Want to Get Strong? Try APRE

In a previous post, we outlined an alternate approach to traditional periodization - autoregulation. I’ve had many coaches and strength training enthusiasts ask me if I could build upon this concept a little further. This week, I’ll explain autoregulation in more details and outline a typical training session using autoregulation. Next week we’ll propose a way to integrate velocity into the mix.

The Athlete’s Response to Stress

Performance Decline

Before we continue, I’d like you to take a look at Figure 1. This figure depicts what often happens during a training block - an athlete - let’s call him Jake, is training hard, a little too hard. Every time he enters the weight room he gets stimulated maximally (either by an increase in load, an increase in sets, reps etc.) Furthermore, he’s not giving his body a chance to fully recover from the previous workout. What ends up happening with Jake? Chronic fatigue has set in, performance has decreased and overtraining is almost inevitable.

Figure 1

Adapted from Bompa 2009

Performance Boost

Now let’s take a look at the reverse scenario (Figure 2). Jake has a well-designed program - i.e., his training sessions vary from one day to the next and he’s getting adequate rest which facilitates the recovery process. In turn, his performance over time improves!

This is an ideal scenario, but how can a strength coach truly predict how much to load an athlete? If he stresses the athlete too much, Figure 1 will occur. However, if he doesn’t stress the athlete enough, again, no improvements in performance will be seen because of an inadequate amount of stress. The answer may very well lie in autoregulation. Let’s take a closer look.

Figure 2

Adapted from Bompa 2009

Brief History of APRE

Autoregulation stems from the work by DeLorme; it’s technical term is Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise (or APRE for short). DeLorme was a military surgeon during the 1940s and he noticed that soldiers weren’t recovering very quickly from injuries, specifically, fractured bones in the leg. He began strapping simple weights to the cast of these soldiers and prescribing specific exercise protocols. What did he see? The fractured leg would heal much quicker while the muscles of the leg increased size and strength (at a faster rate). This seems obvious to us today but in those times, any form of weight training was deemed ‘unsafe’. His protocol looked something like this:

Set 1 - Light Load for 10 reps

Set 2 - Moderate Load for 10 reps

Set 3 - Heavier Load for as many reps as possible (AMRAP)

Knight (1979) and Siff (2004), expanded on the work by DeLorme and created the 3 different APRE Protocols, each targeting a different training quality (Tables 1-3).

APRE in Action

Let’s use our athlete Jake, from earlier, to dig deeper into the APRE. Jake is a young collegiate athlete, doesn’t have much experience in the weight room but wants to increase his strength. The best approach for Jake is to follow the 10RM Hypertrophy/Endurance protocol (Table 1). Why? He’ll get more reps in, improve his technique on certain lifts while also building a solid strength foundation.

Table 1 - Hypertrophy Protocol

Adapted from Siff (2004)

Ok, so Jake gets into the weight room for his first session and his coach has prescribed deadlifts. Jake’s 10RM was measured during a testing session and was estimated to be 140lbs for deadlift. Here’s what Jake would do:

Set 1 →  12reps x 70lbs (50% of 10RM)

Set 2 → 10reps x 105lbs (75% of 10RM)

Set 3 →  Reps to Failure (RTF)  x 140lbs (100% of 10RM) - Jake does 15reps

Set 4 → According to the adjustment chart, Jake should increase the load on the bar by 5-10lbs and perform another set with RTF.  Jake uses a load of 150lbs.

This is a proven way to increase strength in a short amount of time because it takes into account how the athlete is feeling ON THAT DAY! During the next session, Jake’s new 10RM load will be 150lbs, and the process repeats itself.

Table 2 - Strength Protocol

Adapted from Siff (2004)

The Benefits of APRE

Remember our figures from above? Well using the APRE protocols, it’s unlikely that the athlete will be overloaded to the point of overtraining and declines in performance. Coaches that have implemented this system have seen results with 4 week training blocks all the way up to 16 week blocks! Can’t ask for more than that. And another thing, because an athlete’s training program will vary from 1 block to another, the 6RM and 3RM protocols (Tables 2 and 3) can be incorporated. Once our athlete, Jake, builds that foundation, we can progress him to the 6RM protocol; the routine would be similar, but the adjustment chart differs slightly. One important consideration, young athletes SHOULD NOT progress from the 10RM protocol straight to the 3RM protocol as this added stress may lead to injury and/or poor adaptation.

Table 3 - Strength & Power Protocol

Adapted from Siff (2004)

3 Limitations to the APRE System

1. The adjustment chart is not always exact. Some athletes could add more weight to their final set while the reverse may be true for weaker athletes.

2. It’s important for athletes to maintain good form when they are performing sets to failure. Coaches should monitor younger athletes and load them appropriately.

3. What about when power and speed qualities need to be improved? This is where a combination of the APRE system and velocity based training can be immensely useful.

Next week, for power and speed training, we’ll propose a solution to the APRE system by adding velocity measures to the mix. Stay tuned!


Bompa 2009. Periodization.

Mann et al 2010. The Effect of Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise vs. Linear Periodization on Strength Improvement in College Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

Mann 2011. The APRE: The Scientifically Proven Fastest Way to Get Strong.

Siff 2009. Supertraining.