There seems to be a whole new crop of strength training writers which are getting rabid followers by telling them what they want to hear. What do they want to hear? How they can get strong without hard work. In fact, it seems anything that is about getting strong but NOT about actual training is the most popular content.
The word deload is a favorite. Tell people to take a week off every four weeks and they will love you. This is something I was just sent, supposedly from an article:
“More volume doesn’t matter if you can’t recover from it…deload, yada yada”
It is Not That Easy to Overcome Your Body’s Ability to Recover From Exercise
The idea that it is that easy to completely overcome your body’s ability to recover from a workload is a fantasy cooked up by those who find it an easy excuse as to why they fail to progress. No progress…less work, more rest! Sounds great!
Recovery from a strength training session begins happening immediately, even as you are still working out. It is ongoing. It doesn’t stop. I’ve said this all before.
But, my brand of hard work falls on deaf ears when it is so easy to find information that validates what most people want: To achieve great strength without tons of sweat and fatigue.
This is not to say there is no such thing as too much volume, but the way to manage too much volume is not to throw out the entire kitchen along with the kitchen sink and imagine that you are a recovery cripple.
Let’s be clear here: Most strength trainees do not use ENOUGH volume and ENOUGH weight. Lack of ‘deloads’ is not the most common problem.
You Probably Do Not Need to Schedule a Week off From Training Every Four or Six Weeks
And a deload is not a week off from training but a reduction in training load or volume. At some time, you will be forced to take periods off from training due to life obligations. Actually scheduling in long vacations from training is not necessary for most. It is not a bad thing, but to make it a THING is BS. But, let’s consider the origins of these beliefs about recovery and deload periods.
There Will Be Bad Workouts
Probably the simplest reason people latch on to scheduled deloads or layoffs from training is that they naively believe that they should never have a bad workout. By extension, they believe that ONE bad workout, in itself, is actionable data. In reality, it may be that what the average trainee calls a bad workout is actually a good workout! The reasons for this are both physiological and psychological. I’ve gone into both in detail. I’ll content myself here with saying that, not all workouts will be great but this doesn’t mean you should drastically change or reduce your training. Strength training is not a walk in the park. There will be bad days in the gym. And, no, your workouts will not all become easier as you progress.
You Do Not Have to Avoid Fatigue Like the Plague
The other, overlapping myth which leads to these overzealous prescriptions concerning training layoffs is the notion that all fatigue should be avoided. Many inexperienced and uneducated trainers believe that in order for the body to progress, all fatigue from previous workouts must be eliminated. They think that if you do not completely recover from each previous workout, the next workout will be worthless, and what’s more, will put you in a so-called ‘recovery deficit.’ This is not how overtraining works.
The Problem with Most Programs
There is a reason I don’t prescribe strength training programs but instead use flexible templates. Most programs start with an arbitrary volume of exercise. When progress fails or plateaus are reached, the trainee doesn’t know where to go. He or she is left with either training to add on to the program or somehow reduce it. It’s much easier, then, to believe that the program is fine, we just need some arbitrary period of rest from training. Then, we can begin the same program again, or use some new program, until the next plateau or stall.
But, do you see all the options that are left unexplored? One reason why Single, Double, and Triple progression works so well is because of a very simple premise: It starts with a base volume, adds reps, sets, and weight, and then, once progress stalls, you return to base volume with a heavier weight. Guess what? This is a built in deload but the deload itself is progress.
You can use this general concept in all your training. Start with a moderate volume that you will call your base volume. Add to that in whatever way you like. When you feel like you are not progressing, or you feel like your workouts have become a slog, reduce back down to your base volume, but with a greater weight on the bar than before. This is, of course, not the only way to train but as a general concept it opens up a lot of possibilities.
However, if you have been lifting very heavy and aggressively and you think you need a deload, instead of assuming you need a complete cessation of training, try a simple reduction in volume. No, I do not believe that a reduction in intensity is generally needed, as many strength coaches do. I think that intensity cycling, as well, is a mistake. Start by reducing volume by around 40%.