What if you could train smarter, not harder?
That’s the promise of auto-regulation, which you can use to increase autonomy and individualize your program, enhancing gains while staying injury-free.
In this episode, we have fitness expert Luke Tulloch breaking down the concept of auto-regulation in resistance training. This approach tailors workouts to your physical and mental readiness, ensuring optimal results.
Luke Tulloch is an online trainer and fitness educator with an in-depth understanding of exercise science. He uses his knowledge to help fitness professionals become better coaches by breaking down complex topics and teaching them in a simple way, and helping other personal trainers become more confident through education.
Of course, he also knows how to help individuals make the most out of their workouts, and in this conversation, Luke and I discuss:
- The definition of auto-regulation in resistance training and how it increases autonomy and individualizes workouts.
- Practical tips for modifying your training based on auto-regulation for enjoyable and improved results.
- The correct implementation of deloading focusing on different body parts.
- How to avoid potential mistakes in implementing auto-regulation.
- The importance of strategic programming for maximizing progress.
- Auto-regulating exercise selection and set intensity.
- How to develop the skill of understanding when you’re close to failure and how many reps you have left.
- Common mistakes people make with auto-regulation.
- The role of technology and structure in training programs.
- And more . . .
If you’re looking to optimize your training and make the most of your time in the gym, this podcast will provide practical insights you can start implementing right away.
Listen in to delve into the world of auto-regulation with Luke Tulloch!
0:00 – Please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts and make sure to subscribe!
05:11 – What is auto-regulation?
08:11 – Tips for modifying workouts based on auto-regulation.
11:28 – Implementing deloading for different muscle groups.
14:46 – Common mistakes with auto-regulation and how to avoid them.
24:57 – Importance of strategic workout programming for progress.
27:41 – Legion VIP One-on-One Coaching: https://www.muscleforlife.show/vip
30:06 – Auto-regulating exercise selection and set intensity.
35:14 – Developing skills for recognizing your proximity to failure.
39:52 – Addressing other common mistakes in auto-regulation.
42:58 – The role of technology in auto-regulation.
54:00 – Where can you find Luke Tulloch and his work?
Mentioned on the Show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Mike: Hello, hello, and thank you for spending some time with me today. I am Mike Matthews. This is Muscle for Life, and in this episode, you are going to learn about autoregulation, which sounds like something that you probably don’t need to learn about, as is the case with most quote unquote, fancy or sophisticated training.
Methods, like most things in life, the Pareto principle applies bigly to training. 20% of all of the stuff that you could possibly learn about and do in the gym is going to produce 80% of the results, and the remaining 20% of the results is the best you can hope from the remaining 80% of information and techniques and strategies and workout splits and programs and so forth.
But auto regulation is an exception to the rule. It is something that is not as important as, let’s say, progressive overload, but it is worth your time and attention because no matter where you are in your fitness journey, whether you are new or experienced, no matter your goals, whether you are looking to just get into good shape or get jacked, autoregulation, at least the fundamentals that you are going to learn about in this episode can help you.
Get there. Maybe not faster, but certainly more enjoyably. One of the biggest benefits of using the information that you are going to learn about in this podcast is better compliance, better adherence, sticking to the plan, better because it’s more enjoyable. And in this episode, you are going to be learning mostly from my guest, Luke Tulloch, who is a popular online trainer and fitness educator who I.
Think does a great job breaking down some of the more complex evidence-based topics and explaining them in a way that anyone can understand them and more importantly, can use them, can get something out of them right away. Hey Luke, thanks for taking time to come and talk to me about Autoregulation.
Luke: Very much. My pleasure, mate. Thanks for having me. Absolutely.
Mike: So I was excited to talk about this topic because it’s something that I haven’t spoken about or written about in some time. I seem to remember doing an interview with somebody a couple of years ago on this. So it’s always nice to find something that I.
Feel like I haven’t already beaten to death. And, uh, I, I thought because I have not talked or written much about this and spent some time since I’ve touched on it at all, we could have a kind of an autoregulation 1 0 1 discussion. Let’s talk about what is autoregulation, what is it not? Who is it for? Who is it not for?
How does it work, like practically, how do you do it in a way that. Is worth the, the trouble, so to speak, and how does it not work? And I think those dichotomies, I bring those things up because if I look at a lot of discussions around autoregulation online, I see a lot of things that I disagree with.
Starting with even what is it? And again, who should be doing it and why, and how should you go about it? And so I think if we just give good information really on those high level points, that’d be a great discussion.
Luke: For me I use a pretty simple definition of it. And, and in the context of like resistance training, order regulation’s, just something that allows us to adjust things like our training volume, our intensity, or even like our exercise selection just based on our physical and our mental readiness.
And the idea behind that is that instead of having like a fixed program like I have to do, X, Y, Z today for this number of reps on these particular exercises, you can adjust based on some of those factors that are gonna vary in your everyday life, like your sleep and your nutrition, your stress or, or like your muscle recovery.
And so that potentially gives us some key benefits in terms of like individualizing. The program to you a little bit more, you might be able to recover a little bit better because you’re not pushing as hard on days where you don’t have the recovery capacity, and that means that it could mean better long-term progress as well.
So when you’re able to push hard, you push hard. When you’re not able to push so hard, you can still get in and train and you’re just kind of adjusting based on how you’re feeling on that day. And so we have this like potential performance benefit from it, but we also have a sort of bigger idea, which I’m really big on as a coach.
Which is having greater autonomy for the client or like my clients. But you know, if you’re the person running the program, because you can kind of take control of your own training, and this kind of speaks to this like greater psychological need that we have of having some autonomy in our lives. It kind of feels nice to be able to call the shots if you need to right.
And do the right thing for you and your situation. There’s definitely some benefits to order regulating and that’s just kind of the general idea, like we’re just gonna either turn up. How much training volume, or how difficult the session is if we’re feeling really good and we’re gonna turn it down if we’re not feeling so good.
