Thibarmy Questions and Answers No.3
Hi Coach – I recently came across 3 different experts, each with different recommendations for ‘deloading’… 1 who is a bodybuilder = every 3 weeks, 1 who does Crossfit = every 6 weeks, the other an athletic coach = every 10 weeks; w/intermittent recovery days. I’m sure their approaches are all valid, but it’s a little confusing. Hence, wondering if you could, explain to me:
1) When to Deload – What is your approach for figuring out when to program de-loading for a client? What are the factors to consider, and is there a hierarchy of influence, for example?
2) De-loading Options – In your many years working with athletes and adults of all ages and levels, have you found certain types of ‘de-loading’ (e.g., reduce load, reduce volume, change exercises, etc.) more beneficial than others? If yes, in what ways?
3) Duration – Most advocate a full week of de-loading, and I get it. It’s easier from a programming perspective. But is duration always fixed? For example, is it possible that some people require shorter de-loading phases (aka 3-4 days instead of 7)? How do you know?
4) Quantity – Would you elaborate on the concept of ‘enough’? Many experts have a broad-brush approach to de-loading. That is, they tend to take overall workload down for a specific period. But is that always the case? For example:
a) If all my lifts are really strong except 1…and I feel good, couldn’t I keep my volume/intensity the same and just take that one lift out for a week? So, only de-load one strength move for a week?
b) Is there a way to recognize what ‘done’ for de-loading looks like…other than filling in tick marks on a program’s ‘to do’ list?
As always, appreciate you sharing your very smart brain!
That is a most excellent question! It is also an interesting and even controversial topic. To me, programming the deloading phase is exactly the same thing as planning training programs: how you deload (when, how, how long) depends on the individual, and particularly on his neurological profile and hormonal status. The type of training also plays a role.
You have asked a rather complex question so I’ll tackle it piece by piece.
When to Deload – What is your approach for figuring out when to program de-loading for a client? What are the factors to consider, and is there a hierarchy of influence, for example?
Neurological profile plays a big role. Coach Poliquin has given some great courses on that topic and Dr. Braverman has written a good book on how the brain and body are connected and how brain chemistry can influence how your body functions. I use his test, the Braverman assessment to evaluate an individual’s neurological profile/neurotransmitter dominance:
Someone who is dopamine dominant (high energy, very competitive, risk taker, extroverted, like to be the center of attention, explosive) handle stress very well and can sustain a high amount an frequency of high intensity work for a fairly long period. A lot of the top competitive athletes in sports like football, hockey, sprinting, throwing, baseball, etc. fall into that category. In fact to reach the top level in competitive sports, it helps to be dopamine dominant. If your strength coach friend works mostly with that type of athlete, it is not surprising that he believes that deloading once every 10 weeks is sufficient. That’s likely what works with his clientele.
Some who is acetylcholine dominant is normally a stimulus addict in the gym because his greatest source of pride (thus motivation) is to outwork everybody… he takes more pride in how much or how hard he trains rather than how much results he is getting. The thing is that his nervous system is not as resilient as someone who is dopamine dominant so he wants to do more volume/frequency but can’t really handle it. That type of person should deload every 3rd week (so two weeks of hard training, one week of deload).
Gaba dominant people (normally more introverted, skeptical, argumentative, tend to suffer from paralysis by over-analysis, are anal about details, etc.) are not well suited for very high intensity work (strength work) and might need to deload every 3rd week too, while using less volume in the two hard weeks as acetylcholine dominant people. If they use more “pump work” training, though, they can go for a long time without deloading, and they actually do well if they stick to the same program for 8-10 weeks.
Serotonine dominant people do not tend to gravitate toward resistance training and when they do it’s more because they feel like they “need” to or “should” do it. These people aren’t likely to require a deload because they rarely train at a level that requires it.
So basically, the answer is that you need to deload anywhere between every 3rd or 10th week depending on your profile. People with low sex hormones (testosterone or estrogen for female) or chronically elevated cortisol will also need to deload more often.
