Deloads are periods of time in which you give your body an “active rest.” A typical deload week is comprised of following your normal training routine with 50-60% of your normal weights. Some people prefer to deload by dropping all the iron and simply training with bodyweight exercises for a week.
Deload weeks in weight training are one of the most overlooked tactics for healthy progression in the gym. I have to admit that I used to train extensively without taking deload weeks. I noticed after a while that I would eventually become tired and irritable at the gym, unable to break through plateaus and more prone to injuries. The problem was that I was failing to take deload weeks or breaks of any sort.
The Purpose of Deload WeeksDeload weeks are designed to give your body a chance to recuperate after weeks of training heavy and breaking personal records. The human body simply wasn’t designed to constantly increase the weights week after week without ever taking a break or slowing down. Deload breaks let your muscle rebuild and give your joints times to heal and grow stronger.
Deload weeks are also good for the mind. They let you take a break from the intensity of training hard day in and day out. A week of easy, fun lifting works wonders on the mindset. You’ll really notice this when you finally allow yourself to get back to the gym and work hard.
A failure to take the occasional deload week will actually hinder your progress in comparison to lifting week after week without rest. When you come back from a deload week, you’ll notice that you feel more refreshed and ready to hit the weights.
How to Do a DeloadThere are a few ways people can perform deload weeks. One way (my favorite) is to do your regular routine except with lighter weights. I go with 50-60% of the weight and do not increase the number of repetitions. The primary purpose of a deload week is to let your body rest, but to at least stay a little bit active.
The other way to do a deload week is to eliminate all weights entirely and just focus on bodyweight exercises and stretching. You are still staying active, but the heavy stress has been lifted off your joints. This is also a great way to take a deload week.
Yet another way to deload is to use the same weights as normal, but lower the number of repetitions and sets to half of what you normally do. I personally do not like this deload method as much because the heavy weights still take a toll on the joints.
You can also use deload weeks to train oddball body parts that you don’t normally train hard. Do some light exercises that work out the traps, legs, calves, forearms, etc. Just remember that you are still supposed to go light during this week. Deload weeks are supposed to give your entire body a chance to recover.
Diet During DeloadsThere are two ways to approach diet during a deload week. Most people simply keep their diet the same during a deload week as they do during their regular training weeks. Your muscles will still be recovering during the deload week so there is no need to cut down on the calories, protein or fat.
Other people will keep their diet the same during the first couple of days during the deload week and then revert to maintenance calories after that. The thinking here is that you need to keep the higher calories during the first couple days because your body is still recovering from your last days of heavy lifting. I personally prefer this second diet during deload weeks, but it probably doesn’t make any difference over the long term which method you choose.
When to DeloadEveryone is a little different when it comes to the timing of deload weeks. I prefer to schedule deloads once every 4-6 weeks. Some people simply let their body tell them when to deload. If you go the second route, you should deload any time you start feeling unmotivated, tired at the gym, unable to progress or start noticing sore joints.
The scheduled deload is the best way to approach deloads, though. By scheduling your deloads, you don’t have to wait until the damage has been done and your body is begging you to stop. However, if you schedule deloads, you should still be flexible. If your body tells you it’s time to chill out for a while, then go ahead and chill out for a while.
Here’s a great post about deloads from the Bodybuilding forums.