And over time, that should mean that we recover a bit better. We make more gains, we stay injury free.
Mike: Now, some people would agree, they would say, yeah, in theory what you just said is fine. But in reality when a lot of people try to do that, they inevitably, they consistently train. They don’t push themselves as hard as they should or could.
And so, What happens is they actually get worse results over time versus just forcing themselves to stick to the program. What are your thoughts on that?
Luke: I do think it’s something that works better the more experienced you get, but I think it’s also something that you can practice and get better at as a skill.
So like a big component of it is understanding, okay, well, you know, I’ve decided that maybe I’m feeling a little flat today. I’m a bit undercovered or whatever. I’m gonna pull back on my session. There is a, a skill and some knowledge required to understand like, how do I do that? Like, how much am I pulling back?
What exercises am I changing, if any? But there’s a lot of different ways you can implement autoregulation. Like some of it is really simple, like it could literally just be. Okay, I’ve got one session that is easier than the other sessions, and I’m just gonna do that one today and I’m gonna push my leg day to Friday, or something like that.
Doesn’t require very much skill or expertise, and more or less, the sessions can just stay exactly the same as they were. You’re just doing ’em on a different day versus someone who might go in and be like, okay, so I’m gonna use R P E and I’m gonna use. Like I have a velocity based thing that tells me how fast I’m lifting and if it goes below this, then I’m gonna cut the set shot.
Like that gets really complicated and you do need some experience to know how to use that. But there’s lots of different levels to this. So I think pretty much anybody can use autoregulation to some extent. And certainly I think it’s valid that, you know, it can be a bit of a cop out for some people to just like take it easy.
But I think if you’re consistently taking it easy, then there’s probably something wrong either with the program in the first place, it’s just too hard for you or. On the other end, it could just be that like there’s something else going on in your life, like you’re not recovering well. If you always feel really tired going to the gym, you’re always really sore and you always feel like you need to take easy days.
Okay, let’s look a bit more at your training, your stress, I mean your nutrition, stress, sleep, this kind of stuff. So it can also kind of open you up to go, okay, well maybe there’s some other stuff I need to look at too if I’m always training pretty soft, if that makes sense.
Mike: And that point of moving workouts around is a great one.
That’s something that I’ve, uh, done and I’ve recommended for a long time now, sometimes it’s also based on like, you know, normally I’ll, I’ll do some heavy dead lifting on Tuesday and I’ll do some heavy squatting on Thursday. But sometimes on Thursday, my lower back is still sore. It is just not gonna be a great squat session just because of that.
And then I will take my upper body workout that I normally do on Friday, and I’ll just do that on Thursday and give my lower back one more day. Or sometimes it’s my hips. I, you know, I’ll feel just soreness in my hips, particularly in my SI joint. And yeah, I’ve. Mildly injured in the past. So I just, I pay attention to how my joints, and particularly my hips and my back are feeling.
So I think that’s a, a great example of a simple autoregulation tip that everyone can benefit from, that you really can’t screw up because you’re, you’re still doing your workouts, you’re just not forcing yourself to do them in a prescribed order. What are a couple of other examples of. Simple modifications based on autoregulation that most people could immediately implement to enjoy their training more, improve compliance, and thereby improve results.
Luke: Yeah, I mean, that’s definitely one of my favorite ones. So that that’s technically daily undulating periodization and, and it sounds really complicated, but it’s actually real simple. It’s like, Do the light workout if you feel like you’re still a bit beat up from your previous session. Another one that I really like, so when we look at Autoregulation, there’s stuff that you can do that’s a little bit more like bird’s eye view, a bit more macro oriented, like, okay, yeah, let’s move the sessions around within a week.
Things like that. There’s also some stuff you can do on a per session basis, like you can use things like reps in reserve or R P E and stuff like that, but just to keep it on the macro for a second. Another thing that I really like is using a reactive D load as opposed to like a pre-planned or a proactive deload.
So a lot of programs will kind of start a little bit too easy and they’ll ramp up really quickly and then they’ll get to like, it’s super hard and you basically end up being really beat up for like a week or two and you basically have to deload because you’re just so beat up. But there are a lot of programs out there that are just kind of like they stay in that middle zone for a really long time.
And if you have a pre-planned D load in there, you might not actually need it. So sometimes it’s a wise idea that instead of pre-scheduling your D load weeks, You can just kind of auto-regulate to determine when to de-load. Like if you feel like your performance is starting to decline, your fatigue is going up, you’re feeling a bit more sore, your sleep is getting a little bit disrupted, then you can go, oh, maybe I need a de-load now so I’m gonna take it now.
I’m gonna rest and recover, and then I can come back and keep training hard. And the advantage of that is that, It’s pretty common for a lot of programs to have like three weeks of hard training and a one week deload, or five weeks of training, and then a one week deload. And if you do that, you’re actually spending one, six or one quarter of your time not really training very hard.
And when you add that up over a whole year, like think about it, you’re spending three months doing training that’s kind of too easy to really drive any kind of progress. Whereas if you reactively deload. You might only need to take those reactive deal loads every so often, and it means that you actually spend more time doing training that’s gonna push you forward.
So that’s a really key idea that I like quite a lot. Now, there are some programs that are designed that’s like if you’re, if you’re picking for a power lifting competition or something. And you know by the 12th week, yeah, you’re gonna get really beat up and there’s a planned deal load in there for that reason.
That’s fine. But this is something that like the average person can use if they’re just kind of going to the gym and doing a general kind of body building thing that is just rinse and repeat the same thing over and over again. You can use these reactive deal loads during periods where you are feeling a little bit undercovered as opposed to just pre-planning it and then missing out on all of this potentially.
Progressing volume and stuff that you could be doing. And what do you think about deloading different muscle groups on different timelines?
Luke: Yeah, I love that. I think it’s a cool idea like. You might find that your lower body’s getting really beat up, but that doesn’t mean that you have to stop and deload your upper body, for example, like sometimes you do just have overall too much stress on the whole system and you need more of like a full body deload.
