Specialty bars have grown in popularity since Westside Barbell introduced them into their training. While the straight bar may always be king, especially for powerlifters who must use a straight bar in competition, variety never hurt anyone and in a lot of other cases, may prove superior to standard training. Enter the safety squat bar.
Deload week is one of those concepts that’s engrained into our heads as a way to force feed a recovery period into our training.
You’ll see it in a lot of prominent strength and muscle building routines, and while deloading does work, I will also tell you that the traditional deload is a complete waste of time.
Let me elaborate.
Traditional deloading typically looks like this:
- A planned week of rest (or light activity) following 3 weeks of intense training.
- Intensities ranging from 40-60% of your 1 rep max (RM) for the entire deload week.
- Lots of bodyweight training.
- Mobility and tissue work.
The traditional deload falls into the “recovery” phase. It is followed by the “supercompensation” phase, which I call the “rebound” phase where your body rebounds to come back from fatigue with a heightened level of performance.
The problem with the traditional deload doesn’t lie in its premise or concept as it relates to recovery. The guidelines for a deload are effective and have a time and place; but the problem lies in that it fails to take into account the specific needs and performance variances of the individual.
So Do You Really Need to Deload Every Four Weeks?
Of course not.
I’ve personally had intense training cycles last for upwards of 6-8 weeks before I saw any dip in performance. If I would have taken a prescribed deload week, I would have lost a week of heightened performance and gains.
Let me put it to you another way. One week of deload for every four weeks of training equates to 13 weeks off from training per year. That’s not a recipe for success.
Maybe there comes a point when you need to take a week off. That is up to you. For me, and most people I know/train, those times are few and far between. In fact, I usually feel worse after a week off and have to play catch up from taking the extra rest time.
With that being said, there are better ways to deload.
A Better Way to Deload
A much better way to approach your deload is through a concept called cybernetic periodization, a term coined by sports scientist Mel Siff.
Cybernetic periodization is essentially programming your deload days according to how the weights feel that certain day. Doing it this way allows you to account for the daily variances in your training as opposed to putting blanket guidelines on yourself.
For example, I had a girl come into the Primal Strength Gym about a month ago. We were talking and she was expressing disappointment that it was deload day.
As she was warming up, she realized that the weights felt light and her body was primed to perform. A prescribed arbitrary deload was not optimal for her progress that day. Instead of a deload, she kept pushing the weights higher and higher.
The result? She set a 10lb deadlift personal record.
Never sacrifice training performance and momentum for prescribed deload days. Ride the highs for as long as you can take them.
(Note: There is a difference between riding the highs and not being honest with the feedback your body is giving you (the key to using cybernetic periodization). Ignoring negative feedback from your body is a pathway to crashing and injury.)
#1: Autoregulatory Deload
In non-scientific terms, I call this the “play it by ear” deload. This deload is simple in concept, but it may take an advanced lifter to recognize when to apply it.
Essentially, you have no prescribed deload days. As with any program, your training volume and intensity will cycle but there are absolutely no planned deload days (not to be confused with days off in the training program).
Instead, you deload based solely on how your body feels on that given day. This takes honest self assessment and heightened body awareness but in my opinion, this is the best deload strategy you can use.
How do you put this into practice?
- Weights feel light and your body says it’s time for Hulk Smash?
- Push yourself to the extreme and aim for some PRs.
- Weights feel moderate and you have good energy?
- Push yourself above par but no need to max out.
- Weights feel sort of heavy and energy levels are so-so?
- Follow the program and meet your expectations, but don’t push yourself too hard. Technique above intensity.
- Weights feel like immovable lead and you feel like shit?
- Deload to 40-60% of your 1RM and back off the volume.
- Walk away after a thorough warm-up and self assessment. Give it a honest shot (some of my best days have actually come after starting sluggishly), but take the day off from the bar if need be and get some solid stretching and foam rolling in.
#2: Max Effort Deload
This one is similar to the “play it by ear” deload but it has a prescribed rest period while still utilizing cybernetic periodization.
Basically, you will plan to have two consecutive deload days within a 4-8 week training window (around week 6 is most common). They are not scheduled but you will base the deload days on how you feel in a given day.
As soon as you hit a “feel like shit” day that I mentioned earlier, your two day deload starts. In this two day window you will:
- Drop the intensity of your max effort barbell lifts to 40-60% of your 1RM
- Or drop the max effort barbell lifts entirely and focus solely on accessory work.
After those two days, you can ramp your training back up and start progressing as normal.
