Deloading is a common aspect in many training routines. During a deload training is reduced in frequency, intensity, volume, or a combination of these dimensions. A deload will most often last a week.
There are a few reasons for a deload period. The most common reasons are:
- Avoid a plateau in performance: The concept of a deload is based on the principle of supercompensation. Simply put, the body is always trying to adapt. So after a certain amount of time/stress put on the body, it will begin to adapt and gains in strength or performance will plateau.
- Avoid aggravating recurring injuries: If you have a past injury a deload week may be necessary to avoid another injury. A deload week is much better than months lost to injury
- Physical and/or mental recovery: Physical recovery is an obvious reason for a deload. Recovery from fatigue is vital to improving strength, performance, and hypertrophy. Mental recovery is often overlooked. Pushing your body daily or even several times a week is draining on mental resources. Without proper recovery, those resources will deplete. A routine for improving strength will tax the nervous system even more so, so a deload week will help to maintain steady progress with these types of routines.
For the most part, routines will have a deload week built in around the fourth or fifth week. Depending on your goal or the purpose of the routine (hypertrophy, strength, etc.) when the deload is scheduled may be different. However as a main reason for deload is to avoid injury and avoid plateaus, if you feel that you need to deload at week 3 so be it. And if you’re at week 5 and feel great, don’t feel you have to deload simply because the routine says so. Trust your body.
The way you deload matters on preference, goals, and how much you feel you need to deload. The different dimensions that can be manipulated during a deload are:
- Frequency: Simple. If you normally exercise 5 days a week, reduce the number to 2-3 sessions a week.
- Volume: Use the same weight and number of reps, but reduce the number of sets performed by about 60%.
- Intensity: Using the same set/rep scheme, but with weight reduced by 40%-60%.
- Exercise selection/modality: If you’re a hardcore weightlifter, try a week of cardio (running, swimming, biking, etc.) or vice versa. Body weight circuits is another good alternative to your usual lifting routine. Even exercise selection is a good way to deload. If compound exercises are your thing, try a week of machines, make a circuit out of it.
Another effective and fun way to deload is to try a whole different method of activity. For example, I discovered hot yoga during a scheduled deload last year, and have been going to yoga ever since. Get out of your comfort zone. Challenge yourself to try something new, you’ll be better for it. And when you do get back to your routine, you’ll appreciate it that much more and maybe have a new passion as well.