“No pain no gain” is an age-old mantra that many coaches and athletes in the resistance training world live by. However, in reality, this isn’t always the case, and athletes need some time to deload and recover and gain more energy.
So, What is Deloading? Deloading refers to the process of decreasing the intensity, frequency, and volume of training for a prescribed period. During a deload, one takes a lighter approach to training, works out a little, and eases up on their weightlifting routine.
Deloading is an essential step in promoting strength in weightlifting. The downtime and low-intensity training supports muscle recovery, calms the mind, and prepares you for the next intense phase of training. Any weightlifter who wishes to realize the great strength and endurance must embrace deloads as part of their training program.
In this post, you will gain valuable information about deloading, why you need it, and how you can leverage it to become a stronger athlete.
What does Deloading Entail?
We have seen that deloading is a form of downtime that allows the muscles to recover and gives you more strength to tackle your training. But what exactly does it entail?
The idea of deloading is that you continue to strength train and lift weights, but not as intensely as you do on a typical workout week. You can achieve this by doing the following:
• Reduce training intensity. If you have been lifting weights weighing 200lbs, you may reduce this weight to around 100lbs or less.
• Reducing training frequency. For example, if you go to the gym five times a week to lift weights and carry out strength training, you cut down the workouts to around two or three days a week.
• Reducing the training volume. Training volume refers to the number of workouts and reps. During a deload, you reduce the volume by doing fewer workouts and reducing reps.
As you can see, deloading is not about entirely leaving the gym. Instead, it involves decreasing your workout intensity, frequency, and volume to reduce exertion on the body and allow it to relax, heal, and grow.
Is Deloading Necessary?
When you have specific targets to hit in your weightlifting program, it may be hard to appreciate downtime. You may wonder whether deloading is necessary and if it is possible to achieve your strength training goals without taking unnecessary time off your program.
Well, some people do perform weightlifting without necessarily having deload weeks. However, as a result, they take a more extended period to achieve their weight lifting goals as compared to athletes who take time off to relax the body and mind.
Deloading pays a pivotal role in every weightlifting program. That’s because it helps in the following ways:
• Promotes muscle recovery after an intense period of strength training and weightlifting
• Gives the mind time to relax and wind down after intensive training
• Improves muscle strength during healing
• Enables you to refocus on your weightlifting goals and set new targets for the future.
Never look at deloads as a form of time wastage. Continuous training with no relaxation slows down muscle recovery, and this means that your muscles don’t grow as expected. What’s more, it also increases the risk of injury due to muscle and overall body soreness and fatigue.
How to Deload
Deloading doesn’t mean that you ditch the gym and chill at home. As aforementioned, it involves decreasing your training volume, intensity, ad frequency to reduce the fatigue that has been accumulated in the body over the last training phase.
Many people opt for different deloading strategies. You can choose one that works for you and stick to it. For example, one person will reduce intensity by 60% while another will opt for a small drop, say 20%.
Another individual will choose to reduce the intensity and volume but still go to the gym the same number of times they do before. Again, another individual will reduce their gym days, maintain the volume, but reduce the intensity.
The question of how to deload will depend on your preferences. Choose the strategy that works for you, but ensure that you don’t desert the weights entirely as this will cause a lag in your training program.
Since deloads come in between training phases, you can experiment with various strategies until you find one that you feel comfortable with and which generates the most favorable results.
Benefits of Deloading
What are the benefits of deloading? Many experienced weightlifters and strength trainers swear by deloading as one of the tactics that helped them build muscle strength. Below are some of the benefits that you will derive from this tactic.
• You stay active while allowing you time to recover. Deloading does not require you to forsake workout entirely. You can still do low-intensity training and remain on track with your weightlifting goals.
• Deloading gives your central nervous system, immune system, muscles, and joints adequate time to recuperate from the last training phase. Healing is essential to preventing overtraining which would ultimately lead to physical fatigue.
• Deloading has psychological benefits as it helps the mind to relax after intense exertion during a training phase. Relaxation is paramount to achieving the mental energy required to proceed with training successfully.
• Fixing deloads in between your training can improve your muscle-building potential over the long-term and help you achieve your weightlifting goals.
• During a deload, you can evaluate your weightlifting and strength training goals, identify areas that you are falling short, and reorganize your training to curb these issues and maximize your training abilities.
Who Should Deload?
Who are deloads meant for? Are they for beginner weightlifters or the pros as well?
Deloading is for everyone, whether you are an expert or you are just starting. However, for experienced strength trainers, you may want to squeeze more deloads in between your workouts. That’s because your muscles are undergoing intense workouts as you lift heavy weights.
More deloads allow the muscles more time to heal, grow, and become stronger. Also, they reduce the risk of injury or soreness that comes from overloading your muscles in training.
Beginner weightlifters will also benefit significantly from deloads. That’s because their muscles have great potential to grow bigger and stronger than they are. However, since beginners usually start with lighter weights and less intense workouts, they can go for long periods without requiring a deload.
However, you should always be on the lookout for telltale signs which indicate that it is time to slow down on the training and allow your body time to recover.
Signs that You Should Deload
Not every individual is keen to incorporate deloads into their training program. If you are one such, it is essential to look out for signs that your body requires some downtime. Some people may also find that they require deloads more regularly than they thought. In light of this, here are the top indicators that you need a deload in between your workout program:
1. Reduced strength
If you notice that your strength is going down and you are not able to hit your goals as you did before, it may be time to deload. For example, you may notice that you tire easily before hitting the set number of reps or you are unable to lift heavy barbells as you did before. It may be time to give your muscles time to recuperate.
