There are several principes one has to follow in order to be proficient in lifting weights, or getting stronger. This is relevant to gymnastics training, bodyweight training, olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and if you are natural, Bodybuilding.
One of those principes is Rest, or super compensation. Today we are going to look at a specific way you can super compensate a training cycle by integrating what is called a De-Load phase.
A De-Load phase is a time span, usually a week, where you reduce drastically either volume or intensity, or even both, in order to let your body fully recover from a previous phase of training.
If you go back to a few of my previous article, I speak in lengths about what training is. A sufficient stimulus, rest, then a stronger stimulus. This can be considered a microcyle.
During a training session, you have an even smaller cycle : you lift a weight for a set, rest, lift a weight for another set, rest etc.
Then you have a another cycle during the week : train monday legs, train tuesday arms, rest wednesday, train thursday legs, train arms friday, rest etc
Then you have a weekly cycle : 5 rep max week 1, 3 reps max week 2, 1 rep max week 3.
The Phase I am going to talk about is the specific, integrated, De-Loading phase in a training cycle that is there to prevent overtraining and injury. So even though it may seem like taking a step back, the use of this phase is actually to help you do more in the long run.
The body can only take so much damage. Over weeks of training it accumulates it, physiologically, and mentally. Your beat up muscles are worked on when still sore, the Actin and Myosin of your muscle fibres still haven’t recovered from the heavy squats, deadlifts, plyometrics, snatch, cleans, or 20 reps squats you’ve inflicted on yourself.
So every once in a while, program a reduction in your program. We’re all quite different, so try different methods.
Reduce volume :
This is more relevant for bodybuilders and gymnasts. The cumulative damage is usually from volume more than intensity. If you’ve been hitting it hard for 3, 4, 5, even 6 weeks in a row, you should take a step back and let your tendons and muscles rest. Keep the intensity at the same level, same weight, but cut the volume in half.
In bodybuilding, your goal is to keep muscle mass, so the stimulus has to be maintained, but you don’t want to inflict more damage to your damaged muscle. This should help your muscle fibre reconstruct, and you should be able to go heavier and for more reps the following week.
As for gymnastics, the goal is to keep the acquired technique, but reducing the volume so you can recover and do better next cycle.
The general rule when you go for muscle growth is 6 workouts, and then a De-Load. This means you can De-Load on arms, and keep working hard on legs that week, and then do the opposite the following week. This also helps with the mental struggle of hitting it hard ALL THE TIME at the gym. If can give you a complex cycling where you can brutally hit a muscle group while another is resting, instead of trying to blast everything apart and ending up by blasting yourself apart.
Reduce Intensity :
This is usually better suited for Powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters. The goal is usually pure strength, so the percentages that can be used can get very high and very taxing on the nervous system. The brains and joints can only take so much Intensity. In order to go heavier and make the best of the brain drain, the idea is to take the percentages way down, and just work on weak muscle groups and lift nothing “heavy” for a week.
This usually means lifting no more than 60% of you 1RM on ALL of your lifts.
You have several muscle groups but only one bain, so playing around with muscles groups will only work for so long. Depending on how well you sleep, and how wow much you weigh you might need more or less time. The more muscle you have to move, and the stronger you are the more frequent this De-Loading should be. Thor Bjornsson De-Loads every two weeks. Lightweights can De-Load over few days and come back for more. The brain sizes are close, the muscle masses aren’t.
Reduce Both :
This depends on how beat up you are. Some coaches like to include long training phases of 3 to 9 weeks of increased intensity and volume to severely drain the athlete, and then give the athlete a week or two to overcompensate the severe accumulated mental and physical damage.
This should be done carefully, and with a personal trainer that has been working for at least 20 years in the given sport, or if the athlete is quite new and has not even grazed his muscular and nervous potential yet. Making linear and constant progression until the athlete hits a wall, and then letting him rest (sometimes completely if they respond well to it) might be the best solution to chose.
If you want you can even push it to not doing anything for a week. Take off completely as if you ere really sick. And see how you do in the gym when you come back. Worst case you won’t have lost anything gained in 1 week, best case you perform and feel better than you ever had before.
Play Around for A week :
Sometimes it might not even be a question of volume or intensity, it might just be overwhelm from the sport, and what is needed is to implement the sport you do with something else. A powerlifter might actually gain something with swimming. An Olympic weightlifter might get stronger by taking a week to just do gymnastics training. And a gymnast might gain something by doing a little bodybuilding.
The conclusion here is that yes, you should work specifically on the sport you practise to be as proficient as possible. But Rest and Recovery is half of the equation. You will not lose everything you have worked for in a week of rest.
Strength, Muscle, and Skill are built over years and are made to last. Implementing a well thought out method to recover quicker and prevent injuries down the line is the best way to help you become the strongest athlete possible.
Some may see it as a step back, but the body is made to get stronger by recovering. You should recover as hard as you training, and if you are impatient, you will be punished down the line.
Maybe all you need to cross that hurdle is a little step back.
So whatever sport you do, look at your program, and figure what your reload should be.