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A Time to Deload
The Key to Managing Fatigue
The Highlander helps strength athletes and enthusiasts live stronger for longer. On Thursdays, I share ideas about how to build strongevity practices in your strength training. On Sundays, I review what I’m doing in my training. Join fellow Highlanders on our journey:
Successful training comes down to three things:
You need a goal in training to define success. Given what dictates success, you need specific training protocols to reach that goal. Throughout the course of your training, you must overreach to meet the goal, thus you must manage fatigue.
While goals and specificity are easily defined, fatigue management is often the forgotten ingredient.
There’s a common mentality amongst gym goers of being hard core. Never missing a workout. Going all out.
But a true hard core mentality is not sustainable with proper training and fatigue management. Many people who workout for the sake of general fitness don’t have any discernible goal and have never accumulated enough training fatigue to need to manage it, no matter how hard they work.
Good training programs almost always involve blocks of training where intensity and volume ramps over time. At the beginning of a mesocycle, you might train at 7 RPE (rate of perceived exertion) or 3 RIR (reps in reserve) depending on whether you’re working strength or hypertrophy. Either way, it’s about 70%. Over the course of the next several weeks you ramp toward 9+ RPE or 0-1 RIR.
By the end of that mesocycle, you should be sufficiently overreached where you need to back off for a week or so.
If you’ve never experienced true training fatigue, you feel it in many ways:
Loss of desire to go to the gym.
Longer rest periods.
Doubt that you can finish a workout with the requisite intensity.
Joint pain and longer-lasting muscle soreness.
And when you’re dieting, add a painful lack of energy where you don’t want to stand up.
That’s training fatigue. And when you feel it, it’s time to deload.
The Fatigue Monitor
I track fatigue with my Fatigue Monitor, which was down to 16 out of 30. Higher numbers are better. Lower numbers in the teens demand a deload.
Time to deload almost always looks like this for me. I’m still progressing in training, but I’m sore, injured, losing desire to train, and my energy is low. Despite accumulated fatigue, I still made good progress during the week and trained nine hours in the week. Normally I train closer to 11 hours total. The reduction in hours was my effort to manage fatigue from my longevity-related training.
How to Deload
The goal of a deload is to reduce training volume to allow for systemic and local recovery from overreach; however, this does not necessarily mean you can’t keep some intensity.
There are three common ways to deload:
Do nothing. Literally just don’t go to the gym for a week. While this may reduce fatigue, it’s suboptimal for many reasons including break of routine, potential loss of acquired skill, and a missed opportunity to keep practicing movement patterns. Whenever I’ve done the do-nothing deload, it always feels weird the following week to squat or deadlift again. It’s like I need to relearn the movements for a week before I can go hard again. A better deload prevents this.
Back off volume across the board. A common deload protocol is to do the same number of sets and maybe even reps but with 50% of a max load. Using such a lower volume protocol allows for recovery while maintaining movement patterns and routine.
Back off volume and taper. The way I deload now is to reduce volume is split into two parts as prescribed by Renaissance Periodization. In the first half of the deload week, I use the weight from the beginning of my mesocycle, so not overly light, but I remove a set and do half the reps from the beginning of the cycle. In the second half of the deload week, I reduce the weight even more so by the end of the week I’m doing less than 50%.
Changes for Next Week
For my deload, I plan to continue to do functional work (never above 7 RPE) as normal while reducing the weight and reps as described above. I’ll keep cardio and sauna to normal targets.
Until next week. Stay stronger for longer.
The Highlander helps strength athletes and enthusiasts live stronger for longer by combining strength + longevity.