T Nation

Long Term Deload Help

Hello my powerlifter brethrens, I mustache you a question…

I’m really stubborn so not sure I’ll even do it, but I’m strongly considering at least a 4 week deload…maybe even 8. I’m curious what the general guidelines would be for keeping as much strength/muscle with the least work? I’ve been doing 531 for a long time, but I feel like doing the deload week as written long term would be too little work?

Reason being is at 28yrs old my testosterone levels are at 420 total (70 free), my thyroid is underactive, and I while I haven’t tested my adrenals, I’d say theres a good chance they’re not working properly either. I’m giving myself 2-3 months to see how much I can up my hormone levels without prescriptions. I’ll be trying to reduce stress in all areas and think reducing training load would be wise to do as well. It will be tough though as I hate not working out hard.

Alright, I was hoping to do this via PM since it’s rather personal, but the PM function doesn’t seem to work, so I’ll give you a condensed version here.

I can’t provide you with very good advice about planning a deload, since I don’t consider myself to be experienced enough in powerlifting programming. I’ve been strength training for a long time but have only been serious about it for sporadic periods of time, most recently within the last two-odd years (this time I won’t look back!). One thing that I can say, however, is that your hormonal conditions are likely related to training. If I recall correctly, you’re a hockey player, yes? How many training hours do you put in per week for both sports?

I was a performance athlete growing up and was (and still am) the king of overdoing my training intensity. Some people have super-resiliant endocrine systems and can withstand tonnes of training stress, but I am not one of these people. In short, I shot my T and thyroid function about ten years ago doing way too much endurance work. After being a fairly muscular and athletic kid, by 20 I was at like minus 10% bodyfat and looked like a twig without leaves. Went unknowingly through the whole standard medical help thing and then busted out as soon as I was convinced that my docs had no idea what they were doing.

Slowly I was able to regain decent levels on my own, but only through being anal about very common-sense things. You’re probably right in targeting the adrenals, they have such a huge influence on the entire endocrine system. That said: try to avoid stimulants, force good sleeping habits, drink lots of tea (the whole shabang, there’s tons of information online about this). Take some time off of training, but not too long. I think the body has a tremendous adaptive capacity and must be used to resistance training. I’d say one or two weeks, then go for a normal deload week before resuming normal training. Just ease into things – don’t go for any “+” sets on 5/3/1 for a few weeks. At least regarding overall health, there really is merit to long-term periodization, and I’d recommend reading something by Bompa or Verkhoshansky so that you can plan out your year and not burn your system out.

I’m also not sure at what kind of bodyfat levels you are now, but I was able to notice the best improvements in “perceived” hormonal levels once I gained one or two percent fat. I’m by no means a fatty, I was just at a level far too low for my normal endocrine homeostasis and for my best training performance. Are you naturally lean or are you sitting now at a level that’s somewhat leaner than you’re used to?

In terms of diet and supplementation: fats really do help one feel better in such situations. Olive oil, fish oil, steak oil. I really like ginger and its close relative, ginseng, which I feel do tend to have a positive effect on endocrine balance. Be careful with the latter, however, since it is also a stimulant. I also respond very well to DAA, I find that when cycled it can really help boost HPTA function. Vitamin D is a must, even in the summer. Did you have a comprehensive blood panel done or moreso HPTA-specific work? At any rate, don’t fret, it’ll take time to get things back up to optimal levels, but I’m certain you can do it quickly. For me, it was really just about being skeptical of my own programming and intensity and careful about my recovery. Keep stress low, have fun, be optimistic.

Thanks for such a well written post Kgildner.

I do play hockey, but not as much as I used to. About one game a week usually, which is insanely intense since I skate so hard. I try to get a lot of sleep but my body just won’t let me. Most nights I’ll wake up 4-6 hours later and struggle to get back to sleep afterwards. I haven’t slept 8 hours straight in at least 4 years.

I’ve competed in the 132s and am working my way up to the 148s now. Am currently around 145 with a bf % of around 15-18 most likely. Doubt I’ve ever been lower than 12% and I’ve got some pretty stubborn lower ab fat.