But typically what I find, it’s usually like one lift or a movement pattern that can start to get a little bit too much. And so it might just be that, okay, your hips are getting really sore because you do a lot of. Squatting and sumo deadlifting. So maybe you just de-load those things and you can keep bench pressing and chin uping and training your arms really hard.
And that way, again, you don’t lose any potential stimulus to those muscle groups just because your legs are a bit sore.
Mike: Yeah, sometimes I will do, I guess what you could call a, a proper de-load for my lower body and I’ll continue training upper, upper body, uh, at the same. Intensity. Uh, but I might just reduce the volume a little bit.
Whereas with my lower body, I might be reducing the intensity and the volume depending on factors. I mean, now with my training, how it’s set up, it’s, I’m more just kind of in a maintenance phase so I can go longer without deloading and be less rigorous with basically everything. Because the goal is, is just to enjoy my workouts and maintain muscle and strength.
But before that, for about two years, I was. Pushing for progress and having to obviously do more volume that I’m doing now and higher intensity and pushing closer to failure more often. And I, I found that, that I, I just kinda learned from my body and what I was doing and just my circumstances. I did need to be pretty regular with those lower body deloads and drop the weights on my.
Squat and my deadlift, like whatever I was doing for a squat and kind of a hinge, hip hinge, but my upper body, I was able to, at first I was treating my upper body the same as my lower body. And then deloading is boring. So I was like, all right, can I make this a little bit more fun? Uh, I’m gonna increase the intensity to a little bit of my upper body so at least I can have a, have a little bit of fun during the week.
And that didn’t seem to cause any issues for me. And I did work in some proper upper body deloads, but it was probably. Every second lower body deload, I actually had to do like a proper upper body.
Luke: Yeah, that’s, I think that’s really common. And so, you know, like as you learn what works best for you, I think it, it gets easier and easier to do that.
I mean, like, I can’t even remember the last time I deloaded because I. It kind of just happens naturally with my life. Like I have to travel or you know, like I need to take care of my kids, so I naturally just get less training in a week. And so I don’t think, like personally, I don’t have scheduled deloads at all.
It just kind of happens for me, and then I just roll with it. So I think that’s a big one. That’s a fair point.
Mike: Many people listening probably have similar circumstances. Sometimes it’s sick sickness, especially if you have kids like, you know, I have young kids, I have a five year old, she goes to a germ factory of a school just because that’s, that’s how it is.
And unfortunately, I. You know, every couple months she’s never very sick, but she is coughing or sneezing or, and it’s hard to not get it when she is coughing and sneezing on me every single day. And so sometimes that, that’s it. That’s the deload is, you know, getting a cold for my daughter. So coming back to Autoregulation, we can get into some more practical ways of implementing it, but I thought also we should shift gears and talk about some common mistakes that. People make when trying to auto-regulate.
Luke: Yeah, for sure. Uh, you know, so autoregulation is nice because it gives you a bit more freedom and it gives you a little bit more autonomy and flexibility, but that is a double-edged sword, as you mentioned before. Like it’s easy to go too far on the, you know, this is flexible and I can kind of do whatever I want and I’ll still get results.
Like ultimately if you, you know, if you wanna get a strong squat, like you gotta squat really heavy and you gotta do that pretty often. You know, if you want big biceps, you gotta train your biceps a lot. You gotta do a fair bit of volume on them, that kind of thing. So there is an element of. You know, there is just a minimum amount of work you need to do on certain muscle groups, on certain exercises, and if you mess around with that too much, you might be derailing your progress a little bit.
So it’s kind of treading the line between keeping in the structure, but then working in some elements of flexibility. So I think the, probably the key things to do. Uh, you know, the other thing is probably just like program hopping. I mean, that’s, that’s like a classic problem that a lot of people run into as they.
Go from maybe beginner to intermediate. It’s like, wow, there’s all this different stuff I can do. Like, let me try this. Oh, it’s not working. Let me try this. Let me try this. This looks cool. So you do have to kind of have some continuity and some consistency to get some results, but I think there are, maybe the correct way to do it would be to have some elements of your program that.
Stay the same and some elements where you can introduce this autoregulation idea. So like the two key areas that I really think about are, you know, from an exercise like variable standpoint is using something like a reps and reserve model or an RPE model, which we can talk about in a little bit. But another element is just the exercise selection piece.
Because there are lots of ways you can use sort of variable or sort of autoregulated exercise selection without messing around with your overall program too much. And so you can maybe like have one or two little bits and pieces here or there that you tinker with to get used to some auto regulation.
Uh, and that keeps everything a little bit fresher without compromising the, the overall structure, which is really gonna give you your consistency and your results.
Mike: So if I’m hearing you correctly, then let’s say you were doing a lower body workout. Now assuming that your goal is to continue making progress or maybe even to maximize progress.
Because if the goal, like in my case, I’m in a maintenance phase again, just trying to enjoy my workouts and I know what it takes at this point for me to gain any muscle and strength. And I’m only doing enough for my calves. I’m training my calves every day, so I’m doing like 20 sets of calves per week.
Right. And, and that’s. It’s, it’s working though, of course. I mean, how can it not work when you’re doing 20 sets a week? Like pushing every set right up to zero to one r a r, doing, uh, any, anywhere from four to six reps per set to up to 15 reps per set. Like just doing it all, you know what I mean? Because, uh, I came into the world with no calves.
My dad, he has ankles and then he has knees and. I played a lot of ice hockey and roller hockey as a kid. So you’d think that would give me some calves? No, it gave me no calves and 12 ish sets per week was not enough to do much of anything. So I was like, all right, let’s just do it right. Let’s do ma. Yeah, exactly.