- A deload is effective and will work, but in a traditional sense, it is not optimal or necessary for training progress
- Deload needs to be based on individual needs and feelings, not prescribed programming
- Cybernetic periodization should be the main factor in deload programming
- There are two optimal ways to deload
- Autoregulatory Deload
- Max Effort Deload
- Deload programming requires honest self assessment and being in tune with your body
- DO NOT sacrifice performance and training momentum because a program says you have to deload
All the best Primal Nation,
My first few years in the gym I would be so cranked up on pre-workout and oozing testosterone that I could walk into the weight room and start cranking out sets with authority. No warm up, no stretching, just my dumb “meatheadness” and bulldog mentality.
Fast forward to today and I don’t touch a weight without a fairly thorough dynamic warm up. Part of that is I’m 32 now and can’t meathead my way through workouts anymore, but more importantly I’m a much smarter lifter than I was in high-school and my 20’s.
I was costing myself a ton of gains by not getting my body properly fired up before training. There are two main reasons for this:
- Your muscles are not warm and elastic when you first start lifting, which hinders performance and mobility
- It takes a while for your central nervous system (CNS) to fire properly and activate your motor neurons at peak performance
Translation is that you don’t perform optimally until partially through your workout, meaning the first exercises (which are usually the most important) you are hitting are probably getting neglected or not performed to their maximum potential.
I’ll take another example from a very recent experience of mine. I had been experiencing pain in my lower back after squats and deadlifts. I diagnosed the problem as underactive glutes. So the other day when I was scheduled to squat, I expanded my dynamic warm up to target my glutes and get them firing in full force before I started squatting.
I had one of the best squat days I’ve had in a while and finished the training session pain free.
You can probably take an example out of your own training if you don’t do a dynamic warm up. Think about your performance in the first exercise you do and compare that to some of the things you do 20-30 minutes into your training. I bet you are much more focused, your muscles have stopped being sluggish and are firing on all cylinders, and you are cranking out sets much more efficiently than your first couple of the day.
Do not jeopardize your gains or perform sets sub-optimally because you don’t want to take the time to properly warm up. Every set matters…
Not to mention the injury risk you pose to yourself by going full Hulk smash the first 5 minutes you enter the gym…
There are two components to a proper dynamic warm up.
#1: Foam Rolling
Foam rolling is a must before a training session to break up inflamed tissue, promote blood flow, and boost performance.
I usually hit my quads, hamstrings, glutes, IT band, adductors, and any trouble spots in my upper body.
You only need to foam roll for a few minutes. I don’t advise rolling a certain area for more than “10 rolls” because too much foam rolling can actually irritate muscle tissue rather than benefit it.
#2: Dynamic Stretching
I don’t really advocate static stretching in a warm up until after I hit some more dynamic movements. Forcing cold muscles to stretch for long durations of time when they aren’t elastic isn’t optimal.
Dynamic stretches that I promote include bodyweight squats and lunges, squat jumps and other jump variations (broad jumps and small box jumps are good options), skipping, jogging, and animal walks (bear crawls and partner walks are awesome). RDL’s with only the bar are great to hit your hamstrings as well.
I also do a series of resistance band stretches (overhand and underhand pull-aparts, and disclocators).
Dynamic stretching is an easy, low-impact way to get your CNS firing, warm up your muscles, and tune up your mobility prior to lifting.
** Now only after I have done some dynamic stretching, I will incorporate some static stretching into the mix, specifically to target my hips and glutes. **
Sample Primal Warm-Up
This entire dynamic warm up should only take about 10-15 minutes to complete.
- Foam Roll
- Band Pull-Apart Circuit (10 each movement)
- Walking lunges: 10/side
- Bodyweight Squats: 10
- Skipping: 10/side
- Standing broad jump: 8
- Single-leg broad jump: 6/leg
- Jump squats: 10
After the foam rolling, you could do several rounds of the other exercises to get your body primed for some heavy lifting. The dynamic warm up should be up-tempo with little to no rest in between exercises and rounds.
To live a fulfilling life, you need to be able to have a good time and relax.
Sometimes that means putting business and training aside, and letting loose out on the town. For a lot of us, letting loose means having a few drinks, sharing some laughs, and maybe even causing a little trouble.
I know when I go out, my “good time” usually involves my friends Mr. Makers Mark and Mr. Tequila Shot.
As someone who takes the fitness game seriously, what you shouldn’t do is swear off alcohol because you are afraid it ruins your gains or makes you fat. That’s a myth, a fear tactic, plain ol’ nonsense. However you want to put it. There is no reason to think alcohol and lifting can’t co-exist.
If you want to have a few drinks , especially after working your ass off for extended periods of time, by all means do it. Reward yourself. If you stay in the grind too long, you will burn out, which in my opinion leads to far more problems than nursing a hangover every now and then.
