T Nation

Deloads, Volume, Intensity


#1

I'm hoping to get some responses from some more advanced lifters here. What are your opinions on deloads? How often do you use them and by how much do you cut volume or intensity? How important is volume during a training phase where strength is a much higher priority than hypertrophy?

I'm asking because I think my training has been somewhat suboptimal for the last while. For almost a year (with a 6 week Bulgarian experiment in the middle) I have been using an RTS-style template, 4 days full-body, and following Mike Tuchscherer's training ideas. One thing he was always saying is that deloads are unnecessary, he even had an article titled "You are NOT overtrained". However, it appears that he overtrained himself and had to make some major adjustments leading up to the IPF worlds this year, he also now programs deloads (although still moderate stress) for the lifters he is coaching.

I have been reading the new book from JTSstrength, they recommend deloading every 4th week. I'm not sure if that's necessary, although it would allow you to really push yourself for 3 weeks and then back off. I think that I have been doing more volume than necessary and training in a fatigued state, my work capacity has improved a lot but my squat and deadlift haven't had any major gains in the last year (around 50 lbs. each). From what I see in the book from JTS is that maybe I would be better to do more work at a higher intensity and less total volume. My average intensity is probably around 70-75% (not counting warm-ups) while the recommendations in the book are to do most of your work in the range of 75-90% during a strength phase. I was actually making better gains on sq/dl with 5/3/1 but my bench was stuck, now it's up but the other two are lagging behind.


#2

I take a scheduled deload every 8 weeks and deload the week of a competition for squats, deadlifts and overhead work. I’m currently following Matt Kroc’s 16 week bench program (just finished my second cycle), which has a deload every 4th week.

There is no way I could keep training in the style that I train without deloads. Along with giving my body some rest, it really re-ignites the fire to train hard. I take a break from burning out, and really want to get back to the weights.


#3

I like to emphasize that a deload is not an off week or a “light” period and it should not have any less effort than your usual training. It’s just a back off from your usual workload and it should also be a change of pace from what you usually do. I go up to 75% in my deload week, but my intensity is much higher. My deloads usually consist of more volume and more range of motion assistance exercises.

Generally you should take a deload before you HAVE to take a deload, meaning deloading regularly prevents you from burning out and having no choice but to back off whether its due to fatigue or injury. Tuchscherer is right when it comes to overtraining; most people wouldn’t be able to overtrain even if they tried, however I think deloads are not for overtraining, but for structural recovery and for getting out of your usual repetitive training patterns.

Personally I deload every 4th week because that’s how I did it in 5/3/1 and because the prep/peaking cycle I’m doing now doesn’t have a deload in it up until the last week and I’m starting to feel 5 weeks of training and constant progressive overload. I’m pretty sure I can keep lifting this way for a few months before I burn out, but why do that, when you can take a deload week and come back strong and fresh.


#4

[quote]Haldor wrote:

I like to emphasize that a deload is not an off week or a “light” period and it should not have any less effort than your usual training. It’s just a back off from your usual workload and it should also be a change of pace from what you usually do.
[/quote]

Oh man, I’ve been doing it way wrong, haha. I’m pretty much entirely out of the gym, maybe at most hitting some incredibly light accessory work or doing some conditioning.


#5

[quote]T3hPwnisher wrote:

[quote]Haldor wrote:

I like to emphasize that a deload is not an off week or a “light” period and it should not have any less effort than your usual training. It’s just a back off from your usual workload and it should also be a change of pace from what you usually do.
[/quote]

Oh man, I’ve been doing it way wrong, haha. I’m pretty much entirely out of the gym, maybe at most hitting some incredibly light accessory work or doing some conditioning.
[/quote]

Well I’m 25, I still recover pretty quick, but a drop in workload is enough for me. Personally it’s the 85%+ that kills me and doing full ROM bodybuilding type stuff balances me out. Tried the moderate conditioning deload and it just made me feel weak instead of rested.


#6

[quote]Haldor wrote:

[quote]T3hPwnisher wrote:

[quote]Haldor wrote:

I like to emphasize that a deload is not an off week or a “light” period and it should not have any less effort than your usual training. It’s just a back off from your usual workload and it should also be a change of pace from what you usually do.
[/quote]

Oh man, I’ve been doing it way wrong, haha. I’m pretty much entirely out of the gym, maybe at most hitting some incredibly light accessory work or doing some conditioning.
[/quote]

Well I’m 25, I still recover pretty quick, but a drop in workload is enough for me. Personally it’s the 85%+ that kills me and doing full ROM bodybuilding type stuff balances me out. Tried the moderate conditioning deload and it just made me feel weak instead of rested.[/quote]

I’m only 29, haha. Been training this way for a few years now. I don’t feel detrained after a week off, but at the same time, I rarely perform the competition lifts as is anyway.


