Auto-regulated strength training
The models depicted in the strength and conditioning literature are based on statistical averages and not on an individual's biological systems, which is why the “standard” protocols work for some and not others.
A common fault among coaches is that they try to make athletes fit their rigid models and prescribe these protocols that should “in theory” elicit a given adaptation. While this may work for those whose physiologies are congruent with their protocols, it will yield subpar results for others. Those that don’t fit this profile may simply assume they don’t have the genetics to elicit a given adaption, like muscular hypertrophy, when it reality they just need to take a different path to get there. After all, we cannot fight mother nature. Instead we need to maximize an athlete's ability and augment what they already possess.
Those who’ve struggled to put on muscle mass, while simultaneously doing everything else correctly, are more than likely using training methodologies that are ill suited for their individual physiology. The majority of hypertrophy protocols in the literature, and subsequent programs on the market, are designed for more powerful, high neuromuscular efficiency, athletes.
Those who don’t fit this classification (ie- lower neuromuscular efficiency, slow twitch dominant, athletes) yield subpar results from these programs because they’re able to tolerate higher volumes relative to their max, which means the standard strength protocols do not create as significant a disruption as to yield an adaptation. Instead these athletes need to train with higher time under tension, and higher than usual rep schemes than you’d typically associate with absolute strength work, as well as use specific protocols designed to elicit slow twitch fiber hypertrophy.
One way I’ve worked to circumvent this issues is with the use of auto regulated strength protocols. Over the past two years I've been experimenting with different ways of creating auto regulated strength protocols as a means of driving adaptation in a more efficient manner.
To start, here are some of the benefits i've found using these types of protocols:
1. Volume gets dialed into what the athlete can handle on any given day of the week, so we're never pushing it too far. On week 1 they may do 8 sets, then week 2 they'll do 5 sets, then week three it will be 11...etc. Similar with the moxy energy system protocols, progress doesn't always appear to be progress on paper. Yet, they get stronger.
2. For athletes, like myself, who require a lot of volume at high %'s of their max this gives me a good way to prescribe it without as much associated risk. For example, on monday I did 16 sets of 2 at 80% of my max BS w/ 90 sec rest, and last week I did 11 sets of 5 @80-85% of my DL. I wouldn't typically write something like that for someone, in fear of messing them up, but i'm seeing some athletes pull that off without much fatigue, and the athletes who can't handle that kind of tonnage typically get capped out in 3-5 sets on these protocols. So, it can be effective both as a strength protocol, and to figure out what type of volume someone generally needs to get stronger.
As it related to nuts and bolts, these are the potential variables you can auto-regulate in strength work:
1. Fixed volume / density, auto-reg intensity
2. Fixed volume / intensity, auto-reg density
3. Fixed volume, auto reg intensity and density
4. Fixed intensity / density, auto reg volume
5. Fixed intensity, auto reg volume and density
6. Fixed density, auto reg intensity and volume
I have a handful of different protocols I’ll use to auto-regulate both strength and energy system training. Some more common ways i’ll do it would be to fix intensity, load, or RPE as well as rest and have the athlete auto-regulate volume. Other times I will fix volume and have them auto-regulate load, etc. There are many ways to skin the cat and I don't think anyone right way is correct - there are just better and worse ways to do it relative to a specific goal.
In the picture below I’ve posted two simple sample protocols that are easy to implement.