There is not a truth existing which I fear… or would wish unknown to the whole world.  – Thomas Jefferson

Back on June 20th, 2011, I performed an autoregulated dip session in which I hit 6 reps at 90 lbs.

On Wednesday, November 21, 2012, I again performed an autoregulated dip session, but this time I hit 9 reps with the same 90 lbs.  Then, in the following set, I hit 7 reps with 100 lbs.  Both were PRs at their respective weights/rep zones.  Here was how the most recent workout played out:

(A1) power cleans: 205 x 3s, 5 sets
(A2) dips (Autoreg): bw x 12;  45 x 6; 70 x 6; 90 x 9(PR); 100 x 7(PR)

There is a clip of the previous workout at the linked post above.

Yeah, so that’s a pretty damn big jump for an advanced trainee.  So the obvious question is, “what changed?”.  And my answer is, I’m not exactly sure.  It’s not like I targeted dip strength in any concerted way.  But here’s a few guesses:

(1) I always seem to be my strongest in the fall of the year.  This is also the time that my work capacity is at its peak, as I’ve been  accumulating some serious volume — especially outside sprinting, bar work and such — since the early spring.  Can work capacity influence strength?  Oh hell yes it can.  And this is the Yin Yang nature of training that many trainees — even fairly advanced trainees — fail to grasp.  Work capacity plays a huge role, even in pure strength sports, and even in bodybuilding.

(2) For a long period of time leading up to December, 2011, I had essentially been engaging in (unintentionally, due to my schedule) a daily extended fast.  Call it the Warrior diet, or what have you, but my daily eating pattern amounted to this: a 16 – 20 hour fast, followed by a condensed eating window.  Since late December 2011, following my bloodwork and consultation with the Merritt Wellness Center’s Holly L’Italien,  I have returned to eating a hearty breakfast (consisting of protein and fat) most every morning.  I hadn’t realized it at the time, but my performance was suffering as a consequence of chronically eating in a compressed feeding window pattern.  The key word here, of course, is “chronically”.  I still fast occasionally  when the situation calls for it (traveling, for instance), but it’s not my norm.  I think this single, simple change has helped bolster not only my strength, but my body composition as well.  I don’t have a current DEXA to compare to last December’s to prove it, but I’m sure I’ve put on a bit more muscle and dropped some additional body fat in the last year as well.  At least the fit of my clothes and people comments as of late indicate as much.  I also feel much stronger, which is a hell of a factor (whether it’s true or not), in actual performance.

(3) In the last year, I’ve also been hitting the pure strength portion of the force-velocity curve much more intensely and more frequently than before.  And here’s were work capacity comes back into play: more stamina equates to more high quality, productive reps at an ever greater loading (or time under load, if you like).  Also, I’m able to pull this off while still maintaining my high volume of work in those attributes that happen to fall square within my wheelhouse (power production and speed).  And what has helped support this heightened work capacity?  Consistently shoveling down breakfast.

So there you have it; a little something extra to chew on this Thanksgiving day.   Also, stay tuned next week as I’ll be taking Efficient Exercise trainer Lesley O’Neal through and autoreulated trap bar deadlift and dip session.  This will be one of our weekly Efficient Exercise “training the trainers” gatherings, and we’ll make sure to capture that on tape.  I think the more that folks see autoregulation in action, the more it (and its utility) begins to make sense.  Especially when you’re able to compare and contrast sessions.

And last (but certainly not least), I want to give a huge shout-out to Paleo f(x) 2013 speaker Josh Whiton, specifically, and to the Paleo community in general.   This post of Josh’s epitomizes what I’ve come to love about this community: using the Paleo model as a template from which to ask questions of the status quo.  Helping not just one’s self become healthier, but friends, family, neighbors…anyone!  “Paleo-ing it forward”, as it were.  Right on.

In health, fitness, and ancestral wellness –




  1. I’m scratching my head here. The first 3 sets were a lit fuse for the explosion that was sets 4 and 5. If auto-regulation was your guide, what prompted you to go up so sharply in weight in the first place? Would autoregulation dictate you should have stayed at 70lbs on the dips for max reps?

