Coaches use them all the time, athletes love them, and to be honest, they are necessary if you take your training and your progress seriously. Whether you refer to them as a deload week, light week, back off week, etc. this needs to be an integral part of your programming. If it’s not, you are missing out on making some significant progress in your training. Otherwise lack of a deload over long periods of training can make it feel like you are spinning your tires more often than not. .
A deload is a part of a training plan where the volume and intensity overall are not as high as the weeks leading up to it and the weeks following. The focus of a deload should not be on the amount of weight lifted but more about the athlete recovering a bit from the last training cycle and getting the body and mind ready for what lies in the weeks ahead. Depending on how your program works a deload planned every 6, 8, or 12 weeks is good for recovery and steady progress. Most coaches program them at the end of a cycle to let the body rest up from the abuse it just went through and prep the athlete for the next round of torture that is coming. The amount of time between deloads depends on their athlete and their ability to recover from training. The better they are at recovering, a longer time between deloads can be planned and vice versa. You don’t want to have too few planned throughout an entire year of training but you also want to avoid having too many throughout training. Too many deloads and the athlete will not be able to make consistent progress due to once they are getting into a groove with training, the plug is pulled and you have to bring the intensity down. If a deload is not included in your training plan already, here are some of the most obvious reasons we feel they should be.
The Body Needs A Break
The biggest reason why deloads need to be included in your training is simple: your body needs a break. The body is a wonderful machine capable of handling absurd amounts of stress and versatility. With that being said, there comes a time when the body will eventually hit a breaking point. If you are going through the daily grind and say to yourself “I think I need to take a break” it’s already too late. You’re body is starting to head south and you aren’t getting everything out of your workouts that you could have been had you planned accordingly. Make sure to plan the deloads out and keep them occurring around the same time with your training cycles. The worst thing you can do for your training and progress is to not let your body get into a routine, especially when it comes to rest. Most athletes have a few big competitions each year that fall around the same time each season. Using these as your peaking points, strategically place your deloads during the training cycles leading up to these events and the chance of a burnout will significantly decrease. Who doesn’t want to do everything in their power to be firing on all cylinders with their training?
Less Is More
During this time period the volume AND intensity should not be high in comparison to the previous weeks. An athlete should work up to singles in their lifts around 80-85% and sometimes even a break from the lifts and playing around with different movements is good for the body and mind. With that in mind, try not to go for broke in a movement you have never done before and end up injuring yourself for the next training cycle. Bets are both you and your coach will not be happy about that. The time in the gym should be much less and the number of sessions can even be cut back. Now, don’t go taking an entire week off of training. There is a fine line between active rest and being lazy, which do you want? You should be able to come into the gym and complete your work for that particular day in 45-60 minutes and have plenty of time to do something else. Going for a hike, playing a pick up game of basketball, or simply getting out of the gym and just relaxing will do the body wonders.This time is great not only for a physical break for the body but also as a mental break as well. But remember you need to find a balance between getting some work in and not completely avoiding a barbell for an extended period of time. There is a difference between planned rest and simply being lazy.
As a coach this is a perfect time for me to have athletes hone their skill set. Of course there is constant critiquing and fine tuning of the technique during all aspects of training, but while the volume and intensity are lower why not place some extra emphasis on hitting good positions and increasing efficiency? Maybe there is a flaw that reared it’s ugly head during the course of the last cycle, or a concept the athlete wasn’t quite understanding. This time is a good opportunity to address it with lighter loads and some different drills that may not have been performed before. Speed efficiency, and consistency should be of the utmost importance if they athlete is focusing on their specific skill sets during this time.
There you have it. If you aren’t taking proper deloads throughout your training you are not seeing as much progress as you could be. Not only do they give the body a break from the daily grind, they allow for the athlete to “recharge their batteries” so to speak and both physically and mentally prep for the upcoming training cycle. Now is not the time to push and see what you are capable of. Enjoy the down time and be ready to hit it hard in the following weeks of training. THIS IS NOT TIME OFF COMPLETELY FROM THE GYM, I REPEAT THIS IS NOT COMPLETE TIME OFF. During this time you are simply lowering the volume and intensity temporarily. Whether you write your program for yourself or you have a coach that programs for you, this needs to be part of the training program. If it’s not part of your training don’t panic as it’s not too late, but start incorporating and planning them throughout your program and reap the benefits.