T Nation

Strategic Deconditioning



What are your thoughts on strategic deconditioning as used by HST vs deloading, which is more commonly used by lifters? I'm getting to the point were I want/need to introduce a planned reduction in workload when necessary and I'm unsure as to which method is best.

Take care.


The logic behind strategic deconditioning is sound. Muscles have what is called "trainability" which is basically their potential to respond to a training stimulus.

Over time a muscle trainability decreases because it gets used to being stimulated, at some point even changing your program wont work.

When you think about it, you always grow faster when you start training again after a layoff. YES it is regained muscle mass, but you still have to stimulate it and build it. The reason why you respond faster is that you re-sensitized your muscles to stimulation (restored their trainability).

The thing is that you want to restore trainability without losing too much mass. Although I'm familiar with HST, I never really researched it because it's not an approach that I like. So I don't remember the length of the deconditioning period. But to be a REAL deconditioning thing, it would have to be at least 2 weeks in duration. Shorter than that, yeah, you recover and surcompensate but you do not 'detrain' and restore trainability.

And if the period is long enough to create a deconditioning effect, the key is to minimize muscle losses.

That's why I like the specialization approach: hit one or two muscles hard during a training phase, the rest is trained at maintenance level. While you are blitzing a few muscle groups, you are partially restoring the trainability of the other without losing mass (because of the maintenance load).


I recently shattered my collarbone, which forced me to take 3 months completely off (couldn't even lift my arm after surgery for about 4 weeks).

I obviously lost a lot of strength and muscle over the course of those four months, but all of it came back in about 6 weeks when I returned to the gym. And shortly thereafter I slingshot past where I was before the injury.

So... I think it works very well, and I plan on taking a few months off every year. It'll be nice to let my joints rest in that way too, I think.



Firstly thanks for taking the time to respond to my previous post.

Secondly I have another question(s);
Ok so I have done alot of reading the past 24hours and I am having a problem separating the cause and effect of overtraining and trainability. Trainability as a concept which you forwarded is a concept which I understand however the cause (repeated training) and effect (lack of progress) is the same for both overtraining and trainability... and the cure in both cases is to take the time off from heavy lifting, or at least cut back. So apart from conceptially I can't understand what the real world differences are and I cannot find any articles on trainability/adaptability of muscles to training other than those directed moreso to overtraining.

However if you were able to increase the load on the muscle (somehow) I suspect the muscle would have to choice but to adapt to the new stimuli by growing. The problem is that you cannot increase the loading for whatever reason because the muscle is not responding to the imposed changes in your program. This would be easy to explain with overeaching and subsequently failing to take time off i.e. you'd be overtraining. But using trainability as the sole excuse runs into problems because surely all muscle become detrainable at a certain workload?

So are overtraining and trainability in effect two sides of the one coin? Can trainability stand on its own as an impediment to progress or does fatigue from overtraining play a part? If so what are the specific adaptation of a decrease in muscle trainability assuming, if it possible, that the muscle (or CNS) was not overtrained?

I could be way off here...

Thanks, NIguy


If you can handle it psychologically, this is a good approach.

One reason why people don't do it is because they can't handle losing size and strength for a few months. But for long term progress it is a good strategy. Most of the guys I know who are either the biggest, strongest or make the fastest progress take at least one big layoff during the year.

And this holds true for other sports too... boxers normally train balls-out only for a period of 8-12 weeks prior to a big fight ... olympic athletes will take a break after the olympics or the world championships, etc.


Man it must be painful to be in your head. Why the need for such minute details? Sometimes understanding that a concept works is enough... as is often said: "Spare me the pains of the delivery, only give me the baby!".

But to help you feel a bit better... trainability is NOT the flip side to overtraining at all. Overtraining is not an action, it's the name of a physiological state. It is just badly named: people automatically equate it to 'training too much'. This is not the case.

Overtraining is a physiological state (like a burnout or a clinical depression) causes by excess stress placed on the body which causes a chronic decrease in physical performance.

You can easily enter an overtraining state even if you are not 'training too much'... for example if you work a very physically demanding job like construction worker (physical stress) are having relationship issues (emotional stress) and financial problems (psychological stress) you could be doing a 'normal/non-excessive' program and still reach an overtraining state.

Trainability only refers to the muscles' response to training. It is local/muscle-specific whereas overtraining is a systematic/general thing; affecting the hormonal, nervous and immune systems.

Obviously if you are in an overtraining state that reduces trainability simply because your body can handle the physical stress of training. But if a muscle has low trainability it doesn't mean that you are in a state of overtraining.

For example your calves might be in a state of low trainability whereas the rest of your body is still responding well.

Muscles can get desensitized to training. After a long period of constant training, a muscle can become perfectly adapted to the type of work you are doing. At that point strength training doesn't stimulate the muscles to grow because the physical stress placed upon them doesn't represent a perturbation; it's 'normal' for them.

After a while your muscles can actually become used to strength training in general. At this point even changing programs or exercises will have little effect... you are simply desensitized to training.

It doesn't mean that your are in an overtraining state, just that your muscles are used to strength training that it doesn't need to adapt to it.



Yeh its chaotic up there alright lol. I just like to understand the principles behind something because through correctly understanding comes an ability to better apply your knowledge to other facets of training/life.

Ok so overtraining for the most part is physiological state, i understand that and the fact that this is therefore a whole body state rather than a regional specific state associated with a particular muscle group. Now the final question Thibs, (I'm sure your glad).

I have stalled on pressing lifts, shoulders, bench and triceps exercises in particular... none of which are responding to changes in loading, intensity or whatever else. I don't believe I am overtraining however because my back and legs are progressing well so it appears to be a chain of muscles that are not responsive. So how and what do I diagnose as the problem? If the muscle have simply become desensitized and have little 'trainability' does this mean that the specialisation program you suggest earlier is the best option (or specific deloading of a muscle group) is required, rather than whole body deloading? Or is it possible to have regional specific fatigue and damage in the sense that the muscle is not being given enough time to heal.

I perform presses on the following days,
wed -heavy bench,
sat- shoulders and triceps
sun- dynamic bench.


which is the best time to have a deconditioning period (how long?) and deloading week?