#7

[quote]T3hPwnisher wrote:

[quote]Haldor wrote:

I like to emphasize that a deload is not an off week or a “light” period and it should not have any less effort than your usual training. It’s just a back off from your usual workload and it should also be a change of pace from what you usually do.
[/quote]

Oh man, I’ve been doing it way wrong, haha. I’m pretty much entirely out of the gym, maybe at most hitting some incredibly light accessory work or doing some conditioning.
[/quote]

Just for the sake of argument, here’s the deload guidelines from the JTS book (regular deload, not peaking/taper):

“First Half of Microcycle: Volume: 50% of overload day Intensity: 90% of overload day
Second Half of Microcycle: Volume: 50% of overload day Intensity: 50% of overload day”

“Overload day” just means a regular training day.

I’m not being coached by Mike T, but from what I understand his deloads are usually just a slight reduction in daily volume and lower frequency (3 days instead of 4), intensity and RPE are more or less the same as usual for that training block.

I agree that powerlifters are not really at risk for clinical overtraining, but once you keep pushing through fatigue and never backing off you put yourself at risk for overuse injuries and you end up training work capacity more than strength. I’m not a crossfitter, I’m more concerned with 1rm’s than the ability to do ridiculous amounts of volume. It has also been said that too high of a work capacity can result in lower responsiveness to volume, which means that you will need to do more work to get the same result. I don’t know how true that is, but it’s definitely something to consider. Would you work 80 hours a week for 40 hours pay?


#8

Perhaps I missed it, but you said this was for the sake of argument and I don’t actually see what you are wanting to argue.


#9

This is all just my opinion

-Chris, If you switch from your high frequency (4 full body) plan to an upper/lower split, with lower frequencies but higher intensities you’ll make rapid progress. Weights will be higher, reps will be lower. This will be a big change from what you’ve been doing lately. These heavier weights will challenge your CNS and improve your technique. These “neural factors” (better technique and better muscle recruitment) will lead to rapid gains in your lifts. For me, this totally forces regularly scheduled, lighter work.

If you have built your tolerance to volume(frequency?) UP, your tolerance to intensity(heavy weights) should be DOWN. You’ll get the most impact from the style of training you haven’t been doing.

-Haldor/Pun, you can go do a half deload every 4th week, or a total deload every 8th week, but the end result is the same amount of reduction. That’s kinda interesting to me. I’m 35, and I do both methods. Every 4 weeks or so I start to feel “edgy.” So I rotate exercises and drop volume down for a week. Then I spend the next 3 weeks gradually building up again. Every 2 months I feel run down, beat up, and moody, so I kinda half-ass it or avoid the gym for a week. Then start over.


#10

You bring up an interesting point, and it is something I should probably mention as well. I treat my 4th week with “awareness” in my training cycle. If the weights feel heavy, I won’t push myself too hard, and I won’t beat myself up over missed reps, but if things are feeling good, I’ll plug along and shoot for PRs. Basically, I allow myself forgiveness and a grace period during that week that I wouldn’t permit on other training weeks. When I first started, I needed that break a lot, but these days it’s pretty rare.


#11

There is something about that 4th week. Louie just uses the 3-week wave to avoid it all together. It seems like cheating. I’ve also heard of Olympic lifters going 2 weeks “easy” and one week “hard” but I don’t know a whole lot about that.

Stuff like this is why it’s important to keep track of how you’re feeling, not just what weights you lift, in your training logs. If you look back and see “felt awful,” every 28 days you know you should be ready to adjust the workout during that 4th week. Or you see “benching felt awesome” a lot, shortly after you started to do rolling db tri extensions, maybe you should do lots of rolling db tri exts. Looking back I have pages and pages of just numbers that don’t really tell mean much at this point.


#12

[quote]T3hPwnisher wrote:
Perhaps I missed it, but you said this was for the sake of argument and I don’t actually see what you are wanting to argue.[/quote]
I was implying that the quote I provided was a counter-point to what you and the other guy said. I didn’t want anyone to take it the wrong way as though I’m disrespecting their opinion, some people on this forum get easily offended. So that’s why I said “for the sake of argument”, maybe “discussion” would have been more appropriate.


