Deloading Is Not Dead Or Overrated….. Just Misunderstood
Since the new fitness fads have finally settled down a bit, I want to discuss with all of you something that has been bothering me. The issue of deloading.
Deloading is one of the most vital components of any training program. With a proper deload, your workouts will suffer and your results will hit a plateau. Therefore, it is essential to learn how to deload properly if you want to become the best lifter/athlete that you can be.
Recently I came across an article online that was telling people that deloading was a complete waste of time. I have also been hearing the same thing on plenty of youtube channels.
Is deloading a waste of time? Absolutely NOT!
Let’s get something straight first. You do not get bigger or stronger while you are in the gym, or on the field. You become better while you are resting.
What Is Deloading?
Deloading is the process of giving your body an active rest from training. In my guide to strength training article I talked briefly about deloading. I also mentioned it in my Russian strength training program article.
But…….. I never actually said what it was!
When you are lifting those heavy poundages over and over again your body is being placed under stress.
In my advanced strength training article I described how stress is nothing more than a stimulus. And the point of a stimulus is to stimulate an adaptation.
Hence, you get bigger and stronger. Well, there is only so much stress that your body can handle at any given time. This is determined by your experience level.
If you exceed your limit, then you become overtrained and have to cease training until you are properly rested.
This may not sound too bad but if you are an athlete, this can potentially end your career. If you are a weekend warrior/hobbyist, it can put you in the hospital and seriously affect your life outside the gym.
Is Deloading Necessary?
Now don’t panic. Although the effects of overtraining may be very frightening, not everybody has to worry about deloading.
Here are the people who shouldn’t have to worry too much about deloading:
- Casual Exerciser
- Social Exerciser
- Mild Hobbyist
- Amateur Novice Lifter
- “Pretty Boys”
- “Cardio Divas”
- After Work Stress Relievers
These folks shouldn’t have to worry too much about deloading. Casual and social exercisers don’t take their training too seriously and are usually just working out to kill boredom.
The mild hobbyist is just a dabbler. As soon as training gets too difficult, they will move onto something else. The novice lifter doesn’t need to train as much as intermediates and advanced athletes, so they should be good.
The pretty boys and divas are just there to maintain their “looks”. They won’t push themselves anymore than they need to. The after work crowd is using exercise to take their minds off of work. So for them it actually does relieve stress.
If you fall into any of these categories, then you should be able to get away with exercising 5-7 days per week without too much concern.
Who Needs To Deload The Most?
The individuals who need to deload the most are those individuals who take their training the most seriously.
- Professional Athletes
- Division 1 Athletes
- Serious Hobbyist/Advanced Lifters
- Nationally Ranked Lifters
- Semi-Pro Athletes
- Hardcore Gym Rats
No explanation necessary for any of these, you all know who you are. The point is that any of the individuals on this list above are the ones who are going to place their bodies under the most stress.
For these folks, not only will a deload help them recover, but it will actually speed up the recovery. Deloading serves as restoration work because it helps circulate blood and nutrients to the tissues without causing any further stress.
The biggest form of stress will come to the central nervous system for the heaviest of lifters. Endurance athletes will experience more of a muscular fatigue that can be either global (whole body) and/or local (one muscle group/region).
A lot of these individuals have goals to make so they are more than willing to push themselves if necessary.
Types Of Deloading
If you do need to deload, then you should know about the different types of deloads and how to use them.
Deloading is just another tool in your fitness belt. When timed right it can really lead you to some huge gains.
Don’t waste your time following somebody else’s plan, decide what works best for you in your current situation.
The intensity deload is probably the most popular deload out there. For this type of deload, all you need to do is lower the intensity of your current workout routine.
By how much?
The general rule of thumb is around 60-70% of your current training weight AND 60-70% of the total volume of your workout.
If you were normally performing 3 sets of 10 reps on the bench press for 235 lbs.
A 70% deload would look like this.
235 lbs X 0.7 = 165 lbs
3 sets X 0.7 = 2 sets
10 reps X 0.7 = 7 reps
You would repeat this for ALL of the exercises in your program during a deloading week.