This doesn’t mean I’m advocating being a heavy drinker, nor am I saying that you need to drink to have a good time. My intention is to just shed some light that a little bit of debauchery a few nights a month will not wreck your progress if you are associating alcohol with negative effects on your strength gains and physique.
With this in mind, there are two things to consider when drinking that will allow you to have a few guilt-free adult beverages.
#1: Do Not Cave to Drunken Munchies
Alcohol does not make you fat, but a night of drinking does push the boundaries of self-discipline in your diet.
How many of you have hit up a night at the bar, and then crushed the fast food drive-thru or pizza place on the way home for a night cap of binge eating? I know I have.
Nailing down your diet during the day, but then finishing the night off with a 1000 calorie munchie-impulse meal will surely put add some thickness to your midsection. That’s the kind of shit that makes you fat, not a few drinks at the bar.
If you know you’re going to be hungry at the end of the night, have some stuff on hand at home to either make yourself a healthy meal or have something prepped and ready to go that will cure the munchies and feed your physique in a responsible way.
#2: Lay Off the Girly Drinks
Much like I’m a minimalist in my training, being a minimalist as a drinker is important as well.
Complex drinks that are loaded with sugary mixers have a ton of excess calories, plus they will give you one hell of a hangover…
Stick to the basics. Alcohol + Zero/Low Calorie Mixer. Vodka Soda is a good example.
Fancy cocktails should set off warning signs in your mind that say “Don’t Drink Me”.
A rule I give to a lot of people is to “Never drink your calories” and this applies perfectly to this scenario. 800 calorie margaritas on top of your daily allotment of food calories will put you way over surplus amounts, an even bigger problem if you are trying to shed weight and need to be in a deficit.
There have been a lot of studies highlighting the estrogenic effects, carb amounts, and inherent weight gain from drinking beer. While there is some truth to those studies, beer is one of those vices where “everything in moderation” applies.
Having a few beers here and there won’t hurt you. What will hurt you is when you are drinking 5+ a night trying to maintain a buzz (which is why I like taking shots, but that’s beside the point). Do that several times a month and boom, you’ve added a couple of unwanted pounds to your frame.
Moral of the Story
Don’t obsess over whether or not you have a drink or two.
Like going out and having a good time? Then do it. I can guarantee you that the memories you make causing trouble with your buddies will far outweigh the pound or two you see on the scale or that you add to the bar.
Don’t make it an unhealthy habit, but don’t restrict yourself to the point that it has unwanted side effects on your personal life and relationships. I was that guy once in college when training consumed my life, and looking back on it now, I regret not going out with my buddies as much and creating even more memories than I have now. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and let yourself live a little…
The only two training splits I recommend are either full body or an upper lower split.
Body part splits and bodybuilding style training has its place for supplemental programming, but it’s ill-suited (as a primary focus) for the average gym rat or athlete who wants to get both strong and huge. Training full body or with an upper lower split recruits far more muscle, allows you to train much more frequently than body part splits, and will build both size and strength concurrently.
If you want a more detailed look into why I advocate against body part splits for the average gym rat, read this: Ditch the Body Part Split
I favor an upper lower split personally because I think it has a few advantages over full body training, but I’ll give you examples of both just so you can decide for yourself what suits your needs and schedule more.
For a full body split, it’s pretty straightforward. You train your entire body each training session so no movement is off limits.
The disadvantage to full body training is that your training sessions will typically be longer than normal and your recovery times increased. You may also be hard pressed to fit everything you’d like to do in a single training session.
As a general rule, no matter what the split, I train my biggest/heaviest lifts first and follow that with assistance work and specialty training such as plyometrics and explosive movements. Several days a week, I will end with 20 minutes of high-intensity cardio.
Here is an example full body training plan:
- Big Lift (Bench, squat, overhead press, deadlift)
- Assistance (row variations, tricep and bicep work, hamstring and posterior chain movements, floor presses, squat variations, single-leg exercises, etc.)
- More Assistance (different movement from your 1st assistance exercise)
- Bodyweight or Explosive Movement (push-up and pull-up variations, dips, kettlebell cleans and snatches, barbell hang cleans, heavy push presses, plyometrics)
- Core Work and/or Conditioning (sprints, hanging leg raises, medicine ball throws, kettlebell swings, battle rope, weighted crunches, farmers carries)
* For some of your explosive work, if it’s really taxing, you may perform that as your second movement to reduce the possibility of technical errors and injury, as well as increase the actual training effect of the exercise. *
Training hard with a full body approach, you only need to train 3 days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday for example), with some light to moderate active recovery sessions on your off days.
