Updated: Feb 28, 2019
You have been lifting heavy for a while, you have been killing yourself in the gym and giving it everything you’ve got on every session, but it seems like something is wrong lately. You can’t lift as heavy as a couple of weeks ago, you feel very tired, it takes you longer to recover… overall, you just feel like beaten up. Sounds familiar? If that is your case, these are some good indicators that you need to do a deload.
Deload weeks are something that we all should do every X time (which will be different on every person) in order to not only let our body and CNS (central nervous system) recover properly form all the hard work we put it through, but also to optimize performance and progress and avoid plateaus.
WHAT IS A DELOAD?
As always, in order to understand something we need to first know what it is. A deload, simply put, is a short period of recovery (usually a week). It is a period of time when you let your body recover and relax. As I’ve just said, after a few weeks of intense training you probably feel exhausted. That’s because when you train, both your muscles and CNS “suffer”, so when you feel like beaten up is because they both need to take a break to keep up with you.
That’s when deloads come into place. The idea behind them is to take things easy: train with lighter weights, workout a little less and overall, to considerably reduce the intensity of your workouts during that week. Now this is not an excuse to just stay at home and do nothing. You have to go train, but you have to go easy.
HOW TO DO A DELOAD
There are different approaches on how to do deload weeks. Here are the most common ones:
1.- REDUCE THE WEIGHT.
You keep your volume the same in terms of reps and sets but you reduce the weights you train with (you go 40-60% of your 1 RM). This is what I do. I still go to the gym, but I lift half the weight I usually lift.
Let’s say your program tells you to start leg day with squats, doing 5 sets of 5 with 300 lbs. On a regular deload, you still do 5 sets of 5, but you use 150 lbs.
2.- REDUCE VOLUME
You keep the weights basically the same, but you reduce the amount of sets and reps you do. This approach may work better for competitive athletes near a competition whose performance suffer when they don’t handle heavy loads during deloads.
On a volume deload, and keeping with the squats example, you would still lift the 300 lbs your program tells you to lift, BUT instead of going for 5 reps, you go for singles or doubles. Or you can go for 5 reps but instead of doing 5 sets, you do 1 or 2 sets.
3.- DELOAD OF A SPECIFIC MOVEMENT
Let’s say you are on top of your training. You are hitting PRs almost every week, everything is progressing smoothly… except for your deadlift (for example). It is not progressing, and you’ve hit a plateau. Instead of taking an actual deload week for everything, you could take it easy just on your deadlifts for a week, while keeping the rest of your training untouched.
Just take a deload on the specific lift you are having problems with. Go easy on the weight, focus on improving form and technique and let your body recover from that lift.
This type of deload is most likely to be needed with the big compounds, since they are very demanding for your CNS and can really fatigue you.
WHEN SHOULD YOU DO A DELOAD WEEK?
If you have a coach and you are following a program, just deload when it tells you to. But if you are training yourself, you need to listen to your body. There are a few things you need to take into consideration:
Muscle soreness: your diet is on point, you are getting plenty of sleep every day and you have 1 or 2 rest days a week but still, your muscles are completely sore, and they have been sore for a while. They are asking for a deload.
Plateaus: if instead of lifting heavier every time, you are stuck with the same weight, or even getting weaker, it is because your CNS can’t take it anymore and it is time for a deload.
Sore joints: it is no secret that your joints suffer when you train. They are put under a lot of stress. If you are constantly in pain in any of your joints (whether it is the shoulder, elbows, knees, whatever) it is a good indicator that you need to back off a bit. Also, this is one of the reasons why you should never end up your deload too soon. Just because you feel good “muscularly” it doesn’t mean that you are fully recovered. Especially when it comes to tendons, joints, ligaments. They tend to need more time to recover so, if you are doing a deload week, do a whole deload week, not just a 3-day deload.
Emotional fatigue: a lot of people tend to ignore this, and yet it is one of the most important indicators that you need a deload. If you are constantly fatigued and tired, everything feels heavy and you feel exhausted, that is a good sign that a deload is very needed. On the contrary, just because your squats sucked yesterday doesn’t mean you need a deload. This feeling of exhaustion has to be permanent. To give you an idea, the week before my deload everything feels heavy. Weights that I usually can lift without problem feel heavy, I feel tired all the time and I don’t even feel like training. That’s the type of emotional fatigue I am talking about.
Those factors are the main things you need to take into consideration when deciding when to take a deload week. Now, there are a few trends when it comes to how often do them. I would say the most common one is every 6 – 8 weeks. I am in this group. It is because most people do it this way? Nope. It is because I’ve found that my body can only work at its best for 6 -8 weeks before it tells me to chill out and stop. But you don’t need to do them this often if you don’t need it. Some people do them more frequently, some others do 3 or 4 deload weeks a year. You need to listen to your body and really understand what it is telling you.
I know they might be boring, I know most of us do not want to do deloads, but if you are a committed athlete, you know you need them and you are going to do them. No complains, no avoiding them. You take them when you have too. Period.
That’s it for today’s post!! If you have any doubt, question, suggestion or constructive critic, please do not hesitate to let it in the comments section or use my social media.
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See you in the next one! :)