Deload, Reload, Shmeload, Smeagol

I’ve trained three times in the last two weeks.  It’s absolutely awful.  In my defense, I competed in my first powerlifting meet over the weekend, and it’s par for the course to take the week prior to the meet to mental and physically prepare for the meet.  I’ll cover the specifics of the weekend in an upcoming post, but today I’d like to talk about something else:  Deloads and Reloads.

The practice of implementing a deload popular in strength training and strength and conditioning, but isn’t very common in the larger world of general fitness training.  The general idea is to implement a period of reduced training intensity to allow the body to better recover from prior training stimuli.

In practice this might be a reduction in volume, or relative intensity, or the implementation of different exercises.  It’s common to discuss easy days or entire deload weeks and extended periods of reduced training intensity.  However, it’s not as often that we think about ways to return to our former glory, and increase the overall training stimulus.  If asked how they build up to a level of intensity, most people have this reaction:


Accumulating training volume over a specific period of time is important, but it can beat the body up.  It’s popular to rely on the big barbell lifts, such as deadlifts, squat, bench, do chin ups, bent over rows, and military presses.  The barbell is the King of the Weight Room.  Can anything be better than it?

Today I’d like to share a training strategy that lets you build volume and reload for an upcoming phase of training.  While the big barbell lifts are effective, I’m not keen on recommending that people use the barbell for everything. Those exercises are highly effective, but qre technique intensive, and may not be the most joint friendly. If your goal is to accumulate training volume prior to increasing intensity, then why not do so in a manner that may feel a little bit better?

Build your training volume with unilateral exercises first.  They tend to be more joint friendly than related barbell exercises, so you should be able to worry about muscular soreness rather than joint pain.  This is a strategy that I’m going to be using in the next two weeks of my training, as I prepare for my second powerlifting meet.

Powerlifting is about the squat, bench press, and deadlift, but these aren’t the most joint friendly exercises.  Rather than hop right back under the bar, my goal is to spend some time using exercises like dumbbell pressing variations, reverse lunges, and single arm rows.  These exercises can be pretty difficult:

I like these exercises because they you can train them hard, without the torque forces that can be present from the ‘big’ lifts.  Additionally, they require a good deal of core stability, which allows you to fill in any gaps in ‘core’ training that may be missing.  Let’s face it, we’re all prone to skip those roll outs or waiter’s walks because they’re not as fun as squatting.  An exercise like an RFESS lets you hammer your core and your legs at the same time.

If you’re ‘reloading’ in the gym after a phase of intense lifting, or if you’re getting back into the gym, try building volume in the unilateral lifts before the bilateral ones.  You’ll help identify and iron out imbalances between sides of your body, create less torque stress on joints, and accumulate volume before moving on to the bilateral lifts.

Whether you’re deloading or reloading, hit your single arm and single leg variations hard, and you’ll feel more comfortable with the bilateral lifts.


2 Replies to “Deload, Reload, Shmeload, Smeagol”

  1. Great idea! Sometimes if I don’t feel like taking a full week off, I will just change my exercises up to lighter, non-barbell variations.

    I was just having a chat with my boss the other day about deloads. He was saying how he was getting so sick of training and it was becoming a chore. I asked him when he last took a deload, and the look on his face was exactly the same as Gollum! Haha so I had to explain to a man – who charges £100 (approx. US$160) per hour for personal training, might I add! – what a deload is. Sigh.

    1. Ah, Tara, I’ve done the same thing as your boss! Folks who regularly train, who live and breathe PR’s and chalk, need to regularly take deloads, or attenuate training based on stress. Tricky thing is, most of my clients will have things come up in their daily or weekly schedules, and if they miss training sessions, that ends up counting as their deload.

      I’m very glad to be back training hard.

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