    In my workouts I use 5 sets a lot. I hate round 3 and struggle through it. But rounds 4 and 5 come easier after the battle of the 3rd. I have no idea why – but it happens every stinkin’ time (independent of the type of movement). If I use auto regulation as my guide I would let R3 dictate the rest of my workout. After reading this I’m tempted to increase weight for R4/R5 and see if I can do it. (If I can does that make me an advanced athlete? Lol). Seriously tho, my goal is to simply improve and learn how to properly train myself. Do you think this applies to certain movements or overall?

    I think there is significance when you mention being strong in the Fall, etc. It’s an excellent observation (epigenetics) Especially given your history of football – Would you be peaking now if you were in season? Are you making the observation that our bodies remember when the demands were greatest and are changing output based on that history? Thank you!

    Happy Thanksgiving Keith!

    • Hey, Beck! Good to hear from you!

      Yes, the first 2 to 4 sets are lead-ins to the last 2 “money” sets. The number of lead-in sets will depend upon the nature of the exercise being auto regulated. In other words, it takes a bit more “prep” leading into a deadlift or squat, than say a dip. The goal of the lead-in is, of course, to prep the body (joints, tendons, CNS, etc.) for an all-out assault on the last 2 sets. But we have to be mindful of inducing too much fatigue in these sets — and this is where the “art” of coaching comes into play. Note that I based my lead-in set percentages off of my previous 6 RM max of 90 x 6. I use the following as a baseline template:

      1. 50% of expected 6-rep max for 10 -12 reps
      2. 75% of expected 6-rep max for 6 reps
      3. expected 6-rep max for maximum repetitions
      4. adjusted load (according to the performance of set #3, with a target of 6 reps), again, for maximum repetitions.

      I’ll add sets and adjust lead-in percentages as need be. Again, all is directed toward nailing a rep PR at a given load on the second to last set. The last set is more a heavy, gut-check working set — hitting a PR here is unexpected “gravy”. Since I blew my previous 6RM out of the water here, I added weight for the last set, and let it fly again. Of course I was pretty well dusted-up by this time, so I would expect that the next time I try for another 5 to 7 rep PR (with the new 100 lb PR) it ought to go up easily. From here (and over time), it’s just wash, rinse, repeat.

      Now going forward (and the next time I autoregulate dips at this rep range), 100 lbs at 7 reps will be my new target with all lead-in percentages being based off of that. Or, I could bump the load up to, say, 105 lbs and see what happens at 6 reps.

      I’ll take Lesley through a deadlift/dip autoreg session Monday, and you’ll be able to see how this plays out in real time, with what coaching decisions I make along the way. I’ll use the same template as above, though I’ll have to make many adjustments along the way according to the dictates of the situation. And, she’ll be trying to PR on 2 exercises in the same session. A lofty goal, no doubt. Anyway, there’ll be lots to manage in that session. Not the least of which will be how she comes through the Thanksgiving holiday 🙂 Hopefully I’ll have that clip up early next week.

      Re: fall peaking – yes, historically this is the time that I’d peak for football — the late-season burst. And I do believe that fall peaking is hardwired into all of us, at least to some extent, if we train in accordance with the seasons. And I think for football players this is highly self-selecting in that athletes who do peak at this time have an easier time recouping from the cumulative season’s worth of abuse. Those athletes then perform better in the “money” games, which translates into on-going success that caries over right into the following season. Compound interest pays off even in athletics 😉

  2. I gotta get to Efficient Exercise some day.

    I’m coming off of a disc herniation. I haven’t lifted heavy (more than 75%) since April – and have not done any Oly lifts. It’s a whole different lift for me after 75-80%. In Oly, the best success I’ve had is consistently lifting heavy. Right now I’m being patient and as smart as possible (using tempo and reps). As well as disciplined rolling out and recovering (Psoas/Iliacus issues). It’s interesting to read your blog through my lens of recovery. It still all makes sense.

    Thanks again. I’m keeping my eye out for the vid of Lesley kick some butt.

    • I hope the recovery goes well, Beck. “Serious” weight trainers tend to poo poo bodybuilding methods, but in the situation you’re in, building a bigger engine via higher-volume, lower intensity work is going to be paramount to a successful recovery.

      I ought to have Lesley’s clip up this weekend. And yes, she did kick-ass. She’s seriously strong for such a small girl.


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