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Troubleshooting Strength Injuries: What is Autoregulation?

This is one of the most frustrating combinations of two words in the English language for an athlete. It is the reason for endless discussion, arbitration, and points of view on training, and has caused more than a few arguments.

What program is the best program to get stronger? – It depends.

What plan should I follow to get the best results? – It depends.

How? When? What? Where? Why?  Most questions that are asked in the context with which we are concerned about — increasing performance, reducing injury, or dealing with pain — are going to be initially answered with, you guessed it — It depends.

Why? Because what works for one person may not work for another. This is evident in almost every aspect of life. Furthermore, the most complicated thing in the world is your own body. No random sequence of events, electronic device, or other living being is as complicated as the human body. So, when pushing the body to perform at its best while at the same time trying to keep the wheels from falling off, you’d better believe things are going to be a bit complicated. People adapt at different rates to different stimuli of different magnitudes, and the best training program for one person is not necessarily an ideal match for another.

Furthermore, it can be argued that stimuli from training are one of the LEAST variable and unpredictable stimuli involved in the strength athlete’s training cycle. As we detailed in the first two parts of the TSI series, the body — i.e., the nervous system — does not differentiate between training stress and any other stressors.

Tie that into the fact that both injury and adaptation occur over long periods of time and stress, and we can start to see how the stresses at work, in your environment, in your personal life, or from your current mental and emotional state can compound on each other to the same extent with much more variability than the eight to ten hours you spend per week training.

You can also see that no matter how perfect a training block is designed to be, that entering or exiting a relationship, losing a job or working swing shifts, lack of sleep, or even bad air quality can have a drastic effect on your training.

It can also be argued that daily life, work, mental, physical, and emotional stressors aren’t always a big deal. In fact, we could probably point to some people who had their best performances despite having an otherwise unstable life outside of their sport.

Michael Jordan had one of the best games of his career when he was sick. Brett Favre played an almost flawless game on Monday night football just a few days after his father passed away. And you wouldn’t be wrong. In fact, in terms of performance, severe external stresses like that can absolutely cause a boost for the athlete.

But it’s not for everyone, and it certainly isn’t sustainable for long periods of time. Tiger Woods suffered abysmal performances for years in a very mental sport following a scandal with his wife that was propped up and displayed to the world by the media for months on end.

On the other hand, there is such thing as having too little stress. As we all know, the body needs stress to adapt and improve. So by that concept, ZERO stress causes zero adaptation. We do still need stress to drive and force us to improve.

Pain is another dichotomy that one must navigate. It can be dangerous to ignore pain. Pain is meant to be there to be a warning sign before injury. If your entire body hurts, you should seriously consider what that is telling you before you learn the hard way.

But sometimes you need to learn to ignore pain and push through. If every time you felt discomfort you stopped pushing, there would never be enough stress on the body to create adaptation. Sometimes you will have to lift or play with pain and trust that you are not going to get hurt.

So what’s the right answer? Is it at this crossroads between excess and not enough that we find perfection? This is the sweet spot where stressors are present as motivating and growth factors, but not too much so to where the athlete loses focus or becomes chronically sympathetic, causing a cascade of performance-altering events. The art of being able to pool together the information necessary to fine-tune and modulate the athlete’s training and stay in this sweet spot is called autoregulation.

1. What is Autoregulation?

2. Subjective and Objective States of the Body

3. Recoverability and Access to Recovery Methods

4. Demands and Goals of Your Current Training Program

5. Faith

To further understand autoregulation, make sure to check out Dr. Detweiler's full article on, Troubleshooting Strength Injuries: What is Autoregulation?

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