Let’s just brute force it for a year is what I. Anticipated to, and that’s not gonna get me to body building standards of calves as big as biceps, but it’ll get me close enough to where it won’t annoy me anymore. You know what I mean? And, uh, it’s working. It’s working. I’m probably like four months in and I, I’m not taking measurements because I’m just looking at pictures and videos, but, you know, of course it, it’s working just cuz of brute force works.
But aside from that, like. I know that that’s what it takes. Like if I wanted to get a bigger, stronger, lower body, that’s about what it would take. Probably 15 to 20 hard sets. Like I, you know, it’s just the way it is after you’ve been lifting weights for a long time. And so in my case where it does not take very much volume, it does not take very much intensity to just maintain what I have now.
I do like to train at a certain level of intensity, but I can afford right to, you could even say, make some mistakes. If you were assuming I was trying to make progress, but if I’m not trying to make progress, then I could auto-regulate just about anything and achieve my goal. So I could just go into the gym and say, all right, I’m feeling pretty good.
I’m gonna get in some lower body volume cause I need to get in at least a certain amount of work every week to achieve my goal. And what am I feeling like doing today? Uh, front squat. I don’t really want a front squat. Uh, I’ll, I’m gonna do the pen, you know, and just kind of make it up on the spot.
However, if my goal was to. Make progress, if I’m hearing you correctly. That’s where it would make more sense to put some more thought into how this program is going to work. Certain things would not just be decided on the fly. Certain things would be pre-planned, and the goal is to follow the plan unless I have a, a good reason not to.
But then, There are maybe are elements that could be decided, like for example, what are your thoughts on, let’s say, okay, I’m gonna start with a, with a heavy squat movement. If it were me programming my workouts, it would be pre-planned. Like I like to alternate between back squats, front squats and safety bar squats.
Let’s usually my squat. And then I might do one more, more quad focused exercise. Uh, but then there might be, let’s say hamstring accessory exercise and that one maybe. Just depends on, maybe it’s gonna be a seated, maybe it’s gonna be a lying, maybe it’s gonna be a standing. What are your thoughts on. That approach versus again, just going in the gym and being like, okay, I’m gonna do a, I’m gonna do a push workout and just making it up as I go.
Luke: Yeah, I, I think you’re a hundred percent on the money there, like maintenance, you can get away with a lot of flexibility and it’s kind of like if you put some tension on the tissue, it’s gonna hang around. Right? So I’m in the same boat, man. But definitely there’s lots of ways that you can. Have a, a quote unquote like optimized workout for progress, but still include a little bit of order, order regulation here.
So you could use like a free choice for accessories. I mean, as an example, if you needed to do like some biceps at the end of like a big pool day, I don’t think it makes that much difference whether you use like, you know, the rope on the cable curl or whether you use the straight bar. Like that’s probably not gonna make much difference.
So, Just choose whatever’s. I don’t know the guys using the rope, so I’ll just use the bar that’s in front of me. You can definitely do that or just
Mike: choose whatever you feel like doing right. For whatever reason, you have to think about it, be like, ah, I can’t, I feel like doing the rope. All right, do the rope.
Luke: Yeah, totally. A hundred percent. There was actually a really interesting study that used a small pool of viable exercises, so they had two or three options per muscle group, and on the day, the subjects could just choose which one they wanted to do for like quads, like upper pool, upper push, or whatever.
And so the group one group had a fixed exercise prescription for every single workout. The other one had this choice of three different exercises per muscle group, and that Autoregulated group actually saw a little bit more muscle growth and a slightly bigger increase in their bench press one RM as well over nine weeks.
So it wasn’t like a very strong study design. Without going too much into it. But what it tells us is that at the very least, it was just as good as having a fixed exercise prescription, and it might have even been a little bit better. So that’s another option. You could be like, Hey, like my main squat movement, I like front squats, back squats and safety bar squats.
So I can choose one of those. I don’t get to choose a leg press for my main quad, but I can choose from these three. So that’s another way of doing it. So I really like that style and certainly I think probably some exercises matter less, if that makes sense. Than others. I, you know, to what you were saying a little bit earlier, there is a problem if you’re going in every time and you’re supposed to be doing like some kind of big bang kind of compound movement for your quads every time, and you, and you kind of.
Wimping out and doing the leg extension each time or something like that. I think having a small pool is a really good way of introducing that autoregulation for sure. And you know, another thing you could do is you could even rotate some exercises more often than others. Like you could rotate isolated exercises.
A bit more than your main exercises. So you in your back squad for eight weeks, but maybe every two or three weeks you swap around which hamstring exercise you do or something like that. So there are lots of options depending on what your preference is. Another mistake at least that I see that people might not be thinking
About it as autoregulation, but it is, is related to set intensity, so proximity to failure. And that’s something that the only time that I can think of off at the top of my head, cuz I actually just had to do it recently because I was out of the country. For two weeks and I only did a couple workouts.
Cause when I’m on vacation, I’m not gonna make training a priority. If I have some time, I like to do maybe one workout every three to five days. Just do a whole body session, 60 minutes be done. Otherwise walk, eat, food, have fun. And, and when I got back though, I, I wasn’t horribly detrained cause I did do a couple of workouts, but I.
Knew that if I jumped right back into my normal workouts, it was just gonna be a bit much, especially my lower body. I was gonna have a number of days where I couldn’t sit down on the toilet properly, where you kind of just hover over and drop. And sure you could do it, but it’s just a little bit annoying, right?
And so to account for that, I, I did my, my normal. Workouts, like normal exercises and number of sets per exercise, but I just didn’t push as close to failure. I brought my reps down a little bit, so instead of that set intensity of, you know, I like it to be anywhere from probably one to three reps shy of failure, depending on what the exercise is.
I mean, I’ll, I’ll go to a zero actually, if it’s like a biceps curl, I would not do that on a deadlift, at least not anymore. Otherwise, though, that set intensity is something that I r. Like to keep more or less fixed, where I’m pushing pretty close to failure on all of my exercises and right up to failure on some of my exercise, at least some of the sets.