A volume deload is when you keep doing the same exercises with heavy weight, but you dramatically cut down the sets and reps.
An example would be doing squats for 3 sets of 3 reps instead of 5 sets of 5 reps. This might not sound like a lot but the first set has only 9 total reps while the latter has 25 total reps. That’s a HUGE difference!
If the weight on the bar was 315 lbs, then for 9 total reps the volume would be 2,835 total pounds. Compare this to 7,875 pounds for 25 reps. That’s about 75% more total volume for the workout.
A volume deload is best used by those athletes who require speed-strength. By keeping the weight heavier and performing less reps, you can really refine your technique for competitions.
This works especially well with the old Soviet block periodization prior to competition.
This is a great way to deload after a serious competition. After competitions, you body needs both a huge physical break and a mental break.
But you don’t want to detrain, so what do you do? You switch up all of the exercises. This gives you a break and helps to maintain your progress.
Depending on how overworked you are, you may need to do exercises with no weight at all to really speed up the recovery.
**Note** How does a deload speed up recovery? A deload will help you recover faster from a workout because it will help your blood circulate to the tissues that need nutrients to recover. Normally at rest, our bodies don’t circulate blood that much to our muscles. In fact, around 80% of our bodies blood supply is with our vital organs (makes sense). However, during exercise, this ratio dramatically reverses. During exercise you can have as much as 70-90% of your bodies blood supply redirected to the muscles. Talk about a big boost in your recovery!
An exercise deload is great for heavy lifters who don’t enjoy taking breaks from training (that includes me).
It is very simple to implement. Instead of performing your typical workout, you perform the same workout just without the main lift.
So all of the assistance work is still there, but there is no main lift. If you feel the need, you can lower the volume of the assistance work, but depending on the circumstances it might not be necessary.
This is normally not used as a physical deload for recovery. This deload is mainly used as mental deload.
Let’s face it, sometimes life becomes too stressful and we need a break. If you keep running yourself down, you will assuredly burn yourself out.
If you feel overworked or overstressed, then take a week off and give yourself a break. The assistance work will help you maintain your strength and fitness.
How To Design A Deloading Workout
You now know about the different types of deloading. The question is, “What does a deloading week look like Anthony?”
Although most of the deloading examples we went over earlier are pretty self explanatory, it still helps to see an example.
So this is what a typical deloading week would look like for somebody who needs both a mental and physical break from training.
Example Deloading Week
The first table represents the lifters weights on the last week of a 3 week strength cycle. The following chart represents the weights on the week of a deload.
Before Deload (Week 3)
Deload Week (Week 4)
We used a 70% volume and intensity deload for this example. This would give you a serious break from training.
Thus allowing you to make a big recovery for you next strength training cycle.
When To Schedule A Deloading Week
So when do you schedule a deloading week?
In the example above, I placed the deloading week on the 4th week of the training cycle. This is usually the most popular AND practical method for most people who need to deload.
But again this is all relative to your experience level and your mindset.
An intermediate lifter can get away with deloading after every 7-8 weeks. Advanced lifters may deload the same way as intermediates or they can just do an exercise deload.
Serious athletes will do a volume deload in the weeks before a competition so their bodies are ready for optimal performance.
After a competition, the same athlete may do a variety deload for several weeks to give their bodies and minds a rest from the rigors of a stressful competition.
The point is a deload is all relative to YOU and your goals.
There is no “right” way to deload that is right for everybody. There is only the way that is right for YOU!
Learning to push yourself is a valuable skill that will serve you well in today’s extremely competitive world.
But equally important is knowing when you need to rest. Your body is a biological machine. All machines eventually will break if placed under too much stress.
By learning to take a break, you allow your body to heal and fix itself.
We don’t get stronger in the gym, lifting weights just provides the stimulus. We actually get stronger during rest.
You now know everything you need to start maximizing the effects of deloading.
If you are not sure where to start, then try 3 weeks of lifting and deload on the 4th week.
Think 7 weeks on and one week off will suit you better? Then do that instead.
It is all up to you and what will suit your needs. But reading more about it won’t help you very much. The only thing left to do is to get out there and make it happen.