A highly controversial topic which is shared by everyone that cares about strength and progress is certainly the deload. Effective powerlifting, bodybuilding, weightlifting, and crossfit training all rely on taking some downtime which promotes better recovery.
However, there are conflicting thoughts on how much load to take off, how to manage the process, and what the results should be.
There is a lot to say, but I managed to only include the most important parts just for you! Today, you’re going to learn how to effectively deload with ease.
What is Deloading and Why Do It?
The goal of a deload is to provide enough time for complete recovery by reducing the stress you’re placing on the body.
The constant overload of muscles can lead to hormonal and structural changes that make further gains almost impossible. If you’ve ever followed a linear progression program, you know that there is only a fixed number of additional weight which you can add for a short period of time. This applies for more advance training as well.
Including lower-volume periods allows your muscles, nervous system, and connective tissues to repair and develop.
The following graph roughly showcases how improvement works over the long term:
Figure 1 – Up and down trajectory of strength. The line shows performance, which takes a short-term dip in response to training then rises above baseline. Deloading is necessary for better recovery and progression.
There also comes a time where the period between peaks is more than one workout session, and reduced performance is inevitable. Deloading is the solution that lets you focus on the recovery and adaptation process.
When to Deload?
There are multiple factors which go into answering this question. Generally speaking, a deload is necessary when you face no progress for an extensive period of time. This doesn’t mean you have a bad workout or two, but when you have multiple workouts where you’re:
- Not moving forward, but actually going backwards (using less weight)
- Facing more aches and pains in your joints/tendons and muscles
- Having difficulties recovering
- Having overall low-energy levels and stagnant workouts
If nutrition and rest are on point and you still find you have multiple workouts where you’re experiencing one or more of the symptoms mentioned above, it’s definitely time to deload.
Another way to implement deloads is to schedule them in after long periods of constant training, before any plateaus occur. A good time frame for this is to deload 1 week every 3-4 months. This will obviously depend on different factors such as age – the older you are, the less recovery capacity you possess and should include more frequent deloads. An 18 year old for example may be able to train hard for 6 months, while a 40 year old trainee may want to deload every 2-3 months.
How to Properly Deload?
A standard deload lasts about one week’s time. Even though you will use this period to reduce training, you can still stay active outside of the gym by doing other low-intensity activities such as walking, hiking, swimming, and similar.
There are 3 general ways to deload, each varying in the amount of actual weight lifting you will be performing. Don’t forget, the goal is to allow your body to recover and repair, so you won’t be pushing hard during this week.
1. Same weight, less volume
The first deload method is simple, it involves lifting the same weights you were doing right before the deload but with significantly less volume.
Let’s say you were benching 225lbs 5x5. For your deload week, you’ll use the same 225lbs but do just 1 set of 5 reps.
The benefit of this method is that it preserves strength and motor pathways which prevent deconditioning. The drawback is that this method is not optimal if you’re suffering from some pains and aches, and need time away from heavy lifting.
2. Decrease both weight and volume
With this method you’ll be looking to drop workset weight by around 50% and do a couple of sets.
Let’s use 5x5 of 225lbs for example again. You can drop the weight to around 115lbs and do a few easy sets of 5 or you can drop it by 60% and do light sets of 8-12 reps to get the blood flowing.
Although this method doesn’t preserve strength as much, it does allow more recovery for the joints/tendons. The reps are supposed to be easy and you shouldn’t be pushing yourself by any means, just don’t forget that.
This option is probably the best, and it is my favorite as well.
3. Complete deload
The easiest one of the three, you do absolutely no weight lifting at all.
I believe this method is best utilized when your body is beaten down from months of hard training without adequate rest. The complete deload week will provide the necessary replenishment and new energy.
However, the drawback to this method is that after a week of no lifting, you’ll find it a bit more difficult to get back into the old routine, let alone new progress.
What After The Deload?
The biggest mistake you can make after a deload is to pick up your old routine right away. This is your ego talking, and you have to avoid it.
After the deload you’ll definitely experience some deconditioning (loss of strength and muscle), however don’t worry since this is only temporary. During this time, attempting to lift the same amount of weight and volume like before can raise your risk of injury significantly.
Therefore, it is best that on your first workout back, you start with 75% of the weights you were lifting before the deload. The next time you perform the same workout, but jump up to around 85-90% of what you were lifting before the deload. Finally, on the third workout you can use the same weight as before. This approach is a great way to build up moment and avoid unnecessary injuries.
Taking breaks from training may be something you are not too keen about, however it is necessary. Training is like most things in life, a long-term game.
We have to train hard but also smart, and that means keeping our bodies injury-free and not neglecting proper recovery. By incorporating a deload period a couple times per year will accomplish this, breaking through any potential plateaus and barriers.