Rest days are like putting gas in the tank. Deload weeks are like oil changes for the body: super necessary on a regular basis to keep things moving and grooving.
Simply put: a deload week is a week where you take it easier on your training. This lets the body (and mind) fully recover and positions you to get back to training and hit it hard/heavy when you do. Whether you enjoy running or love heavy lifting, you should ideally be implementing deloads in your training every 4-8 weeks.
The goal would be to reduce training volume (reps/sets), intensity (how hard you’re going), AND time spent training each day during a deload week.
You will NOT lose progress or “lose your gains” during a deload. When you train hard for multiple weeks, you build up resistance to making progress. The deload week acts as a “re-sensitization” in which the muscles will respond more effectively to the stimulus going forward. If you are a race car driver, of course it would be ideal if you could just avoid the pit-stop and keep driving. But what happens to the car when you avoid the pit stop for too long?
Also, FATIGUE MASKS FITNESS. You don’t even know that you are performing sub-optimally until you flush out the fatigue. You’ll be amazed at how strong you feel when you come back from deload week. So we wanted to write a quick DIY as it pertains to the WHEN and HOW of implementing a deload.
You know it’s time to DELOAD when:
– You haven’t taken a deload week for 12-16 weeks. Seriously, read this again. If you have gone 8-12+ weeks of hard training and haven’t taken a true deload week, I don’t care if you still feel fantastic and are performing well. You need to take time off the gym.
The two main reasons you deload are for CNS recovery and joint/ligament recovery. CNS fatigue is gradual and you can generally feel it. Joint/ligament fatigue is unnoticeable until you get injured. Literally, you could feel fantastic and then get injured. The DELOAD helps you allow these fragile structures to recover (take the pit stop for your long term health).
– Multiple sessions in a row, you struggle to meet or exceed your expectations in regards to load or reps (i.e. things just feel heavy, slow, or you feel like trash during workouts and lifts)
– Multiple sessions in a row, motivation is lower than normal. You tell yourself you HAVE to go to the gym, or “I will feel better if I go” and then you just feel crappy and tired after rather than better than when you walked in.
– Life stress is super high, sleep is suffering, sex drive is low, hunger cues are all over the place (or absent), etc…
How to Properly Deload:
Three ways to do this:
All of these options are good and achieve the goals of re-sensitization and recovery without risk of muscle or strength loss. In fact, many people find they end up looking better throughout this week as the inflammation is flushed out (:
1. Take an entire 5-7 days off and don’t think about the gym. Go hiking, play some low impact sports, enjoy life.
2. Take 3-4 days off, then hit ONE upper and ONE lower session (per below protocol)
3. Complete your normal training program 4-5x per week, but follow the below protocol for all sessions to keep things light and easy
It’s important to understand that the PURPOSE of this week is to recover. You should ultimately try to leave the gym each day with a slight endorphin high (similar to going for a long walk or casual hike). If you get a pump and feel like you got a “good workout” than you worked too hard. A deload week is kinda like having 2 beers when you really want 6 (:
The following criteria should be met to ensure a proper DELOAD week:
– Total number of work sets per body part = about 50% of normal workload
– Weight used should be 10% less than “normal” for a target number of reps
– Reps should be 20% less than “target number” (as referenced above)
– All sets must be a minimum of 5 reps shy of failure
Here is how it would look in application. Let’s assume this is what programmed:
Back Squat – 4 x 10-12
During a normal training week, maybe you’d use 100 lbs
During a deload week, maybe you would complete 2 x 8 with 90 lbs. You’ll notice that this is less weight, less volume (aka less reps/sets), and less time in the gym.