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What is a Deload Week?

What-is-a-Deload-Week

by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

You’ve probably heard people talk about it being a deload week but have no idea what they’re talking about or even what that means. And guess what? You’re not alone. Many weekend warriors and fitness enthusiasts don’t truly have a need for a deload week, but for the sake of understanding, we should dive into the topic.

Every day, you eagerly anticipate the rush of lifting heavy weights and stepping onto the platform. Your training sessions are sacred and known to all your friends. Even on rest days, you’re itching to return to lifting iron. Strength training serves as a mental refuge, yet the daily grind can strain muscles, joints, and the nervous system.

Overtraining can risk sabotage, leading to fatigue, mood swings, injuries, and plateaus.

Shockingly, about 30% of athletes experience overtraining at least once in their careers. Prioritizing rest and recovery is crucial, with the deload week emerging as a strategic way to improve performance and prevent burnout.

In this article, we will dive deeper into what a deload week is, how to utilize it, and if you need to implement it into your training.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before starting an exercise program, making changes to your nutrition plan, or adding any supplements to your current regimen.

What is Deload Week?

A deload week serves as a planned phase within your workout routine, characterized by reduced intensity or training volume. This intentional decrease allows your body to recuperate optimally between sessions.

During a deload week, the weight lifted, or the number of reps and sets is lowered to provide a brief respite for the nervous system and muscles.

According to research, deload weeks are recognized for enhancing progress and readiness for subsequent training phases. They help our body adapt to workouts while reducing the risk of injury and illness.

The research outlines various approaches to deload weeks, highlighting the widespread use of personalized strategies.

How Do Deloads Work?

There are notably two ways how deload works.

1.     Fitness-Fatigue Model

According to the fitness-fatigue model, training results in both fitness gains and fatigue.

While gains enhance performance, accumulated fatigue can impede it.

By reducing training intensity or volume, the body can recover from fatigue, leading to improved performance and decreased injury risk.

2.     General Adaptation Syndrome

The General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) outlines three stages the body undergoes in response to stress:

  • Alarm Stage: Initial shock from increased stress leads to soreness and fatigue.
  • Resistance Stage: Adaptation to stress results in increased strength and resilience, leading to performance improvements.
  • Exhaustion Stage: Continued stress without adequate rest leads to exhaustion, increasing injury risk and hindering progress.

How to Deload?

To optimize your training regimen, integrating a well-structured deload period is essential. Below are two distinct strategies to help you achieve maximum benefits:

Option 1: Reduce Load

Maintain your regular number of repetitions while decreasing the weight to 40-50% of your 1RM. Alternatively, reduce the number of weekly sets by 30-50%.

Option 2: Reduce Volume

Keep the weight consistent while decreasing the number of reps performed. For example, if you typically squat 225 pounds for 3 sets of 10 reps at 70% of your 1RM, maintain the weight but perform only 2 sets of 8 reps, or 3 sets of 5 reps.

The Benefits of a Deload

Similar to the necessity of exercise for your body, consistent breaks are equally crucial. Having a deload week into your routine might be just what your body requires.

Below are some of the benefits of a deload week.

1.     It improves heart health

An indicator of overtraining may manifest in altered heart rate variability (HRV), which reflects the time intervals between heartbeats.

Changes in HRV can be linked to conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and psychological disorders.

Typically, a higher HRV is preferable; however, overtraining may decrease HRV. A regular deload week can reduce symptoms of overtraining, including decreased HRV.

Having a deload week every five weeks of training can particularly benefit HRV.

2.     A mental reset

While exercise is beneficial for mental health, it’s important to acknowledge the mental fatigue that can result from repetitive lifting. There are days when we struggle to focus at the gym, leading to frustration and poor performance. This mental fatigue stems from the subconscious concentration required during lifting.

Pushing through mental fatigue can lead to burnout, which requires longer recovery periods.

Deload weeks offer a respite for our minds, similar to those short weekend getaways from work. They provide an opportunity to rest, decompress, and return to lifting both mentally and physically rejuvenated.

3.     Boosts muscle hypertrophy

While it may seem counterintuitive, taking a break from training can actually help muscle growth. This break allows both muscles and the central nervous system to recover from preceding weeks of strenuous training.

Deload weeks mostly focus on adequate rest and recovery, which are crucial for muscle hypertrophy, as the formation of new muscle tissue depends on it.

4.     Break through plateaus

Progressive overload involves increasing weight, volume, or frequency in your routine to continuously boost strength and muscle mass. However, persistent fatigue can lead to plateaus.

Deload weeks serve not only for recovery but also for strength improvement.

Research indicates that deload weeks can improve strength and prevent plateaus more effectively than continuous training without breaks, which may lead to increased susceptibility to plateaus.

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