I tend to be happy enough with my training. I structure it in a way that it balances itself out while making progress in one or two areas at a time while supporting it with a generally healthy diet.
I say generally because in reality, who’s overall diet is 100% perfect? Well, other than the “fitspiration” profiles on social media.
But that’s a rabbit hole I’m just not going down at the moment.
However, the other week I started to noticed a few things. Despite everything being where it should be at the moment.
Business, lifestyle, training, finances, diet, family, and friends. I noticed that there were a number of days where I just felt… off.
I wasn’t sleeping well and was lacking focus when I was doing simple day to day tasks.
My training also sucked balls. I didn’t enjoy it, which wasn’t like me at all. I stopped enjoying certain lifts and felt I was more in a routine than aiming for something.
Sounds like I’m about to start writing a script for the next Hollywood rom-com hit, but I’ll save you the emotional pull on your full sized aortic pump.
Well, as I was sat journaling, I was writing all the small things that had been happening throughout the previous two weeks (this is a great way to create clarity whenever you’re getting stressed, anxious, frustrated, or just simply enjoy that mode of output). And it hit me. I was burning out. I needed to chill out a bit. I needed to deload.
The reason I hadn’t noticed it before was because I program training for all my clients in a way so that deloading naturally occurs (more on this later). And, because I focus more on them than on my own training, I didn’t take notice of how much overall training volume I was doing in each workout, each week.
A rookie mistake, I know.
There are a lot of myths and opinions on training deloads.
- How often?
- How to go about doing one?
- Do they actually work?
All valid questions with mixed answers of course. So let’s have a closer look at it all.
WHAT SYMPTOMS SHOULD WE BE LOOKING FOR?
- Workouts are no longer fun.
- Struggle to, or can’t finish a workout.
- Strength is plateaued or decreasing.
- Aching or painful joints.
- Sleep quality has gone down.
- You start to have a lack of focus.
Which then brings me to the question you want to know the answer to.
WHAT IS A DELOAD?
A deload is a purposeful training strategy that is used to reduce the amount of work we do in a week. Using less weight and/or doing less in a number of total sets.
The purpose of the deload week is to rest our joints, connective tissues, CNS (central nervous system), to give our body a break and enhance future progress and avoid injury. We get to do this on a rest day, but in certain circumstances, the joints will require more time than the muscle to fully regain recovery.
Not only is it an opportunity for you to fully recover these areas, but it’s also a way to fully restore testosterone and cortisol levels. So if you notice that you start developing some tendonitis along with major plateaus in your training progression, then this is simply your body’s way or telling you to take a timeout.
The main notion behind a deload comes from the law of supercompensation.
And no, that is not some sort or reject superhero. Let’s have a look below.
Put simply, you get stronger while you recover. This is why whether dieting for strength, muscle, or fat loss, there comes a point where you start making zero progress, or you start moving backward.
Training 6-7 times a week – sometimes twice a day – is not, and will never be a solution. It leaves no time for recovery.
This is where you are deliberately applying stress to the body through your working reps, sets, and overall workout. Creating muscle damage and fatigue.
This could be in a form of an active rest between sets, going for walks, or taking an entire day or week off. Whatever you choose to do, fully rest.
Think of this as a rebound effect. The body is primed and ready to take on higher training loads or increased performance.
This is where the problem lies. We love the first part and feel like the Stifmeister on the last part. But blatantly disregard the most important part. Yup, the recovery.
Now, the recovery phase can be a deload, but it doesn’t need to be. In fact, I’d avoid doing a full deload, ever.
In that case, this is where you might wonder what the hell happened to me. I told you, I got sloppy. These things happen.
HOW DO YOU DO A DELOAD WEEK?
First off, a deload does not need to be a full week. It’s just a standard term that is used. A deload can simply be for 2-3 days if that is all that is needed.
Here are a couple of standard options that you can apply:
- 50-70% of the weight you would normally use.
- 50-70% of total sets.
An example of this would be:
If you’re squatting for 4 sets of 8 @ 100kg, then instead perform 2-3 sets of 8 @ 60kg.
Although both of these methods work perfectly ok, I mentioned at the start that I tend to avoid these when programming for clients, and this is how.
I program in an introductory week. At the beginning of each training cycle, I keep the training volume and intensity lower at around 2-3 sets for each exercise. Especially the main exercises such as the bench press, heavy rows, deadlift, squats, pull/chin-ups. This is a perfect way for them to be introduced to new exercises, training methods, and rep schemes. Preventing a complete break and keeping the ongoing momentum.
