Just a Thought…Guided Athlete Autonomy


Had another interesting ‘out of the box’ thought that I thought might be good for this ongoing Just a Thought blog series. This one is on the idea of giving athletes some guidelines for training options that achieve a similar or nearly similar stimulus and then allowing them to have a little more autonomy and control over workouts by choosing the specific module to achieve that stimulus. In most cases, coaches give athletes hard copy workouts with little flexibility. Some coaches know enough to modify on the spot or at least on a day-by-day basis as needed. I’ve learned that it’s important, especially during competitive cycles, to put a little more control in the athlete’s hands. Here’s an example of a totally inflexible traditional weight room workout:

  1. Cleans: 6 x 3; last 3 @ 80%
  2. Squats: 5 x 5 @ 50, 60, 70, 75% 80% respectively
  3. Bench Press: Same as above
  4. Russian Twist: 2 x 10

There’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, it’s something I might use myself. But lately I’ve been very gradually inserting more and more athlete autonomy in to some of my athlete’s training plans. In some cases, this is done by providing ranges on the number of work sets. In other cases, it’s done with the intensities. Some cases it might be both. Other times it might be the length of the running rep distance. For a very small handful of my athletes, I actually give them some choices on which exercises they can use. In other cases, I might use rating of perceived exertion (RPE) that allows a little biodynamical regulation. In some special cases, I’ll even insert optional practice days or optional training modules. These modifications can be applied to any aspect of a training program from track work, to plyos, to weight room work. So far the feedback has been positive and at the very least I haven’t noticed any drop off in training adaptations.

What I want to propose here though is a much more radical variation on these concepts. How about putting together workouts that have various modules with interchangeable options. The coach would give 2-3 options that would provide a similar training stimulus and then the athlete would select which one they want to do for that module. Since I already gave one end of the spectrum above I’ll apply this concept to that same workout.

  1. Choose one:
    • Cleans: 6 x 3; last 3 @ 80%
    • Deep Jump Squats: 6 x 6 @ 1/3 bodyweight
    • Snatch; last 3 @ 90% RPE
  2. Choose one:
    • Squats: 5 x 5 @ 50, 60, 70, 75% 80% respectively
    • Lunges: 5 x 5 each leg @ 45-55% squat max
    • Dead Lifts: 7 x 3; last 4 @ squat max
  3. Choose one:
    • Bench Press: 5 x 5 @ 50, 60, 70, 75% 80% respectively
    • DB Bench Press: 5 x 5 each leg @ 45-55% bench max
    • Incline Press: 7 x 3; last 4 @ bench max
  4. Choose one:
    • Russian Twist: 2 x 10
    • Resisted Crunch: 2 x 10

As you can see, the exercises, volumes and intensities are fairly well matched to achieve a general stimulus that is similar across choices. The athlete would still need to stay within the guidelines but it would give them some autonomy over the program. In my radical experiment, this guided approach would be applied to every aspect of training. There are some pros and cons and it certainly wouldn’t work in every situation or with every athlete but I’m interested to hear others thoughts. After some comments, I’ll discuss my own personal thoughts on the pros and cons on such a setup.
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Mike Young

Mike Young

Founder of ELITETRACK at Athletic Lab
Mike has a BS in Exercise Physiology from Ohio University, an MSS in Coaching Science from Ohio University & a PhD in Biomechanics from LSU. Additionally, he has been recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a Level 3 coach by USA Track & Field, a Level 2 coach by USA Weightlifting.
Mike Young


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Mike Young
Mike Young