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Strength & Power for Elite Track & Field - Auto-Regulation and Fatigue Management

Posted by Jason Hettler

April 20, 2016


When brainstorming a topic to write on I continuously asked myself, “What defines the role of a Strength & Power coach with elite track and field athletes?” I tossed around relevant buzzwords such as posterior chain, co-contraction, speed-strength, and strength-speed but I kept coming back to one thing...performance.


I realized I needed to change my question. It transformed into, “How does a Strength & Power coach positively affect performance in elite athletes?” By the time an athlete reaches elite status in track & field they typically will possess highly developed abilities in the weight room so I needed to come at it from a different angle. “How does a Strength & Power coach safeguard against a decline in performance?”. Fatigue is the kryptonite to performance.


Sprinting, jumping, and throwing on a world-class level are highly technical skills. Skills that we begin to develop Day 1 of the training year. Therefore, we need to limit any potential for negative interference from the weight-room to the track or field, particularly as we progress into the competitive season. This, coupled with the fact that responses to training are highly variable and unpredictable leads us to an individualized approach.


The athletes that come to us at ALTIS nearly always have a minimum training age of 4 years. They have a good baseline of abilities in the weight room and strength is rarely a limiting factor. They come from all over the world and have been shaped by many different experiences. Our advanced population allows us to seamlessly incorporate auto-regulation into our training sessions which results in a better service provided to the athlete and, in many cases, an increase in sport performance.



Periodization can be boiled down to the ability to “skillfully combine different training methods in order to yield better results than can be achieved through exclusive or disproportionate use of any one of them” (Plisk & Stone, 2003). It started as an art, rather than a science, and was initially based on the competitive calendar more so than biology or physiology (Plisk & Stone, 2003; Verkoshanksy, 1999). The fact that periodization theory, since its inception (Matveev, 1965), has remained relatively unchanged despite drastic changes to the landscape of elite sports since that time is a major counterpoint to the inclusion of traditional periodization within training programs of elite athletes (Verkoshansky, 1999). Now more than ever, elite sport is a year-round full-time commitment. Competitive seasons have gotten longer and specialization is occurring at an earlier age. This, coupled with advancements in our understanding of the dynamic nature of the human body and its response to stress leads to a need for coaches to take a critical look at traditional periodization theory.

In his defense of periodization, Bill Freeman (1999) states that “objectivity is at periodization’s core”. While Freeman saw this as a positive, some may view this as the greatest shortcoming of traditional periodization. It is easy to get caught up in the numbers and the elaborate annual plans. It is easy to follow a plan laid out months in advance. It is easy to place blame elsewhere than on the programming. Operating with an understanding of how unlikely we are to accurately predict the future underpins new-age periodization models.

The term used to describe this type of programming is auto-regulatory training. Individuals such as Delorme (1945), Knight (1979), and Siff (2000), are credited with bringing a framework to Auto-Regulatory training. From a practical sense, the Bulgarian weightlifting system of Ivan Abajiev in the 1970s and 80s is arguably the most successful implementation of an auto- regulated based training program. The foundation of the program was rooted in the determination of a daily maximal effort in the lift being performed at the start of the session and a subsequent %RM being calculated from that daily max to determine the loading for that session. This allowed the athletes to work within their fluctuating daily capacities.

The Altis Way - Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s Law is our way of programming auto-regulation into a training session. It comes from Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British Army staff member during World War 2 who developed a series of “laws” poking fun at government functionaries. His first law states...


Parkinson's view was that, given a deadline, the duration of task completion would swell beyond what was actually necessary until the later portions of the deadline. Our Performance Director, Stu McMillan has applied this concept to our loading parameters in the weight room.

The numerical prescription of sets to be performed is replaced by a time parameter. As an example, rather than prescribing 5 sets of 3 for a given exercise, we will prescribe 15 minutes of triples with rest intervals between 30-90 seconds.

If an athlete is feeling good on a particular day they can stick to the lower end of the recovery range and subsequently get more work done on that day. If energy levels are low and fatigue is high, the athlete can stick to the higher end of the recovery range and live to fight another day. Obviously we would like to see progression in a subsequent session but realize that many variables come in to play in regards to loading and adapting.

In addition to fatigue management, Parkinson’s Law creates more emotional attachment to the session and the program. A heightened level of awareness is achieved by giving some control and ownership to the athlete – more so than if they were simply instructed to complete 5 sets of 3 repetitions. Many athletes will appreciate this added responsibility and autonomy.

It is important to note that we will not employ Parkinson’s Law with every athlete. They must prove a certain level of competence and understanding pertaining towards their body, training responses, and the programming. Athletes with a young training age and low levels of reporting are less likely to see the benefits compared with someone who is more advanced in those areas.


The constructs of coaching are built upon the human element. A dynamic, ever-evolving element. An element of which our understanding grows by the passing day. An element that we still have much to learn about.

Genetic influences, environment, lifestyle, psychological factors, and imposed training stress are a few of the factors highly associated with individual variation in response to training (Kiely 2012; Mann et al 2014). These are also some of the reasons behind the utility in subjective means of monitoring. It was found by Saw et al (2015) that “measures of mood disturbance, perceived stress and recovery and symptoms of stress, responded with superior sensitivity and consistency compared to objective measures”. While objective measures are nice to have and can provide interesting insights, it is the subjective means that yield the most bang for your buck and deliver a glimpse into the individual whom you are working with on any particular day.

The work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb has much carryover to this realm and one particular quote stands out, “Why don’t we realize that we are not that capable of predicting? Why don’t we notice the bias that causes us not to realize that we’re not learning from our experiences?” I implore the reader to look critically at traditional periodization, recognize the individuality that is present in training adaptation, and comprehend the impossible task of predicting the future.


DeLorme, T. (1945). Restoration of Muscle Power By Heavy Resistance Exercises. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery 27, 645-667.

Freeman, William H. (1999). “Reply to Verhoshansky on Periodization': Track Coach 149:

Kiely, J. (2012). "Periodization Paradigms in the 21st Century: Evidence-Led or Tradition- Driven?" International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 7: 242-50. Knight, K. L. (1979). “Knee rehabilitation by the daily adjustable progressive resistive exercise technique” American Journal of Sports Medicine 7.6: 336-337.

Matveev, L.P (1965) “Periodization of Sport Training” Moskow, Fizkultura I Sport. 1965

Plisk, S, and Stone, M. (2003) “Periodization Strategies” Strength & Conditioning Journal 25:19-37.

Saw, Anna E., Main, Luana C., and Gastin, Paul B. (2015) "Monitoring the athlete training response: subjective self-reported measures trump commonly used objective measures: a systematic review." British journal of sports medicine bjsports-2015.

Siff, M. C. (2000). Supertraining (5th ed.). Denver, Co.

Verkoshansky, Y. (1999). “The end of “periodization” of training in top-class sport” New Studies in Athletics, 14(1): 47-55.