(5), 605-614.

17 Häkkinen, K., Kraemer, W., Newton, R., & Alen, M. (2001). Changes in electromyographic activity, muscle fibre and force production characteristics during heavy resistance/power strength training in middle-aged and older men and women. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 171(1), 51-62.

18 Halson, S.L., & Jeukendrup, A.E. (2004) Does overtraining exist?. An analysis of overreaching and overtraining research. Sports Medicine, 34, 967-981

19 Fry, A., & Kraemer, W. (1997). Resistance Exercise Overtraining and Overreaching. Sports Medicine, 23(2), 106-129.

20 Fry, R.W., Morton, A.R., & Keast, D. (1991). Overtraining in athletes An update. Sports Med, 12, 32-65

21 Bompa, T., & Haff, G. (2009). Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training. Champaign. Human Kinetics.

22 Lavallee, M., & Balam, T. (2010). An Overview of Strength Training Injuries. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 9(5), 307-313.

23 Jiménez-Reyes, P., Samozino, P., Brughelli, M., & Morin, J. (2017). Effectiveness of an Individualized Training Based on Force-Velocity Profiling during Jumping. Frontiers In Physiology, 7.

24 Zaras, N., Stasinaki, A., Methenitis, S., Krase, A., Karampatsos, G., & Georgiadis, G. et al. (2016). Rate of Force Development, Muscle Architecture, and Performance in Young Competitive Track and Field Throwers. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 30(1), 81-92.