Upper Lower Split
Upper lower splits are a progression from full body training and are what I typically use in my own training and with my clients. Your training sessions are split into upper body days and lower body days.
The upper lower split is more flexible than a full body split and allows you to hit your entire upper/lower body within a reasonable time frame (a typical training session would be about an hour). It also allows you to train more frequently, several times a week for both your upper and lower body.
Sticking with some of the considerations I laid out above (heaviest lift first, etc.) an upper lower split would look something like this.
- Big Lift (bench, or overhead press)
- Upper Body Assistance
- Upper Body Assistance
- Bodyweight or Explosive Movement
- Core Work and/or Conditioning
- Big Lift (squat, deadlift)
- Lower Body Assistance
- Lower Body Assistance
- Bodyweight or Explosive Movement
- Core Work and/or Conditioning
For an upper lower split, I take a 2 days on 1 day off approach. A sample schedule would be something like this:
Monday – Upper
Tuesday – Lower
Wednesday – Off Day/Active Recovery
Thursday – Upper
Friday – Lower
Saturday – Off Day/Active Recovery
Sunday – Off Day/Active Recovery
If you are looking for some set and rep guidelines for both full body and upper lower split programs, check out these two articles:
If you want an 8 week program centered around an upper lower split, check out Uncaging Your Primal Strength. You can download it from my programs page. It comes complete with an exercise list, rep and set guidelines, and built-in printable training worksheets.
Since its release, people from all over the world have been crushing the program, breaking strength plateaus, building muscle mass, and shredding body fat.
I also have a ridiculous deal going on for 3 of my eBooks, where you can get Uncaging, The Primal Mind, and Primal Strength Nutrition for a 30% discount. Don’t miss out before I come to my senses and raise the price back to face value!
If you want something even more dynamic and personalized, check out my online coaching portal: Primal Online Coaching.
By investing in online coaching, you will get 8 weeks of personalized programming, video critiques of your lifts, and a lot of interaction with me. Why not invest in the same training that is producing the nationally ranked athletes and record holders from the Primal Strength Gym?
Training recovery is an often overlooked process in the strength game.
It’s tough for people to pry themselves away from the gym. Trust me, I get it. Back when I first started lifting, I was in the gym every single day, even if it was just to train my abs and stretch. But in hindsight there were far better things I could have been doing with my time to boost my training recovery and make bigger gains.
Truth be told, a lack of training recovery can lead to a laundry list of problems:
- Poor sleep
- Hormonal imbalances
- Decreases in training performance
- Lack of progress
I could go on, but you get the point. Nobody wants to get injured or halt their progress. So your best course of action is to learn how to recover from training.
#1: Post Training Nutrition
Immediately after training, you need to be focused on getting protein, and more importantly, carbohydrates into your system. My go-to nutrition bomb here is a protein shake. It’s an easy way to get quick digesting nutrition into your body. Depending on your bodyweight, your shake would have about 30 grams of protein and between 60-100 grams of carbs. If you can’t get that many carbs into your shake, have some fruit on hand in addition to your shake.
If you are eating Primal style, you will feast at night, so after your post-training shake you will have a huge dinner with even more carbs and protein. This meal carries you over into your next day, where you will graze until your workout, and then the cycle begins.
#2: Contrast Showers
This idea seems to be gaining popularity in the fitness industry lately, but it was originally made “popular” decades ago by the Soviets in Eastern Europe. Elite athletes would immerse themselves in a bath of ice water, then follow it up with an immersion into warm water. This process was repeated multiple times, and the process helps stimulate the recovery process. More specifically, the hot/cold alternation improves blood flow, aids in the inflammation process, and reduces lactate in the muscles.
Since most of us don’t have access to two baths in the same room, I’m calling these contrast showers for practicality. Turn the water on as cold as you can stand it, immerse yourself for up to one minute, then reverse the process with hot water for a minute. Alternate hot/cold 4-5 times.
#3: Sleep For at Least 8 Hours
This one doesn’t require much explaining. Your body is in repair mode while you sleep, so if you don’t sleep, you won’t grow. Most of us need at least 8 hours a sleep at night. Turn off the t.v. at least 30 minutes prior to bed, no computer, or electronics of any kind. Read a book. Make your sleep preparation a nightly ritual and get on a schedule. 8 hours. No excuses.
#4: Stretch and Foam Roll
Both of these are great ways to relieve muscle soreness and increase blood flow. Old-school static stretching will also help with your mobility and lifting technique.
