“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt 

I’ve fielded some very good questions about the concepts of “Autoregulation” and “drop-off” lately, so I think I’ll dive into a little deeper explanation and elaborate on these ideas using a couple of actual workouts.  I’ll also toss a couple of new concepts on the table to consider: those of “threshold performance” and “peak performance”, so as to round-out the discussion.  Or maybe just further confuse everyone 😉

Essentially, drop-off is a method by which to measure or regulate fatigue.  Simple as that. Autoregulation, on the other hand, is a training system by which we can help navigate the body through the minefield of cumulative fatigue/stress (including everyday life stress), so that we can coax forth the most performance possible over the long haul.  Without, that is, pushing the body over the proverbial overreaching/overtraining cliff. Drop-off is a means by which to measure/account for intra-workout fatigue, whereas Autoregulation is an overall system of performance management.  Drop-off is simply one of many methods within the overall Autoregulation system.

Now drop-off can work with load or with total work production, but it works best with manipulating the time variable in workouts.  If the workout is set up properly, however (EDT-like, for instance), we can use drop-off in the load/work variables as well; it’s just a little bit trickier to do so.  Drop-off methodology works fantastically well with ARXFit technology, for example, because load and total work output are so closely and accurately measured.

This may be a bit confusing, I know, as these terms are somewhat interchangeable.  Akin to the term intensity; now, do I mean percentage of 1 RM, or my “get’er done” mentality?  Depends on the setting and context in which the term is used, of course.  And there is room for overlap use of these terms here as well.

Still confused?  No worries.  Let’s look at a couple of real-life examples, and introduce the terms “threshold” and “peak”.

The following workout is one that I initially performed a couple of weeks ago (see this post):

1 round of this shindig = 3 x (approximately 50 meter) steep hill sprints + 5 straight bar muscle ups + 5 bench jump overs + 20 dips.  Last week I did 4 rounds of that in a cumulative time of 35:19, putting emphasis on ensuring each individual sprint was completed in less than 7 seconds.

This time through, I performed the workout as fast as possible individual rounds, and (in round 3), drilled down even further with an emphasis on the individual sprints. Like this:

Round 1: 4:04
Round 2: 3:35
Round 3 (Quantified <7 secs for each of the 3 sprint attempts); 4:24
Round 4: 3:41

Note: I did not time the rest interval between rounds, but would estimate it at approximately 3 minutes.

Now, the first time I went through this particular workout (see the link above), I put the emphasis on maximizing effort on the hill sprints by ensuring that I recovered enough between sprints to complete each effort in <7.0 seconds (actually, all were performed <6.85).  I was able to complete all 4 rounds in that fashion in a cumulative time of 35:19.

So above you see the exact same workout split up and attacked in a completely different way.  Rounds 1,2 and 4 were done as “fast-as-possible” rounds, with no regard to the individual sprint times (other than to “push them”).  In contrast, look at round 3, where I did shoot for an intensional fast (i.e., <7.0 sec) sprint time.  There’s a big difference here between round times when that extra “oomph” required for a near-best sprint time must be accounted for.  And this totally changes the feel and complexity of the workout itself, even though the exact same circuit is being used.

And the thing is, a “slow” individual sprint time (or “stride”) — in other words, that done in rounds 1,2, and 4 — was actually only about .5 to .7 secs off my “fast” times.  I’ll get to what this means in just a bit.

But for now just know that the extra power output required to produce that .5 to .7 sec speedier time requires a hell of a lot more in the way of CNS and energy output and follow-on recuperation to pull off.  Interesting.  And this will get into some CNS fatigue issues (and fatigue management techniques) that I will gloss over here, but cover more in depth in a later post.

But until that post, you can see how I first build a cool exercise circuit, then begin to massage/manipulate that circuit according to my abilities, desires, and goals.  The same can be done with any circuit — sprints, iron, bodyweight, whatever.

