Although not as exciting as the latest training program or nutrition strategy, recovery is a pivotal part of athletic development. Overtraining, under-sleeping and over-stressing can all lead to poor recovery and inhibited performance. This can lead to stagnation in your training gains and increased risk of injury. But what if you aren't recovering from your training sessions even after you've addressed stress and sleep? This is where autoregulation comes in.
Autoregulation is a great preventative tool that will keep you from running yourself into the ground with your training regimen. Autoregulation essentially means listening to your body and reacting accordingly; pushing yourself when you're having a good day and backing off a bit when you feel sluggish. Now, this is not an excuse to miss training sessions or slack off on a regular basis. But it is a way to approach your training that will allow you to continue training and making consistent gains for years to come. If you really know your body, autoregulation can be an excellent tool for ensuring your recovery is always on point.
How do you implement autoregulation into your existing routine? These three tips are a great place to start.
1. Lighten the Load When Needed
Athletes often view their training program as being set in stone. They go in thinking, "I will do 3 sets of 5 reps with 225 pounds on the Bench Press," because that's what their program tells them they should do. But what happens when you've only slept four hours the previous night because you were up late working on a critical homework assignment? On that day, 225 pounds may feel more like 1,000. You may be able to grind it out, but this can lead to poor form, an increased risk of injury, and a higher chance of overtraining. If you lighten the load a bit, you will be able to improve your technique and potentially prevent an avoidable injury. You'll still be getting in some quality work, you'll just be listening to your body in the process. This will also allow you to really bring it in your next training session instead of potentially wearing yourself down even further and getting stuck in an extended funk of sluggishness.
2. Push Yourself if You're Feeling it!
Wait, didn't I just say to lighten the load when needed? I did, but sometimes autoregulation also means adding weight and pushing yourself harder! If you are feeling strong and the weight is moving fast, then go for it! Add 10 pounds or try to push an extra rep or two. Just as your training routine shouldn't be set in stone when you're feeling terrible, it also shouldn't be set in stone when you're feeling on top of the world.
By pushing yourself harder on the days when you're feeling phenomenal, you'll make up for the days when you weren't able to push quite as hard. All too often, I see athletes coast through training sessions when they are having a good day simply because they're in a mindset where they must stick to the load or volume that's listed on their workout sheet. Safety always comes first, but don't be afraid to go the extra mile when you're feeling up for it.
3. Don't Be Afraid of an Extra Rest Day
Maybe you didn't sleep well at all. Maybe your entire body hurts. Maybe something came up and you missed your regularly scheduled workout. Instead of feeling guilty and beating yourself up, just take the day as a recovery day. Go for a walk or spend some time stretching at home. Eat a good meal, go to bed early, and vow to get after it tomorrow! Stressing over a missed workout can exacerbate the issue, when really you should focus on all the other ways you can take care of your body that don't include your usual workout. You shouldn't be taking extra rest days on a regular basis, but missing a workout here or there won't sabotage your strength gains.
So what does autoregulation really boil down to?
When you feel good, push it! If the weight feels light or your usual pace feels easy, ramp it up. Good days should not be taken for granted, so take advantage of it. And on the flip side, when you feel rundown, tired, and beat up, back the weight down or take a day off. It's better to perfect your technique than stick to the plan and end up hurting yourself. Finally, embrace the fact that most workouts will be somewhere in between great and good enough.
Strength coach Dan John summed this up when he said, "One out of five workouts is really good. One out of five is terrible. The other three are you just showing up." Autoregulation may not play a role in most of your workouts, but when the opportunities present themselves, take advantage of this method. Your body will thank you in the long run.
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