#13

I think cycling through intensity and volume is necessary to allow the body to recover. From what I understand of RTS, you’re supposed to auto-regulate by pushing hard on days you feel good and backing off on days you don’t. In contrast, some people stick to percentages to stick to the plan of peaking at the right time. Both can work. I like to use a blend of both by only doing as much as what’s written on paper and auto-regulating down if I need to. I feel like dominating the weights on a good day is more than enough and I don’t need to do more since I’ve gotten the necessary training effect. Auto-regulating down ensures technique isn’t compromised. The programming I do is pretty structured so I don’t deviate from it much and doing everything exactly as planned would mean I have no life stresses.

Personally I take 2 weeks off out of 10. I’m still experimenting but this has seemed to work so far. When doing 5/3/1 in the past, I highlighted each training day in red, yellow or green in my spreadsheet depending on how I felt so that I could get a feel for general trends based on workloads, assistance work, etc. I used to have a goal of not missing reps and kept track of how many I missed each week. That was a bad idea and I tended to regress often from forcing reps with bad form. Learning to make adjustments made a big difference. During those off weeks, I used to do light/moderate work but kept reducing volume each cycle because I didn’t recovery enough. Just make adjustments each cycle and keep note of outside stresses that could be the cause.

Now my philosophy on auto-regulation is to get the required set/rep scheme and auto-regulate down on intensity as necessary for volume phases - slightly reducing intensity has minimal impact on overall volume compared to removing sets or reps. During intensity phases, I hit the intensity numbers and auto-regulate down on volume as necessary since the purpose is to get used to the heavier weights. IMO, volume blocks are just as important as intensity blocks because volume builds the foundation. As powerlifters, we focus on strength but gaining muscle should never stop. Look at the top powerlifters around and they have a ton of muscle. I didn’t make much progress when I only focused on strength and higher intensities. I also didn’t make much progress when I only focused on volume and moderate intensities. I’ve had a tendency to focus too much on one aspect of training and it always helps to step back and look at the big picture.


#14

[quote]FlatsFarmer wrote:
This is all just my opinion

-Chris, If you switch from your high frequency (4 full body) plan to an upper/lower split, with lower frequencies but higher intensities you’ll make rapid progress. Weights will be higher, reps will be lower. This will be a big change from what you’ve been doing lately. These heavier weights will challenge your CNS and improve your technique. These “neural factors” (better technique and better muscle recruitment) will lead to rapid gains in your lifts. For me, this totally forces regularly scheduled, lighter work.

If you have built your tolerance to volume(frequency?) UP, your tolerance to intensity(heavy weights) should be DOWN. You’ll get the most impact from the style of training you haven’t been doing.
[/quote]

What I’m doing at this point is more work at 80-90% and less total volume, but I’m still keeping the full body template for the moment. I’m 7 weeks out from a meet so I can’t really make too many changes at this point without screwing myself over. For my next training cycle I’m thinking of doing a hypertrophy phase for a month or 2, which will be an upper/lower split. From my own experience and as well as a lot of “sports science” stuff like Science & Practice of Strength Training, upper/lower splits with lower frequency are better for hypertrophy while full body and higher frequencies are better for strength. Of course, not everyone responds the same way and some of the strongest powerlifters use an upper/lower split all the time so it’s not so simple. But one thing I have found is that my bench in particular does well with high frequency.

"If you have built your tolerance to volume(frequency?) UP, your tolerance to intensity(heavy weights) should be DOWN. You’ll get the most impact from the style of training you haven’t been doing. "

That’s a good point, and the JTS book actually says the same thing, but in different words. If you don’t have a meet coming up then it is good to do a hypertrophy phase, if even for a month, just so that you can get re-sensitized to heavier weights. I was thinking I don’t need more muscle mass at this point unless I want to move up a weight class (I already weigh 230/105kg) so I was just focusing on building strength, but now I’m thinking that it wasn’t the right approach. There are lots of different training philosophies out there, if whatever I’m doing isn’t working then I’m open to trying something different that makes sense. Otherwise the only solution is to continually increase volume until you can’t find any more time to train, but that isn’t practical for anyone with a life.


