A deload is simply a short period of active recovery in a training program. The less experienced gym enthusiast may see this as just an excuse for someone to skip training and park themselves on the couch watching Netflix, however implemented properly a deload can help avoid injury, burnout, fatigue and keep you smashing through plateaus.
Who Is A Deload For?
Who should even worry about deloading? If you’re beginner, weekend warrior or just your average guy looking to stay in shape training twice a week, a deload will most likely be a backwards step for you. As a beginner your ability to progress in both strength and endurance is much quicker than an experienced lifter who has hit a plateau, so the last thing you want to be doing is taking time off when “newb gains” are there to be had.
Those who don’t train as frequently and simply do not push themselves to the extreme with failure, intensity and so forth need not deload either as they give their body ample ability to recover. Key point here is if you’re following a structured program (Jim Wendler’s 5,3,1 for example) there is no point following the program and not following the deload set in there.
Is It Time To Take A Break?
If you are none of the above and feeling unmotivated, tired, fatigued or even ill (training when needing to deload can weaken the immune system) whilst struggling to progress with your training, getting weaker and getting acute and minor injuries, then maybe it’s time to give your body a break and deload. These are just some of the signs that lead to someone needing a deload but even if you are not feeling these symptoms there are other times a deload should be considered: after a competitive event such as a powerlifting meet (huge strain on central nervous system and body in general) or bodybuilding show (low levels of fat, water and food) there is definitely a strong case to deload to avoid injury.
Generally, a deload should be implemented by feel, if not following a set program, however a general rule of thumb for those are who unsure is to have one every 8-12 weeks depending on intensity and frequency of training lasting at least a week.
How To Do A Deload
Again those following a set program should just deload how the program states, as it’s been set out like that for a reason. If you are not, here are just a few different ways to implement a deload.
This is in fact my favorite method (no I am not lazy, at least not most of the time), the reason being I do not enjoy training at anything less than 100%. I also feel this gives the body a “true” break and lets both the joints and the mind have a rest. It is also very simple, no percentages or formulas needed, just simply do not train for the week. I do keep up my stretching, mobility and cardio work in this time though as it only helps the process.
A key point for anyone following this method is to keep your diet strict; look to perhaps even lower carbohydrates slightly due to inactivity and keep protein high to help with recovery. After all you don’t want to go back to the gym feeling fatter than you left a week ago!
Train with Reduced Poundage
This way sees you training with the exact same split as you were but reducing your loads to about 40-50% of your 1RM, reducing overall sets in the workout by about a third and not going to failure. Just because it’s a light weight doesn’t mean you should suddenly go hell for leather and bang out loads of reps. It’s a deload so just chill.
Just Reducing Volume
My least favorite way – one I think should only be implemented if you are only very slightly feeling deload symptoms is to just reduce the volume but keep the weight the same. For anyone who trains close to their 1RM or with extreme poundages I would not recommend this approach as extreme weight can and will “fry” your central nervous system and lead to fatigue and injury. This would be much more applicable for someone who trains for endurance.
To sign off the most important thing about this is to listen to your body. You are not superman you cannot keep lifting more and more week in week out, the body will eventually give out and when it does take a break. As soon as you feel any symptoms I have written about today for a sustained period then listen to your body and deload. Your body will thank you in the long run and you will continue to gain happy and healthy.