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The Power of Autoregulation in Training: Should You Use It?

  • 5 min read

by Matt Weik

You’ve come across a lot of motivational phrases that are now almost cliché. Phrases like “no pain, no gain,” “go big or go home,” “may the odds be ever in your favor,” and words of encouragement like “that’s the spirit!” and “keep it up!” While these phrases have become more commonplace, they are all messages we intend to convey. These messages are meant to give us the urge to push harder and go further during most training sessions. While some of them may seem applicable to all training, there is one all-encompassing phrase that you could use throughout your entire training program: autoregulation.

What is Autoregulation?

Simply put, autoregulation is the ability to listen to your body and adjust your training based on how you feel, not just what the plan says. When we talk about an “autoregulated” workout, it means that the athlete adapts their training according to their performance during the session and their perception of fatigue or energy.

An example would be if someone were to wake up in the morning and decide they would do a 15-mile run. If they wake up and they really don’t feel like it, they could choose not to do the run. That’s autoregulation — adjusting the workout based on how you feel.

You may also hear this called instinctive training. An athlete may go into a training session without a plan but flow through their workout based on how they feel during their workout. This could mean more reps, more sets, different exercises, different angles, etc.

Autoregulation in Training

The concept of autoregulation has been around for decades, but it still seems to be a mystery to many people. Autoregulation refers to the ability of an individual to respond appropriately to external or internal stimuli in order to maintain homeostasis.

In the context of training, it refers to the ability of an athlete to regulate their exercise intensity, volume, and frequency by monitoring internal responses such as heart rate, blood pressure, rate of perceived exertion (RPE), and even in the case of bodybuilding how you are looking in the mirror.

The beauty of autoregulation training is that it allows the athlete to determine their own training intensity and volume on any given day. This is most important during periods when there may be a high level of stress in their lives, such as school exams, work deadlines, or family issues. In these situations, it may not be ideal for the athlete to train at 90% intensity if their body is not recovering well from previous sessions.

Autoregulation in training is a great tool for athletes and coaches to better manage the fatigue and recovery process. If they aren’t “feeling a workout,” they’ll listen to their body and back off slightly. More times than not, if you push yourself when your mind and body aren’t on the same page, it could, unfortunately, lead to an injury.

The Benefits of Autoregulation

Below are some of the benefits you can experience while using autoregulation with your training.

  • Autoregulation provides a means to reduce the risk of injury and overtraining by allowing the athlete to monitor their own fatigue levels. It is also helpful for managing day-to-day volume and intensity fluctuations, which can be caused by a variety of factors such as work, life stress, illness, lack of sleep, etc.
  • Autoregulation can assist with managing progressions and regressions within a training program. If an athlete is having a bad day, it allows them the ability to reduce the volume or intensity of their prescribed session in order to still get the required training effect. This will enable them to come back stronger on their next training session and keep progressing forward with their training.
  • Autoregulation can help athletes perform at their best on competition days by allowing them to gauge whether they are ready on that day or if they require another day’s rest before competing again. This is especially important in multi-day competitions where recovery is crucial.

Pros and Cons of Autoregulation

Autoregulation is the ability to adjust your training based on how you feel. Intensity and volume will be adjusted according to how well you have recovered from the last session, what your goals are, and your current level of fitness. It is a very flexible way of training.

Below are some of the pros and cons for you to understand and digest. From there, you can decide for yourself if autoregulation training is something you want to try or implement into your program from time to time.


  • Allows for flexibility in scheduling workouts.
  • It can prevent overtraining as it allows for more rest days if needed.
  • Your training can be adjusted according to how you feel on that particular day, which may make it more enjoyable.
  • You’re less likely to get injured as you won’t be pushing yourself too much when you’re tired or feeling “off.”


  • It can be challenging to know how hard to train — you may need a coach or experienced lifter to help guide you.
  • If you struggle with motivation, it can be easy to convince yourself not to really push yourself when in fact, you need some extra intensity.
  • If your gym is busy, it might be difficult to adjust your workouts without missing out on equipment or not being able to complete a compound lift at the correct weight.