#15

[quote]lift206 wrote:
I think cycling through intensity and volume is necessary to allow the body to recover. From what I understand of RTS, you’re supposed to auto-regulate by pushing hard on days you feel good and backing off on days you don’t. In contrast, some people stick to percentages to stick to the plan of peaking at the right time. Both can work. I like to use a blend of both by only doing as much as what’s written on paper and auto-regulating down if I need to. I feel like dominating the weights on a good day is more than enough and I don’t need to do more since I’ve gotten the necessary training effect. Auto-regulating down ensures technique isn’t compromised. The programming I do is pretty structured so I don’t deviate from it much and doing everything exactly as planned would mean I have no life stresses.

Personally I take 2 weeks off out of 10. I’m still experimenting but this has seemed to work so far. When doing 5/3/1 in the past, I highlighted each training day in red, yellow or green in my spreadsheet depending on how I felt so that I could get a feel for general trends based on workloads, assistance work, etc. I used to have a goal of not missing reps and kept track of how many I missed each week. That was a bad idea and I tended to regress often from forcing reps with bad form. Learning to make adjustments made a big difference. During those off weeks, I used to do light/moderate work but kept reducing volume each cycle because I didn’t recovery enough. Just make adjustments each cycle and keep note of outside stresses that could be the cause.

Now my philosophy on auto-regulation is to get the required set/rep scheme and auto-regulate down on intensity as necessary for volume phases - slightly reducing intensity has minimal impact on overall volume compared to removing sets or reps. During intensity phases, I hit the intensity numbers and auto-regulate down on volume as necessary since the purpose is to get used to the heavier weights. IMO, volume blocks are just as important as intensity blocks because volume builds the foundation. As powerlifters, we focus on strength but gaining muscle should never stop. Look at the top powerlifters around and they have a ton of muscle. I didn’t make much progress when I only focused on strength and higher intensities. I also didn’t make much progress when I only focused on volume and moderate intensities. I’ve had a tendency to focus too much on one aspect of training and it always helps to step back and look at the big picture.[/quote]

For what it’s worth, Mike T isn’t using volume/intensity blocks anymore, he’s doing something closer to concurrent training, although his old style was sort of concurrent as well. Basically, you will have hypertrophy work in all the training cycle except for peaking, you will have heavy singles leading up to a meet but also here and there in earlier phases. I think what he found is that you lose the adaptations you made in the previous block without making any significant gains in the next from jumping back and forth too fast. The JTS book actually says exactly that, blocks that are too short can be counterproductive. Mike wasn’t coaching me so I can’t criticize him, but my experience with RTS programming is that there is too much focus on work capacity, average intensity (relative to comp lifts) can be pretty low as well, and using RPE to autoregulate means that you aren’t actually forced to get stronger. A lot of people do well on high volume/low intensity programs (Sheiko, Norwegian programs) but some don’t. I guess I’m with the latter. I have heard of people running a Sheiko program and then failing their previous maxes, if you don’t touch anything heavy for a while it can be a shock when you do.


#16

By the way, I think autoregulation is the logical solution, but you need to still progressively increase the weights. If you almost failed the last rep and you are supposed to do 2 more sets for the same weight/reps, what do you think is going to happen? Even Sheiko says to adjust the weights by 3-4% on his programs if you are feeling extra strong or tired and weak.


#17

[quote]chris_ottawa wrote:
By the way, I think autoregulation is the logical solution, but you need to still progressively increase the weights. If you almost failed the last rep and you are supposed to do 2 more sets for the same weight/reps, what do you think is going to happen? Even Sheiko says to adjust the weights by 3-4% on his programs if you are feeling extra strong or tired and weak. [/quote]

I’ve experienced the same thing with Sheiko having too low of an average intensity. I wasn’t aware of him saying to adjust weights - maybe that’s why it didn’t work so well, lol. My form was still shitty when running strictly Sheiko so that was also a factor. Nowadays, I don’t adjust up because my set program represents the upper limit of my recovery abilities. I don’t adjust intensity down for high intensity, only volume.

At the moment I’ve been using Smolov Base as my volume phase for beltless squat since my squat sucks so bad. I’ve been using it more for practice since I’ve had a major technique overhaul and the program allows me to learn a lot in a short amount of time (especially when technique is at borderline failure) - the gains were a secondary goal. Since Smolov isn’t sustainable by itself, I’ve made an intensity phase using a 4-week modified Sheiko cycle to peak all three competition lifts (including belted squat). Definitely not something people normally do but I plan to ride on the gains as long as possible. If it stops I’ll move on to the CMS-MS Prep Sheiko programs. The plus side on the high volume is it’s easier to put on muscle with the high workload and just hold on to the strength as I cut the fat.

