Q and A: To Deload or Not to Deload. That Is the Question.
Q: If possible I was hoping to get your quick take on how many athletes achieve the advanced status that would likely necessitate de-loading by intensity- that is, if you had to give an educated estimate. Some coaches have said that the vast majority of lifters never really progress beyond that intermediate stage, so I was wondering if you agree with that assessment or if those coaches were likely selling many athletes short.
A: Great question. Personally, I’ve always been in the camp that believes if someone is going to over-train, they’re going to do so as a direct result of too much volume rather than intensity. I mean lets be honest, most trainees would rather add more sets/reps week in and week out (certainly not a bad thing), than more weight on the bar. As such, you’ll see guys performing 47 sets of bench press at every possible angle (incline, decline, upside down) and wonder why, after five years, they’re not getting any stronger.
Moreover, the vast majority of trainees tend to think they’re more advanced than what they really are. Generally speaking: If you can’t perform ten reverse lunges without tipping over like a drunk college student on Spring Break, then you have no business asking whether or not you should be using chains during max effort squat days. Similarly, if you can’t perform at least five strict pull-ups with your own body weight, then you really shouldn’t be concerned about which day of the week you should be blasting your biceps. Unless of course it’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. Sundays are reserved for playing Battleship, eating dead animals, and taking chicks out to Applebees. Anyone who says romance is dead, never went out on a first date with me.
Okay, so I’m obviously being an ass. Everyone knows that Applebees is way too classy for a first date. Nonetheless, we like to incorporate de-load weeks every 4th week at CP. However, that’s certainly going to depend on a few factors. Namely:
1. Training age- a 35 year old “weekend warrior” just starting out vs. a 35 year old competitive power lifter. Who do you think will warrant structured de-loads?
2. Training history- If “working out” entails brisk walks on the treadmill while watching the Jonas Brothers on Ellen, then it’s safe to assume you probably won’t need to de-load.
3. Injury history- people who are beat up, generally need more breaks from loading.
4. Mode/type of training- this can tie in with training history, but it stands to reason that someone who’s a casual gym rat- and uses nothing but a Smith Machine and a BOSU ball, probably won’t need to worry about structured de-loads as say, someone who follows a Westside(ish) training template and/or has used a dumbbell heavier than 50 lbs.
5. Frequency of training- sorry, but if you’re one of those people who trains every other Thursday, but only if the Dew Point is above 33.474965848300223% AND it’s an “even” day, then you don’t need to de-load.
As well as a few other factors that are alluding me at the moment.
As I mentioned above, when it comes to de-loading, I’m more inclined to drop volume than I am intensity. Through the years, I have found that this approach works best for most (read: not all) trainees.
So, for example, if I have someone front squatting it may look like this:
Week 1: 5×5
Week 2: 4×5
Week 3: 3×1 @ 90 %, 2×5
Week 4: 3×3
As you can see, each week the training volume fluctuates:
Week 1: High Volume
Week 2: Medium Volume
Week 3: Very High Volume
Week 4: Low Volume
Side Note: for the sake of simplicity, I’m purposely not including the additional “accessory” work that would entail the rest of the training session. Rather, I just wanted to demonstrate my point about lowering volume in week four, while keeping the intensity in place. I know, I know, I suck at life. But this blog post is getting long enough as it is. Here’s a picture of Jennifer Esposito to make up for it.
People tend to get into the mentality that more is better- but you also have to realize that fatigue will always mask one’s true fitness level. While I think that people have to go out of their way to overtrain (it’s not as common as people make it out to be), I also feel that taking a back off week from time to time is a perfect way to keep the body fresh, and not feeling to beat up. Now that’s what I like to call science people. Look it up sometime.
Be that as it may, there are obviously a multitude of ways to structure de-load (or back-off) weeks, and I’d be remiss not to give a shout out to Eric Cressey’s Art of the Deload manual (check it out HERE), which goes into much further detail than this blog post ever could. In the end, I do feel that incorporating deload weeks will bode well for many trainees- it’s just going to depend on a few factors. Hopefully that answers your question.