Finally, it also depends on how hard you are training. Obviously the harder you train, the more frequent the deloads need to be. To be honest, most people you see in gyms do not train hard enough to justify deloading.
De-loading Options – In your many years working with athletes and adults of all ages and levels, have you found certain types of ‘de-loading’ (e.g., reduce load, reduce volume, change exercises, etc.) more beneficial than others? If yes, in what ways?
The traditional way to deload is to lower volume but maintain intensity. In fact, I personally call a deload, “peaking” with the athletes I work with. Words have power. If you say deload, most people train with no focus or drive in the gym, basically wasting time and energy. If you call it “peaking” they understand that it’s still hard training but with less stress so that they can peak after the week.
The approach I like to use is to reduce volume by 40-50% while maintaining the same intensity (weights) level. This can either be done by reducing the number of sets (e.g. from 5 to 3 per exercise) or the reps (e.g. from 8 to 6 keeping the same weight).
This is the best approach for someone who is involved in bodybuilding or fairly heavy strength work.
With competitive lifters who do a fairly long contest prep (10-12 weeks) then lift their all-out adrenalin-fueled maxes on contest day, I like to deload by doing opposite training. This means that we drop all heavy compound lifts and do only isolation work and unstable work for the period decided upon. This allows them to maintain their mass while giving their joints and nervous system a break.
The last option that I use is a period of Neural Charge Training, if a person is showing obvious signs of overstress: drastic drop in libido, bad sleep, having problems waking up and getting started in the morning, aches and pains everywhere, sudden drop in weight while also looking fatter, etc.
Neural charge trainings are very short sessions (20-25 minutes) using only explosive exercises (jumps, throws, short sprints, med ball throws, light Olympic lifts) without generating fatigue or even breathing hard. This is fantastic to recover a burned out CNS.
Some people like Jim Wendler like to deload by reducing intensity (weights). I find that this works with people who are genetically blessed for strength and dopamine dominant people.
Duration – Most advocate a full week of de-loading, and I get it. It’s easier from a programming perspective. But is duration always fixed? For example, is it possible that some people require shorter de-loading phases (aka 3-4 days instead of 7)? How do you know?
Two practical ways to know when you are recovered (at least when the nervous system is recovered) are:
a) Grip strength test. Using a dynamometer, test your grip strength in a rested state (e.g. before a period of intense training). When you feel drained, you usually also observe a pretty significant drop in grip strength. When you start your deload, measure your grip strength every day. Technically, you could start training when your grip strength is back to normal, but I recommend waiting until it goes up about 10% above the initial baseline.
b) The tap test. Originally you used a pencil and tapped as many time as you could on a sheet of paper over a 1 minute period. Then you counted how many marks you made. But you can find apps (search CNS tap test) to do this test on your phone. Like with the grip strength test, a sudden drop in performance indicates neural fatigue.
While these are only tools, they are useful in knowing when to start training again.
But since we are not talking about NOT training (it should still be hard training) I feel that it is safer to stay with 7 days. But in reality, we are talking anywhere between 5 and 10 days.
If all my lifts are really strong except 1…and I feel good, couldn’t I keep my volume/intensity the same and just take that one lift out for a week? So, only de-load one strength move for a week?
Well, it doesn’t really work like that.
First, some lifts naturally progress faster than others. Normally the deadlift and squat progress the fastest, bench press is next, and the military press increases fairly slowly (can stay the same for a while before going up). This means that performance is not always the best indicator.
I already discussed the grip strength and tap test, but you can also use something subjective like the pump: if you have a harder time getting a pump in the gym, or if you feel super flat throughout the day (with no change in diet), this can an indication that it’s time to deload.
Another indication is a sudden drop in morning weight or an increase in resting heart rate. Decreased appetite is another sign: if resting temperature goes down it could mean that you are doing too much volume or not eating enough, so it’s another clue.
You must also understand that lifts cause both specific and systemic fatigue. Just because you drop a lift, this doesn’t mean that you are deloading, because while you might reduce some local fatigue you are still causing a large amount of systemic fatigue.
