What is a deload? A deload is a planned recovery period (usually a week) in a training program. Hold on- did we just say A WHOLE WEEK?! When told the importance of recovery and rest days, many workout enthusiasts retort back, “I can’t even take a rest day much less a week; I’ll go crazy.” Working out becomes so routine that they don’t realize the break their body may need and the drastic difference it may make in day to day training and long term gains.
Drew, strength coach and owner of Home Gym Life, writes, “In reality, good training is a matter of manipulating stress and recovery in order to maximize training effects and bring us closer to our genetic potential. If it’s all gas, all the time you are setting yourself up to sickness, injury or burn out. None of these things are conducive to long-term gains.”
The good news for workout enthusiasts is that a deload can be, but does not have to be, a week of time completely out of the gym. A deload can be: training differently for a week (doing yoga and walking if you’re a weightlifter), scaling back in intensity and/or volume (say, doing 30-50% fewer sets, reps, or weight), or taking a week completely off from the gym. Any of these deload methods will be beneficial in allowing your body and mind time to recharge, build strength, and get ready for the next training cycle.
There are 2 main reasons for a deload:
Exercise of high intensity and volume for weeks/months on end places a tremendous amount of stress on the body. Building intentional deload weeks into your training can help reduce overuse injuries, CNS (central nervous system) fatigue, and overall muscle fatigue.
While deloads can be planned ahead in your training program, they can also be taken if you start to feel overly fatigued and think a mental break from the gym may serve you well. Deloads are a good psychological reset that allow you to break through mental burnout or plateaus in the gym and come back more motivated and excited to train.
There is a reason professional athletes take calculated time off in between seasons or after a big competition. It helps their bodies recover so they can avoid overuse injury and physical or mental plateau. Deloads keep athletes in the game and gives theme motivation and excitement for the season to follow.
When to deload?
Deloads are good:
After a competition
To peak for competition or a PR
Before “switching gears” or changing the focus of a training program
When going on vacation
Say what? You mean I can stay fit without going to a gym every day on vacation? Correct! Vacations can be the perfect opportunity to deload. In regards to deloading Legion Athletics writes, “if you’re traveling and will have limited or no access to weights, it’s often better to simply take a break and enjoy yourself than fret about finding time and places to train.”
Feeling burnt out and unmotivated to go to the gym? It may be good to take a week off and do something unrelated to your typical workouts. Are you an avid Crossfitter? Take a deload week and go hike, swim, or do yoga. You will likely miss Crossfit and come back feeling recharged and ready to attack your training again. And if you don't feel recharged after a week off? Maybe it’s time to switch gears completely in terms of training. Just because you have trained one way, style, or sport for years does not mean you have to do it the rest of your life.
Will a deload make me lose my strength?
Many people avoid deloads for fear of losing strength, muscle mass, speed, or whatever other variable they have been training for. However, it’s important to note that adaptations to training stimuli actually happen during the recovery period, not the training sessions themselves.
Studies have shown that, “research subjects that train and then take either a full week off training or a week at reduced volume/intensity come back stronger than they were before.”
Okay so it is evident that taking a deload is beneficial in terms of strength gains, breaking through plateaus, injury prevention, and motivation. But how should you structure your deload? What should my training look like leading up to a deload or starting back after a deload? Here at Prime, we are physical therapists that believe you should recover just as hard as you train. Our PTs have extensive knowledge and experience in the field of exercise programming, as well as a plethora of recovery modalities to help complement your training program. Email firstname.lastname@example.org today to discuss your goals and see if a deload may be beneficial for you!