Take a Load Off: Deload Weeks
There are are 3 major aspects to achieving your fitness goals, and we talk about them a lot on this blog!
...and the often overlooked one…
Utilizing a deload week can also help you prevent overtraining. It can break a plateau and allow you to supercharge your workouts and gains!
Sounds appealing, right? But how do you do it? When do you do it? Who should be doing it??
The ideology behind deloading is to give your body a break; to take the stress off of your joints, tendons, ligaments, and nervous system and give them a breather from heavy or high volume training-- the type of breather they couldn’t otherwise get from just a simple rest day.
However, a deload week isn’t for everyone. Who isn’t it for?
Those that choose fast foods over whole foods
Those that only go to the gym to take a selfie and leave
Those that are just lifting to "tone"
Those that place a few extra minutes of sleep over morning cardio before work
Those that think “clean eating” is a chain-restaurant salad entrée
Those that...okay, you know where I’m going with this.
Basically, if you are not staying tight on your diet and are just going through the motions in the gym --not tracking your weights or striving to reach PRs--, if you’re not pushing yourself to reach your goals both through training and nutrition, then you do not need a deload week.
If you are pushing yourself with every workout...
If you are determined to achieve progress...
If you are following a serious training program that focuses on progressive overloading…
...then, read on because you COULD benefit from and SHOULD incorporate deload workouts.
How do you do it?
There are a few different ideas out there for how to go about deloading and giving your body appropriate recovery time. The top two are cutting either intensity or cutting volume for a week.
Cutting intensity calls for keeping your typical sets and rep-ranges, but decreasing your typical weights. Aim to decrease them to about 40-50% of your usual working weight.
So, if you usually squat 4 sets of 185 lbs. for 8 reps, during your deload week you would be squatting 4 sets of around 90-110 lbs. for 8 reps.
If you’re choosing the volume option, then you will focus on cutting reps/sets in about half and keeping your average working weights the same.
In regards to that squat example, a squat workout with deloaded volume would be 2 sets of 185 lbs. for 4 reps.
(^because that is what your "deloaded" squat looks like, right?^)
Neither method should bring you to ‘failure’ at any point, but which of the two is best?
Well- it depends on the person, quite honestly.
I, personally, feel most refreshed after cutting intensity and have heard from experienced weightlifters that this is the strategy which also works best for them-- but to each his/her own!
It doesn’t matter which way you choose to give yourself a rest and recovery period, all that matters is that you do give yourself a rest and recovery period!
When should you do it?
Unfortunately, there is no set answer for this as it comes down to a few different factors such as training style, age, training level/intensity, experience, and your goals.
My recommendation is every 6-10 weeks of intense training (staying in the 6-8 range if you’re in a calorie deficit, the 8-10 if not).
This range seems to be the sweet-spot for a variety of people such as performance athletes, some competitive lifters, and the more advanced, recreational lifters.
Other styles for programming your deload week include…
- Every fourth week
So, training with every single thing you’ve got for 3 weeks, then taking 1 week to dial it back and deload.
I would suggest this only for those that never hold anything back when training. For those of you that, once you get going, you can’t pull back-- everything goes to failure, you don’t know how to do less that 100% when you train.
I would also suggest this for older lifters that may need some more recovery time in order to train/perform to the best of their abilities. That is not to say that those 40 and above cannot train just as hard as 20 year olds, but chances are the 20 year olds can cope with less deloads and recovery time than those older than them.
- Every 12-16 weeks
You’ll mainly see a lot of competitive bodybuilders fall into this category as competition prep is around this range of weeks. This could also be a good fit for intermediate lifters as those newer to lifting do not need to deload as frequently as more veteran lifters.
Consider some of those methods and experiment with the frequency of your deloading. Whichever route you choose to go, make sure you are sticking with your deloading schedule-- regardless of how you feel! This ensures you don’t accidentally slip into a state of overtraining by being too hard-headed to recognize you need a break.
Final notes on deloading:
When it comes to your nutrition, you do not need to do anything differently during your deload week (regardless of if you are bulking or cutting). Maintain your typical eating regimen--surplus or deficit--, continue paying as much attention to it as you do any other week.
As for cardio, if you absolutely will go crazy without some cardio being mixed in during the week, then keep it in there. Remember, though, the point of deloading is to take stress OFF of the body. So, just like how you dial it back on the lifting, dial it back on the cardio (and take out any HIIT for sure). Either reduce your time or reduce your intensity-- or reduce both!
Another option: cut it out for the entire deload week (aside from maybe a 5 min. warm-up and/or cool-down walk)
If you are brand new to training or have been training for less than a year, you likely will not need to adapt deloading periods yet. This is simply because you have not been placing enough stress onto your body at this point to warrant an entire deload week. The rest days built into your training programming should do the trick to help you recover appropriately and fend off muscle fatigue.
What are your thoughts? Is deloading right for you? Are you currently scheduling deload weeks? Send me a message- I’d love to hear from you!