Only in recent years have I recognised the importance of a "de-loading" week and it's something I continue to struggle to get others on board with at times. Bit by bit though some of my clients and friends are getting on board with it should the intensity of their training require such a thing.
So what is it? And, why is it so important?
What is de-loading?
De-loading is a principle whereby you spend a period (usually a week) deliberately reducing your training volume and intensity, working with lower loads in the gym. No personal bests this week and no ego allowed. It's based on the theory of "Supercompensation" ( Explained Here ).
What are the benefits of de-loading?
- A rest for your Central Nervous System (CNS)
- Improved recovery and repair in key joints and muscle groups by lessening the load they endure for a week
- Full recovery in order to allow supercompensation to occur
- You can focus on weaker areas and accessory work
- Time to focus on your technique and tweak it under a lesser load
- A chance to experiment with new exercises and exercise variations
How should I do it?
The general consensus is to use no more than 60-70% of your maximum loads throughout the week. Also reduce the volume of work for your week ie: Less sets and less sessions ideally. However, I also like to try and focus more on some isolation work and also some accessory work to compliment your later workouts. For instance, some people may have weaker triceps that let them down during pressing work so focus on that. Or perhaps an imbalance or lack of lower body stability. Or mobility issues that can be addressed. Use the time to focus on improving yourself and addressing some of the issues that you usually try to "work around" / ignore.
Things to be aware of:
While I've just been singing the praises of de-loading as it has helped me HUGELY, it's not for everyone. There are some things you need to consider:
1) De-Loading is not for everyone if A) You don't do enough: Not everyone has a training schedule with an intensity great enough to warrant a de-loading week. The average gym member uses a gym 0.9 times per week (yes, less than once!) so if you're doing 1,2,3 or even 4 gym sessions per week then you probably (probably!) don't need a de-loading week. If you're doing more than 4 sessions per week or working with a strict strength focused protocol then a de-loading week might be beneficial to you every 4-6 weeks.
De-Loading is not for everyone if B) Your recovery rate is superior: We aren't all built the same and every person will recover from exercise differently. Just recently I had my DNA tested (article on that to follow) and my suspicions were confirmed: I have an extremely slow recovery rate and high susceptibility to tendon related injuries. Therefor, it would be impractical for me personally to expect to follow an intense training regime without giving back to my body and expect to avoid injuries and make regular progress.
2) De-loading should not always be penned in: It's important to not be too regimented with your de-loading. If you're feeling great and you're feeling strong then carry on. Planning a strength cycle or training cycle that allows for a de-loading week every 4-6 weeks (usually nearer 6 weeks) is a smart idea, but, at this stage if you don't need it, don't feel obliged to de-load; it can wait a week or 2.
3) Deloading is for prevention rather than cure: At the other end of the spectrum is this. Don't wait until your body is broken and you're injured before you de-load. De-loading is a short prevention solution, not a cure for a body that's damaged and broken.
So they key that I want to leave you with is this:
You must, must, MUST learn to "listen to your body".
This is easier said than done and can take years to master. Be aware of energy levels, how the weights feels (monitor the weights you use and be aware when weights suddenly feel heavier), tension and mobility restrictions, aches and pains.