First of all, what is a deload?
A deload is basically a planned reduction in training volume and/or intensity (typically one week).
You will find thousands and thousands of articles teaching you how to build bigger arms, how to get six pack abs, how to gain muscle mass, how to deadlift or bench more and everything else that help you get bigger, stronger and faster. However, one thing that is as less commonly written or discussed about is deloading.
So why is deloading important?
- Allows your central nervous system (CNS) to recover
- Allows your joints and other connective tissues to repair
- Reduces your risk of being injured and burnout
- Allows you to feel fresh physically and mentally once again
- Prepares you to lift heavier weights and train harder
If you have been training hard and lifting heavy seriously for more than a year or two without any break, you might find that your joints are constantly aching, you are fatigued all the time and feeling burnout, and you are stuck at a plateau – your strength is not going up and your overall performance just sucks. Your desire to train also starts to drop and you look and feel sad, perhaps feeling depressed. Your appetite and quality of sleep can also be affected.
It has happened to me and likely to many other serious lifters who are always trying to lift more and get stronger. These are signs that your body has been taxed too hard for too long and that is why a deload is so important for a serious trainee.
Those who have been training long enough know that you can’t train 100% to the limit all the time. Your body just can’t take it physically and psychologically. And if you ignore it and try to keep pushing the limit, there is a high risk of getting injured and having your overall quality of life affected. Your mood is down the drain and your ability to focus in school or at work is diminished.
How Do You Deload?
Traditionally, the two main ways to deload is to either reduce the overall training volume or the intensity (how much you lift).
For example, if reducing training volume:
If your program requires you to perform 5 sets of 5 reps in an exercise, during a deload, you might just want to perform 2-3 sets. Overall, you are looking to do just 40-60% of what you would do during your normal training program.
For example, if reducing intensity:
During a deload, maintain the same amount of sets and reps, but decrease the load to 40-60% of your maximum. If your maximum load for the back squat is 150KG, you are looking to lift 60-90KG.
That being said, there are other ways help you in your deload week as well. Here are some ways to do so:
- Decrease the number of repetitions
- Increase your rest periods between sets
- Decrease the number of training days (if you have training 4 days a week, drop a day or two)
- Reduce the eccentric portion of speed of movement/tempo (if you typically take 3-4 seconds to lower a weight, try just taking 2 seconds)
If you are deciding between doing less (40%) or more (60%), you have to rely on your intuition and past training experience. If you do not have much training experience to base on, you might just learn the hard way. It also depends on how do you feel physically and psychologically. If you are feeling beaten down and burnout, you might want to do less. And vice versa, if you aren’t feeling that bad, you can try doing more.
Last, but not least, a deload week is a good time for you to work on your technique and nail down your form. No failure, no fatigue, no bad form!
There is one other option.
But it is not really a deload by definition.
It is to take the week off and not do any lifting at all. Zero.
It is an option that is recommended by Ian King. Some people do worry that their strength gains might disappear after a week or so without training. But if you have been training properly and hard enough before taking the week off, this break is going to allow your body and CNS to recover. So when you do get back to training again, you are going to be able to lift more and make further gains.
So what should you do if you can’t lift?
Do something different. Play a sport. Go on a hike. Do some flexibility work, especially if you do not stretch enough normally. Explore the outdoors and get in touch with nature (great one). Or go on a holiday!
When to Deload?
If you are new to lifting and have not trained seriously for a year or two, you lack the ability to overtax your CNS, muscles and joints as much as an advanced lifter who needs a deload every 2-3 weeks or so and you might need a deload only after every few months or more.
You also need to take in consideration other factors such as age, overall stress (work, family, etc) and recovery ability. If you are older and like most people who age, you will have a lower recovery ability so you might need to deload more frequently compared to a younger person or a beginner.
As you become more experienced in training over the years, your intuition and personal experience will give you an idea when you should deload. For most people who have been training for awhile, deloading every 4-8 weeks is generally a good idea.
Post-deload Week Training
If you have not done a deload before and you’re wondering how to go about your training after a deload week. Here is an example for an intermediate lifter.
Week 1: Complete all your sets and reps. No missed reps. No failure. Technique to be perfect. (80%)
Week 2: Still get all your reps and sets completed. No missed reps. No failure, but more challenging. Technique is still perfect. (85%)
Week 3: All reps and sets are still be to completed. No missed reps, but close to failure. (90%)
Week 4: Maximal load week! You might miss a rep. And technique might break down a little. (95-100%)
So Deload and Don’t Get Burnout!
It is just impossible to being lifting maximal weights every single workout day in day out all year round. Now that you understand the importance of a deload week, have it planned in your training cycle. It is going to help you make on-going progress and reduce the risk of injury and burnout. After all, you want to get stronger, right?