Have you been pushing your body to its absolute limits for a while? Are you suffering from random aches all over? While this might sound like an infomercial, you need a deload.
It seems a bit counterproductive to work out less to get bigger and stronger.
So, what's this deload thing I'm talking about, and why should you take a rest from training?
What Is a Deload?
A deload is pretty much just a short period of planned recovery, usually lasting a week. We will decrease our training load during this period to give our bodies some time to recover and get stronger.
Gym bros might think this is a waste of time; why should they cut back training for a whole week? Killing yourself in the gym every day is far from the most effective way to get gains.
The Theory Behind It
Your body doesn’t grow while you're working out; it actually adapts only when you let it rest.
Every human being has this thing called the autonomic nervous system. It is a control system that mostly unconsciously regulates our heart rate, digestion, respiration, etc. Suppose you paid some attention to biology in school. In that case, you'd know that our autonomic nervous system controls the fight-or-flight response system.
Our fight-or-flight response is also called the sympathetic system. It gets turned on during every stressful situation we face, including training in the gym. The sympathetic system upregulates our breathing, and heart rate slows down digestion, and pumps blood to our muscles, among other things.
Without it, we’d be dead as a species a long time ago.
In contrast to the fight-or-flight response, we also have something called the rest-and-digest response, also known as the parasympathetic system.
When this system is active, it allows our bodies to recover and adapt to the stimuli we experience.
The concept of deloading is starting to make a bit of sense, right? If we're always in a fight-or-flight mode, our body won’t adapt to the stress we put it through. Instead, it will buckle.
This is the same reason why we don’t go to the gym fifty times a week; we’d be as good as dead by Wednesday.
If we work out too hard for too long, our physical abilities will go down without a doubt.
How Should I Deload?
First of all, not everyone needs a deload at the same time.
Casual gym-goers probably don't need one at all. The amount of workload you need to accumulate to require a deload depends on your training experience. If you're in a caloric deficit, you may need to do a deload a bit more frequently than what the guidelines suggest.
A deload usually lasts one week, although professional athletes might incorporate a two-week deload when tapering for a competition.
· Professional athletes deload every 3 to 4 weeks, usually every 4. That is because they can have up to 15 training sessions per week.
· Advanced lifters, or people lifting for more than 4 years, should deload after every 4 to 6 weeks of intense training.
· Intermediate lifters, people lifting anywhere from 2 to 4 years, could use a deload after 6 to 8 weeks of intense training.
· Newbie lifters, lifting for less than 2 to 4 years can deload after every 8 to 12 weeks of intense training.
You can also deload if you're feeling your joints getting sore, you're getting weaker on your lifts, or even during the times you might be negatively affected by other stressors in your life.
There are many ways of doing a deload, but a few of them proved to be the most effective in my experience.
1. The deload protocol that professional athletes use goes something like this:
- Cutting the intensity back by 10% or staying at the same percentage of 1RM.
- Cutting back the volume by 50-60%. Volume is the product of reps and sets being done.
- Increase the rest times in between your sets by 33%.
2. If you don’t want the use the protocol above for some reason, you can also use one of the following methods:
- Reduce the intensity you're using for every exercise, but keep the number of reps the same. Use anywhere from 40 to 60% of your 1RM. You can also reduce the percentage by one-half. For example, if you did your bench press with 80% of 1RM, do the same number of reps with 40% of 1RM.
- Keep the intensity the same, but halve the number of reps you do. So, for example, if you're doing 10 reps with 70% of 1RM, do just 5 reps with the same 1RM percentage.
Deloading is an excellent method of making sure you're staying strong and healthy during your weightlifting journey. If you aren't going really hard in the gym, you probably don't need a deload at all. Vacations, family holidays, and such are also a deload in a way, and that can be enough for some people.