If one particular lift has not been progressing for a long time, you I would suggest you change it for a different variation and see what happens.
Is there a way to recognize what ‘done’ for de-loading looks like…other than filling in tick marks on a program’s ‘to do’ list?
The key to a good deload is like leaving the poker table with more money than what you came in with: quit while you are ahead.
In an ideal deload workout, you should leave the gym while you are feeling your best. Normally, energy levels go like this when you train: You come in, you feel okay but not necessarily amazing. Then you start to train and you gradually feel stronger, more focused, in a better mood. Then as volume accumulates these start to erode and you finish the workout in a fatigued state, sometimes feeling drained. Well, when you deload you should not allow yourself to reach a fatigued state. If you feel like your focus is going down, your energy is dropping or you are losing your pump: stop immediately (even if you have exercises remaining).
Hope this helps.
I would want to ask you what is your perspective on glute training, what reps are better for a particular part of the glutes area and maybe what exercises do you think are superior than others.
Also, I observed that people with long femurs and a slightly longer torso do better when it comes to glutes…..what is your perspective for those people that don’t have this “advantage” when it comes to glute training, what exercises would be their best bang for their buck.
Well you should ask Brett Contreras since he is the glutes expert. But I’ll give it a go.
First, I concur partly with your observation about long femurs and longer torsos. People with longer femurs and shorter tibias are absolutely better at building glutes. That is because of their longer femurs make them more posterior chain dominant when squatting and deadlifting, and even for lunges.
However, I don’t agree with the torso bit. People with longer torsos tend to not be as efficient at building glutes. The real determining factor is the femur/tibia ration. Someone with longer tibias will be quad dominant because he can easily stay more upright when squatting and thus doesn’t involve the posterior chain as much. The person with long femurs will tend to lean forward a bit more, stretching the posterior chain thus increasing its recruitment.
As a result, the person with longer femurs will actually need very little, if any direct work for the glutes for them to develop. But the individual with longer tibias is likely going to require more direct work to build their glutes.
My wife and I are both built the same way: short legs with longer tibias, long torso, short arms, narrow clavicles, big traps (at least we know what the kids are going to look like!). We are both very good squatters and front squatters (we both have a front squat that is about 90% of our back squat) and lousy deadlifters. We also both need to do specific “recruitment work” for the glutes and hamstrings without needing any targeted work for the quads.
The first order of business is increasing the glutes sensitivity to recruitment (what some people call local or peripheral activation). This is done by doing a movement like X-band walks at the beginning of a lower body session. Note that I don’t really like hip thrusts as I personally feel them in my quads. I think that people with longer tibias who are really quad dominant might have trouble feeling their glutes in a heavy hip thrust.
Anyway, the X-band walk is my favorite exercise to wake up the glutes so that they are better recruited during the big basic strength lifts. If someone is especially deficient glute recruitment, I will actually do a set of X-band walk prior to every set of squat, front squat and deadlift. This greatly increase glute stimulation from the main lift(s). I normally do sets of 10 reps per side on this one. To increase the resistance hold the band high (as if you were doing an upright row) to decrease it, hold it lower.
I also like to use the Romanian deadlift with a resistance band around the hips. Look at the video about how to strengthen the finish of the deadlift that exercise is showcased in it: https://thibarmy.com/deadlift-series-no4-three-exercises-stronger-finish/
The eccentric is done slowly and the glutes are squeezed (against the band resistance) for 2 seconds on every rep. If you use more barbell weight and less band resistance it will improve glute recruitment while still focusing on the hamstrings. If you use less weight but a lot of band resistance, it will be a greater growth stimulation for the glutes. I prefer sets of 6-8 reps on this exercise, but with the slow eccentric tempo and isometric hold at he top.
Two last exercises that I like is squatting and sumo deadlifting with the Hip Circle by Mark Bell (http://www.roguefitness.com/sling-shot-hip-circle).
To build glutes size sets of 6-8 reps are best on the squat and 4-6 on the sumo deadlift.
Hope this helps.