I’ve eaten pretty healthy for a long time, but think all the intermittent fasting may have worn me down some. I’m now eating carbs at every meal except breakfast, and tons of eggs and fatty meats, so no issues with fat. Part of my supplementation includes 2-4,000 IUs of Vit D most days. I’m intrigued by DAA but would prefer to not have to rely on it. And my blood work was not too detailed. I got TSH, and then a complete testosterone panel. TSH was 9.4, but I had just recently stopped supplementing with high doses of iodine which hurt my thyroid. Just 5 days earlier it was 14.1

I’d imagine that sleep is partially the culprit; being fairly sensitive to my endocrine levels I have noticed the crucial role of sleep. It’s a catch-22 because both too little and too much of a myriad of factors can disrupt your sleep. I’m no expert here and can’t give any concrete advice, but try to find out ways that work for you to ameliorate your sleep patterns. Do you take ZMA? For the first month or so, I found that it really helped me sleep through a full night. I then needed to cycle off for whatever reason.

I think DAA is very effective IF you are a responder (not everyone responds). I cycle 14 days on 7 days off and then take a few months off every now and then. I’ve perceived this to work for me, though I haven’t had any blood work done in the last year or so to confirm my assumption. It’s worth a try, though. I also felt a lot better this year on 6000 IU Vitamin D per day in comparison to 2000 IU last year, but this could be attributable to many things.

Out of curiousity, were you taking iodine in an attempt to rev up low thyroid levels? Were you basing this on body temperature? I’m asking because I tried a similar protocol earlier this year with some success.

As I said, I’m no expert for programming. I do, however, know how stubborn it can be to back off for a while, even if this helps in the long run. In your case, I really think it’ll be beneficial to take a week or two off completely and then ease back into things. Doesn’t have to be right now, but try to program it in soon if you’re feeling beat up. And try to monitor how you feel on the day(s) following your most intense training sessions, this can be a pretty good indicator of how your training affects your endocrine system.

I don’t know much about your Test problems, but as far as training I’ve recently been through somthing similar. I had to go a month with no weights, just when my PLing goals were at an all time high. I got by with simple body weight training for 30 days, and lost very little strength, pushups, pullups, and single leg BW squats for high reps, and high volume, push, pull, leg split rotation no rest days for 30 days. I don’t know if this applies to your problem, but i just went through this recently, and lost very little strength. Goodluck.

The question that has to be answered for a long term deload is, are you deloading primarily because

  1. you feel burned out, or weak for reps, or sets, but your joints feel great,
  2. do your joints hurt but you feel good otherwise, OR
  3. do you feel burned out AND your joints hurt.

Second it may be important to know if you are sleeping a LOT, or having trouble sleeping (feel irritated, or anxious).

What are you currently doing for sleep? Are you taking any supps and how’s your sleep hygiene? I’d go nuts sleeping like that long term.

Kgildner- I’ve been taking ZMA for a long time. It helps me fall asleep with more ease. I’ll usually take around 6k IUs of vit d in the winter time, but since I take long walks a lot I figure that I don’t need that much in the summer.

Matt Rhodes has suggested I reset 531 with an 80% training max and just do the prescribed reps with some basic 3x10 assistance.

Mertdawg- I do feel a little burned out sometimes I guess. The main reason is to reduce stress so my hormone levels can get back to normal. I’m actually still getting stronger, but those all out top sets might be causing too much stress for me at my strength level now.

I wind down for the day pretty early and usually am in bed by 10 and get up at 525 for work.

Between 7-8 I’ll use f.lux on my computer which blocks a lot of blue light, close the blinds, and turn off lights.
Around 8 I’ll dim my TV
9 is when I do SMR with a softball/lacrosse ball which helps me relax. Then I’ll brew a couple bags of sleepytime, take my pills, shower, and get to bed.

Thats not exactly how it always goes, but most of the time its something like that.

Seems to me like you could be sleeping more. even if you are out like a light at 10 PM, if you’re getting up at 5:25 you aren’t getting 8 hours. I would make a concerted effort to go to bed a little earlier. I know that must be a bitch, who wants to go to bed at like 9pm, but it might help .

