If you’re busting your tail in the gym but aren’t quite seeing the results you want, then listen closely because this article will help you fix that issue.
Anytime we lift weights we create stress and fatigue to our bodies. So despite common bro-advice to just “train hard all the time,” we have to be smarter with our approach so that we can make gains in the long run.
A Nuance or Necessity?
Regardless of your training style, your body begins to wear down after weeks and weeks of hard training.
So what are we supposed to do?
Should you just continue doing more and more work every week?
Well, you could. Up to a certain point.
But you won’t be able to sustain that method, and you’ll likely notice some large drop offs in performance.
Instead, you should utilize the art of the deload.
To keep it simple, deloading is a reduction of volume and intensity for a period of time that allows your body to drop fatigue and allow you to recover.
Deloads are most well known for powerlifters and bodybuilders but they’re just as important for the general fitness person looking to maximize muscle gains and fat loss.
Deloads are what allow you to continually do more and more work over time. Because believe it or not, you won’t gain more muscle, lose more fat, or gain more strength unless you’re doing more than you once did.
Why Do You Need To Deload?
You can’t trick your body. When you’re run down, beat up and fatigued, your body will send you some pretty strong signals telling you to back off.
To help understand the deload, let’s use the simple analogy of putting gas into your car.
You fill the tank up and drive, drive, drive. But, eventually you run out of fuel and need to get more.
Refueling the gas tank is akin to deloading.
Train hard and then take a deload week to “refuel” for the next block of training.
If you don’t, you are missing out on tons of progress.
Greg Nuckols (strength coach and one heck of a smart dude) states that deloads serve two main purposes:
“1) Decrease injury risk from the accumulated wear and tear of tough training.
2) Increase responsiveness to a given level of training stress.” (The Science of Lifting, this is a fantastic resource that I highly recommend)
If it sounds like deloading is a good idea then you’re on to something.
Decreasing injury risk is beneficial because if you’re healthy and injury free, then you can continue to train.
With planned deloads, you also heighten your sensitivity to new training stress. This means that during a deload period, your body is repairing so that when you begin a new training cycle, you’re able to handle more volume and intensity than before, thus improving from the previous training cycle.
Since more and more work is needed to make progress over time, it’s very important to make sure deloads are included in your training and not just an after thought.
The more you train, the more adaptions your body deals with. It is these adaptations that force your body to make progress. So despite some people who are fearful of their body becoming adapted to training, that’s exactly what you want. Without adaptation, your body is going to remain the same.
Should Everyone Deload the Same?
No, absolutely not.
If you’re brand new to training then you can train for a while before ever needing to deload.
Since you won’t be training with considerable loads if you’re just starting out, you’ll accumulate fatigue a bit slower than say someone that’s been lifting for 10 years and lifting really heavy weights.
However, just because you’re new to training doesn’t mean you can or should neglect the importance of deloading. I’d say for beginners, deloading is a bit less important but still valuable. When you’re unable to continue adding weight progressively and you notice weights start to feel heavier than normal, go ahead and use a deload week.
I’m a big fan of using deloads with all of my online coaching clients. The biggest reason my clients benefit from them is because I set their training up in blocks. I never have anyone just randomly workout for the sake of working out. They execute the plan, whether it’s hypertrophy focused or aimed more for strength gains. Then after training hard for weeks at a time, they will do a deload week.
Then, by the time their next training cycle rolls around, their motivation to train is high, and they have recovered from the higher volumes in the preceding weeks.
One of my online coaching clients, Scott, has really embraced the system I use.
He’s made considerable changes in body composition and strength gains in the process.
We have done fat loss loss phases and now currently doing a couple strength phases before he adds mass. With this system and the incoporation of strategic deloads, he has gained strength while losing 15 lbs.
For those with a bit more experience, an exact time frame for when to deload is pretty tough to generalize.
But, a good recommendation is 3-5 weeks of increasingly harder training followed by a week of lower volume and intensity.
I guess I should have prefaced the beginning of the article by mentioning that if your training consists of bosu ball squats and weird gimmicky exercises then you probably never need to deload.
Deloading is highly beneficial for people that train hard (relative to the individual of course).
As you become more experienced there are some various factors that tell us when we should deload.
A few of them are: decreased performance, inability to recover from session to session (soreness), and weights beginning to feel heavier than normal.
How You Should Deload
Let’s take a look at a quick example of how you could structure your deload during a hypertrophy phase.
Here’s Week 4 of a leg training day:
High Bar Squat 5 sets of 10 reps
Leg Press 5 sets of 10 reps
Stiff Leg Deadlifts 5 sets of 8,8,10,10,10
DB Walking Lunges 4 sets of 12 reps per leg
Standing Calf Raises 5 sets of 12, 12, 15, 12, 12
As you can see, this is a lot of volume and will create a large amount of fatigue. Keep in mind this is the final week of training in this mesocycle (known as an overreach week) so volume should be high and the workouts should be challenging.
For the example above you’d want to reduce volume and intensity. The easiest way to do this is to cut the sets and reps in half (roughly) and use less weight than you used in week 4 of that training cycle.
Your deload week could look like this:
High Bar Squat 2 sets of 5 reps
Leg Press 2 sets of 5 reps
Stiff Leg Deadlifts 2 sets of 5 reps
DB Walking Lunges 2 sets of 6 reps per leg
Standing Calf Raises 2 sets of 7
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to deloading, hopefully you understand the main principles and benefits of incorporating them.
By reducing the volume and intensity for about a week or so at the end of your mesocycle you give you body the chance to recover so that you can make even better progress your next training cycle.