Autoregulation: The solution to the rehab programming puzzle

Training prescription is a delicate balancing act of tissue-loading. Overload a client, and they may suffer setbacks in the form of pain, swelling, and tissue damage. But, conversely, underloading will affect the development of the physical capacities necessary for performance in their sport.

The most challenging aspect of exercise prescription is ensuring the correct training intensity. Even if clinicians get the mode, frequency, and volume prescription right, the training program won’t have the desired effect if the intensity is wrong. Therefore, training intensity and volumes should be as near an individual’s pre-injury loads as possible.

One plausible solution to the training prescription problems described above is the concept of autoregulation. Autoregulation is a training periodization approach that aims to adjust training prescription to the athlete’s daily capabilities(2). These adjustments ensure optimal training intensity. For example, clinicians reduce the intensity on days when the athlete is tired and maximize on days when they have the potential to push harder.

The autoregulation approach to training

There are strong and reliable relationships between the relative intensity of lifts (% of 1RM), the number of lifts that can be completed (repetitions in reserve- RIR), and the athlete’s perception of effort (rating of perceived exertion – RPE) during training(2). Therefore, prescribing training intensity using these alternative methods allows clinicians to create appropriate exercise programs without the need for 1 RM testing (see table 2). The significant advantage of using RIR and RPE to prescribe intensities is that the weights selected to reflect the athlete’s capacity on the day.

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Jason Tee
Jason Tee
Coach educator and performance consultant

Coach and sports scientist with an interest in player and coach development