Also, I don’t know very much about hormones, but diet can play a big role. You are a smaller guy, but according to you you’re gaining weight and have a good bit of bodyfat, which in this situation is a good thing. But I would still say to take a loot at your diet, and really get that in order. Make sure you are eating a LOT to aid in recovery, and make sure it’s all the right kinds of food. For example, if most of the meat you eat is chicken, red meat can have some testosterone boosting effects, and generally has more fat, more calories, which will help you recover. Soy beans, as most lifters know, have an estrogenic effect on the body in some people, but so can certain other beans, nuts, and legumes, so if any of those foods make up a significant part of your diet, maybe do some research and consider trimming them back. And Broccoli has estrogen-blocking effects, so if you can up the amount of broccoli you are eating, that can only help.

As far as the deload, personally I like the idea of the 80% 5/3/1 with only the prescribed reps. That will be nice and easy for a good while, but still allow you to progress, feel good about moving forward, and set you up for future success. However, I will also say that I think people underestimate the good that can come from just taking a break from lifting. Imagine that you just took the next month off, instead of trying to train through it. It would give your whole body time to recover, give you time to figure out sleep and nutrition without taxing you at all, and give you time to completely mentally reset as well. Personally, at least once or twice a year I try and give myself 1-2 weeks straight, completely off, where I don’t even go into the gym. Obviously 4 weeks is pushing it, but in your circumstance I feel like it could be a good thing. You could just take a month to focus on other stuff in your life, sleep right, eat right, get back the HUNGER to train hard, and really give your body a chance to get back to normal hormone levels, rather than following a training program that you don’t really want to, and that isn’t gonna get you stronger. I just feel like the benefits of doing a bunch of really light lifting, just for the sake of doing “something,” might not outweigh the benefits of just taking a short time off and coming back hard.

Anyways, as I said I don’t know much about this subject, just trying to provide some ideas and personal opinion. Hope some if it was useful to ya, good luck.

When I was feeling beat up, for 2 months, I did sets of 20. I dropped my weight to approx. 45-50% and did sets of 20 for overhead press, bench, squat, rows, and a few other lifts. I did sets of 5 on deadlift with a weight I could have done for 10. I went with a weight that didn’t really get difficult until the 16th to 18th rep. Even then the weight was light enough that it wasn’t a grind getting them all. I felt refreshed after the 2 months and I hadn’t suffered a big drop in my lifts.

Yea, it usually takes me 30-60 minutes to fall asleep, and then I always wake up at least once before my alarm goes off. Sometime around 315-430 usually and most times have trouble getting any quality sleep afterwards.

As far as diet goes I’d say its pretty strict. Carbs mainly come from potatoes, rice, and a oatmeal a few times a week. For protein I eat whole eggs, red meat(mostly beef liver), chicken, sardines, and tilapia. I get a decent amount of veggies and then some fruit here and there. I actually have to be careful with broccoli and other veggies containing a lot of goitrogens, as they can suppress thyroid function when eaten too much. Just very recently added almonds and brazil nuts back in to help get more calories.

I think it probably would help me heal faster if I just took a complete break…but I’m stubborn! Maybe I’ll take 1-2 weeks off completely, but we shall see. I’m one of those people that loses strength and muscle pretty quickly if I don’t do anything. I appreciate your advice and as much as it would suck, taking an extended break probably would be wise :frowning:

I have some bands, so maybe I could just do some light work with those the next few weeks?

[quote]tredmark wrote:
When I was feeling beat up, for 2 months, I did sets of 20. I dropped my weight to approx. 45-50% and did sets of 20 for overhead press, bench, squat, rows, and a few other lifts. I did sets of 5 on deadlift with a weight I could have done for 10. I went with a weight that didn’t really get difficult until the 16th to 18th rep. Even then the weight was light enough that it wasn’t a grind getting them all. I felt refreshed after the 2 months and I hadn’t suffered a big drop in my lifts.[/quote]

Good tip! Thanks for your input.

