Mindy Irish; NASM CPT; BS Physical Education
I’m a go-go type of person. I love to set a plan and rock the consistency. But that has a downside as well. Going too hard and too much can turn around and bite you, and it can happen to ALL of us. Those that lift regularly week in and week out are putting their bodies and central nervous system under a lot of stress. So from time to time it’s wise and beneficial to deload. I’ve outlined some key points below to know when you need and should give your body a rest.
What is a deload? Mensfitness.com defines a deload as: “A period of time in which you take things easier in the gym by lifting lighter weights or reducing your training volume.”
Why deload? The body needs stress to change, but too much stress can stall your progress or send you backwards with injury. A productive deload depends on many factors and how you’re training. It is basically an active recovery period and generally speaking it is good to keep doing the routine you’re already doing, but drop back the intensity and/or the volume from your usual routine.
Symptoms of when to deload: If you tend to push hard, you’ll also want to spend time listening to your body. Then you can know if you’re ready for a deload based off of when you feel you’re overreaching, you have increased aches or pains, and/or your motivation goes down.
How often to deload: There is no hard and fast rule that applies to everyone. It’s a case by case basis and is trial and error for each person. If you are consistently training hard, you’ll want to factor some type of a deload in at least one time very 12 weeks. Some people like to plan for one at the six to eight-week mark for those that train at a high intensity (4-7 days a week). For others, every fourth week is optimal. If you feel you don’t need one at those points, push it back more and let your body tell you what it needs for reset periods.
How long to deload: Some trainers in the industry suggest as little as one week and even up to four weeks. To me four weeks seems extensive, but ultimately it comes down to listening to your body and taking it day by day to determine when you’re fully ready to go full throttle again at the gym. Additionally, what you do one season is going to be different in another season of your training based off of life stressors, job demands, sleep, diet and the training regimen you’re on. So ongoing attention to where you are at that point is key.
Who should deload: Everyone who is lifting and specifically those who consistently train three or more days a week. Our bodies were built to recover!
How to deload: There are several ways you can reset your system.
Strategy 1: Take time off from the gym for several days or a week at a time. Me personally, I would not be able to
do this. I love my gym time and would need to keep going, maybe even coming in for a shorter cardio workout or stretching session at my usual training timeframe. However, a vacation, business travel, or holiday breaks might be good times to factor a deload into your training, times when you’ll be off your usual routine anyways.
Strategy 2: Cut the volume down to 70-80% of your usual amount, keeping the intensity the same. So if you’re usually deadlifting 100 pounds for 3 sets of 12, for example, then you would cut volume back to 3×8-9 reps, loading the same amount on the bar. This can still be pretty taxing on the system since you’re pulling the same weight.
Strategy 3: Keep volume high, so your reps and sets stay the same, but you can back off intensity alone to roughly 70%. This tends to be more for those who are bodybuilders and are lifting in that 12-15 rep range for sets of 2 to 4. This strategy helps to reduce stress on the central nervous system and allows the body some repair while still being active. With lighter load on the bar, this is a great time to evaluate form and focus on that mind-muscle connection, too.
Either of the last tow strategies gives you a light pump workout versus taking a full week off like in Strategy 1. For me, I like a combo of the last two put together on an exercise-by-exercise basis. For upper body, I’ll tend to back off on volume and maintain intensity. For lower body, I’ll tend to back off on intensity and volume since many of these lifts are compound movements that are spinal loaded and affect multiple body parts. A combination of these strategies works for me because I’m still going to the gym and getting activity, but I’m basically choosing to proactively cut it back.
What is the outcome of a deload? Rest, increased energy; recovered strength, improved motivation, and often times a positive physical response with regards to body fat levels and muscle growth. Sounds like what many of us are looking for!
Overall, the most important aspect is not to live by hard set rules, but rather to listen to your body, and ultimately as I always say, “Become a student of you!” Even if you have a Coach who is guiding you, you know your body best. It is up to you to communicate to him/her what you’re feeling with regards to your strength and energy and discuss if a reset is necessary at a certain point in your training.
For me, the hardest part of the deload is the mental aspect. I don’t like feeling tired and run down, but due to my personality, I tend to push myself through it when I probably should be slowing down to recover. If you’re like me, being ok with rest is the hardest part!
Initially, for one who loves to train year round, a deload seemed like a cop out, but I’m learning it truly IS critical for long-term progress to salvage my joints, enabling me to avoid injury and lift for many years to come. Rest and reset IS part of the plan!
I’m currently in a deload at this point in my training, and I’m getting better and better every day at learning to cut it back when my body needs me to do so. Progress not perfection. Happy deloading!
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New York Muscle Radio Podcast Episode 45