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Overreaching and Strategic Deconditioning

Hi coach, how well do you think it works to push a meso (6-8 weeks) to the point of overreaching - then not training for a couple of weeks and then restart back easy, pushing again to the point of overreaching at the end of the next cycle… and so on and so forth ?
I mean hypertrophy wise.

Big Beyond Belief is predicated on this albeit one didn’t take multiple weeks off. If that approach of training appeals to you, read up on it. Just be very mindful that the idea is indeed to turn the training volume dial up to unsustainability.

It doesn’t.

It’s based on false logic.

Specifically it is based on extrapolating what can happen to energy stores (which ca surcompensate) and the illusion of performance progress. I will explain to you exactly what happens and why it is an enticing idea (one that even I believed at one point).

First off, you can’t surcompensate muscle mass. Protein synthesis is elevated for 24-36h after you have trained a muscle, after which it goes back down to a balance point with muscle breakdown and it becomes much harder to build muscle.

If you overreach the same thing happens: protein synthesis will not magically go up during the deconditioning week, 36h after your last workout, it’s back to normal and if you don’t train or train very little you don’t get a boost in protein synthesis.

From that point of view it makes zero sense to overtrain on purpose to get a rebound hypertrophy, it simply doesn’t happen, it can’t.

The one thing that can be surcompensated is intramuscular glycogen stores. Simply put if you overtrain you will tend to have flat muscles because the excess cortisol from overtraining diminishes glycogen storage and the very high volume uses mire glycogen too.

So when you do a deload/surcompensation period, you can surcompensate glycogen stores, giving the illusion of more muscle mass (this is similar to what bodybuilders do to load before a competition, to appear larger). But this is a transient illusion, it doesn’t last.

You can also get the illusion of an increase in performance. Let’s say that you do an “overtraining protocol” for 6-8 weeks, very quickly performance will go down. The reason why it goes down is that on such a protocol you. produce a boatload of cortisol, which leads to the production of a lot of adrenaline. Too much adrenaline, too often will make your adrenergic receptors resistant. This means that your response to your own adrenaline becomes weaker and weaker.

One of the main effects of that is that muscle strength and power goes down fast. You have adrenergic receptors on your muscles, when they are resistant, you muscles do not increase force production as much when adrenaline is released.

You also have these receptors in your brain, and when they are resistant, the neurological factors involved in force production (muscle fibers recruitment, fibers firing rate, intra/inter muscular coordination) goes down, and so does strength, speed and coordination.

THEN you go through a deload or “surcompensation” period, with much lowered stress, so less cortisol and less adrenaline. The result is that your adrenergic receptors regain their sensitivity and now performance goes back up… but it is not surcompensated, it simply goes back to where it should have been the whole time. HOWEVER by comparison to the previous 3-4 weeks you feel strong as an ox… but it’s only because of the contrast. Kinda like a baseball player feeling faster after swinging a heavy bat (he isn’t).

Honestly, for strength it is not a good approach. It is really hit and miss. And strictly for muscle mass it makes even less sense.

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This program didn’t work because of the surcompensation effect (it doesn’t exist with hypertrophy). It worked because of the gradual increase in volume over time and the high frequency at which each muscle was being trained.

Granted the “reloading” periods allowed you to sustain the volume for longer, but not because of a supercompensation effect, simply by allowing you to recover before you broke down.


Okay so maybe the reason protocols like that work is due to the fact that:

  1. You have an overral improve in performance anyway (and could have been even better if you did not overreach
  2. You lowen the fatigue level by deloading, thus unmasking fitness
  3. By dealoading a couple of weeks you have restored “trainability” of the muscle, which now need awfully low volumes to grow anyway
  4. Over time you are still getting stronger in rep ranges that promote hypertrophy

Am I right?

Except for number 3, yes. You don’t decondition by deloading for a week. It would require a longer period of really reduced training to decondition. And if you don’t train at all, it would require 2-3 weeks to get a deconditoning effect.

Personally I don’t like that model for several reasons:

  1. You don’t trigger more gains than if you simply train with an optimal amount of work
  2. You feel like crap the whole time your body is “overtrained”
  3. You increase your risk of injury due to a decreased coordination during the period in which you are “overtrained”
  4. Your sleep will likely be compromised, which can actually lower your gains
  5. There is no guarantee that a week of deloading (or even no training) will be enough to bring you back to optimal levels
  6. The decrease in coordination from the abusive training could negatively affect the motor pattern in your lifts, this would not only negatively affect immediate performance but will also make it harder to perform in the future.

PERSONALLY it’s not an approach that I would recommend. But feel free to experiment with it.

I acrually wrote “a couple of weeks”. I felt like something like 14ish days away from lifting is not actually detrimental as far as muscle gain is concerned(i don’t think you are going to lose any muscle at all if you eat at least at maintenance, maybe look flatter but not actually lose muscle) while, after getting back to training, growing much more easily…

Still, I don’t see it as being an effective strategy. It can be a useful approach if you are going on vacation and can’t train. But it still comes with all the other downsides that I mentioned.

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