Everyone works out and trains for different reasons. For some, it's part of their professional career, but for most of us, we do it to stay healthy physically and mentally. And while we need to be active, our bodies also have to rest and recover from all we put it through. One way you can do that without missing out on workouts is by adding time for a deload week.
Building muscle is a lengthy process that involves multiple aspects beyond regular exercising, like proper diet and plenty of rest. So how does a deload week fit into the process?
What is a deload week?
The deload week is a planned period of time where you lower the intensity of your training sessions, and in some cases, allow for more active rest and recovery. It normally lasts for one full week. However, the overall length of time depends on the type of workout programs you're using. The most common practice is to allow for one deload week after 6 to 12 weeks of intense training. Some also recommended within 8 to 10 weeks, or even after 4 weeks. Many intermediate and advanced weightlifters follow this deload schedule.
Deload week often happens after several weeks of hard training. You especially see this from bodybuilders and athletes who will follow very specific training programs for professional competitions. You'll also see this done in the military.
The basic concept of the deload week is to cut your training volume or intensity level by a certain percentage. This is accomplished in a number of ways, including lifting with lighter weights and lowering the number of sets and reps you do in a normal week.
The benefits of deload week
High-intensity resistance training puts an enormous amount of stress and strain on the body. And as much as we're told to push through the barriers to come out stronger, we can't always perform at the same level for every workout. There are several reasons why slowing down and lowering our training load is beneficial in the long term.
1. It prevents workout plateaus
It's normal to experience a lack of motivation from your workouts, especially if you notice your fitness goals have become stagnant. Seeing a stall in your progress is extremely frustrating. It not only affects you physically but mentally as well.
Deload weeks give you just enough of a break after training hard for the last one or two months so you get that motivation back. Sometimes stepping back and reevaluating your strategy is what you need to push yourself over a workout plateau.
2. You minimize the risk of injury
Lifting heavy creates muscle tears and microtrauma, all of which help the muscles grow. However, if the body doesn't have plenty of time to heal from the damage, it can lead to strains and other injuries. Trying to work through the aches and pains won't make things any better for your recovery. You'd only be creating a serious situation that could keep you out of the weight room for weeks.
Another great thing about deload weeks is that they unburden your mind and body from a continuously rigorous training schedule. Intense resistance training impacts both of these areas and mental fatigue can be just as serious as bodily fatigue. The mind/body connection is incredibly important, especially in weightlifting. If you aren't focused on what you're doing, you could hurt yourself lifting weights or while on a machine.
3. It helps avoid burnout and overtraining
This pretty much goes hand-in-hand with reducing the chance of injury. That's because different parts of the body recover at different rates.
The central nervous system only needs a few minutes to recover, while our muscles need a few days. It's why rest days are always needed, no matter how much you train. Weight training creates microtears in the muscles. This is when hypertrophy can occur and allow the muscle tissue to repair itself and improve muscle growth. Other body tissues like our tendons, ligaments, and bone, take longer to heal.
Burnout and overtraining should not be taken lightly. These can both derail your efforts and put you farther back with your training. Deload weeks prevent these things from happening and won't keep you from your fitness goals.
How to enjoy your deload week properly
A proper training cycle will always include time for rest and recovery. It's impossible to work out every day with no off-days at your absolute maximum. Even the greatest powerlifters and athletes incorporate rest weeks and low-intensity training days into their programs. Some choose to train with lighter weights and do high reps while others prefer heavy weights with low reps. Either way, you need to know how and when it's best to include a deload week.
Here are some tips on how you can set up a proper deload week that'll keep you moving without adding extra stressors to your body!
Full deload works by minimizing the volume and intensity of your workouts. You're still working out using your regular training program, but you should only be lifting 50% less than what you normally would. You would also cut your number of sets by 30-50% and your reps by half. This type of deload week is commonly done for those in a rougher state that need more time to recover. Many bodybuilders who choose a full deload are over the age of 50 or are prone to overuse injuries.
Volume deload has you training at the same intensity but at a lower volume. With this option, you end up limiting your set range by 30-50% and lowering the number of repetitions you do by 2 or 4. The amount of weight you lift, however, stays the same. This method is ideal if you want to avoid feeling too rusty when you get back into heavy lifting. It still keeps you mobile but doesn't work you to your absolute limit.
Selective deload is all about lowering the volume and intensity of different individual exercises that you feel aren't helping improve your gains. It's mostly done when you're struggling through a weightlifting plateau involving compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. Selective deload follows the same principles as a full deload.
Drop certain exercises for the week
The last way to deload, which isn't often mentioned, is by opting to give up certain types of exercises from your routine. For example, you may not perform anything on the barbell or avoid the bench press for the week. You could focus on fully resting a particular muscle group and put the effort into working out another area. This deload style can be especially beneficial if certain joints or muscles are extra sore.
Opt-out of strength training altogether for something more relaxing and easy-going
It's good to take it easy once in a while from your weight lifting. You'll be surprised how some time stepping away from the weights can actually help you lift better when you come back to them. Instead of pumping iron, work more on your cardio. The best part is you have a ton of exercises to choose from, including biking, swimming, yoga, and pilates. Low-impact exercises can provide the same intensity level without putting too much stress or pressure on your body and joints.
Another thing to do is include some of these exercises after your regular routine as a form of active recovery. One study found performing low-intensity, post-workout activities can reduce soreness, fatigue, and inflammation. It's even a better way of cooling down when compared to passive recovery.
Deload so you can power back up!
Deload weeks are essential to helping your body go further in the way you train and the weight you lift. It might seem like a blow to the ego to lower the training volume and intensity you're used to, but it shouldn't be. In order to see consistent results, it's necessary to switch up your normal program. As long as you're not in a calorie deficit, you won't be losing muscle or strength. You can also schedule them around special events, so even if you just want to rest, you can do so and then go right back to your regular workouts.
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