A concept tossed about in strength training circles is whether a programmed break from heavy training is required to allow the body to recover fully and adapt to the stimulus from all that weight lifting. They run the gamut from an aggressively programmed deload like the original 5/3/1 program from Jim Wendler, where 1 week of each month is spent deloading (the latest iteration of 5/3/1 that I’ve read has altered that to deloading every 6 weeks) to equipped powerlifting guru Louis Simmons’ never deloading. Simmons advocates constantly changing the lifts used in the Max Effort training sessions so that staleness can be avoided and progress can continue.
A more subtle method is autoregulating through a system of perceived exertion as emphasised by Mike Tuchscherer in his Reactive Training Systems approach. This entails having your body tell you how heavy your can lift each day, as well as how much volume you can pursue. It’s a more thoughtful method of programming your training as a whole, requiring honest self-evaluation in real time.
There are other less stringent methods from the simplistic: take a few days off when you’re beat up, to altering volume and/or intensity after a period of overreaching. There’s also one of my favorite methods which Jamie Lewis espouses in his Exercises in Extremity training guidelines: “Want to know when to take a day off? When your body tells you to… use cramping or horrifyingly pronounced fatigue as a method for determining when you need time off. Otherwise, train away.”
This brief overview on the concept of deloading brings me to the current state of affairs. I am starting to feel the effects of lifting with a steadily increasing intensity. The nature of linear progression is such that at some point, you’re always lifting pretty heavy. Even when resetting, which I do by taking 90% of the weight lifted when I decided it was time, due to an inability to get either the desired number of reps per set or the desired total reps in a session, and starting over, it’s still pretty heavy. I don’t get muscular soreness exactly, at least not in the way typically described from high volume, hypertrophy based training, but instead a general achiness and occasional strain somewhere. I also experience a generalized fatigue during the actual training sessions accompanied by a less enthusiastic approach to the day’s lifting. I’ve been there for about a week now.
Tomorrow is my normal off day so I may not do anything at all except see how I feel Tuesday morning, when heavy squats are on tap. What is more likely though is that I’ll alter my approach for a week or so and see what happens. As of this moment, I’m leaning towards an RPE based “deload” with less overall volume for the main lifts. So instead of continuing the progressive ladder climbing and adding weight to my last squat session, I may work up to a top single for the day at about a 9-9.5 RPE (I could have, or probably could have gotten one more rep), and then drop the weight quite a bit and do some doubles. This is the Squat Every Day approach and I love training this way. It keeps the reps low, which keeps me mentally strong, and keeps the intensity high so I stay accustomed to the heavy weight. For the supportive lifts, I’ll likely reset them all from wherever I am right now and start building up again.
I’m very pleased with the way training is going, with the way my body is reacting to the work, my level of body composition and overall enjoyment of what I’m doing. However, a more pronounced strain or worse due to continuing to push forward when the signals I’m getting are to back off some would really piss me off. I don’t know if you’d call what I’m planning a deload or not, but it doesn’t really matter now does it?