Now in the latest example of this same circuit, I performed two individual rounds, with an emphasis on attempting to hit each sprint at <6.8 secs.  Each round’s times are listed below.  Also noted are the day’s best sprint effort, and any “misses”.  Note, too, that I mixed in a couple of longer, flatland sprints as well.  Why?  Intuition; I just “felt like it”.  Here’s how it played out:

A1 – sprints: baseline to baseline (on a lacrosse field) x 2 (15:30, 14:53)
B1 – 3 hill sprints + 5 muscle ups + 5 bench jump overs + 20 dips (sprint emphasis)
round 1 = 5:22 (6.72, 6.81, 6.87)
round 2 = 4:47 (6.62, 6:82, 6.91)
C1 baseline 2 baseline (as above); 14:50

Now, look at the time difference between these two rounds, and round 3 from the first example.  The effort required to shave off those couple 10ths of seconds on the first sprint effort really put a hurt on the total time for the round, as recovery between sprints takes it’s toll.  In fact, I didn’t recover enough from the initial sprint on each round to hit a sub 6.8 on the round’s subsequent sprints.  By hill sprint #6 in round 2, I’m really beginning to fade.

At this point, two other concepts need to be introduced, and those are “peak performance” and threshold performance”.  We need to define these terms because we can tweak the drop-off method to help train each of these capacities independently.

The easiest way to explain these two capacities is to examine the difference between what is required of a starting pitcher, versus that required of a closer.  The starter has to throw a high volume of pitches at a relatively high velocity, and he requires a good level of stamina (or threshold) to pull that feat off.  The closer doesn’t need to worry so much about stamina, because his total volume of pitches is going to be so low.  What he needs, though, is hella velocity (or peak performance); i.e., a few pitches thrown with blazing speed vs many pitches at decent speed.  Good accuracy, of course, is a given in both instances.

Now consider the difference between an NCAA 60 meter sprinter, and an American football running or defensive back.  We have a similar scenario at play.

Of course nothing is ever totally black and white.  The 60 meter guy — in addition to a finely tuned peak output, of course —  has to possess enough stamina (or threshold) to make it through the preliminary rounds so as to even make the finals.   And his football player counterpart has to muster that stupid-fast burst (or peak) from time to time during the game — especially late in the 4th quarter.

Now, there is much to be considered here — both in the science, and in the art of training these capacities — with defining these concepts being just the very tip of the iceberg.  But at least, though, you recognize these as concepts and real-life capacities that do need to be accounted for.  Maybe not for the average trainee, but definitely for those with a competitive bent.  You have to know the demands of your sport, and train accordingly.

So, back to the examples above.  If we consider the continuum (and it is a continuum, not a divide) from “threshold performance” to “peak performance”, we can see that I trained more towards threshold in example #1 (emphasis on cumulative time), a little more toward peak in #2, and way more on the peak side of things in the last example.  If I were a competitive athlete then, I could identify my weak underbelly, and better fine-tune my training accordingly.

Another example, using the drop off method –

A couple of days ago, I set up two cones on an unmarked field approximately 70 yards apart.  My idea going in was to run as many all-out sprints as possible, pulling the plug when I missed my day’s best time twice.  The times aren’t so important in this example as are the times relative to one another.  I’m going to round-up my actual times here so as to make this example a little more straightforward.  I took about 3 minutes rest between efforts, which was pretty near full recovery.

1. 8.5 secs
2. 8.3 secs (new best)
3. 8.1 secs (new best)
4. 8.0 secs (new best)
5. 8.1 secs (first miss)
6. 7.9 secs (new best)
7. 7.8 secs (new best)
8. 7.9 secs (2nd miss)

So this is using one form of the drop-off method in training for peak output.  Note that I could use the exact same format, cut the rest to 20 seconds between efforts, then perform all 8 sprints with little regard to time (other than running “fast as possible”, of course) and thereby shift considerably to the threshold side of the continuum.

I think at this point it should be noted that, in theory at least, I could use the drop-off method to train to a prescribed level of fatigue in every workout, thereby controlling my overall training plan via predetermined fatigue levels.  It’s not too difficult to, over time, figure out what your best percent fatigue-to-recovery ratio is, and play to that hand.  Since we’re talking about sprints at the moment, let’s look at a basic sprint workout as an example.

Suppose my day’s workout calls for X number of 70 yard sprints.  How many sprints?  Well, we don’t know going in (though in reality of course, we’ll have a pretty good idea because of extensive prior record keeping); what really matters, and what we really care about, is training to a proper and pre-determined level of induced fatigue.  A level of fatigue, in fact, that I postulate will result in a  maximum degree of supercompensation a few days later.  And let’s also postulate that we’ve determined over time that my best response from this type of workout occurs when I train to an induced 10% fatigue, and follow that up with 4 days of active recovery before again hitting a similar sprint-focused workout.

