Unless you are in the complete beginner phase or have a little ‘chemical assistance’ with your training, training gains are not linier and even the two afore mentioned groups will undoubtedly hit plateaus. You cannot simply add more weight to the bar continually; size and strength gains come in waves. You will have periods where you can’t do anything wrong, your strength goes up and you are getting bigger, but unfortunately, you will inevitably hit those dreaded plateaus, where you seem stuck on the same weights week after week and the tape measure just wont budge.
So what’s the answer? Do we simply grind away with the same weights and the same exercises hoping for the occasional ‘good day’, where we are able to up the weight a little? No, absolutely not, while hard work is crucial for making gains, simply training as hard as you can with the same exercises continually, will lead to stagnation, plateaus, injury and not just lack of gains, you will eventually become weaker due to the laws of accommodation; the more your body adapts to a given stimulus (a particular exercise), the more efficient it becomes and the less it needs to change, ie get bigger or stronger and eventually you will be able to perform the same task with less effort, meaning you may even lose some of the gains you initially made.
The good news is we can influence those progress waves, ensuring steady and continual progress. Now this assumes that your diet and recover programme is dialled in perfectly, if you are a natural bodybuilder or strength athlete, less than optimal diet and recovery and your progress is going nowhere.
This is where de-loading a programme comes into play. By specifically decreasing the weight on the bar and slowly ramping back up over several training sessions, you can increase the weight you could handle before the de-load.
Two mechanisms come into play here; firstly, strategically lowering the intensity (weight or load), you allow the CNS (central nervous system) to recover. If the CNS is chronically overloaded, as in pushing every set to failure, workout after workout, it actually dials down the amount of force your muscles can produce in an attempt to try and recover. You then enter a state of overreaching as performance goes down, soreness increases and motivation dips. If this state is allowed to continue, you can end up being over trained, this is serious, real over training can takes months to recover from, however it is a difficult state to push yourself to, most who think they have over trained have merely entered the state of overreaching.
Secondly, because you are ramping up the weights session by session, you gain strength, even though the weights are sub-maximal, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to train to failure to trigger gains, you simply need progressive overload and this can be done in waves. Training this way, you initially de-condition your muscles, by lifting lighter weights, this is only slight however and you start to gain session by session after this until you reach a new peak and then begin the whole cycle again.
This practise is periodization in its most basic form and just about every athlete in every sport, at elite level uses some form of periodization. It’s simply a way to cycle training to reach a peak.
Here is an example of how to structure de-loads into your training programme. We will use the squat as our example. You’ve been squatting 2 x a week and your 10RM is 100kg. Up until now, you’ve done 3 sets of 10 to failure.
It is very possible to add 5kg or more to this lift, over a 3 week cycle.
To do this we would work backward from the target of 105kg, 5kg each training session.
This is how it looks:
————-Day 1——— Day 2
Week 1)–80kg x 10—-85kg x 10
Week 2)–90kg x 10—-95kg x 10
Week 3)–100kg x 10—105kg x 10
Only the last session on week 3 is taken to failure, which minimises CNS fatigue, meaning you will feel good lifting the lighter loads at the start of a cycle and actually feel stronger session by session, instead of burnt out.
It is possible to increase your lifts massively using the method. Granted your progress will slow down at some point, but not before you have dramatically increased your strength and growth potential.
This method also allows you to improve technique, as you’re not always using maximal loads, reducing the risk of injury and keeping motivation higher.
If you are feeling burnt out and stuck with your training, get de-loading and ramping up and see your gains sky rocket.