“One of the major benefits – it allows athletes to move at their own individual pace, not at a prescribed pace which may be too slow or too fast.”

 History on the Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise (APRE)

 The APRE was developed in the 1940’s by Dr Thomas DeLorme, it was originally designed to help rehabilitate injured WWI servicemen.  Knight (1979) and Siff (2004), expanded on the work by DeLorme and created further APRE protocols.  It’s a form of strength training that focuses on holistic athletic ability and weekly performance variance (more to follow on this area later).  It’s important to highlight that there is limited information published on the APRE.  However, the information which is accessible emphasises that the design was to increase the weight on a lift from week to week based off the progress of the athlete.  It is a superior programme to most because it automatically regulates the programme based on how the athlete/ client feels.  We understand that there are many factors which effect performance, ranging from sleep, nutrition, stress, relationships, etc.  APRE assists with taking these factors into consideration.           

 We have over 30 years of practical application between us, ranging from strength development training, endurance training, tactical athlete development, obesity & weight loss all the way through to sport specific training for elite athletes.  What we have found common in our profession amongst all high end coaches, is that in order to learn and develop, you have to Assess – Plan – Periodise and Measure. 

Work with as many different athletes/ clients as possible, then rinse and repeat the process, until you are confident that your ‘own’ philosophy works.  Now here we present to you our interpretation on the APRE System forged over 3 decades of experience and how maximum strength, muscle mass and strength-speed can all be developed by applying our simple protocols. But first… here’s a little more background….  

 Introduction

 Both programme design and exercise selection are simple concepts, yet we constantly see very complex strategies throughout programme construction over complicating the basics.  It doesn’t need to be trendy or look incredibly cool to obtain results and at the end of the day, this is the objective of every programme………RESULTS!  The basics have stood the test of time for generations, this is why they are the basics, simultaneously, certain exercises have also stood the test of time and for good reason.  These two elements, known as the fundamentals, should be the staple of any well designed programme.  What has developed over time, is our understanding of the exercises and training methods through vast amounts of data capture and trial and error.  Confusion tends to occur during programme design when different training methodologies are mixed together, more than often we see that in ‘people’s opinions’, the best elements of individual programmes are all blended into one ‘Super Programme’.  More often than not, this leads to overtraining, burnout or injury combined with no real thought out process or direction for the client/ athlete.  To create a great programme it must be clear what the goals and objectives are and to ensure the people who use our programmes remain fit, healthy and away from injury throughout. 

 There is a vast amount of training methodologies based around the subject ‘periodisation’, one of the most common is known as linear periodisation.  Now, this is by no means a negative tone towards linear periodisation, because it absolutely works, for certain athletes/ clients. I just want to remind you once again, everyone is different and as such, so should be their training programme!

What we are stating is this,  Linear periodisation is often used to get athletes/ clients stronger and in many cases this works to good effect. Some people say that being a strength coach is like falling out of a boat and hitting water (it’s going to happen), if you apply 5×5 in week one, 4×4 in week two and 3×3 in week three across the three major lifts (squat, bench deadlift).  You reduce volume and increase intensity as you progress through the weeks, de-load in week 4 and repeat the process through weeks 5-8 then you will get stronger, it’s inevitable.  We would agree, this method will get you stronger, IF you are new to strength training.  If you have had exposure to strength training in the past, this training methodology works up to a certain point then we often see an unwanted plateau.  We regularly see athletes/ clients becoming frustrated that their numbers aren’t moving upwards.  The common approach to hitting the lifts more frequent (increasing volume) is not necessarily the answer, this normally results in injury, burnout or even the over development of certain muscles which as a result, can turn off the smaller muscles causing impingements and glaring muscle imbalances.  Despite what we’d like to believe, the body doesn’t like to fit itself into nicely planned weekly schedules and monthly training blocks.  A programme that can account for that fluctuation will always be a step ahead.    

 To prescribe a programme which is based around Linear Periodisation, you need the athletes/ clients one rep max lift numbers on major lifts, in order to determine the percentages of lifts as you move through the programme from week to week.  We don’t like this approach if we are working remotely, as 1 Rep Max Testing can be dangerous if carried out by a relatively inexperienced lifter and are not carefully managed or coached throughout the testing protocol.  We are also not a fan on the de-load week that features in Linear Periodisation, we see this as a form of de-training.  We prefer the approach of a constant state of readiness, to constantly change the stimulus to influence the training adaptation whilst at the same time managing fatigue levels on a weekly basis to ensure that the athletes/ clients are training at their optimum level. 

