I thought why not talk about Deloads? I’ve been on deloads, I’ve talked to you about them before in other mediums like YouTube and the FTU Academy, so I thought: let’s talk about them again.
What is a deload?
A deload is a purposeful reduction in total volume and/or intensity in regards to your training. Now, why would we have a deload? Well, apart from the obvious, we would have a deload to reduce the fatigue of which we have acclimated (or should be accumulating) within a training block (or a meso-cycle) – four/six/eight week blocks depending on how advanced you are. Ultimately, to be able to express and realize the strength that we have adapted to (or the skills we have adapted, if we are more strength-based athletes), then you want to reduce that fatigue so that you can continue training without burning out (in terms of performance or with overtraining).
However, if we do not deload and reduce the fatigue it’s not that we necessarily overtrain, it’s that we under-recover. This is due to the fact that to overtrain, you have to be a very, sick individual; you have to be very sadistic, you have to be able to tolerate a lot of pain (because a lot of the time the body will shut you down before you can even overtrain because you’ll be exhausted). Your sleep will go down the drain, your mood will go down the drain, your performance and the way you feel will be aching. All of these things will happen, but there are people who can push through that.
Very few of us do, so yes we can call it overtraining, but it’s really under-recovering because we’re not allowing the body enough nutrients, enough rest or enough reduction in stress to be able to actually come back and then train. So you can think about a deload not necessarily as a backwards step, it’s a side step to be able to come back in and then progress forward again.
When should you start deloading?
This is something that the more advanced lifter you are (the longer you’ve been training intelligently, the more you’ve got out of your physique, the more muscle you’ve been able to accumulate), the more frequently you’re generally going to have to do this (depending on your training, your frequency, etc) because you’re juggling a lot more volume, intensity and frequency too.
There’s always caveats. If you are:
Often, these are a signs that you need to deload. But first, I always go through a checklist. As we want to look at the main things and ensure that they’re all in alignment first, before we commit to a deload.
Deloads: Beginner, Intermedia & Advanced Athletes
Beginners generally can go a long time without deloading again (up to 12 weeks), and as we come to more intermediate athletes we’re looking around the four/six/eight week mark (depending on the athlete). Then advanced athletes, every four/five/six weeks usually, again depending on the type of athlete and all of those other variables which we’ve covered in the training fundamentals series.
Considerations Before a Deload
First of all ask yourself, how are these things:
These are a few things i like to go through – those five major things, they’re the categories that I like to go through from those answers you can generally gauge whether someone needs a deload. But if you’re programming intelligently, that should be built in you should have tapers build in (tapers are not always de-load, just where you taper that volume. It not be as accentuated as a d-load to be able to come back in). so we can have introductory weeks, we have build week, attack week, we have peak weeks, etc. Again, it depends on the athlete and what the goal is. So it’s really important to get your head around this early on to take a more pragmatic approach to your progression, opposed to just adding more weight on the bar.
Are you unduling your volume? Have you got different reps and sets? There’s so many different ways to do that. some key takeaways for deloads for you: if you’re in the gym right now and you’re thinking “okay how would i deload”, the easiest thing to do is: keep the intensity the same (weight on the bar stays the same) for main lifts, but reduce a set. Then repeat that for the preceding accessory work and other movements that you’re doing in that session. This applies for most physique athletes unless you’re working up to very, very heavy loads or if you’re a power lifter; in which case I would taper that back – because there’s only so long that you can stay at your peak strength for).
For example, let’s say you’re doing bench press, and have been lifting at 80kg x 5 reps x 4 sets, you might want to work up to a heavy single lift of 90kg then 3-4 backup sets again at 80kg. Then for proceeding movements, since I would normally do 4 sets x 8 reps, I will reduce it back to 3 sets x 8 reps. You’re going to be working with relatively the same weight, and you may even have to lighten the loads slightly, but ultimately the protocols for retaining muscle mass or muscle retention at the minimum effective dose is actually very low.
So whilst a lot of people can be scared of losing muscle, the reality is that (as a rule of thumb) it takes up to or less than 1/3 of your volume to maintain muscle mass you’ve gained. So even if you’re reducing the volume, you’re not going to lose muscle. You may even look better, because you’re replenishing the glycogen and your body is able to do something with it. You will recover the body, over-recover if you like, by not having that same stress and stimuli and your body will use that extra food to metabolically recover everything from the central nervous system to fatigue or inflammation (because you’re burning less calories). It’s a really good time to get a massage, fill up on hydration, and get some really good sleep; then you can come back into the gym with a boost in performance and mood.