How, When and Why to Deload for Weight Training.

Deloads, possibly one of the most neglected aspect of weight training, yet a very simple concept when applied will help you to continually progress towards your training goals. When put like that it almost sounds like a magic pill right? A simple method that allows you to train hard consistently, so why isn’t everyone doing it? Well, the reality is taking a rest day is often a push, so taking a full week off… you have got to be kidding me. BUT..

In my opinion the periods that we don’t train, rest days, deloads, scheduled time off, essentially all recovery periods are just as important as the training aspects. To some deloads may seem like a waste of time, just a period to be lazy, well let me explain why deloads may be the missing ingredient to your training.

What is a deload?

Put simply, a deload is a short period of recovery time, usually around 7-14 days. Rather than taking actual time off from training, you continue to train, however you reduce the ‘load’, load not just meaning weight, hence the name de-load. Essentially you still train, but you make your workouts easier through single or multiple methods.

There are many different protocols you can apply in order to effectively deload, and if done properly, all will achieve the desired effect, a reduction in fatigue and increase in recovery. The most common ways of deloading are to either reduce your training volume, intensity or both. All of which will be broken down further later on, but firstly, when/why do you deload?

Why do we deload?

Now that we have established what a deload is, we need to know why, what’s the purpose of a deload. Week to week we accumulate fatigue, so in order to reduce this and recover we take rest days, however, as time goes on and we get deeper into our program, days off don’t quite cut it. This is known as overreaching, a point at which your increases in fatigue are greater than your increases in fitness and performance begins to decrease.

Fitness-Fatigue Model (overtraining)
Eric Helms Andy Morgan, and Andrea Valdez
The Muscle and Strength Pyramid Training

A deload provides us with an opportunity to drop that fatigue, a period of time to repair, allowing your performance to rise again and if done correctly you will feel refreshed and ready to progress to new levels.

Think of it like this, in day to day life we work hard in our jobs and weekends give us that opportunity to relax, de-stress and get ready for the week ahead. However, sometimes weekends just aren’t enough, and you need a holiday to fully recover, a week or two to re-charge the battery’s and hit the ground running when you get back.

When to deload?

So we know what a deload is, we know why we do it, but when should we do it? Many programs will have a deload scheduled at a set point in the program, for example train for 6-8 weeks and week 9 is a deload. For me this has its disadvantages and advantages.

It’s great because it forces individuals to deload regularly as most will just continue to train at a high intensity until they burnout, if that’s you, don’t worry, I have been there too. However, on the other hand an individual might be scheduled a deload in week 6 but they are still fine to train at the intensity they are currently training at and don’t really have an accumulation of fatigue yet.

While deloading early may not necessarily be a bad thing, (we would much rather that then it be too late) it may cause an individual to pause their progression right when they are performing perfectly.

For that very reason I feel the best method is to go by feel and look out for a few symptoms. If I’m feeling great, sessions are progressing well then I will continue to push on. However, if I am feeling physically and mentally fatigued, each session I need more and more motivation to train, you’re constantly sore, your sleep is getting worse, those are red flags to deload.

Typically that’s how I would approach a deload. However each person is different, and you need to be smart enough to know when to actually deload. If you are the kind of person that doesn’t know when to stop, then programming a deload might be the best approach for you.

How to deload?

As explained earlier you can deload via a reduction in volume, intensity or both. So let me break it down for you.

When deloading via volume your main goal is to continue using the same amount of weight you was previously using whilst reducing the total number of sets and/or reps you complete, typically a reduction of 70-50%. For example if your workout has a total of 24 sets, you do 12-16 sets total. If an exercise has 4 sets, you do 2-3. If you normally do 12 reps, just do 6-8.

When deloading via intensity, you maintain the total volume being done however the weight lifted on each exercise is reduced to about 60-75% of what you would typically lift. For example say you bench 100KG for 8 reps, now you bench 60-75kg for 8 reps. It’s that simple.

Deloading via both volume and intensity is applying both of the above principles together. For example if you normally bench 100KG for 3 sets of 8, now you bench 60-75KG for 2 sets of 6/8.

So which is best? To be honest, it’s entirely dependent on the individual, yup, that classic response of it ‘it depends’. Try all three methods out and see which one works for you, pay attention to whether you are fully recovered after the deload and figure out which is the most ideal for you.

For me, I prefer the combination of reduced volume and intensity. I go into a deload with the mentality that it’s a holiday for my body, and thus I want to reduce all stressors. It’s boring, but afterwards you will be thankful for it.

Now what?

If you need a little more clarification on anything that has been discussed or just have a question make sure to follow me on Instagram @andyhillocks and drop me a DM.

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