So a mistake that I see a lot of people making in the gym. Is not taking most, if not all of their sets anywhere close to failure. At least from what I can see, where the bar or the machine or the dumbbell has not slowed down at all. They’re not making the weird grimaces, you know, it’s just like, okay, it’s a little bit uncomfortable now ending the set.
And sometimes they compensate for that by just adding more volume. So staying in the gym for two hours, doing a bunch of sub maximal sets. And what are your thoughts on that point? Particular of. Auto regulating the set intensity based on whatever. I mean, it could even be like, Hey, I’m tired, and again, personally if I’m tired, I was a little bit tired today, didn’t sleep great last night, had a lower body workout, but oh well, went and did it.
Right. I, I just, I don’t like to auto-regulate set intensity because that in particular seems to be too much of a slippery slope where you just get into this mindset of not working. It’s okay to just. Not work that hard.
Luke: Yeah. Yeah, I, no, I totally hear you. I think that with something like using reps in reserve or R P E or something like that, you need to have some experience with it to really use it well, for autoregulation, in my opinion, it’s a skill that every lifter needs to learn because it has so many different applications and we all kind of intuitively use some kind of.
Rating of perceived exertion anyway. Like when you do a set, like I always say to myself like, no, that felt pretty hard today. Like what I’m doing is I’m rating that as like a tough set that maybe that’s an RPE, like eight or nine, you know? But it does take a little bit of skill to do and certainly you can slack off a fair bit if you’re like, ah, no, just, you know, I’ll push a bit away and not take it easy.
And, and like you said, the biggest mistake I think I see with lifters is exactly what you described to where people basically just do. Like dozens and dozens and dozens of sub maximal sets, and they’re in the gym for like two hours, but nothing’s really particularly stimulative, right? So I really like using RPE to help me auto-regulate.
Well, you can use it actually to auto-regulate the volume. That you do as well. But I do think you probably need to develop the skill a little bit so that you can understand like, am I actually getting close to failure here? What is this in terms of how many reps do I have left? And if you can do that, then it unlocks a whole nother level of autoregulation that you can use.
So, It’s pretty important to at least go in with the intention of like, I’m gonna work hard today and get in some hard sets. And then I think like if you’re getting those hard sets and at least you know you’re getting some stimulus, and if you need to cut the sets short or something, then okay, cool.
That’s a little bit of a better situation then still spending two hours in the gym, but not really getting too much done.
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Practically speaking, how would that work? How would you go about. Auto regulating a workout, particularly with the R P E or reps in reserve. Do you prefer RPE over reps and reserve? I often speak R P E because that’s what they use in research and stuff, but I think Reps and Reserve is a little bit more intuitive for people to use, right?
So it’s probably better to, to use that language.
Mike: That’s what I like personally. It just, it, it feels easy and so long as you kind of keep it calibrated by really pushing up to that point of failure now and then, so you don’t trick yourself into thinking that you’re working harder than you are.
Luke: Yeah, totally.
So the way you can use it practically to auto-regulate volume is by using what’s called, it’s called the R p E Stop Method, or you could change it to the r I r stop method. And essentially what you’re doing is you’re giving yourself a target r a r, that you’re not going to. Go over so to speak,
Mike: and sorry to interject.
I just realized some people listening might not know what r a r is, so it’s just good reps left. Uh, so if you’re doing a set, I just want people to understand what we’re talking about. It just occurred to me. So we all tend to do this, uh, whether we know we’re doing it or not. As the set starts getting harder, we’re asking ourselves like, all right, how many more reps.
Do I think I have before my form falls apart? And that we could say that that’s where Mo, that’s usually that technical failure is also usually where muscular failure is reached. So our instinctive answer to that question is, and I know you know this salute, but for people listening, that’s your reps in reserve.
So it’s getting hard on that squat and you’re like, wow, I’m not sure how many more I can do. I think I can get two more. And then maybe you go for those two and you get them and you’re like, All right. I think I could actually do one more, but I’m gonna end the set there because I don’t want to fail. Then that would be a A one r.
A r. So you ended that set thinking you could get one more good rep, but almost certainly not two. So anyway, just wanna make sure people understand that.
Luke: Yeah, exactly right. It’s good to actually know what it is because people also get really. Confused with all of the nomenclature in in this whole thing.
For sure. So what you can do is like, let’s say you select a load, let’s say it’s like a hundred pounds, and you say, right, I’m not gonna go any closer to failure than two reps in reserve. So when I feel like I have two reps left, that’s when I terminate and I stop. You select a rep range. So let’s say I’m doing a hundred pounds for 10 reps and you basically just do sets at a hundred pounds and you just stop.
Whenever you stop doing sets, whenever you get. Closer than r i r two. So basically if on a day you’re feeling really good, you might be able to get like five or six sets before getting really close to failure and having to stop doing your sets on a day where you feel really tired. Maybe you hit. R i r 200 kilos for 10 reps after like two or three sets.
So it sort of order regulates how much volume you’re doing on that day, depending on how good you feel. And you can do the exact same thing for the number of reps that you do. Let’s say you go, okay, on my training plan, I have a hundred pounds for this exercise. I don’t want to exceed reps in reserve of two and I’m gonna do four sets.
You just keep doing. Your reps at a hundred kilos and you stop each set at a reps in reserve of two. You don’t exceed that. And again, that helps you auto-regulate the number of reps. Sometimes you might get 10 reps at a hundred pounds or a hundred kilos or whatever I said before, and sometimes you might get 15.
Either way, you’re getting close to failure depending on your readiness for that day, how mentally prepared you are, how physically recovered you are, and so that way you’re actually controlling how much volume you’re doing. And you can even do the exact same thing for a total number of reps, which works really well for some exercises like chin-ups, for example.
So you could say, okay, I want to do 30 total reps. I’m gonna spread that across however many sets it takes, but every set, I’m gonna make sure that I don’t get any closer than two reps away from failure. So sometimes it might take you four sets to get your 30 reps. Sometimes it might take you five, sometimes six or seven.