 The Importance of Strength Training

“All human movement, from the blinking of an eye to the running of a marathon, depends on the proper functioning of skeletal muscle and its strength”.(Designing Resistive Training Programs, Steven J. Fleck, Williams J. Kraemer, Human Kinetics 1997)

 Strength,(relative and absolute), underpins all human movement and performance and without it, there will be no optimal results in training development or competition.  Movements like jumping, running, lunging, squatting, sitting down and standing up, carrying your shopping bags and lifting you child can all be linked to our overall ability to express strength. Strength is defined as the ability to produce force, therefore every form of human movement which takes place requires some form of strength.   

 As we age, our skeletal muscle deteriorates (sarcopenia), so strength training helps us stay independent and more importantly out of the nursing home.  Heart disease is now the leading cause of death for both men and woman.  Research suggests that strength training can help correct issues relating to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and inactivity, all factors heavily linked to heart disease.  Strength training is evidently linked to reducing injury rates, as it not only builds muscular strength but also mechanical strength of the connective tissues, especially around the joints.  For tendons and ligaments, a strong muscle will absorb more energy than a weak muscle group. 

 We would arguably say that:

 A novice athlete/ client will benefit from basic strength training utilising the simplest training methodologies.

 An intermediate athlete/ client would need strength specific programming, mixing different variations of the movements to get stronger. 

 An advanced athlete/ client with many years of training under their belt will need further strength specific training, focusing on weak areas, mixed with strength-speed and speed-strength training. 

 Without referring to Louie Simmons’s conjugate method (a subject for another time), there has been a training method, often overlooked, which has benefited all levels of athletes (beginner-advanced) and that’s the APRE. 

 There are three APRE programmes:

 

 1. Absolute strength development

 2. Hypertrophy development

 3. Speed strength development

 Because APRE factors in your fatigue level for the day and previous week, you don’t need to factor in de-load weeks, this means that you can move between the three different types of programmes depending on your goal, which constantly changes the stimulus and enhances your adaptation.

 

 The APRE works like this: 

 Each exercise is completed for four sets once a week.  The third and fourth sets are done to failure. Yes, that’s right, failure! It will be hard. The number of repetitions done on the third set determines both the weight used in the fourth set and the weight to be used for the following week.  The way APRE programmes work; if you are weaker one week, the starting weight for the next week will be lower, allowing your body to recover with no adverse effect on your training development.  If you are stronger one week your weights will increase next week to adjust to your new found strength gains.

 There have been a number of articles written stating that muscular hypertrophy leads to longer lasting strength gains and an increased cross-sectional area of the muscle.  Research has also identified that greater bar speed equals greater power output for a given weight.  The three APRE programmes can be woven together in different ways to increase strength, speed-strength and muscular hypertrophy. 

 A simple 8 week training cycle might look like the following:

  • 4 weeks of APRE Hypertrophy (10RM)
  • 4 weeks of APRE Strength Development (3RM)

 The three separate APRE programmes could look like the below example for week 1, day 1 of a training cycle:

 

Set

Strength and Power

Strength and Hypertrophy

Hypertrophy and Muscular Endurance

1

6 reps @ 50% of 3RM

10 reps @ 50% of 6RM

12 reps @ 50% of 10RM

2

3 reps @ 75% of 3RM

6 reps @ 75% of 6RM

10 reps at 75% of 10RM

3

Reps to failure with 3RM load

Reps to failure with 6RM load

Reps to failure with 10RM load

4

Adjusted load/ reps to failure

Adjusted load/ reps to failure

Adjusted load/ reps to failure

 This training methodology can also be applied to the Olympic Lifts (training age dependant).  You can substitute the Snatch and Clean and Jerk for the Bench and Deadlift and keep the Squat (back or front, goal dependant) as the middle movement as these have great carry over for the Olympic Lifts.

