Auto-regulation in Weightlifting Training

Auto-regulation or self-regulation is an important but not widely understood concept in coaching. For those who might read this post, auto-regulation might be defined as the ability of the athlete to regulate their own training rather than be dependent on the coach to give directions. Of course, for each and every athlete, auto-regulation lies on a continuum between total control by the coach and total control by the athlete of their own training agenda. In the initial stages of learning Weightlifting, the athlete is highly dependent on the coach. However, within 3 years perhaps, the athlete should be able to pursue their training with considerably less direction from the coach. Then if an athlete has 10 years training experience, and has reached a high level of performance, they may largely expected to self-regulate including taking responsibility for the development of their own training program.

But what and how does the athlete self-regulate? Here are some examples:

  • The athlete, detecting that their wrist is sore, make a decision NOT to do overhead work in that session.
  • The athlete, detecting that they are struggling with the suggested target intensity, drops back in weight and successfully performs further sets.
  • the athlete, feeling that they have time, energy and motivation, decides to do more sets on the prescribed exercise
  • the athlete, detecting significant stiffness in the legs from heavy training, decides to perform Power Snatch instead of full Snatch
  • The athlete, feeling really good about their technique and strength on the day, pushes above the intensity prescribed by the training program

Many readers will recognise the above and say “I do this” and feel they are already demonstrating auto-regulation. This may be true to some extent but from the coach’s perspective athletes demonstrate differing levels of success in achieving auto-regulation. Here are some types of failure in auto-regulation.

  • the athlete attempts to push higher than the prescribed intensity on most training days, essentially “testing their strength” in almost every session, even on days where training is supposed to be deliberately light.
  • the athlete frequently ignores signs of fatigue and soreness and tries to achieve target percentages irregardless of how they feel, thinking that the magic of the training program is all in the numbers.
  • The athlete just does the number of sets prescribed by the training program and hardly ever puts in extra work unless directed to do so by the coach

It should be the goal of the coach to teach athletes how to self regulate. It takes time but even if an athlete has less than once year’s Weightlifting experience, a small degree of auto-regulation is a very good thing. It augurs well for the individual if they can. As a coach I might expect less auto-regulation from a young athlete but a senior athlete who has other types of sporting experience, and has received coaching in other sports, may be able to auto-regulate sooner.

As a coach, my task involves observing athletes and this doesn’t just mean I look at their technique. I am constantly appraising the athlete’s physical state, their motivation and interest in training, and signs of learning and auto-regulation. I start to get excited when I see athletes take full advantage of days when they are energetic, moving well and time rich, and pull back on the training load on days when the body is not cooperating well. But my final word of warning is that taking advantage of good days doesn’t always mean push to maximum, far from it. Taking advantage can also mean getting extra quality work done, extending the number of sets per exercise, really working hard on technique, speed and flexibility, and finding time to do warm-up and technical drills often missed.

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