So I use that quite a lot when I’m trying to build up training volume for things like body weight exercises like dips or chin-ups or something like that. So these are all ways of like auto regulating the amount of volume that you’re doing. In a session, and another really clever one that I actually like a lot is setting a time limit for something.
So I do this with my clients sometimes where they have a normal session kind of programmed, and then they have an extra 10 or 15 minutes where I basically go, right, oh, you’ve done all of your main work for your push day-to-day, and now you’ve got 10 minutes to do whatever you want on arms. So just pick however many exercises you want.
I don’t care how many sets you do, I don’t care how many reps you do, I don’t care how long you rest, just go for it. 10 minutes. And the nice thing about it is that it’s really fun, but I can also control their volume because there’s only so much work you can do in 10 minutes. Now, if you’re feeling really good in 10 minutes, you might be able to get four or five sets, but if you’re not feeling so good, you might only get two or three sets.
Either way. I know that it’s within a certain band that probably not gonna be able to get like six or seven sets good quality sets in that time. So it still controls the amount of volume you’re doing. But it enables you to be like really, really open and free with how you set that up.
Mike: And some people might be wondering when you would want to use some of the techniques that you just outlined versus just programming progression.
In, let’s say a linear fashion or, or just using double progression. Not that you necessarily couldn’t combine those things, but that might get a little bit tricky.
Luke: Yeah, totally. I think that it kind of depends on the program. Kind of depends on the mentality. Like some people just like knowing like, Hey, if I keep doing what I’m doing then in three weeks time, like this is the goal.
I’m gonna be doing three sets of five at 200 pounds or whatever. So it does depend a little bit on personality. It also comes down to like if you focus on reps in reserve or something like that, some kind of autoregulated method that I just mentioned. If you’re always going to a an R I R of like one or two, you’re getting close to failure every time and you’re pushing really hard every time.
Then essentially, the progressive overload piece takes care of itself because every set is gonna be really stimulative. It’s gonna be hard, and that means that over time you automatically get. Double progression. You automatically get either more reps or you lift more weight and you’re getting close to failure every time, which means you’re gonna grow some muscle.
Mike: And eventually you’re probably gonna cash those more reps in for more weight. Cuz there’s a point where especially with certain exercises, it just becomes masochistic to do more than, you know, 10 reps in a set or something.
Luke: Exactly. Exactly. So I think if you’re using that, this is one of the reasons why I like using R P E or r i r and I think people should learn it, is because once you get good at using it, then you know how to take yourself to that place where each set is really, really effective.
And then you don’t need to really worry about how many sets and reps and stuff you’re doing. All you need to do is like look back over the last like three or four weeks of your program and be like, okay, yeah, my reps increased. Okay, my load increased. That means I’m doing something that’s working. I can keep going.
But you don’t necessarily have to try and figure out, okay, how much should I be increasing each week? Like, this is the plan, but I didn’t hit the plan. And oh my God, I, I didn’t sleep last night and now I’m really like, I’m feeling weak today and I can’t lift as much. What do I do? It just kind of takes care of itself.
Mike: Yeah, I’ve, I’ve found it very useful in that regard, especially with isolation or with accessory exercises. And I think it could work fine with compound exercises. For a period, I was using, uh, a linear model on my big compound lifts, but it wasn’t one that prescribed weight increases. It was just working in rep ranges, given my strength at the time, and then with a kind of r a r target.
And so it was, and doing that for a period of time and then using double progression and r a r on the accessory exercises and accumulating volume, and then culminating with an AMRAP to see if I’ve gained strength. But now, especially now, that also I’m in a maintenance phase and I’m happy if I make a little bit of progress here and there on certain muscle groups.
My approach is very much in line with what you just mentioned.
Luke: Yeah, I, I don’t think like one approach is better than the other, to be perfectly honest. I think it just kind of suits different people differently sometimes and different program setups. I mean, I still have clients where almost have like no real rep targets.
It’s like all just this weight at this r i r or no weight target. It’s just like hit this rep target at this r i r and I have other clients where I’m specifically programming. Okay. You know, increase the load week by week, lower the rep range. It’s essentially artificial progression, right? Because it gives them a sense of momentum and it gives them a sense of stability and, and that’s great.
And then you can mix and match and you can pull in and out these accessory exercises or these isolation exercises and use some autoregulation for that. So it probably just depends on like where you are at with your journey right now and how much you feel like you wanna put it in. You know, like certainly for me, I found that that having these skills was invaluable when like I have a one-year-old and when she was born, It was literally like, okay, I have 30 minutes three times a week to train.
And so I used that method. I mentioned before, you have 10 minutes to do a squat. You have 10 minutes to do a pool, you have 10 minutes to do a push, that’s your workout. And sometimes I got a lot more done than other days, but that’s how I had to split it up. So I don’t train like that right now, but it’s a really good tool to have had in my toolbox to help me get through that period of my life.
Mike: Yeah, that’s a great tip for time efficient training, especially if the person just has a bit of experience and knows what is and isn’t possible in 10 minutes. Are there any other common mistakes that you see people making with autoregulation or, or people listening who are thinking about incorporating it?
I wanna make sure we don’t miss any big potential blockers that people can run into.
Luke: I think just over complicating it, to be honest, like there’s a lot of different techniques and methods that I’ve mentioned here, and you don’t have to use them all.
Mike: And more complex is, is usually not better. So it gets, it gets a lot of attention on social media and you can find a lot of big, strong people who supposedly follow very.
Complex programs, but maybe they do, maybe they don’t and you probably shouldn’t and don’t need to. I think.
Luke: I totally agree. And I think if you were to go and like Google Auto Regulation right now, you’re gonna see a lot of stuff come up with like velocity based training and this kind of thing as well, which is where you put a device on the bar or the dumbbell and you measure how quickly you’re lifting and then you adjust.
