Deload Weeks: Why You Should Be Doing Them if You're Not Already

The Definitive Guide to Planning Your Deload

Say you’ve stuck to your workout routine almost religiously, smashing those goals and watching your progress develop with each new week. But then, suddenly, your gains start to slow down. Your weights and rep numbers max out - no matter how much you prep and grease the wheels with supplements, pre-workout powders and recovery meals.

You’ve hit a plateau. What gives?

There might be a key player to success you’re missing out on: The Deload Week.

If you’ve never tried one, considered it, or even heard of 'em, it’s about time you start: Deload weeks can seriously transform your routine and up your gains if you execute them correctly.

Here's why you should be implementing Deload Weeks if you're not already doing so, plus our tips on planning your ultimate deload for max results:

What is Deloading?

It’s exactly what it sounds like: A strategic, significant decrease in workload for a period of time (usually a week) that's dedicated to resting and decompressing. Its purpose is to allow your body to recover and rebuild muscle so you'll bounce back stronger than before.

Don’t get us wrong - a deload week doesn't mean you should be laying in bed the whole time or lazing around excessively. You’ll still be keeping things moving, but just bringing it all down a gear (and perhaps sideways). Stay with us here…

Why Does Your Body Need to Deload Periodically?

During your training, you subject your body to a certain amount of physical stress - enough that you push your muscle fibers to tear, which results in them being rebuilt later with more bulk and strength. Despite this muscle tearing that occurs when you work out, you're still not going so hard in the moment that your muscles can't handle it and sustain an injury. This ideal balance of effort and muscle tearing is a big reason why it's crucial to keep track of your volume (like number of sets) and workload (the weight you lift). 

Over time, however, this repeated physical stress takes a cumulative toll on the body and works against our favor, eventually breaking down muscle fibers, which temporarily decreases our strength and endurance. 

This is when you’ll start to notice your body and mind feeling drained, and know you have entered the dreaded plateau in respect to your gains. Not ideal.

If you notice you're lagging, it's a good sign that you’re in need of a deload week. By giving yourself a rest and allowing your muscles to rehabilitate from the long-term stress, your body (and mind!) will thank you.

If this all sounds a bit too good to be true, take it from the scientists. In sports science theory, the phenomenon has been aptly coined:

Supercompensation - A rebounding of performance in a post-training period during which the trained function/parameter has a higher performance capacity than it did prior to the training period.

Essentially, mixing up your routing and taking it easy for a week will enable you to come back stronger and with more endurance than before.

So, How Do You Effectively Deload?

There are various theories on the best way to deload, regarding the frequency and methods by which you cut down the intensity of your workouts. Depending on your fitness goals, training level, age and preferences, you can tailor your deload week according to your individual needs and circumstances.

In terms of frequency, you can implement deload weeks at a rate of anywhere between once a month and once a year. A happy medium where the majority lies tends to maintain a cycle of somewhere between once every 6 to 16 weeks, with recreational and intermediate to advanced and competitive lifters falling under this category.

As for the method, you have a few different options regarding how you choose to lower your workload during your deload weeks:

3. Decreasing the Intensity

This refers to the actual workload, or weight, that you’re lifting. Maintaining the same number of reps and sets, you’ll reduce your workload to about 40-60% of your usual maximum.

2. Decreasing the Volume

This entails reducing the number of sets and reps of each movement while maintaining the same workload, or weights, that you’re lifting.

1. Switching Your Form

This method simply forgoes the weights altogether in favor of lower intensity bodyweight circuits and mobility focused workouts. This can stay in the gym with cardio and aerobic workouts, or venture outside with activities like swimming and hiking.

Ready to replenish your energy stores, supercharge your bounce-back and summon better muscle endurance? It’s high time for a deload week. Schedule one soon and see if you notice a difference when you get back in your regular workout saddle.

Maggie Johnson | MME Lifestyle Contributor

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