Taking a de-load week is essential for experienced lifters. Problem is, most people really aren't sure how to do it. So they just go through the motions with the same training patterns and exercises, and maybe just leave a couple more reps in the tank.
Instead, think of the de-load week as a time to have fun and to try out different things that you wouldn't normally do. Focus on conditioning while maximizing active recovery. A good de-load week will keep you focused and keep you motivated. Do it right and you'll come back ready to dominate the heavy stuff. Here are some ideas.
1. Mark Twight's 300 Workout
It worked for the Spartans and it'll work for you. Start a timer and then complete the following:
- 25 Pull-Ups
- 50 Deadlifts with 135 pounds
- 50 Push-Ups
- 50 Box Jumps (24 inches or so)
- 50 Floor Wipers with 135 pounds
- 50 Single-Arm Clean and Presses. Use a 36-pound kettlebell or 35-pound dumbbell. Do 25 reps with each arm.
- 25 More Pull-Ups
You must complete all of the reps for each exercise before moving on to the next. Your heart rate is going to spike quickly, so feel free to rest any time you want. The timer keeps running while you do, though. Don't be surprised if it takes you over 40 minutes the first time you try it. Under 30 minutes is very good; under 20 is insane. Try to beat your time the next de-load week or include it as a conditioning day during a regular training week.
2. Descending-Rep Barbell Complexes
A complex is simply a series of movements performed with a barbell, dumbbell(s), or kettlebell(s) where you finish each rep of one movement before quickly moving on to the next. Typically, you don't take your hands off the weight until the complex is finished.
You can create any complex you want, but make it as whole-body as possible. An example would be: power clean, front squat, military press, bent-over row, and Romanian deadlift.
Pick the load based on your weakest lift – the weight you use should correspond roughly to your 8 or 12 rep max for that lift. Maintaining strict form, complete 5 reps of each exercise. Then 4 reps. Then 3, 2, and 1. Rest as needed, but the timer only stops after your final rep. Beat your time next month.
3. Modified Murph
Let's borrow one from CrossFit and make it a little more commercial gym friendly. Jump on the treadmill and run one mile. Then complete 20 rounds of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, 15 bodyweight squats. (Add a weight vest if you're insane.) Finish by running another mile.
4. The "Move Stuff" Workout
If you have a space to drag, push, and flip different conditioning tools, create a "move stuff" workout. My current favorite is simple but tough as hell. The field is about 35 meters wide (a little under 40 yards), so I move stuff from one side of the field to the other.
- Tire flips to the opposite sideline. Run back.
- Grab a plate or two and goblet-carry that across. Run back.
- Step into a belt and run across the field dragging the first loaded sled. Run back.
- Overhead-carry a plate or two. Run back.
- Grab the rope attached to the second sled and drag it while running backwards.
After 2-3 minutes of rest, repeat for 4 to 6 total rounds. Time each round and try to match or beat your time. The whole thing usually makes for a solid 30 to 40 minutes of sweating and gasping. Have fun with this one and use whatever equipment you have handy.
5. Tabata Session
- Jump on the stationary bike and do a 10-minute warm-up, keeping your cadence above 85 rpm.
- Complete two 30-second fast pedals – low tension, super-fast spin. Shoot for between 100 and 110 rpm for the full 30 seconds. Spin easy for 1 minute between the two fast pedals and two minutes after the second one.
- Now it's Tabata time! Adjust the tension on the bike so that you can sprint all-out at a speed between 80 and 90 rpm.
- Do eight 20-second sprints with only 10 seconds of recovery in-between each sprint.
Adjust the tension as needed – you'll probably need to. If you're looking for an extra fat burn, recover for 2 minutes and then do a high-speed spin for 10 minutes.
6. Loaded Carry Complex
Challenge your grip and your core by combining four or five different carries into a workout. Create a course you can safely navigate in your gym and assemble what you need at the starting point.
- Farmer's walk. Grab two heavy dumbbells and walk the course.
- Overhead carry with a plate or loaded barbell.
- Goblet carry. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in goblet squat position as you walk.
- Do two loops of the course with a suitcase carry (one-handed farmer's walk) using a dumbbell or kettlebell. Do one loop with one hand then do another using the opposite hand.
Complete five or six complexes, resting 2 minutes between each. Start lighter than you think you can handle as it gets tough real fast. Your gym has two floors? Do it on the stairs!
7. Take a Class
If your gym offers classes, give one a try. Don't look at me like that, I'm serious. Yoga or Pilates could reveal issues with mobility and flexibility and set you on the path to resolving them. Laugh at yourself and have fun with it. Is there a boxing gym in your area offering trial passes? Work the bag. There are many options available. Step out of your comfort zone and try something new.
8. Get Outside
Believe it or not, the most basic human movement pattern actually isn't the squat or the hinge – it's the walk. Take the hour you'd normally devote to the gym and get out in the woods for a long, brisk walk. Your glutes, hams, Achilles, and lungs will thank you. Or you could hit the roads or trails on your bike and call it "leg day." Climb a mountain, stadium stairs, or a boulder. Swim or paddle across a lake. It's winter where you live? Try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.
9. Indoor Rock Climbing
If you haven't tried rock climbing before, you won't believe the pump you'll get in your forearms. Think you're strong? Try hauling your well-muscled ass up a 5.9 technical-difficulty wall. You'll get a great workout and fully appreciate the concept of relative strength.
10. Recovery Day
Hit the gym for nothing more than a good foam rolling and stretching session, maybe throwing in a little ab work to convince yourself it was a workout.