Make the Most of It – by Jamie Bolton

Make the most of those days when the world is your oyster. Push them for all their worth.
The days when you walk into the gym and that 100kg press from last week feels that extra bit light. Milk it. Milk it for all its worth. Hammer yourself. Do more work

I’m a big believer in auto-regulatory styled training. Sure, have a structure. I think walking into the gym blind with no plan, is one of the biggest mistakes trainees make. But keep it loose and don’t take it as a hard and fast ‘rule’ of what you must and must only do.

If you walk in and had planned to work up to a top set in the squat of say 160kg for 3, but you get there and it feels light. Then go to town. Chances are you knew halfway on your ramp up to it that it may feel that way today. So adjust. Rep it out. Or add extra sets. Or keep ramping up to a new top set for 3. That’s how you smash PBs. That’s how you progress.

 

Make the most of the days when the world is your oyster

 

Your body is in a constant state of flux. It never stays the same. Nor is it predictable how it will really be ready to perform. Sure, you can periodise and plan all you like, but if you walked in and planned a lower volume day but you feel like you can dominate the world, then do you really think it’ll be optimal to stop short? Maximise the training effect that your body is willing to allow you to put it through. Take what your body gives you.

The reverse also applies. Some days you walk in, having planned a heavy session. Then you walk in, and the warm up sets feel a bit off and heavier than they should. Your grip feels a bit off. Your form is a little awkward. Then it might be wise to reconsider your goals for the day and adjust the volume downwards. What might be enough one day might be too much another. There’s no point in sacrificing form just to try and push a weight that’s just too much today. If its not there, it’s not there. Save the battle for another day.

Don’t take that as an excuse to take an easy ride. The point here is to look for physical cues not mental ones. Weights feeling lighter/heavier. Weights flying up faster/slower. Grip or form tighter or a bit off today. Not “I can’t really be bothered today” – that’s just weak and a sure fire way to make no progress.

I’ll quote Christian Thibaudeau of T-nation, as its one that bears repeating:

“The more you can train without compromising your ability to recover, the more you’ll progress”.

Take what your body gives you each day. If its there to be pushed a bit harder, do it. If its not – don’t. Simple.

Deloading 101 – by Jamie Bolton

The deload. The lazy-man’s excuse to not work hard. The hard grafters way to grow. It’s a delicate balance, but one too often abused in favour of the first option, if it’s used at all. 

I can imagine some of you sitting there thinking, what the **** is he on about and what the hell is a deload?

A deload or back-off week is a planned reduction in training volume and/or intensity. This can be from a few days up to a full week.

Why? Well, let me ask you how much muscle is built whilst training? None. Muscle is built when you recover from training. The longer and harder you push it in the gym without, the more fatigue, aches and pains you start to accumulate. In other words, you under-recover. A deload allows the body to super-compensate and allow you to hit the gym with renewed vigour and new-found strength.

Now before you all start taking it easy in the gym in the name of deloading, there’s one crucial point to remember here. Only deload when you need to

As a rule of thumb, the need and regularity of deloads will increase with training experience and age. The advanced trainee can’t push as hard for as long as the beginner. Nor can the old timer when compared to a young whipper-snapper. The more developed you are, the heavier you’re training loads are (or should be at least), and the greater the toll your training is taking on the body, so the need for recovery is greater.

At this point some coaches will give out prescriptions for deloads. One week in every four is a very common and popular one. For the developed lifter there is some merit to it for sure. For the beginner, this is far too frequent. My biggest argument with this kind of recommendation is that it’s far too standardised to be optimal for every lifter. My training isn’t your training. I might need a deload every four weeks, but your training might warrant a mini-deload every three weeks, or you might be fine with one in every eight!

You want to push every training cycle for as much as its worth. Deloading for the sake of deloading won’t get you anywhere fast.

So how can we tell when to deload? Well, the human body gives us plenty of simple cues, we just have to be clever enough to listen to them.

Cues for Deloading:
1. You’ve stopped progressing (and calorific intake is high). The point in brackets is crucial, you must be in a calorie surplus for this cue to be true.
2. Weights that you were dominating are starting to feel heavier.
3. Decreased motivation to train. And I’m not talking about the, ‘I went out last night’ type of not wanting to train (but this won’t be helping you anyway), but when you are getting to the point of almost fearing training.
4. Need for sleep increases. For this cue, it must be a given that all else is equal, i.e. you are getting as much sleep as you usually do, other general stresses are the same etc.
5. Explosiveness decreases. For me, in particular on lower body days, I tend to throw in a lot of jumps between main sets. When I start to notice a sustained decrease in vertical height over a few sessions, it’s time to back off.
6. Chronic ‘Achyness’. Not just the regular DOMS, but when you start to really ache, even days after a session and usually you would be recovered.
7. Inability to get ‘in the zone’. You do your regular activation movements, even some extra, but you seem to be struggling to get that fire going at the moment.

There are probably a few more of these the veterans among you have noticed over the years but you get the picture. Listen to those nagging cues, whatever they may be, and thank me later.

If you have to ask yourself if any of the above apply, you don’t need to deload. If you need a deload, you should have been reading the above whilst nodding your head, heck chances are you’ve been noticing these things for a while. Any one of the above may occur from time to time; deloading is only required when a few of the above are persistent cues from the body for a good week or so.

Deloaded Training

Deload training doesn’t really need to be a whole heap different to regular training. The ‘keep it simple’ approach is to just decrease intensity (read: weight lifted) by 40% and follow the program otherwise unchanged. If you’re a beginner, then you can get away with decreasing volume by 40% (read: same weight, less sets and reps).

But we can take a different approach also. I like to sometimes use deload periods to try out new exercises, or plain just ‘wing it’ in the gym. The key is to make sure the training is non-fatiguing and sub-maximal. Heck even consider taking a week out of the gym and hit up the park with just bodyweight movements. I’ll often try to ‘plan’ the need for a deload before a holiday, when I’m not sure what the training facilities will be like so I can do one of the above! The key is to keep it a bit easier and recover, you won’t get weaker by taking a week off when you really need it.

How long to deload? It depends, it might be four or five days, it might be a full week or even slightly more; again, listen to the body. When you’re starting to feel somewhat sadistic and crave a heavy squat session again, you’re ready.

Wrap up

We progress by challenging ourselves in our training, but unfortunately we are only human (well most of us are!). We don’t grow when training, we grow when recovering from training. Over time we accumulate more fatigue than can be recovered from between workouts and gradually the body tells us to back-off, but we must listen to it. After a period of reduced intensity/volume, we come back stronger, bigger and more eager to hammer away at our training again. One small step backwards for a many further steps forward.

And that’s it. Deload to recover and start progressing again. But only if your body needs it.

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