All Things Deload Pt.2Aug 24, 2023
If you read part 1 (click here), you should understand what a deload is and why it should be implemented in some way into your training plan. As mentioned previously, there is no set guidelines for what a deload is required to be beyond a decrease in intensity, volume, or both. Deloads can take many forms and should not be a templated, static and unchanged. The deload should evolve along with the training plan and reflect the intent of the given training cycle. The frequency, type and duration of the deload will be dependent on several factors. These are the factors that contribute to the magnitude and speed at which fatigue is accumulated. The goal of the planned deload should be to accommodate for accumulated fatigue BEFORE you have surpassed the MRV and your capacity for fatigue decay has been exceeded by the rate of fatigue accumulation.
Training Intensity/ Time of Year
When training at a lower absolute intensity (% of 1RM) fatigue is accumulated at a much slower rate. Lighter loads are simply easier to recover from as compared to heavier loads. This works on both an absolute and a relative scale. This means that the load as a percentage of 1 rep max and the load itself should be considered when determining what the true training load is. 90% of 1RM for 1 person’s squat may be 250lbs, while it could be 900lbs for someone else. That 900lbs squat will have a drastically more significant effect on fatigue accumulation than the 250lbs squat.
Off-season, when loads are lighter, we are able to tolerate more total training volume, as the rate of fatigue accumulation is lower. It should also be noted that, as mentioned in part 1, as well get better at accumulating fatigue, we also become more proficient at decaying it. This has been called GPP, or General Physical Preparedness, also more aptly termed called Work Capacity. The ability to tolerate more training volume. This tolerance plays an important role during later portions of the training plan and into the meet prep. When intensity rises and the weights get heavier, the more work capacity we have developed, the better we will decay fatigue. This will play a role in the how and when you plan your deloads at that time.
The effect of technical proficiency on fatigue accumulation is an interesting one to consider. Of note, less experienced, or less proficient lifters can accumulate more fatigue because their movements have a larger amount of variance within the sequencing and execution of a lift. A set of 10 squats may in fact be 10 distinctly different executions of a squatting pattern. This is one contributor to the ability of younger lifters to tolerate larger amounts of volume. Their ability to display limit strength is determined by technique and not strength itself. As technique improves, so will limit strength.
Now, a more proficient lifter should be not be able to accumulate as much volume at a given relative workload as a beginner. If every repetition is the same sequence and execution, that pattern should become exhausted more easily. This concept becomes interesting when we consider that technique mastery would require an increased amount of volume to create an adaptation. Because the lift has been mastered, no further gains can be made through technique enhancement, so the volume required to elicit an adaptation in this case would likely be increased. In a scenario where a lifter is so proficient that they cannot accumulate as much volume, they require more volume to elicit an adaptation. A conundrum which will play a role in the planning of the deload.
Variation in training plays into the technical proficiency. New movements are ones that will have more individual variation between lift executions. The more variance within a movement’s execution, the less stimulus is required for an adaptation and the more stimulus can be tolerated. Choosing movement variations that overload a certain musculature, or point of breakdown can play a very important role in increasing the strength on the competition lift, especially for those whom have maximized their technique. This is a two-fold argument for increased variation of movements, especially as it relates to requirements for deloads and for long term gains in strength.
Equipment plays an important role relating to the absolute intensity of training. The more equipment being used, the more extra-physiological the loading will be. An equipped lifter will have a level of strength with each element, or layer of gear they put on. The same can be said for a raw lifter who squats in wraps. The loads being lifted surpass the body’s capabilities. Anecdotally, this plays an exponential role in fatigue accumulation. This not only plays a role in the planning of deloads, but also the implementation of equipment systematically to accumulate fatigue at the right times. It is also important to note that bands, chains, boards etc. that are used to intensify the lift, or increase one portion of a lift beyond the body’s capacity would have a similar, albeit less dramatic effect. Overreaching can happen quickly in these scenarios.
Training Age and Gender
As mentioned previously, younger lifters should be able to tolerate more volume. Women typically follow suit. There are exceptions to the rule, but in general, women can tolerate higher training volumes than men. The reason for this would be the topic of another discussion. As we age, there are many changes that happen within the body hormonally that can impact recovery capacity. Not only that, but training and competing has a cumulative effect on the body. The sports we played when we were younger, the injuries we accumulate, even before we started training, will all manifest themselves in different ways. Consideration to all these factors is essential in the planning of training.
Tissue has a threshold for loading and for accumulated trauma. The more aggressive you are in your approach, the more you toe the line. Some lifters are touched by the hand of god and have never been injured, while others seem to be much more prone. This could be due to many factors, such as movement deficiencies, technical deficiencies, previous accumulated trauma, poor training planning, poor training adherence, genetics, or dumb luck. You want to consider the effect of fatigue accumulation on the person as a whole and how that effects the way you plan your training, so you can mitigate any risks.
You will notice that no recommendations were given on how the training plan should be adjusted based on these considerations. In part 1 it was said that “training is as much art as it is science,” and this holds true. Your understanding of these points is important in determining the approach you wish to take with deload planning. In the final installment of this series we will discuss practical application and the evolution of the deload as the training plan evolves. That is, how your deload strategy can be planned on a macro scale.
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