Auto-regulation in Training: Managing Life's Obstacles

Auto-regulation in Training: Managing Life's Obstacles

Tya Waterman |

With Guest Blogger, Chris Schnare

The journey towards achieving your health and fitness goals will always come with road blocks.  This is completely normal. If managed properly, these challenges can be minimized or even better, overcome!

Right when you have built your best momentum and you are enjoying that fitness high that comes with increased activity and quality eating, you get sidelined by life.  Don’t stress, you are certainly not alone.

Maybe your career has a stressful and urgent deadline coming up, your children’s activity and sport schedule has you running around like a chauffeur, or maybe you are battling some unexpected home renos that have your life turned upside down.

The good news is that when it comes to fitness and performance, a very helpful auto-regulation strategy can set you up for efficient and continued success, while still accommodating whatever life throws your way. 

Auto-regulation is a term used widely across the Strength & Conditioning field, which essentially means that some decisions concerning your fitness routine need to be made on the fly or during a training session based on the reality of where you are at on that given day. 

Stress may be higher than normal, or perhaps your sleep or food intake has been lower than you are used to.  Whatever the variable is, making some smart, on-the-spot decisions can go a long way in managing a successful fitness routine. 

Auto-regulation can mean a lot of things and can be manipulated in many ways.  Here are a few strategies you can use to make on-the-spot decisions without going totally off script:


  1. Shorten your training time but stick to the rest of the plan.

This is the simplest change one can make, yet to keep things effective, some slight adjustments are still required.  When life gets in your way, just rest less.  This may seem simple, but most people are unaware of how much time is wasted by unnecessarily long rest periods.

Shortening your general rest between exercises will not only save you a lot of time, but will also allow you to feel more accomplished, since you will be pushing yourself to do the same amount of work in less total time.  Not only did you get your work done, you will have also created a phenomenal metabolic stimulus for your system that you will benefit from for hours.  

Who knows, this may even become your new “normal” pace.


  1. Lower the total volume and sets, while maintaining or increasing intensity

This is my highest recommended auto-regulation strategy for most people. By simply reducing the total number of sets you complete on a given exercise, you can save a lot of time and still maintain the progress you have gained. 

Neurological efficiency (think strength and power) requires a relatively consistent stimulus. By maintaining the intensity you are used to, or slightly increasing it, you can preserve your improvements.

Some examples of this would be:

  • Complete 3 heavy sets of 5, instead of 5 heavy sets of 5 on your squats
  • Do 2 sets of walking lunges or DB bench presses instead of 3 or 4, but try to increase the weight on each set
  • If doing a circuit for your full body, select weights slightly heavier than the week before, and lower the reps by 1-2.

All these examples are effective in a pinch.  Keeping the intensity high does not require additional time and is a great strategy when total energy is an issue.  You get to push yourself hard but have to do less total work.  This adds up and goes a long way over the course of your entire workout life!


  1. Select your exercises wisely- Efficiency matters here

Here we are looking to get the most bang for your buck.  Exercises such as squat and deadlift variations, or bench press and standing press variations will recruit more total motor units and train a larger percentage of the body than isolated exercises will.

When time is a factor, or you need to simply get in and out, making sure you produce the most efficient stimulus possible to elicit adaptation is the name of the game. 

To make this easy, look at the total number of exercises you would normally complete and simply select the main compound exercises for that day. Push hard on these using the points mentioned above regarding intensity and total volume and skip the other isolation exercises. 

You may even want to consider training with a full body approach to provide appropriate frequency and stimulus throughout a given week.  By combining your main exercises into one efficient workout, you will still complete a lot of quality work, while accommodating your current life demands.

As you can see, by having an alternative plan, and by making some on the spot adjustments, you can use auto-regulation to keep your workouts on track.  Often, the biggest obstacles cannot be planned for in advance, so when something threatens to sideline your game plan, just be ready to side step and make decisions to remedy the problem. 

Keep training simple!