An example of this would look like this:
- Week 1: Barbell Squat – 2 sets x 9 reps
- Week 2: Barbell Squat – 3 sets x 9 reps
- Week 3: Barbell Squat – 4 sets x 9 reps
- Week 4: Barbell Squat – 5 sets x 9 reps
While you are within a deload phase it’s beneficial to increase the amount of basic exercise such as walking, mobility work, foam rolling, stretching. This will increase the recovery further, especially if these are areas that you tend to neglect, which we often do.
Alternatively, if you are simply getting real tired of the gym then just take a break. Get outside. Run, train in the pack, hike, do star jumps down the street after a turbo espresso, or just do something fun to create the spark that you need or get going again. You can also use this time to realign your training goals and discover new ways to challenge yourself. Maybe you’re just in a repetitive cycle because it’s what you have been doing for so long or have closed off your interest for other training methods which you might actually enjoy.
Maybe you’re just in a repetitive cycle because it’s what you have been doing for so long or have closed off your interest for other training methods which you might actually enjoy. If you’re used to doing the 5/3/1 method or the couch to 10k, then you are likely to just stay there and think everything else is balls.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU DELOAD?
A standard rule of thumb is once every 12-24 weeks. I personally don’t like this, however. The reason being, if you are still feeling good and everything is moving in the right direction, then keep going, but be mindful. Imagine if you are still heading to the gym each day with your progression on point and then your coach or trainer tells you that it’s now time for a deload. You will be pissed. Especially if that then breaks your momentum.
You’re pulling in for a pit stop when the car is running perfectly fine.
There is no need for this. Which is why it’s only a basic rule of thumb, and one which you should ignore right this very moment.
Just follow the introductory method above.
DO YOU NEED TO DELOAD?
Ask yourself, are you an athlete? Most of us aren’t, so you could always follow an autoregulatory method and play it by ear if you’re not following a specific program.
Think of it like this:
How do you feel?
-Awesome: Keep it going. Aim to progress in your training and possibly create some new personal bests.
-Pretty Good: Keep going. Aim to keep on progressing in your training, but be aware that you might be pushing it.
-Meh, ok: Keep going. Avoid doing anything stupid. Focus on keeping your technique and form on point and avoid chasing wild numbers with the weight.
-Sucking Balls: Either keep going but lower the weight and just focus on using some energy. Or alternatively, do some short and light work while adding in some mobility and recovery work.
IS THERE A RIGHT OR WRONG?
No, but it’s also important to play it by ear (or body), and avoid being stubborn. The gym won’t go away and you are doing yourself no favours by powering though.
A deload doesn’t or isn’t a major game changer like it is shown to be, therefore doesn’t need to be placed on the list of importance.
If you’re prioritising recovery, intro weeks, time off for holidays/weekends away/general life stuff then you’re good.
But, it is beneficial for…
They will be on a very specific training program to target almost constant progression. To improve seamlessly requires just as specific times of rest and recovery. Deloads are a must.
When we start to get older, recovery becomes more and more a priority. For training and nutrition to progress, the aging person needs to protect their energy more so that they’re able to perform at their best each time they do a workout.
When older people do a workout, it’s recommended that each workout is of the range of doing the least amount of work for the most bang for your buck. 2 hours of bicep curls are sadly out.
2 hours of bicep curls are sadly, out.
-People with recurring injuries
If you’re picking up injuries in certain areas then either cut out exercises that flare it up or reduce the effort when you do so. Otherwise your body will simply accumulate more injuries over time due to wear and tear, and also other body parts overcompensating.
Take regular deloads to work around this. Rest: improve.
Symptoms for deloading – Look out for fatigue, aches and pains, lack of enjoyment, lack of progression, and poor sleep quality.
What is a deload? – A strategic period of time to allow the body to rest and recover. There is no set time for this. It can vary.
How do you deload? – You can set program it within every 8-12 weeks, taking time fully off or reduce the amount of training you do. Alternatively you can program an introductory week into each training cycle to allow working recovery.
Do you need to deload? – If you are an athlete, have recurring injuries, or are an older person. If not, then simply be aware of the triggers.
Need to deload from all these nuggets of knowledge? Feel free to check out my email newsletter below and get the stuff I don’t post on social media. It’s magical and will melt your face off.