What is a Deload?
Over the course of time training, your body accumulates fatigue. Exercise wears on your Central Nervous System, as well as the individual muscles you are working. A deload is a period of time where you reduce your training volume, which allows your body to reduce its cumulative fatigue. Think of it as a recharge period where you allow your body to recover so that you can bring up the intensity of your workouts afterwards.
When Do I Need to Deload?
Depending on how you train, how often you need to deload varies. If you don’t really progress the volume of your workouts, a good rule of thumb would be to deload every few months. However, if you use progressive overload in your training programs, and train to your MRV (Maximal Recoverable Volume), you will want to plan your deload after that MRV week.
For example, if you increase your sets each week over the course of 4 weeks, and the 4th week is the absolute most your body can handle while still getting all your sets and reps in, your 5th week should be a deload. This allows your body to adapt the best because you will be able to recover from all that extra work that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to if you kept training the way you normally do.
There are also some signs that may indicate your body needs to deload. Contrary to popular belief, being tired is NOT one of them. If you are tired all the time but you are still progressing in your workouts each week, that is not a warning sign. You are still recovering enough to increase the intensity. However, if you are no longer progressing in your workouts (the infamous plateau) it may be a sign that you are overdo. On top of that, difficulty sleeping, a weakened immune system (getting sick more frequently), and not even being able to finish your typical workouts can all be red flags that it’s time.
How to Deload
About once per year I will take a week off from the gym entirely. I won’t lift weights and I might do a little cardio, but I’ll focus much more on mobility work. This is not the normal way you should be deloading if you do it frequently.
My standard deload week (once every 1-2 months depending on the program) consists of taking the current volume and cutting it in half. You could do that by keeping your workout the same and lifting half the weight. That’s not my personal cup of tea, though. I like to keep the same weights and cut my volume in half. So if I was doing 4 sets of 10 at 255 on flat bench, I drop that to 2 sets of 10 at 255. NOTE that it is not half the volume of your “overreaching” week, but of your typical training week.
Cardio may also be incorporated more than normal during this week if you don’t do much. Keeping it around 3 or 4 days of moderate-intensity steady-state cardio for 15-20 minutes is a good baseline. Follow that with 15-20 minutes of stretching or foam rolling. Bar Bend has a great article on the best foam rollers if you’re due for a new one. This promotes recovery and helps to relieve inflammation to get rid of those annoying aches and pains when you’re ready to dive back into your regular programming.
When you do it right, you should be chomping at the bit to get back into the gym full force by the time your deload week is over. Energy should be through the roof and you should have no problem progressing in your lifts!
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