Here’s the 10-week breakdown in no particular order:
2 weeks of moderate-high volume/moderate intensity
2 weeks of low volume/moderate intensity
3 weeks of ridiculously high volume/low-high intensity
3 weeks of low volume/high intensity (90+ %)

Ignoring the fact that I’m crazy for depending on Smolov for volume, the program actually looks balanced in terms of volume and intensity. That’s the main takeaway when looking at the overall program.

I know concurrent training works for a lot of people and I do plan to experiment with that in the future as well.

In your case, I agree with FlatsFarmer that you will make some big gains when introducing more intensity into the program. As long as you time it right. If I can’t time it right, I’d just do something linear like an Ed Coan program and work backwards with the given time frame. That’s usually the fallback plan, lol.

Edit: On a final note, maybe that’s the problem with RPEs - only adjusting intensity and not adjusting volume. That basically supports your statement that there is too much emphasis on work capacity. Really, volume and intensity are both important at specific times so maybe it is better to allow adjustment of both. It would not make sense to me to not hit at least 90% for my last heavy session if I’m going for a PR soon just because I feel shitty. I’d rather take 1-2 singles at 90% (even grinders) than 3-4 singles at 85-88% during an intensity phase if that’s the last heavy session before a PR.

Edit 2: Come to think of it, I actually did turn the modified Sheiko cycle into a concurrent program. I added a heavier single for the first two weeks (+5% intensity over main work) to allow an easier transition to hitting openers on week 3. Didn’t think about it until now.


#18

I’ve been competing in powerlifting for 15 years and turn 37 in a week. I haven’t found planned deloads all that useful. For years I did them religiously every 4 or 6 weeks.

A year ago, I hired Mike T. to coach me and began employing his deload method, or lack thereof. There were times I felt like I was beat to crap. When that happened, the recovery calculation he provides his clients would almost always tell me to reduce volume and sometimes even to skip a session. I’ve found that if I’m being honest with my RPEs and how I’m feeling, the “deloads” will happen naturally when I need them to – either because I’ll reduce volume, intensity or if I’m really beat up, skip a session entirely.

In that year, I put 40lbs on my raw total without changing weight classes or taking any special supplements. I’m very happy with the no deload aspect of this training.


#19

[quote]burt128 wrote:
I’ve been competing in powerlifting for 15 years and turn 37 in a week. I haven’t found planned deloads all that useful. For years I did them religiously every 4 or 6 weeks.

A year ago, I hired Mike T. to coach me and began employing his deload method, or lack thereof. There were times I felt like I was beat to crap. When that happened, the recovery calculation he provides his clients would almost always tell me to reduce volume and sometimes even to skip a session. I’ve found that if I’m being honest with my RPEs and how I’m feeling, the “deloads” will happen naturally when I need them to – either because I’ll reduce volume, intensity or if I’m really beat up, skip a session entirely.

In that year, I put 40lbs on my raw total without changing weight classes or taking any special supplements. I’m very happy with the no deload aspect of this training. [/quote]
That’s basically the same thing that I have been doing, I had higher and lower stress weeks planned and depending on how I felt I might cut it a couple sets short or skip supplemental work. I only ever skipped GPP days, there have been maybe 4 regular training days that I missed in the last year and it was because I was sick. I often wake up to screaming kids so TRAC or HRV isn’t going to be so accurate for me, I basically just keep going full speed until I start to feel like crap. But in the end my work capacity and recovery ability increased more than anything, when I have a full day off (no GPP or lifting) it might as well have been a week. I’m not an advanced lifter, so I was hoping for more gains than I got. In the last 10 months I went from 400/315/490 to (realistic estimates, goal weight for the meet) 450/365/550. I’m happy with my results on bench, but squat and deadlift haven’t been progressing very fast in the last while.

So in the end I’m not sure about deloads, or I wouldn’t have started this thread. At the minimum you need lighter weeks and days, but how light is another question. From what I hear, Mike T is now using something like a deload, maybe 3 days instead of 4 and less volume. I think that the advantage of taking a full week at 50% or so of your normal workload is that you will be able to push yourself much harder during regular training, but whether every 4, 6, or 8 weeks is best is probably down to individual differences. Deloads can also prevent you from adapting to excessively high volume (meaning you need more to progress) so that’s definitely a bonus.


#20

^That looks like great progress. It doesn’t seem necessary to change your approach. Good luck at the meet.