Ok, cool — but how do I then measure that fatigue?  Well, I would continue through the simple sprint protocol as outlined above until I “missed” an effort by a time that was 10% off of my day’s best mark.  Using the 8-round sprint workout above, I’d continue the rounds until my sprint time over that distance dropped from my day’s best time (7.8 seconds) to 8.58 seconds — 7.8 + .78 (or 10%) = 8.58.  That would require quite a bit of volume at this short of a distance, especially for someone like me who is a better “threshold” than “peak” performer.  And if we go through the mechanics of this particular workout setup, we’d see just that — short sprint + full recovery(a “peak” element) taken to a 10% drop-off, (especially for a threshold-trained athlete) will require a hell of a lot of volume.  Contrast this with a “peak” athlete who could post one hell of an individual effort, but whose performance would quickly trail off.  The question would then be, of course, what is this particular athlete’s weak underbelly relative to his needs?  We’d answer that, then train accordingly.

Anyway, there is a hell of a lot more to this, and I just wanted to give an example here.  In fact, this method can become a training system in and of itself.  And the same principles can be used with weight training.  The system’s shortfalls, though, are the same as those found in linear periodization models — we just can’t predict what havock outside-of-training “life stresses” are going to impose on the body, and how those stresses are going to affect performance.  If we can’t control those forces (and most of us in the real world can’t), we have to account for them on the back end.

That said, in my world, a reactive model (Autoregulation) is always superior to a predictive model, i.e.,  periodization, in any form or fashion.

Now, let’s shift gears and look at an Autoregulation example –

I went into the following workout knowing I wanted to put an emphasis on dips, however, I wasn’t quite sure yet as to what rep range I wanted to hit.  During the initial two “feeler” sets, I felt like hitting big numbers at the 10 to 15 range was in order.  Why?  I don’t know — I just “felt it”; intuition, again.  This is the essence of autoreg training.  Could be a million reasons why I felt stronger at a higher rep range, but I didn’t stall to analyze — rather, I just accepted and went with it.  Looking back at my maxes (a quick Google docs search away) showed a previous 10 rep best at 90lbs.  I knew that would fall in short order.  Here’s how it played out:

A1 – 1 clean + 3 front squats, at: 135, 185, 215, 225, 225, 225
A2 – Dips: 45/5, 90/7, 90/12 (PR), 115/6 (=PR) , 115/5, 90/12 (rest-pause)

After knocking-out the 12 rep PR at 90lbs, I still felt as if I still had some gas in the tank, but not at that 10-ish rep range.  Another look at my max list showed a previous best at 6 reps with 115LBS.  I loaded up the belt and swung for the fences again, shooting for 7.  I wound-up only eeking-out 6, but still a good effort — especially on the heels of a higher-rep PR.  I’ll take it; recover and reload for another day.

I’ve gotten progressively stronger over the last few years, which really shouldn’t come as a surprise — even after 37+ years in the game.  I mean, I have access to a gym, essentially anytime I want, and I also have access to some serious, 21st-century strength building technology — ARXFit equipment.  I’ve also had the chance to better hone my Autoreg system, and I’m getting better and better at that as well.  Back in June 2011, I was only able to muster 6 reps at 90lbs.  This time last year, I was in the 9 rep at 90lbs range.  Another year, and 3 more reps at that weight.  Not bad to still be still improving at 49; I’ll take it.

Oh, and the 1 clean + 3 front squats went smooth as well.  Just keeping the table set with this type work, though, as my legs have been getting pretty beat up from all the sprinting as of late.  Traditionally, my best numbers with this stuff comes in the dead of winter, when my sprinting volume is somewhat lessened.

Stay tuned; we’ll see what happens 😉

In health, fitness, and ancestral wellness –



  1. Incredible. And occasion for cross-fertilization to the very different ways many of us train. You’re certainly extending understanding of auto-reg — long overdue since, at least for me, I tend to think of it as a PLURAL, not a singular – and taking it as singular is an invitation for homogenization.

    Love what your ‘original mind’ is doing Keith.

  2. Your glutes and legs contract very hard during quick and explosive movements. Jogging doesn’t come close enough to provide the same results. Jogging doesn’t seem to work the butt very well, but sprints do! Sprinting in an intense manner for short durations provide a lot of quick and hard contractions in the glutes and hamstrings. Short and quick contractions are key to firming the rear and thighs without gaining mass.


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