How to Make Consistent Strength Gains Without Burning Yourself Out

You don't have to sacrifice your strength gains by de-loading. Check out this alternative training method from STACK Expert Yunus Barisik.

Structured de-load weeks are a waste of time for non-competitive lifters.

Going heavy for three weeks and dramatically cutting volume and intensity on the fourth to drive supercompensation is a staple in popular powerlifting programs. But what if you're not training for a powerlifting competition 16 weeks from now? What if you're a team sportathlete who needs to get strong, fast?

As in . . .

Right. Now.

Lifting light weights during 25 percent of your training time surely won't help with that.

Fortunately, there's a better way to give your body a break from heavy lifting—AND keep making steady progress. Instead of decreasing or stopping current activity altogether (conventional de-load), you CHANGE THE ACTIVITY.

So how do you do that?

By changing training parameters: exercises, reps, sets, rest periods and tempo from phase to phase.

Here is an example of how we vary movements and loading between two four-week phases.

Phase 1 - Accumulation

Heavy hip-dominant movement - Sumo Deadlift

  • Week 1 - 3x5
  • Week 2 - 3x5
  • Week 3 - 4x5
  • Week 4 - 4x5

Phase 2 - Intensification

Heavy hip-dominant movement - Trap Bar Deadlift

  • Week 1 - 3x3
  • Week 2 - 4x2
  • Week 3 - 4x1
  • Week 4 - 5x1

The traditional four-week model has you lifting hard for three weeks before a lighter de-load week to finish a training cycle.

In our system, we flip the model on its head—an easier "intro" week to kick off a new training phase, followed by three gradually heavier weeks.

The first week of each phase is the intro week, during which we work on lifting form, especially with new movements.

The athletes break a sweat and get a training stimulus. However, their mindset during that first week is "getting things done at a good pace" rather than an all-out, grind-yourself-into-dust type of effort.

The second week is heavier, but you quit knowing you still have more left in the tank.

We really start pushing the envelope with in Weeks 3 and 4. That's when we go for PRs (personal records).

Best part?

You get four weeks of gradually increasing performance. You stay mentally and physically fresh in the long run. And you finish every phase hitting some sort of rep PR (often multiple PRs) instead of taking weight off the bar on week 4.

Think about it. If your training is going well, your sleep and nutrition are on point, and you can't wait to get back inside the weight room to hit some new personal bests, why should you arbitrarily take a week off?

And why are we still clinging to the notion that without scheduled de-loads every four weeks, either the Overtraining Bogeyman will catch you, or you'll land in Plateauville, a place where athletes remain weak and mediocre forever?

With the hockey players I train, I never include a de-load week in their plans.

Yet guys keep getting stronger from week to week without burning themselves out in the process.

Here's another example of how we weave exercises and sets/reps between an accumulation and an intensification phase in a single-leg knee-dominant movement pattern.

Phase 1 - Accumulation

Single-leg knee-dominant movement - Front-Foot Elevated Split-Squat

  • Week 1 - 3x5
  • Week 2 - 3x6
  • Week 3 - 4x6
  • Week 4 - 4x8

Phase 2 - Intensification

Single-leg knee-dominant movement - Front Squat Grip Split-Squat

  • Week 1 - 5, 3, 3, 5
  • Week 2 - 5, 2, 2, 5
  • Week 3 - 3, 1, 1, 5
  • Week 4 - 2, 1, 1, 3

I believe that intro weeks and variety in exercise selection, sets, reps, rest periods, and possibly lifting tempo between phases are better ways to train team sport athletes.

So ditch the de-load. And stop wasting 25 percent of your training time.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock