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Thread: Strategic Deconditioning

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2002
    Oslo, Norway


    Also read the Strategic Deconditioning article.

    Once you have maxed out your voluntary strength levels, growth will stop. It may take several weeks for it to stall. Once this happens, HST incorporates Strategic Deconditioning in order to lower the level of conditioning of the muscle tissue. This is necessary in order to use "submax" weights.

    Is the purpose of SD to cure overtraining? No. Research has shown a week is not long enough to reverse the symptoms of overtraining. If you have been properly managing your training volume, you wont be overtrained anyway. If you are, you should adjust your training levels. [Note] Overtraining is not necessary for hypertrophy. Methods such as "over reaching" are used to increase performance, not hypertrophy.

    The efficacy of the stimulus is relative to the state of conditioning of the "tissue", not voluntary strength levels. Of course, a muscle's cross sectional area is related to the amount of force it can generate. But a load able to induce "microdamage", and thus hypertrophy, doesn't have to be at the top of the individual’s voluntary strength output. It only has to be heavy enough to induce microtrauma to the tissue. This is relative the state of conditioning, or the tissues level of resistance to further damage.

    Granted, any form of exercise will alter patterns of protein synthesis and degradation. But a muscle cell can only grow significantly if some degree of tissue microtrauma occurs. This is brought about when the load is sufficient to strain the cell membrane and its integral structural and contractile protein structures. This signals cellular messengers of various kinds including calcineurin and MAPKs and their associated nuclear counterparts.

    Now, if you are training without the aid of exogenous hormones, you will eventually come to the limit of your voluntary strength if you have used the principle of progressive overload. Obviously, at this limit you will be training at 100% effort. And essence, your progress has also reached its pinnacle. The muscle is absolutely tuff as shoe leather (so to speak) and you can no longer add more weight to get it to grow further. What do you do? Well, you can do what thousands of people do and simply beat your brains out using the same weight workout after workout for months or even years on end. As long as your level of conditioning (resistance to microtrauma) stays the same, and the level of weight you use stays the same, your muscles will stay the same. Big or small, they will stay the same.

    SD is simply a method that allows (not “tricks”) your muscles to continue to grow, using weights that your muscles have seen before. The method is simple, the science is complicated, the results are significant.

    P.S. If you are afraid of using baby weights, check your ego at the door, or use the heaviest weights you can lift from day one an be satisfied with your results, in other words, stop looking for anything better.

    I have never claimed that a period of Strategic Deconditioning lasting 7-12 days would completely revert your muscles to an "untrained" state. I have spoken frequently of the rapid training effect or repeated bout effect. Some protection seems to last for a very long time. Still, 7-12 days of complete rest does appear to cause some reversal of the adaptations to training. And from the application, it appears it is sufficient to allow one to start growing again, once gains have stopped with a given weight. Hopefully through the forum and other articles and interviews people have come to learn that SD is more than just a break from training.

    Someone who has trained for an extended period of time using 5s/negs at loads of 85%+ of 1RM would often require upwards of 2 weeks SD to ensure sufficient reversal. More advanced athletes have successfully extended the HST cycle with 5s and negatives with the addition of drop sets (refer to the drop set thread), but if this is your first time doing HST I suggest you do the regular 6-8 week cycle as outlined on this website.


    The effectiveness of tension to elicit hypertrophy depends on the condition of the muscle at the time the tension is applied. So, after a period of regular heavy training, the muscle becomes resistant to further growth. I don’t think anyone needs an article in a medical journal to tell them that.

    So the only solution to overcome the progressive resistance to tension is to progressively increase the tension. This works perfectly…for a while. The problem is that once you have “maxed out” your strength you can no longer apply a consistently effective stimulus (i.e. tension) for hypertrophy. Once this happens you plateau. You are dead in the water. 99 out of 100 lifters in any given gym will not make any significant muscle growth from one month to the next because of this phenomena, despite their efforts to constantly get stronger. So all the end up doing is busting their butt each and every workout just to stay the same. This effect is so tangible that it eventually leads to a type of paranoia of getting smaller should they ever stop killing themselves in the gym. In a word, this is modern natural bodybuilding…ok, 3 words.

    The solution is to lower the resistance to the stimulus. This is called Strategic Deconditioning in HST. When Strategic Deconditioning is properly applied to ones training, growth can resume, even when using weights previously used.

    Is there research to demonstrate this scenario? Yes, but it isn’t exactly coffee table reading. The HST book however will not force you to rely on my word. It will contain a full treaties of the research behind HST.

    Until the book is ready, you’ll have to just trust me and use other peoples results as evidence. If not, that’s ok too. Just as long as you are growing with whatever you’re doing you’re fine...for the time being anyway.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2002
    Oslo, Norway


    Isn't SD just a form of "periodization"?

    There is one traditional concept with its associated methods and practices that often make HST appear to be like previous programs. That is the concept of “periodization”.

    We will only briefly discuss the topic of periodization, as only a brief treatise will be sufficient to show the differences between periodization and HST. For more detailed discussions of periodization you are advised to read "Super Training: Special Strength Training for Sporting Excellence" by Siff & Verkhoshansky, "Special Strength Training" by Verkhoshansky, "Fundamentals of Sport Training" by Matveyev and "Science and Practice of Strength Training" by Zatsiorski.

    Traditional concepts of periodization are based on methods used to manipulate intensity (i.e. work and/or load), volume and frequency in order to manage CNS fatigue and adaptability in athletes. To date, the art of periodization has entered the mathematical age and significant progress is being made in modeling systems designed to predict CNS fatigue and changes in the individual’s fitness level. (1,2,3). Once an individual familiarizes him or herself with the true concept of periodization, they will immediately see the difference between Strategic Deconditioning and Periodization for strength training.

    For example, here are a few differences between SD and Periodization:

    - SD is used to decrease fitness level (A.K.A. conditioning).
    - Periodization is used to increase fitness level.

    - SD is used to increase the micro trauma associated with training.
    - Periodization is used to decrease the trauma associated with training.

    - SD is used to reduce work capacity.
    - Periodization is used to increase work capacity.

    - SD is applied irrespective of the need for “rest”.
    - Periodization is applied according to the need for rest.

    - SD is not based on “peaking” performance.
    - Periodization’s sole purpose is to allow the athlete to peak (strength/performance) on a specific date.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2002
    Oslo, Norway


    The weights feel so heavy and I'm so sore on the first couple of workouts after SD!

    You will often experience an increased sensation of weight and/or effort, but the actual strength generating potential of the muscle does not diminish signficantly.

    What happens is the CNS (Central Nervous System) is also deconditioned. Perceived exertion will increase as a result. Yes, this may even be noticable during everyday activities.
    The opposite of this effect is seen when people say, "Since I started exercising I just have so much more energy!" They don't really have more energy, it's just that their CNS has upregulated itself to better cope with the increased demands for exertion during exercise. This lowered CNS activation threshold level spills over to everyday activities and makes them feel better, more energetic.

    If you feel really sore, this is actually GOOD news! what just happened to you is that you succesfully lowered your minimum effective weight. That is perfect! This allows even less weight to be used and still grow.

    Now you should take note of this and plan your next cycle accordingly. Don't lower your 15RM, just lower your starting weight next cycle (make sure your SD is just as effective/long as well). This allows greater increments during the 15s, and an overall greater progression of weight used over the entire cycle. Once again, perfect!

    All the pain won't hurt your gains. But it can draw unwanted attention when you walk like you're 90 years old.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2002
    Oslo, Norway


    Though I wish I had more time to fully address your questions here, they will be more fully addressed in one of the HST books. In the mean time, we will try to use the most representative research of SD followed by retraining as we can find (with time constraints). The following study by Hortobágyi and colleagues (Hortobágyi, 2000) is one of the best I have found to date, with special reference to the adaptive changes to both deconditioning and retraining. Here is the full reference:

    Hortobagyi T, Dempsey L, Fraser D, Zheng D, Hamilton G, Lambert J, Dohm L. Changes in muscle strength, muscle fibre size and myofibrillar gene expression after immobilization and retraining in humans. The Journal of Physiology 2000 April 1;524 Pt 1:293-304.

    For those of you familiar with Medline the full text version is FREE.

    But here are some important points brought to light by this and similar studies.

    Deconditioning (including complete immobilization or even zero gravity)
    1) In vivo studies suggest that a fall in the rate of protein synthesis rather than an increase in protein degradation is the predominant mechanism of atrophy at least during the first few weeks of immobilization in rats (Booth, F. W. & Seider, M. J. (1979). Early changes in skeletal muscle protein synthesis after limb immobilization of rats. Journal of Applied Physiology 47, 974-977) as well as in humans (Gibson, J. N. A., Halliday, D., Morrison, W. L., Stoward, P. J., Hornsby, G. A., Watt, P. W., Murdoch, G. & Rennie, M. J. (1987). Decrease in human quadriceps muscle protein turnover consequent upon leg immobilization. Clinical Science 72, 503-509)

    2) In his pioneering work D. F. Goldspink (Goldspink, D. F. (1977). The influence of immobilization and stretch on protein turnover of rat skeletal muscle. The Journal of Physiology 264, 267-282) demonstrated that when the extensor digitorum longus of young rats was chronically stretched while immobilized, the muscle actually underwent hypertrophy. Although this chronic stretch may not be qualitatively equivalent to dynamic muscle lengthening, there is now cumulative evidence to suggest that strength gains (Dudley et al. 1991), muscle hypertrophy (Hather et al. 1991) and myosin heavy-chain (MyoHC) gene expression are specific to the type of mechanical loading (Booth & Thomason, 1991), with greater adaptations occurring if the mechanical stimulus contains muscle lengthening or eccentric contractions compared with concentric contractions.

    3) Even though strength loss correlated with muscle fibre atrophy (r = 0·75), the magnitude of strength loss (47 %) was almost 4-fold greater than the magnitude of fibre atrophy (11 %) [with 3 weeks of immobilization]

    4) Greater type II than type I muscle fibre atrophy occurred after elbow immobilization in the triceps brachii (30 vs. 25 %, MacDougall et al. 1980), in the vastus lateralis after an 11 day space flight (36 vs. 16 %, Edgerton et al. 1995), lower leg suspension (12 vs. 6 %, Berg et al. 1993) and knee immobilization (19 vs. 15 %, Veldhuizen et al. 1993). In contrast, others reported that atrophy was greater in type I than type II fibres (46 vs. 37 %, Sargeant et al. 1977; 26 vs. 1 %, Häggmark et al. 1981). In the present work type I and type II fibres atrophied to about the same extent, 13 and 10 %.

    1) In the current work, resumption of spontaneous activity (i.e. just being up and around) for 2 weeks after the cast was removed resulted in about 90 % recovery of muscle strength and 95 % recovery of muscle fibre size. [That’s an 10% increase in muscle size in only two weeks WITH NO TRAINING!]

    2) 3 weeks of immobilization significantly and uniformly reduced type I, IIa and IIx muscle fibre areas by 13, 10 and 10 %, respectively…Hypertrophy of type I, IIa and IIx fibres relative to baseline was 10, 16 and 16 % after eccentric and 11, 9 and 10 % after mixed training (all P < 0·05) and these gains were significantly (P < 0·05) greater than the hypertrophy after concentric training (4, 5 and 5 %). In addition, the type IIa and IIx fibres were significantly larger after eccentric than after mixed training

    3) We observed a significantly faster rate of strength recovery when the exercise program contained eccentric contractions. Muscle strength recovery after 4 weeks was complete when subjects exercised with concentric contractions, whereas recovery to initial levels occurred about 2 weeks faster when pure eccentric contractions were used or added to concentric contractions…Not only was the rate of strength recovery faster with pure eccentric or mixed eccentric and concentric contractions but the strength gains and muscle fibre hypertrophy were also substantially greater compared with pure concentric contractions, confirming most (Komi & Buskirk, 1972; Dudley et al. 1991; Hather et al. 1991; Hortobágyi et al. 1996a, b) but not all (Jones & Rutherford, 1987; Smith & Rutherford, 1995) prior reports. [We are not so interested in strength, but this info is demonstrative of the importance of eccentric training.]

