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Repetition and The Art of the Deload

Written on March 8, 2009 at 4:15 pm, by Eric Cressey

Last week, my girlfriend had a big decision to make.  As she finishes med school (optometry) this year, she had two offers on her plate: one for a job in a private practice, and one for a one-year residency.  If she took the job, it meant we’d move out of the city.  Instead, she took the residency – which means that we can stay in our current apartment for another year once our current lease is up on August 15.

Now, this might seem mundane to a lot of you, but not for me.  I’m a guy who has moved eight times in the past ten years – including three separate states.  I was 100% supportive of any avenue that she opted to choose, but I had made it clear that if we went anywhere, we were getting a moving company to do it.  After ten years of moving, I was sick of putting my life on hold for 3-4 days at a time to relocate.  It made me think of a quote I read over at T-Nation a few years back:

“Stagnancy is often confused with stability.”

In the strength and conditioning world, status quo is largely understood to be unacceptable.  We always have to be looking to get better.  Maybe a basketball player is looking to push work capacity by perpetually increasing training volume on the court.  Powerlifters rotate max effort exercises each week.  And, bodybuilders may constantly changing programs in hopes of keeping muscles “confused” and growing.

However, in the world of “Eric Cressey hates moving more than he hates drunk Yankees fans in center field at Fenway Park,” stagnancy is a beautiful thing. This stagnancy in living arrangements gives me stability with my schedule and productivity – so I guess the quote from above isn’t always accurate.  And, it makes me think about a few examples from the world of exercise where stagnancy can be a good thing:

1. Activation Drills: I often get asked how to make a scap push-up, scapular wall slide, or other mobility/activation drill harder.  The truth is that you really shouldn’t be trying to make them much harder; they’re just low-intensity drills designed to be done with perfect technique to get certain muscles “turned on” before you get to the more complex stuff.  So, if you want to make these movements harder, do a bench press or loaded push-up after the scap push-up, or a chin-up after the scapular wall slide (just a few examples).

2. Learning New Movement Patterns: It actually takes a lot more repetitions to ingrain something in your “movement memory” than you might think.  In fact, research has shown that elite athletes have practiced their specific skills over 100,000 times to make them “subconsciously” learned.

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying that you have to do 100,000 body weight lunges before you can start to load the movement and derive benefit from that training in other tasks.  However, for untrained folks and those returning from injuries, motor (re-)education takes repetition and time.  You can’t expect a 16-year old girl to have an ACL reconstruction, then do a session of body weight lunges and be ready to go out and play soccer or basketball safely the next day.  In fact, in this example, “stagnancy” – or consistency in training and gradual progressions – truly does enhance stability in more ways than one.

3. The Biggest Loser – When this TV show is on, it is best for you to leave your remote stagnant on the coffee table and your TV turned off.  This will ensure that ratings go down for NBC and this mind-numbing crap will eventually get yanked off the air.

4. In-Season Athletes – As I wrote in Four Ways to Stay on Track, you have to be very careful with modifying things too aggressively with athletes who are in the middle of their competitive season.  New exercises can bring about delayed onset muscle soreness, which may interfere with performance.  And, increasing training volume and/or loads in-season can inhibit recovery between practice sessions and competition, or lead to overuse injury.

5. Deload Phases – I devoted an entire e-book, The Art of the Deload, to this topic, in fact.  Make no mistake about it: the overwhelming majority of your time in the gym should be focused on getting better.  However, there should always be deloading periods in your training where it’s okay to intentionally be “stagnant,” as these periods give rise to adaptation that make you better in the long-term.

art-of-the-deload2

These five examples are really just the tip of the iceberg.  Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below to add to the discussion for everyone’s benefit.

New Articles

The Seven Habits of Highly Defective Benchers was published at T-Nation last week.

A Day in the Life of Eric Cressey was published at Precision Nutrition two weeks ago.

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Have a great week!

EC

  • http://focusedtraining.blogspot.com Jason

    I agree with the Biggest Loser comment. Maybe you should do an entire write-up on why the show sucks. I can see it now: “Best. Article. Ever.”

  • http://HealingThroughMovement.com Rick Kaselj

    I agree.

    It is easier to do nothing than move forward.

    Rick Kaselj
    http://www.ExercisesForInjuries.com
    .

  • http://www.markyoungtrainingsystems.com Mark Young

    Amen. I have to agree…especially with number 3.

  • http://theericbeard.blogspot.com Eric Beard

    Nice job as usual EC. I have to disagree on one point however, Yankees fans in Yankee stadium tend to be more obnoxious…maybe even more obnoxious than moving!

    So true about the activation work!

    Eric Beard

  • http://DougGroce.com Doug G

    I like what you said about the mobility/activation drills not designed to “get harder” – good reminder – The thing is, however, a lot of clients may skip these when the trainer isn’t there for the simple fact that they’re not all the hard. Frustrating, but I thinks some of your analogies will help me explain this to some people. Keep it up, man.

  • http://Newsletter145 Clark Beedle

    Great comments, and what do I do when I want or need to “stagnate?” What do I do doing those difficult times when a de-load or rest is necesaary? I drag out my training log/journal and I peruse it. I look for flaws or missteps and actually take the time to look over all the exercises and sets and reps I’ve done and look for ways I might improve; I take the time to study what I’ve done and think about it, so while I may be in a period of physical stagnation, I’m thinking, and improving, and planning my next move. It keeps me focused, and then I always start back enriched and ready to improve.

  • http://www.danielmunday.com Daniel Munday – Sydney’s Fat Loss Expert

    I totally agree with point 3 mate. In fact I was just brainstorming future blog posts and one of them was why the biggest loser sucks for a weight loss motivator! Yeah even our aussie version sucks too!

  • http://145 Michael Pendlebury

    Expert advice regarding scap and other stabilizing exercises some times we complicate simple things.


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