Foam rolling should be done every day, but for only limited periods of time. Foam rolling in particular is extremely effective at removing inflammation and knots in your muscles. Overdoing it however, can irritate your muscles just as easily as it can help. Use the roller during your warm-ups, but for tender and trouble spots, limit your rolling to only a few minutes and do not focus on the same area multiple days in a row.
#5: Active Recovery
Recovery doesn’t necessarily have to mean sitting on your ass. On your “off-days”, go for a walk, stretch, play recreational sports (within reason), or even do light workouts. Light workouts on off-days are perfect opportunities to work on your bodyweight training. A short duration session of 100 pushups after a big bench press day can actually help shuttle blood flow and nutrients into your upper body and speed up the recovery process.
#6: Take Time Off
This is by far the hardest thing for hardcore athletes to fathom, but it can be one of the best things you could ever do for yourself. If you are training every day and not taking care of yourself, inertia will inevitably catch up to you and you will suffer. Maybe you will get lucky and not get injured, but your performance will dip, or you will get burnt out. This is not a scare tactic. It’s a fact.
Taking a week off is not only crucial for your body to recuperate from the demands you are placing on it, but it is also an opportunity to rest your mind and self-reflect. Reflect on your training, discover what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong, make adjustments, and come back stronger than before. A fully recuperated body both physically and mentally is key to making sure you make continual progress in the strength game, and that you set yourself up for sustainability over the long-term.
I’ve never really been a firm believer in physically overtraining.
Not because it doesn’t exist, but because I rarely see someone in an actual overtrained state.
(Beginners can be the exception as they tend to be the ones staying in the gym 5-7 days a week pumping out high-volume routines and marathon lifting sessions.)
As we get more and more advanced after years of training, we are guiltier of not working hard enough rather than too hard. If you have been in the iron game for a while, reaching a state of true overtraining is much harder than you think.
However, what I do believe in and is much more common in strength athletes is what I call “mentally overtraining”, or scientifically termed central nervous system (CNS) fatigue. CNS fatigue is brought on by a lot of things, but not limited to:
- Not recovering properly in between workouts
- Training to failure too often
- Lifting too heavy for too long
- Not getting enough sleep
- Normal everyday stress
CNS fatigue will impair your body’s ability to perform. More specifically, neurotransmitters, which are responsible for sending signals from your brain to your muscles, will not function properly and cause dips in performance. You may also suffer from a poor mood (and indirectly a lack of motivation), reduced cognitive ability, and false perceptions of perceived exhaustion (i.e. thinking you are working harder than you really are).
That all sounds pretty bad right? Now that you know what it is, you need to know how to prevent it. Most of it comes down to common sense and training smarter, not harder. But there are specific things you should consider.
#1: Do Not Train to Failure
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it here again. Slow grinding reps are gain killers. They delay your recovery times, not to mention it is just poor form. Always leave one rep in the tank.
#2: Give Your Body Parts 48 Hours in Between Workouts
If you’ve been around Primal long enough, you know I only advocate training full-body or with an upper/lower split.
So by this rule, if you train full body one day, your next day should be a day off. If you train with an upper/lower split, you would give yourself 48 hours between upper sessions and 48 hours in between lower sessions. This would basically equate to two days on, one day off.
#3: Don’t Overdo Sprints or Plyos
Sprints and jumps are stressful on your CNS and should be treated as a heavy lifting session. If you read my article on how to plan your high-intensity cardio, you’ll remember me saying to pair your sprints and jumps on the same day as your lifting sessions. Hitting up a heavy day of squats, then sprinting your ass off the next day, for example, is a recipe for CNS fatigue.
This is also relative to intensity. Training at 100% effort for your sprints, or jumping as high as you can every single plyo session is just not sustainable. Vary your efforts just as you would in the weight room.
#4: Don’t Train Above 90% Frequently
Speaking of intensity, training at or above 90% of your one rep max day in and day out can fry your CNS.
While it is necessary to train near max effort to make strength gains, it is simply not necessary to do all of the time. When you do train above this threshold, keep your reps low (1 – 2 per set).
You can still make a lot of strength gains by training sub-maximally.
#5: Get 8 Hours of Sleep a Night
We are all probably guilty of this. In today’s day and age, between television, video games, and computers, we stay up way later than we should. Sleep is for recovery and if you aren’t sleeping enough, you aren’t recovering enough either.
Now I’m not trying to be alarmist and throw all of this at you as some scare tactic.
In the grand scheme of things, you should all be working your asses off. We don’t live in a perfect world, especially when it comes to our training, so you are going to have to break the rules from time to time. But like I mentioned above, train smarter not harder. We all want to make continuous progress and that simply can’t happen if you have a fried CNS.