    Now this doesn’t speak much towards RBE, but it does demonstrate how muscle tissue responds differently after SD than it does during training. It’s a sliding scale of sensitivity and hypertrophy. When muscle is at its highest sensitivity, it grows most rapidly, and likewise, it grows more resistant to further growth at the same rate. I have other studies on RBE that I may be able to post later.

    1. McHugh MP. Recent advances in the understanding of the repeated bout effect: the protective effect against muscle damage from a single bout of eccentric exercise. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2003 Apr;13(2):88-97.

    2: Thompson HS, Clarkson PM, Scordilis SP. The repeated bout effect and heat shock proteins: intramuscular HSP27 and HSP70 expression following two bouts of eccentric exercise in humans. Acta Physiol Scand. 2002 Jan;174(1):47-56.

    3: Proske U, Morgan DL. Muscle damage from eccentric exercise: mechanism, mechanical signs, adaptation and clinical applications. J Physiol. 2001 Dec 1;537(Pt 2):333-45.

    4: Stupka N, Tarnopolsky MA, Yardley NJ, Phillips SM. Cellular adaptation to repeated eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. J Appl Physiol. 2001 Oct;91(4):1669-78.

    5: McHugh MP, Connolly DA, Eston RG, Gleim GW. Exercise-induced muscle damage and potential mechanisms for the repeated bout effect. Sports Med. 1999 Mar;27(3):157-70.

    6: Brown SJ, Child RB, Day SH, Donnelly AE. Exercise-induced skeletal muscle damage and adaptation following repeated bouts of eccentric muscle contractions. J Sports Sci. 1997 Apr;15(2):215-22.

    7: Brown SJ, Child RB, Day SH, Donnelly AE. Indices of skeletal muscle damage and connective tissue breakdown following eccentric muscle contractions. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1997;75(4):369-74.

    8: Ebbeling CB, Clarkson PM. Exercise-induced muscle damage and adaptation. Sports Med. 1989 Apr;7(4):207-34.

    - Bryan Haycock

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2010


    Dumb question (and I know I'm probably overthinking this...):

    What do you DO during SD? I've read several very long threads on SD. They seem to focus on the justifications and impact of SD without really talking about how to do SD. Is it a period of complete inactivity? Do you do cardio during SD? How about diet? I would think the SD diet would revert to maintenance caloric intake, but I haven't seen this addressed (I have read posts where folks have mentioned regrets over how they ate during SD, but I haven't found anyone get into details).

    I'm sure it's here on the board, I'm just not finding it.


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


    During SD eat maintenance. Remember that maintenance while not working out is different from maintenance while working out. Take that into consideration. The less physical activity you do during SD the more you'll decondition your muscles and make they sensible for growth when you start your new cycle. Cardio such as jogging is going to keep your leg muscles more conditioned and less sensible to growth stimulus but there is no on/off switch that says that if you do this it will be ineffective and if you don't do that it will be effective.
    Defeat someone and someone loses. Defeat yourself and you win.
    Vivere ad libitum

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2002


    Study lends support to Strategic Deconditioning

    Ogasawara, R., Yasuda, T., Sakamaki, M., Ozaki, H. and Abe, T. (2011), Effects of periodic and continued resistance training on muscle CSA and strength in previously untrained men. Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging.

    "If the muscle hypertrophy response recovers to the initial training level after 3 weeks of detraining and there is no change in muscle size after detraining[this is what they observed in their subjects], the improvements in overall muscle size and function are probably greater with the short-term detraining and retraining programme than with the continuous training programme."


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