When you terminate the set or when you move onto a different exercise or how much load you use based on the changes in velocity from rep to rep. Now that obviously starts to get like a lot more complicated than it needs to be. So it’s interesting and it helps quite a lot when we’re looking at research.
But is it something that your average person needs to use? Like, I don’t think so. If you’ve never really come across the concept of like R P E or r a r before. I would just start by like looking up a chart of that and just like familiarize yourself with the concept a bit more and just like give it a go.
You know, when you’re training, just, okay, could I have done more there? Like how hard was that? Did I have two reps left? Did I have three reps left? And for me, if you can get a handle on that, it just opens up the door to start order regulating a whole lot better. But I mean, like we said at the start, probably the simplest thing is literally just if you have an easier workout and you’ve had a crappy night’s sleep the night before.
Just switch it round, and that’s probably. Like gonna make a really big difference to your training without it getting overly complicated.
Mike: Speaking of technology, probably a more common device that I’ve seen used. I see the velocity devices usually on competitive weightlifters, and I understand if you.
Are competing at a high level and you know how to use that properly. I understand why they’re doing it. But among maybe the more gen fit crowd, it’s common to pay attention to recovery scores that according to one app, uh, and device or another. Sometimes it’s the Aura Ring or another similar device. And I’ve spoken, I’ve written about that.
Long story short, there, my opinion is, Don’t put too much stock in that because on some days you’re gonna feel great and the app is gonna say that you are completely undercovered, you’re gonna go have a great workout, you’re not really gonna understand it. Other days the app is gonna say that you should be willing to lift everything in the gym today and you really don’t feel good and you have a bad workout.
But are there any other. Tech, interesting pieces of tech that are out or maybe coming that might help people auto regulate your training. If not, then the answer is no. But I’m just curious if there’s anything that you know about that I don’t know about that sounds interesting, that actually might be useful in evidence-based.
Luke: Look, I think they’re, they’re constantly revising those algorithms, so the tech will improve, but I mean, The thing is, is that just like you said, it can’t really triangulate all of these different variables, and I think that’s why being able to auto-regulate when you are actually like in the gym is so helpful because ultimately we can’t, if you pre-plan six or eight weeks of training, you don’t know exactly how you’re gonna be feeling and, and all the different variables going on in your life six weeks from now on Monday, like in July, you just don’t know what’s gonna happen.
And because the human body is this convergence of like a lot of dynamic variables, you know, it’s really, really difficult to pinpoint that stuff. So I do think that maybe some value to tracking some of these metrics, but at the same time, I think exactly what you said, it’s very easy to nocebo yourself into having, you know, a not so good workout when.
Ultimately if you get in the gym and you just like go, okay, cool. Well let me see how I feel after my warmup. And then, oh, actually it doesn’t feel so bad. Bar’s moving. Okay, that is maybe as about as much tech as you really need. I think that the algorithms will get better. So like there’s tech now that can start to monitor like the oxygen saturation of your blood.
It can monitor heart rate variability, it can combine scores like that. And it can give a much better outcome. But beyond that, I still think that it starts to get a little complicated and, and probably the easiest way is literally just to go in and start lifting and being like, oh, okay, it feels really hard today.
I’m gonna have to switch up some things or something like that.
Mike: Yeah, anybody who’s been training long enough has had many days where you thought you were gonna have a terrible workout and you ended up having a great workout. Uh, there are many times where you, you go in feeling great, but for whatever reason, maybe it’s not a terrible workout, but I can remember this happening many times where, Everything just feels heavy and hard, even though I felt great, good energy levels, good sleep, whatever, I thought it was gonna be a great workout and the performance just wasn’t quite there for whatever reason.
Luke: So yeah, totally happens to everybody. So, you know, ultimately I think it’s just about kind of getting in there and getting it done. And, and look, the thing is, is that you’ll start to recognize patterns for yourself quite often. You know, so like I’ve had some female clients, for example, will notice like two or three days before their menstrual cycle starts like, Everything just feels really hard or something like that.
You know? It’s just one of these things where. Other people won’t feel that. So it just kind of depends on exactly what’s going on with you. And sometimes you can identify patterns. But again, I think that for me, I’ve gone from earlier in my career trying to be really prescriptive and trying to structure things out and okay, this phase will feed into that phase and feed into this to actually being much more reactive.
And I used to think that being reactive was lazy, but I actually think it’s, it’s probably the way to go just given the factors that I mentioned before.
Mike: There’s a definitely a psychological component to all of this, right? I mean, just certain types of personalities. I also am, uh, maybe, maybe not O c D, but I’m a very detail oriented person.
I like to plan things out. I like to put thought into what I’m doing and why. I like to look at each component of a plan or of a workflow in. Think about how can I make it more efficient or effective? How can I do one unit of work and have it serve three or four different goals or outcomes, for example?
So I understand that, and that’s, that also is generally how I’ve approached my training. And so probably similarly for me, it felt a bit odd. It felt almost like I was like doing something wrong by not. Training in that fashion. But I will also say, and for people listening who maybe also have a similar personality or who have just followed a more rigid structured program for some time, the novelty is also just inherently stimulating.
And it is also fun. And, and I think that that’s a, a good takeaway for people listening is simply making your training more interesting and more fun. I think a valid. Objective that even if that means maybe that you are going to be doing something that maybe it isn’t even perfectly scientifically optimal, but it sounds interesting to you, it’s something different than you’ve been doing.
You are gonna look forward to your workouts more. You’re gonna enjoy it more. And so for me, training, maybe you could say more reactively or following a more autoregulated approach has done that. It has made my workouts a little bit more fun, even if it is just tricking myself with that autonomy point where I feel like I have a little bit more flexibility and I’m not necessarily only doing what’s in my spreadsheet regardless of anything else.
Luke: Yeah, I, I couldn’t agree with you more and. I’m sure you’re the same. It really sounds like it. But earlier on, when I first got into this as a job, it was like training was the thing that I cared about, and I thought I would never, ever, ever fall out of love of training. And unfortunately, like 15 years into lifting, I had that where I was just like, man, I don’t feel like going the gym anymore.
