"Sometimes Less is More"
Its now clear to me after many years of fighting the facts that stronger muscles are gained outside of the gym, when your muscles are recovering. This made sense on paper but somehow for years my mind just never clicked. I never looked to far into it because i just loved to train, but if the damage was all we needed to grow then those of us in car accidents with serious damage should be superhuman right?
No even close! Give your body the rest it needs to cash in on all your hard work.
A Deload, is based on the same concept, applied by professional athletes in their training routine. A Deload is a period in your training cycle, that you set aside for muscle recovery. Most deload periods are one week long to enssure your whole body is recovered. Yes! you still go to gym, but the intensity of your workout is far less.
The Deload first came in to light via Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 training program, where he breaks down his training program into a training cycle of 4 weeks and the 4th week is for Deloading.
5/3/1 is a simply training program based on the variation of intensities of the workout each week.
Suppose your max number of reps in one set is 5, then according to 5/3/1 training program:
1st Week: 3 sets x 5 reps
2nd Week: 3 sets x 3 reps
3rd Week: 3 sets x 1 rep
4th Week: Deload
So, the number of sets is constant, but the number of rep’s changes in the proportion of 5/3/1. And in the 4th week, you just go 40-50% of your 1st-week intensity, to allow the body to keep muscle memory but can recover due to less load and intensity.
Nowadays, many trainers support and have adopted the Deload method in their training program because it makes so much sense in reaching their ultimate goal.
Why you should have a deload week:
A study was conducted on college athletes, named- “The Effect of Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise vs. Linear Periodization on Strength Improvement in College Athletes”. This study shows that the athletes who applied deloads in their training program gained more muscle strength than the athletes who applied the constant progression model. Remember that muscles grow only during times of recovery and rest but are supported with proper nutrition.
A deload week gives your muscles more time to recover, but more importantly, it can help prevent injuries from overtraining by giving your joints, tendons, and ligaments the rest they need. These areas are not able to recover as quickly in a normal 24-48hour period.
If done properly, after the deload week, you will return to the gym with stronger and more functional muscles.
How to deload:
These are the two most common and proven forms of deloading:
Method 1. Decreasing Intensity
Decreasing the weight of each exercise by a percentage from your 1RM is the most common way to deload. Normally it will drop down to 40 – 60 percent of your 1RM (if known) otherwise just halving the weight you started your lifting cycle at. For example if you started at 60kg for a bench press and increased the weight over the next 4 weeks to 80-85kg then for your 5th week you can drop to 50% of your starting weight which would make your deload bench press only 30kg.
Most of the time the weight drop is significantly low so there is no need to also drop reps or set, its to mainintain a mind muscle connection for your body to remember a specific pattern.
It is the most common form of deloading that many trainers prefer.
Method 2. Decreasing Volume
Decreasing the number of repetitions in each set while maintining a heavy weight.
Suppose you do 5 reps each set, now to deload keep the same weight and do 1 rep for each set. This form of deloading helps when you still want to feel the heavy load during the workout. This approach does still work for those that need that consistent strength feeling. Particularly competitive strength athletes who find performance suffers when they don’t have a heavy load week in, week out.
The goal of deloading is the same, to make your workouts easy enough for muscle recovery due to less stress on the muscles but I believe there is some speculation that heavy load on weak and damaged muscles may not be as optimal for injury prevention and optimal recovery. If you have set up your mesocycle properly you should be ending on a weight that is at or above your PR, if you can still lift these weights during your deloads i would be thinking you did not lift at your best. This is only my general thoughts and also understand any progression is still progression even if you are not reaching your maximum potential.
Method 3 Exercise Selection
This method is much harder to regulate and why i no longer use this method.
That’s not to say it doesnt work, as it can refresh the motivation and boring consistency of four straight weeks of lifting the same. The only down fall in my thoughts is the potential to adapt to one given movement and perfect that lift.
Although some exercises can contract the same fibres, its the given force and position of your physique that may require secondary muscles to assist and may create bad technique and injuries.
When Should You Deload
If you’re following a pre-made program i would suggest following the exact time its given, especially if your inexperienced with lifting.
But if you are running your own training program there are a few factors you can keep an eye out for:
Losing Strength – A first sign of losing strength is doubt and going for that second scoop of pre-workout isnt going to help here. The next would be feeling lethargic during the day before even stepping into your workout and the last sign is the most obvious and that’s not meeting the weights you set up on your program.
Joint Pain/ Injuries – pain and soreness are a given in the lifting world but there are elements you should watch out for. Everyone has individual strengths and weaknesses and should listen to there body when real pain arises. These types of aggravated pains usually come from joints being inflamed or a more common pain coming from the lower back as its constantly unsupported in the working world.
You’ll probably benefit from a good foam rolling, stretching and a trip to your physio or sports massage therapist, but combine any of these with a deload week and you should be feeling 100%.
After A Competition – Competing in a bodybuilding show, CrossFit tournament or your next powerlifting meet can be very stressful on all parts of the body and a deload is definitely the smarter option to take following any of these type of competitions.
My first bodybuilding show was back in 2014 and the sodium and macro manipulation I put my body through was way below optimal for strength or recovery, it was purely to look good for the few minutes on stage. Looking good and feeling good can sometimes be at two ends of the scale, take my huge refeed after the show for example. I ate almost anything I could see and didn’t know the consequences I was setting myself up for. The day after the show wasn’t so bad (so I Thought) but adding a massive training session on top of my metabolic stress was not a good mix. My body could digest the dairy and lactose or any other type of solid food like it use too because it had downgraded to make the small number of calories i was having for the competition last throughout the day.
The stress from eating too much wasn’t too bad but creating even more stress on the muscles and nervous system by training after a show put me in bed with the worst stomach pains and probably less muscle mass from not eating for the next few days. You have earned your deload on all accounts and should spend time relaxing even if you didn’t win.