Your diet sounds spot on to me. But the sleep is probably a big part of the problem.

The way you describe your sleep reminded me of something really interesting that I read a while back. Basically, this historian was studying some old works, from around the time the canterbury tales were written, and kept discovering these references being made to “first sleep” and “second sleep.” So he started looking into what that meant… at the same time, by coincidence, this psychologist was doing a study on a bunch of people where he deprived them entirely of artificial lights.

What they both discovered was that - in the past, before artificial light, AND in the study where people were deprived of it, human being naturally will go to sleep around sunset, sleep for 3-4 hours, then wake up in the middle of the night, get up and do stuff - read, eat, go for a walk, etc - for like an hour, then go back to sleep and sleep until the sun comes up. Both the historian and the psychologists findings seem to suggest that the “8 solid hours of sleep” idea is a much more recent, and somewhat unnatural one.

Here’s a link to an article about it, it’s not particularly in depth but you might find some interesting information

Perhaps you need to go to bed significantly earlier, and save some of the random shit you do before bed for the middle of the night, when you naturally wake up anyways haha. Do some stuff for an hour when you wake up, then go back to sleep. Might be more restful and less frustrating.

Anyways, aside from sleep, maybe taking a solid 2 weeks off to just stretch with your bands and give your body a chance to fully recover (and improve mobility and whatnot), then starting back after 2 weeks with really light lifting for another 2-4 weeks would be the best compromise. That way, you don’t have to take a whole month off, but you also give yourself some time to re-set, instead of kind of “half-assing” your rest and not really recovering enough.

[quote]MightyMouse17 wrote:
Mertdawg- I do feel a little burned out sometimes I guess. The main reason is to reduce stress so my hormone levels can get back to normal. I’m actually still getting stronger, but those all out top sets might be causing too much stress for me at my strength level now.


When I have been generally burned out (overreaching) but “strong” the basic fix is: Cut your main lift work sets in half, (give or take a set) and cut your reps on assistance exercises in half.

Let’s say that you do 6 work sets on a squat or bench, and then 30 or 60 reps on 3 assistance exercises, you would only get 3 work sets of the first exercise, and then on an exercise you generally did 30 reps on, you get 15, and on a 60 rep assistance exercise you get 30 max.

However you can try to even go a little harder on the sets that you get.

For a main lift, let’s say you do 240 x 5; 270 x 4; 300 x 3 x 3, you now get only 2 or at most 3 sets. So you can try 240 x 6; 270 x 5 and 300 for 4 and then stop. You will feel like you are just getting started but that, for me, means that you are going to supercompensate.

If you did 5 sets of 8 on an assistance exercise, do just 2 sets put push an extra 1-3 reps on those sets, or just push to strict failure on 2 sets.

Get out of the gym in under 45 minutes that way. Sometimes I got done in 25 minutes.

Follow that for 3 or 4 weeks, each workout you leave feeling like you were just getting started, but you may have raised the average intensity of your work sets. I tend to find that I get stronger doing this for 3-4 weeks after pushing into an overreaching period. You generally won’t feel stronger the first week, but the reduction in volume is going to pay off. The second week you will start to feel stronger, the third week you may hit some PRs and then you can decide if you want a 4th week.

Sometimes I will cut my volume in half, and take a normal 3 weeks workouts and spread them out over 4 weeks.

After the 3-4 week period, start adding back 1 set to each exercise each week for about 3 weeks. You can do 3 weeks of ramping up volume one set per exercise per week, and then do 3 weeks at half volume, or if you are feeling really good just repeat the first 3 weeks ramp again. So on the ramp you might do 3 sets of everything on week 1, 4 sets on week 2, 5 on week 3 then either start back at 3, or cut to half volume for 3 weeks.

If you don’t feel like crap and are still getting stronger, you might not need to do anything with your hormone levels. My total test has always tested low – lower than yours – but I’ve never had any of the signs associated with low test so I’ve figured this is just “normal” for me and haven’t done anything about it. Don’t start believing you have a problem just because your blood work says your test is on the lower side.