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.
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.
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!