Autoregulation: When to Adjust Your Workouts

Autoregulation is when you adjust your workout intensity based on how you feel about the exercises you’ve taken on. It is done independently without the help of a pre-fabricated program – hence the “auto” part. Certain things can influence how you feel about your workout load – is your strength increasing? How about your stamina? Are you getting enough sleep? In this article, we’ll dive a little deeper into these factors.

What are some things that cause the need to adjust your workouts?

Sleep Quality

Quality sleep is proven to have beneficial effects on your workouts. A lack of sleep can lead to less power, more fatigue, and longer rest times. Getting a full amount of sleep (at least seven hours) can help take your workouts to the next level.

Pain Sensitivity/Injury

An obvious reason to pull back on your workouts is when you’re recovering from an injury or have a higher rate of pain sensitivity. Even if your injury is in a different body area than what you’ve chosen to train, your body will be diverting energy to your injured area to help it heal. Take it easy and keep your body loose on these days.

Stress Levels

Stress is a lesser-known factor in autoregulation, but it’s just as important. It’s important to learn how you deal with stress. Do you need a lighter workout so you can focus on relaxing? Or do you need a harder workout to blow off steam? It may take some trial and error to find out what works for you, but it’s an important factor to keep in mind.

How can I adjust my workouts?

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

RPE is often used to autoregulate your training. It allows you to subjectively rate your workout load. RPE ranges from 1-10. Most trainers will say effective training occurs at RPE 5 and above.

The perk of using RPE is that it can change from day to day based on what you feel like you can handle. It’s not a set-in-stone hard number of reps and sets. On one week, your RPE 7 might be 3 sets of 200lb, but on another with little sleep and more stress, it might be less.

RPE 1: Very light active. Standing, moving around.

RPE 2-3: Light activity. Easy to breathe and maintain for hours. Walking and stretching.

RPE 4-5: Light to moderate intensity. Five reps in reserve (RIR) before failure.

RPE 6-7: Moderate intensity. Slight reduction is velocity on the final rep. 3-4 RIR.

RPE 8-9: High intensity. Slow reps, only 1-2 RIR.

RPE 10: Max intensity. “1 Rep Max.”

Example of RPE program:

  • Week 1: 3 sets at RPE 7
  • Week 2: 4 sets at RPE 7
  • Week 3: 5 sets at RPE 7
  • Week 4: 3 sets at RPE 8

RPE is a subjective plan of training. It’s easy to fall behind if you don’t keep track of what you’re rating an RPE 7 each day. Training logs are helpful for this. Log your numbers about with how you’re feeling to keep a more objective log of how your numbers are progressing.

Kelsey Xander
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