The term de-load, re-load, or whatever we are calling it these days, loves to be thrown around in strength and conditioning circles when speaking about programming. I pose that, as COLLEGIATE strength and conditioning coaches, the notion of de-loading should not exist. In the collegiate setting, strength coaches must plan around a schedule that rarely provides for several consecutive weeks of consistent training. Vacations, exam periods, competitive seasons, non-traditional seasons, etc. are scattered throughout the year. Also, our short 3-5 years with athletes includes portions of training devoted to developing the skills to perform the prescribed exercises (I say portions in a plural sense because we all know sometimes even our seniors need a refresher after a summer of “forgetting” to clean or front squat). This means that skill is a limiting factor versus strength or fatigue, and this athlete may not have the ability to perform said lift as we prescribe it.
As an example, I will describe the training schedule usually laid out for division I college baseball. This is a rough outline based on my experience and, of course, may vary based on setting and coaches.
- I contend baseball has the least amount of time committed to off-season. Beginning in late August or early September, the only true off-season lasts until the middle-end of October
- Training Time: ≈ 8 weeks
- For us, the athletes were allowed a voluntary week prior to the beginning of fall ball. Attendance was great, but not 100%. Fall ball begins in late October and runs through Thanksgiving break. Depending on your coach and situation, training time may be diminished and sometimes choppy. Remember this is fall ball, where practices can get ugly and a couple of those training sessions may go by the way-side in favor of more practice time.
- Training Time: 4-5 weeks
- Thanksgiving break provides for, at times, almost a full week away from training
- Down Time: 1 week
- Returning from Thanksgiving break allows for a return to an off-season training schedule. Not for long, though, as reading days and final exams lead to a voluntary period within 2 weeks.
- Training Time: ≈ 2 weeks
- Voluntary Period: ≈ 2 weeks
- Winter break sets in and my athletes are sent home with a program to be done on their own. We all know the reality of this situation, but hope for the best.
- Winter Break Duration: 4-5 weeks
- Pre-season begins upon return, with little time to attain peak performance prior to the first competition (For us this occurs Feb 15).
- Training Time: ≈ 5 weeks
- Season begins and, for baseball, that means an arduous schedule with little time to train. We do our best to implement an in-season program to maintain and continue to build the training qualities obtained throughout the off-season.
- In-Season: ≈ 13-16 weeks depending on success
- Summer break follows and we again hope for the best as we send them home with the best training program money can buy.
- Summer Break Duration (Baseball): ≈ 16-20 weeks
I am looking at about 20 weeks of structured off-season training with my team in a year. The longest consecutive period of consistent off-season training is about 8-9 weeks. With such a schedule, I believe de-load weeks take care of themselves. I rarely look at my 4 week phase and think to significantly reduce intensity or volume on that 4th week. Before you start preaching to me on how to de-load, trust me, I know my options and how it is done. I am simply saying I really do not have the time nor do I believe it necessary to implement a planned de-load in this setting. I know every sport is different, but I believe this goes for most collegiate sports.
As I touched on before, skill can also be a limiting factor. Implementing a de-load week when an athlete has not perfected the lift is seemingly counter-productive. As I have said in previous posts, we are not dealing with professional lifters.
Lastly, and I believe most importantly, the term de-load should never be voiced to your athletes. A huge task for us is developing hard-minded, disciplined individuals, while we continue to battle the softness that is our current society. Why would we give our athletes another excuse to go less than 100%? Never will we ask our athletes to apply 70% effort. We must, on the other hand, ask them to apply 100% effort to 70%. All and all, percentages, periodization, physiology, and biomechanics should be unknown to the athletes. All they know is they must attack every training session, no matter what the tasks. All I know is I must coach every training session like a mad-man. No where in that mindset is there room for de-load.