I just don’t like training. And it happened. It. It went on for like a couple of years, man. So someone might be listening to this and going like, yeah, whatever. I’m never gonna get sick of like my spreadsheet or doing my rigid plan and stuff. And the thing that got me back into the gym and enjoying lifting again, was being able to be a little bit spontaneous and to try different things and be like, oh, this is kind of a fun exercise that I feel like doing today.
So there is, that’s probably inevitable for, for most people, where at some point you’re gonna want to kind of break out a little bit just to keep yourself focused and interested in your training. Yeah. Yeah, I can totally relate to that.
Mike: Uh, probably similar to you in that I’m too stubborn to stop, but following the spreadsheet was much more enjoyable many years ago than it was just two years ago, and there are a number of reasons for that.
One of them being. At this point, I have to work so hard to make any progress whatsoever, and I’m not opposed to hard work, but there was a point again after a couple of years where I was like, okay, I did it and I don’t have that much to show for it. Like my one RMS went up a little bit here and there and sure I’ve gained a little bit of muscle, but it’s pretty inconsequential in in the scheme of things.
And so then why am I. And that that did entail doing a lot of workouts I didn’t really want to do, and that I maybe wasn’t fully physically prepared to do, just doing it anyway. And it’s a good thing to be able to do that. But there should be, I, I mean, I, I’m not like literally getting paid to go work out.
Yes, it’s related to my work, but it’d be one thing if that’s what was required to feed my family, but it’s not so, It’s okay to have some fun with it, and if following the spreadsheet is no longer fun and training at more or less maximum recoverable capacity for long periods of time is no longer fun. I had to myself like, acknowledge that, you know, dude, you, you don’t have to keep doing that.
You, you can. Do some other things that are a little bit more fun. You can reduce your volume. You don’t have to be in the gym like 90 minutes a day on average. You can bring that back down to 60 minutes. And for me, it sounds like similar to you. I made that change how maybe about a year ago, and I’ve enjoyed my training a lot more.
Luke: Yeah, exactly right. That’s what happened to me. So yeah, it does happen. Uh, I mean, I, I totally relate to what you’re saying, just like the diminishing returns as well. It’s like, Okay. This extra like five hours a week in the gym’s gonna get me an amount of muscle that literally nobody is gonna even notice, you know?
Mike: So, so it’s hard for me to even notice, like, you know, in looking at pictures over a long enough period in really scrutinizing. Okay. Yeah, actually, I, I think I see a little bit there. Like I gained a little. That’s cool. That’s, that’s about it though.
Luke: I better see something there. Otherwise, all those hours have gone to waste.
Mike: That’s basically everything I had on my list is, is there anything that we haven’t covered yet that you want to, you wanna mention before we wrap
Luke: up here? Uh, I don’t think so, man. I think there’s like a lot that people can potentially use in there. So that’s pretty much order regulation now.
It’s being like investigated more and more as we go along in the literature. So it is interesting to see if, if more of it comes out, but it’s definitely looking pretty good in terms of results, it seems like, you know, at least you can get the same results as a stricter set training plan, and honestly, it might even be a little bit better in terms of results.
So worth giving a shot. Yeah. Yeah.
Mike: It’ll be interesting to see some more practical programs that have some of these techniques and some of these principles integrated in ways that people can easily understand and apply. I think that’s where, at least the chasm I’ve seen between. Evidence-based people who are really into this stuff.
And then the larger market of just everyday people out there who will buy a book, will who drive the economics of everything that we do. And currently, a, a lot of what I’ve seen is too complex. It requires too much time, too much thinking. It requires too much fiddling with spreadsheets. It just requires too much for.
Mass adoption, it is much easier for somebody new, for example, getting into this to just get a simple prescriptive program that’s designed well and just follow it. And, and I understand the appeal of that, not have to think about anything else. I’m just gonna go in the gym, I’m gonna do my squats, I’m gonna do my few sets of whatever reps, and I understand reps in reserves, so I have a, at least I’m gonna train in an appropriate intensity and I’m gonna do the next exercise.
The next exercise, and I’m gonna get out of the gym. So, I think that the bridge needs to be built there because currently it’s probably only, you have to be pretty motivated to tinker with your training and to progress in your training.
Luke: Yeah. Uh, a hundred percent just get in and do it is kind of like the foundation, right?
And then from there, as you get experience, you can go like, okay, like I have learned over this initial period that I prefer doing. These exercises are not these ones, or you know, I’m too sore to do this day today. I’m not gonna perform well because I’ve learned by doing. These set programs. So yeah, it probably is a bit more of like an evolution that needs to happen.
But I agree, it, it kind of feels like it’s, it’s either, it’s either like the set programs or it’s like, okay, now you’ve, you’re like a power lifter with like five years of experience using rpe. Here’s your AUTOREGULATED program. And it’s like, where’s the, where’s the transition? Totally.
Mike: Yeah. Well that, uh, again, that’s everything that I had.
Why don’t we wrap up with where people can find you and find your work and your coaching service. Anything else you want them to know
Luke: about? Yeah, for sure. Uh, if you go to luke tak.com or look at my Instagram, those are the two main places that you can find me on my website. I’ve actually got like a free little minicourse that teaches you how to use r p e and r i r for auto regulations.
So feel free to jump on that if you like, and you’ll get some practical examples of how I implemented in my client’s programs. Great.
Mike: And links will be in the show information, but for people who, uh, are not gonna see the links, how do you spell your last name? Just so people
Luke: know? Sure. It’s T U L L O C H.
Mike: Cool. Well, thanks again, Luke. This was a great discussion. Really appreciate it.
Luke: Thanks ton, man. Appreciate you having me on.
Mike: Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.
And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you have. Ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share. Shoot me an email, mike muscle for life.com, muscle f o r life.com and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.
I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.