Supercompensation, Muscle Repair and Homoeostasis
Let’s take another look at the Supercompensation Cycle and know about deloading.
Clearly, as shown in the graph you have your training stimulus, then your muscle starts breaking down for a while, then it stops, and reverses the process, building back up to higher than what it was before.
Of course, it doesn’t happen like this in reality. The body is in a constant state of breaking down and rebuilding tissues, including muscle. The body has mechanisms in place to keep a largely homoeostatic balance, meaning it is trying to keep an equilibrium between these two processes.
So when you work out, the breakdown of your muscle outstrips its growth and repair, leading to that downwards curve. In reaction to this breakdown of muscle, the body up-regulates the growth and repair of your muscle. As your rate of muscle breakdown decreases, and the rate of muscle repair increases, you will start moving back towards a positive adaptation.
So what does this have to do with deloads?
Give the Body Time to Catch Up
By deloading, you can let the body “catch up” with all the muscle growth and repair you have signalled the body to begin by working out. Allowing that supercompensation peak to sneak a little bit higher before your next heavy workout.
It also allows you to work at a higher intensity once you go back to the regular schedule. Over time, as you’re working out, you’re probably getting stronger (fingers crossed), but a lot of your strength is going to be masked by fatigue. The more work you do, the greater the fatigue you will accumulate over time. Deloads can allow you to recover from this longer term accumulated fatigue and display your full strength.
How to Deload – The Back-Off Week
Basically, you deload by reducing the amount of work you do, thus reducing the size of that downwards curve on the supercompensation cycle. A few ways to do this:
- Reduce the Intensity – The most common, reducing the intensity of the exercises and performing them for the same number of reps. For weights, this has the benefit of being easy to do and allowing you the same volume of technique practice, as the moves are the same, for bodyweight fitness, you’d have to choose an appropriate progression. Do not do more reps with the lower intensity, this is meant to be a rest, not just an intense workout at a different rep range.
- Reduce the Volume – Keeping the intensity the same, reduce the overall number of reps you perform, this is useful for bodyweight fitness, as it allows you to perform the same progression.
- Reduce the Sets – For instance instead of 5×5, do 1-2×5 of the same intensity of exercise. Makes for a nice short workout that is simple to program.
- Reduce the Reps – For instance instead of 3×8, you might do 3×3 of the same exercise.
- Reduce the Frequency – Removing one or more workout sessions from your week, or sometimes even the whole week. No technique practice and no stimulus to keep you moving, but can be good if you need a mental break as well.
- Combine any of the above.
The Step Back Deload
Rather than making huge jumps back in work done to allow the body time to repair fully, sometimes you just need to step back from the intensity you were at to have another go at it (usually when you’ve failed your planned reps). The options are similar to above:
- Reduce the Intensity – Step back a progression, maybe one in between the progression you progressed from and the one you’re stuck on.
- Reduce the Volume – Can you complete some of your sets at the desired number of reps? Or can you complete all your scheduled sets at a slightly lower number of reps?
- Reduce the Density – Take a longer rest between sets, with the aim to reduce the rest back to normal in subsequent sets.
When Should You Deload?
- When your program tells you to – If your program tells you to deload at certain points, do it. Otherwise, YNDTFP. If your program was written by someone whose expertise you trust, trust they know what they’re talking about with deloads too.
- Scheduled deloads – Some people like to schedule a week long deload every 4-8 weeks. For some people this works quite well, for others, this can be overkill, and either scheduling a lighter day or two every 4-8 weeks can work better, or using one of the other methods.
- When life gets in the way – If you have commitments, chances are you don’t have to program in deloads, as life will program them in for you. Judge for yourself if you are getting time off training often enough just by missing it.
- When you fail – If you plan your progressions and reps, and you simply can’t keep up with the pace any more and you fail one or more reps, you pretty much have to deload at that point, as you aren’t likely to able to complete the next harder workout.
- When you’re feeling stressed, tired, achy, beat up, unmotivated – If you’re accumulating stress and not appropriately able to recover from it, it can start to have an effect mentally, as well as physically. A deload can get you back into the right mindset to progress, and can reduce the chance of injury
- When you want to peak – If you need to show off, test your maxes, or otherwise be ready and able, a deload should have you free of fatigue and ready to perform at your max. Very similar to a taper.
Alternatives to the Deload
- Get your recovery in order – If you aren’t progressing, it might not be a break from training that you need, just the ability to recover better. If you aren’t getting at least 6-7 hours of sleep a night and getting some quality food into you, your programming is pretty much going to suck regardless of what you do.
- Do more, not less – Sometimes, you’re stuck because you simply aren’t giving the body the stimulus it needs. Make sure you’re building not only intensity, but also your volume.
- Vary your workouts – if you’re constantly having to deload, consider varying your Volume and Intensity through the week. Lighter sessions can take place of a deload, or working on a different strength quality or different movements can allow you to recover from specific fatigue.
- Autoregulate – More on that next week
Deload. Do less work, gain more strength and muscle. Win.
There’s a lot of differing views on deloading and whether it is worth it or not. Many (but definitely not all) say that deloading is either not necessary or is only necessary irregularly for beginners. So don’t jump into your magic rest week just yet.