   Here is an example of a Strength Development APRE programme:

  • Set 1 – 6 reps @ 50% of 3rm
  • Set 2 – 3 reps @ 75% of 3rm
  • Set 3 – 100% of 3rm to failure
  • If on set 3 you can only complete 1-2 reps, decrease the 3rm 5-10kg for set 4
  • If on set 3 you can do 5 or more reps then increase the weight 5-10kg
  • If on set 3 you do 3-4 reps leave the weight the same for set 4
  • Set 4 – go to failure at newly adjusted weight

* The newly adjusted weight is the new 3RM for the following week’s sets

 An easy go to guide on adjusting sets and reps for set 4 for the three variations of the APRE System:

APRE 3 (3RM)

APRE 6 (6RM)

APRE 10 (10RM)

Repetitions

Set 4

Repetitions

Set 4

Repetitions

Set 4

1 or 2

Decrease 5 – 10kg

0 to 2

Decrease 5 – 10kg

4 to 6

Decrease 5 – 10kg

3 or 4

Same

3 or 4

Decrease 0 – 5kg

7 or 8

Decrease 0 – 5kg

5 or 6

Increase 5 – 10kg

5 to 7

Same

9 to 11

Same

7 and up

Increase 10 – 15kg

8 to 12

Increase 5 – 10kg

12 to 16

Increase 5 – 10kg

 

 

13 and up

Increase 10 – 15kg

17 and up

Increase 10 – 15kg

 We know what you’re thinking, this sounds like a lot of maths to do mid workout, right? Wrong, we have taken all the guess work out for you and produced an automated spreadsheet to simply input your reps achieved in each set and the table will automatically populate and shoot out your new numbers for loading and repetitions. 

 A breakdown of how a week of training might look.  Perform the three major lifts; Squat on Monday followed by accessory work, Bench on Wednesday followed by upper body accessory work and Deadlift on Friday followed by lower back, hamstring and glute accessory work.  As previously outlined above, the last two sets of each APRE protocol are done to failure, therefore, your recovery time during these two sets are vital.  As a rule of thumb 3-5 minutes rest is advised, however, this will be down to the individual.  

 Please note that the first time you use the APRE spreadsheet the respective maximums are calculated for you for the first week.  The spreadsheet will calculate for you a theoretical 3 rep max based on the weight you have recently lifted prior to starting this programme.  Avoid getting bogged down with this number, it may feel too light or too heavy, but that’s the beauty of the APRE system, it’s self adjusting and it should be on the money from week 2 onwards.

 Which Protocol?

 Now that the APRE System has been explained it still leaves some uncertainty to which programme is right for you.  A paper produced by Mann et al (2010) described how they used all three programmes across a six week period.  They utilised the 6RM approach more frequently as it was most compatible with the goals of their football players (strength and muscle mass).  The book ‘Supertraining’ (Siff, 1999) suggests that if you’re after muscle mass stick with the 10RM (stimulating hypertrophy and muscular endurance) version and fluctuate with the 6RM (strength and hypertrophy) protocol for variety.  If you’re after strength gains focus more on the 3RM protocol.

Accessory Lifts

If we just perform the big lifts along with no accessory work, it can often lead to muscular imbalances, unnecessary joint stress and if not corrected, eventually injury.  Accessory exercises are great to help isolate and strengthen those weaknesses.  An example might be if someone is heavily bending (forward lean) over in the back squat.  This could suggest they have a weak posterior chain or midline.  Exercises to help correct this could be Good Mornings, Barbell Glute Bridges, Back Extensions, etc, etc. Adopting these accessory movements into your programme will assist with the development of the posterior chain, correct the forward lean and even bump up your Back Squat Numbers.  We at FSC really like to use DB’s, GHD Machine, Sand Bags, etc, etc when it comes to accessory work.  Due to the majority of the time spent on the Barbell with the major lifts, we like to expose the body to other pieces of equipment within the gym to apply a different stimulus.  Remember, accessory work is very individualised and you must start with the end in mind, what is your overall goal?  Only then, can you begin to move the needle in the right direction.  An example of one of our APRE Strength Development programmes, along with some accessory work is shown below. 

For more information regarding strength training, hypertrophy development, accessory work or the APRE System OR yout free APRE spreadsheet contact us via email.

Karl Thorpe

Co-Owner CF Choice