By 2X Washington State Natural Champ
Luke Ehlis ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist / B.S. Exercise Science
Instinctive training is an advanced training technique that allows an athlete to become more aware of their body’s response to training. This technique is not one a novice lifter learns overnight, it is one that is learned over time. Pre-planning in a general sense is good, but you can never fully know how your body will respond that day. Diet, sleep, and recovery all play primary roles in the performance of a muscle. Each day a lifter is uncertain of how exactly their body will respond to each exercise, set, and rep. Thus, they can use instinctive training to adapt their workouts on a daily basis to be certain they are the best they can be each day.
Even though this training is called instinctive, there is some structure for intensity and progression purposes. The structure consists of three components: goals, movements and feel.
Simply because this type of training is instinctive does not mean it is without structure, just like with any program you must have an objective. Always enter the gym knowing which muscle groups you are about to train. This helps you develop a plan of attack for your routine and allows you to focus on a starting point which sets the pace for your workout.
Always start your workout with compound movements. For example, when you train legs start with a variation of a multi-joint exercise, such as squats or leg press. This allows for optimal stimulation of all muscles involved during the movement and helps prevent injury. It is safer to perform higher-risk exercises such as squats before fatigue has set in.
This is the key step to defining instinctive training. During your first set of each exercise you will become aware of your body’s response, and from that response you will be able to determine the flow of the workout. You will be able to decide which exercises are to follow, and what intensity levels to work with. Start with a goal weight and adjust according to your body’s response during that session. For example, if you start to feel you are not in control of the weight or it doesn't feel right, decrease the amount of weight and increase the number of repetitions. If the movement performed is too easy or volitional fatigue is not achieved with the intended number of repetitions, increase the weight and decrease the number of repetitions per working set. This type of adaptation and progression is applied to your exercise choices throughout the workout. Having full knowledge of your body is the key component to the effectiveness of instinctive training. Pushing your body to the absolute point of fatigue without pre-planning is an advanced technique. Instinctive training requires discipline and intuitiveness and can be a key component to an experienced lifter’s training regimen.
I also recommend tracking your training in some type of a journal or log. This is very useful for future reference, as it tracks your progression and will insure you are not performing the same workout routines over and over. The goals of instinctive training are to help you develop an understanding of your body’s response to different styles of training, avoid plateaus and prevent overtraining. It also allows you to incorporate bits and pieces of different training methods and develop a truly individualized routine.