The Concentric-Only Deload

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Today’s guest post comes from Dallas based personal trainer, and frequent regular/commenter on this site, Shane “The Balance Guy” McLean.

He covers a topic that I feel many people recognize, but don’t necessarily understand: the deload.

There are a million and one different ways to approach the deload – reduced volume, reduced axial loading, nixing compound movements for more traditional isolation work, placing more emphasis on “fun stuff” like biking, hiking,or recreational sports for a week, actually taking time off and resting, and/or walking underneath a rainbow to name a few. 

Shane discusses one way which many trainees and coaches tend to overlook or dismiss altogether: concentric only training.

I hope you enjoy it!

How many times has your body been beaten up by squats, bench presses and chin ups? For most of us, getting after it and ignoring discomfort is a way of life.

That’s because you love it.

Against your better judgment you arrive at the gym, walk up the stairs and Ohhh….. My…….. God your legs are screaming at you due to the tough workout you crushed yesterday.

You contemplate walking right back down those stairs and finding a nice safe corner to weep in. Most serious exercisers have had these moments from time to time.

But wait, hang on and get out of that corner. Haven’t you heard about deload training?

Deload training involves taking a week off or reducing your sets and reps for a week while maintaining the same intensity before moving into your next training phase.

My take on deloading is little different, however. Let me explain.

When lifting weights, we typically use three types of muscle contractions: concentric, eccentric and isometric.

Isometric muscle contractions are when the muscles produce force but there is no change in the length of the contracting muscle. Think of this like a tug of war between opposing muscles. Examples of this are front planks and side planks.

Isometric exercises are great for reducing age-related muscle losses after a period of inactivity and when joint movements are painful. These types of exercises are useful in a rehab/physical therapy setting.

Plus, when planks are done right they provide for an awesome midsection.

Isometrics are also used in the strength world to overcome sticking points in the major lifts. For instance using a press against pins at a sticking point in your bench press. This isometric move can be performed for several seconds to overcome a weakness at a particular joint angle.

When we eliminate weak points, you can bust through plateaus and gain more strength.

However, isometric exercises can cause higher than normal blood pressure spikes. If you suffer from high blood pressure, these are a no-no. Furthermore, due to no muscle movement, isometrics doesn’t strengthen the muscle through its entire range of motion.

Isometrics has its place, just not for deload purposes.

Eccentric contractions involve the muscle lengthening while under tension due to an opposing force (gravity or added resistance) being greater than the force generated by the muscle. Think lowering down from a chin up/squat (slow eccentric) or the preparation for a plyometric movement like power push-ups or squat jumps (fast eccentric).

As fewer motor units (functional unit of muscle contraction) of the muscle contract during the eccentric phase, the muscle can generate 1.3 times more tension than the concentric (lifting) phase.

This increase in tension leads to our size and strength gains when the weight is lowered under control and through a full range of motion. Eccentric contractions are essential for your awesomeness.

Just don’t tell the guy who’s half-assing squats at your gym.

The drawback for lifters is that eccentric contractions can lead to delayed onset muscle soreness (pain you feel 24-48 hours after tough training), muscle swelling and decreased range of motion.

[Histochem Cell Biol. 2002 Jul;118(1):29-34. Epub 2002 Jun 18.

Eccentric contractions leading to DOMS do not cause loss of desmin nor fibre necrosis in human muscle.

Yu JG1, Malm C, Thornell LE.]

If you’ve ever had trouble using the bathroom or walking up stairs after leg day, you can relate.

Last but not least, there are concentric contractions. Concentric contractions happen when force generated by the working muscles overcomes the resistance, and the muscle shortens.  Think of pushing the bar away from your chest or flexing your biceps hard while doing curls.

Like eccentric contractions, concentric contractions are essential for increasing your muscle capacity and mass.

Here’s the kicker. Using just concentric contractions can help lessen the pain of muscle soreness caused by DOMS, as pointed out by a 2006 study in, “Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.”

Now imagine for a moment exercising while minimizing your eccentric contractions. Presto, you have the perfect deload training.

My version of deload training can be plugged in between training phases as recovery, as a one-off training or when you want to add variety to your current routine.

Deload training recommendations

1.        Most concentric dominant moves are not overly technical, but you must have mastered the basics of pushing, pulling, hinging and squatting.

2.        Choose moves with little or no eccentric movement, such as plate pushes, sled/ prowler pushes, step ups, medicine ball throws, kettle bell swings and resistance band exercises like chest presses and rows.

3.        The repetitions should be in the 8-12 range. When done for time, do 20-30 seconds of maximum effort.

4.        As a guideline, keep the rest periods between exercises and circuits to 60- 90 seconds. If you need more rest, take it.

Here is my one of my favorites.  Complete this as a circuit for a total of 3-4 circuits.

Let the fun begin.

1. Medicine ball squat toss, 8-10 reps

Cues- Use proper squat from.  Release ball quickly. Imagine the ball is a hot potato.

2. Overhead medicine ball throws, 8- 10 reps

Cues- Strong step forward and when releasing the ball, encourage yourself to “spread your fingers apart’ on release.

3. Kettle bell swings, 30 seconds

Cues- On the down swing the wrists must “smack” the inner thighs. On the upswing squeeze the butt and take a sharp breath out. Tell yourself to “squeeze and breathe”. My favorite cue of all time.

4. Power resistance band rows

Cues- Quarter squat position, stand tall and squeeze the butt. Use a quick pull. Elbows don’t travel past the torso.

5. Plate push

Cues- Push away from the floor. Tell yourself you’re running on hot coals.

When using this instead of your usual deload/recovery, do this no more than 3 times per week.

When plugging this in for fun or to aid with delayed onset muscle soreness, just do one time.

Your body will thank you.

About the Author

Shane McLean is a Dallas based personal trainer and is also known as The Balance Guy.

You can also follow him on Twitter HERE.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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