2. Muscle injury and aches
When you start to feel soreness, aches, and pains in your muscles, it means that you are not giving the body enough time to heal. Deloading promotes recovery, heals muscle pains, reduces the risk of injury, and accelerates muscle growth.
3. Low energy and motivation
Weightlifting and strength training should be things that you enjoy doing. You should look forward to your time at the gym. When you notice that you suddenly lack the motivation and energy to go to the gym or even accomplish a workout, it means that you are suffering from mental fatigue. Deloading can relive the tiredness and give you energy and motivation to resume the training.
Besides these signs, there are times where deloads become necessary in your strength training program. These include the following:
• Age: Older individuals take longer to heal their muscles, and this means that they may require more deloads than weightlifters that are in their 20s or 30s.
• Calorie intake: People who are watching their calorie intake or using exercise as an avenue to lose weight may require more deloads than those who are bulking up on calories.
• Lifestyle issues: Stress and a lot of exertion in your daily life can exhaust you mentally and require you to take more deloads than an individual who has less family or career pressure.
• Competition: If you are about to go for weightlifting competition, your body may benefit from a few deloads in between your workouts to promote muscle recovery and growth. Also, after a contest, you may want to slow down on the training and allow the muscles time to recuperate from the intense lifting.
How Often Should You Deload?
Deloads usually last around a week; therefore, it is easy for you to fix them into your training program. Most people have set times for deloads in their long-term training strategy. A practical and useful technique would be to have one deload every month. This plan means that you should dedicate one week every month to slow down on the exercises.
However, note that the issues discussed in the previous section will also affect the frequency of deloads. For example, an older trainee who’s around 40 years may have to adhere to one deload every two months while a 30-year-old may get away with one deload every three or four months.
The secret lies in ensuring that you don’t wait too long for your body to start showing signs of exertion and fatigue. If possible, have a fixed schedule for your deloads and mark the dates on your training calendar.
What to Do During Deload Week
Besides reducing the volume, intensity, and frequency of your workouts, there are other things that you can do during the deload week to speed up muscle recovery and promote overall wellness and calmness. These include the following:
• Spend some time rolling out and stretching muscles to reduce soreness and tightness
• Get sports massages to speed recovery, provide relief from tension, and promote relaxation
• Try to sleep longer, preferably seven to eight hours a night to boost mental and physical health
• Take regular warm baths to relax the body
In addition to these things, you also need to watch your diet during the deloading week. If you take surplus calories to promote your workouts, you need to reduce them when on a deload as you don’t have the same training stimulus as other times.
Structure your calories in such a way that you eat closer to your calorie maintenance level. This strategy will protect you from storing up unnecessary fat during the deloading period.
Deloading Mistakes to Avoid
Various mistakes during a deload week can frustrate your efforts of muscle recovery and act as an impediment to your training. Luckily, being aware of them can help you be on your guard.
This section will enlighten you on common mistakes that you should avoid during the deload week to maximize the benefits of the downtime.
1. Reducing Volume and Intensity
A drastic reduction in the volume and intensity of your workouts can work against your favor. For example, if you cut back on intensity by 50% and reduce volume by 60%, you may have a hard time bouncing back after a deload week.
Therefore, cut back significantly on only one of the two. Ideally, the volume is what leads to fatigue; thus, you can reduce it by 50% but just cut back on 10% of the intensity.
2. Partial Deloading
Strength training and weightlifting involve several workouts, and you need to deload on all of them. However, most people will reduce the frequency or intensity of weightlifting but still maintain their time on the recumbent bike. This technique will not give you the desired results from the downtime. Deload on all the workouts that you have on your program. Cut back on weights, cycling, and other exercises as well.
3. Introducing New Exercises
One may view a deload as the perfect time to add new activities into their routine. However, this is wrong. New exercises often train a new set of muscles, and this can lead to soreness and aches, especially if those muscles were not being exercised before. Instead of experiencing recovery, your deload week results in more muscle injury. Don’t introduce a new workout when deloading. If you want to try something new, fix it into your regular program.
4. Doing Nothing
The worst mistake that you can make during the deload week is sitting around and doing nothing — no workout. You may assume that doing nothing will heal your muscles faster and promote recovery. However, the opposite is true.
Subjecting the body to small workouts during the recovery period can prevent inflammation, reduce muscle damage, and promote the flow of lymphatic fluid. You are more likely to recover faster if you keep the body moving.
Can You Skip a Deload?
It is not advisable to skip a deload, especially if you have had an intensive training phase. You risk suffering from mental fatigue, low motivation, and muscle aches and pain. Therefore, if possible, stick to your deload routine to achieve your maximum strength training potential.
However, if something comes up and you are unable to slow down, you can reschedule. However, don’t make it a habit as it may negatively affect your training in the long run.
What to Do After a Deload
You have had a successful deload week, and are ready to jump back into your regular strength training and weightlifting program. What next? Are there special procedures to adhere to during this transition?
The answer is no. After a successful deload, your body will feel stronger and healthier, and your moods will be better. You will have more energy to dive into your routine. Take advantage of this and pick up from where you left.
Don’t slow down on your training. Your body will be better placed to handle more intense workouts than when you hadn’t taken a break. The good thing about deloads is that they give you a lot of physical and mental energy. Take advantage of it before it wears out.
Every weightlifter and strength trainer should incorporate deloading into their training program. The downtime which involves reducing the volume, frequency and intensity of the workouts speeds up muscle recovery, improves mental health and prepares you for the next phase of the workout.
Be on the lookout for signs that your body is fatigued and you need to back off from intense workouts for a short while. By doing this, you will gain more mental and physical strength to train harder and achieve your goals.
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