If You've Ever Wondered What A Deload Week Is, Read This To Find Out How They Could Help You Build More Muscle And Get Stronger
You might think that building muscle and getting stronger is about training as hard and as frequently as possible. So a deload week intuitively feels like the opposite of progress, right?
Rather than progressing full steam ahead on the gain train, you're stepping off at 'Deload-town' for a week-long vacation at 'Sucksville'.
But here's the thing.
In most cases, a deload week is essential for building muscle and achieving your goals.
In this article, you'll discover everything you need to know about deloads and how to structure your next deload week for maximum effectiveness.
So let's get started.
And if you'd prefer to listen to the audio version of this article, click the play button below.
Deload? WTF? Explain Yourself
A deload week is period of planned recovery from training.
Essentially, working out less and decreasing the intensity of training. Giving your body and mind a break from the beating you've been giving it.
Typically, a deload lasts one week. After which time, you should feel reenergised and ready to tackle your training like The Hulk on PCP.
Although, some people believe a deload week is unnecessary, and the very antithesis of what it means to train hard and build muscle. Either that, or they view it as an excuse to put your feet up and swap the gym for Netflix box sets, Sloth-like behaviour, and a state of lethargy.
But if you're stuck in the weight lifting doldrums, plateauing with your key lifts, and feeling demotivated, a deload week could be your golden ticket back on the gain train.
The 4 Ways To Plan Your Next Deload Week
Every man, woman, and uneducated keyboard warrior has their view on how to construct a deload week. But once you cut through the chest-puffing hyperbole, there's 4 basic ways you can deload effectively.
The goal of a deload is to let your joints, ligaments, muscles, and central nervous system recover from the fatigue accumulated in prior weeks. It also serves as an opportunity for you to reignite your internal muscle-building fire. To restore the heightened passion for training hard, rather than simply going through the motions because you feel like you HAVE to.
So, if this is the goal, here are the 4 logic ways to plan a deload:
1. Complete Rest
You could say this is the ultimate deload. A complete rest from the gym.
2. Reduced Training Volume
When it comes to building muscle, the broad goal is to increase volume over time. So a logical approach to deloading is to decrease overall training volume. And the most simple way to that is to cut your working sets in half. Instantly, you'll reduce fatigue, soreness, and give yourself the opportunity to recover.
3. Reduce How Much Your Lift
Another, fairly obvious, way to deload would be to lift less weight. But you need to make sure you're not changing rep ranges as you do this. Dropping to a lighter weight, only to crank out 30+ reps would be defeating the purpose.
4. Reduce Workout Intensity
There's a number of ways to reduce intensity, but let's concentrate on the two most effective methods.
Certain exercises are more fatiguing than others. For example, a squat accumulates more total body fatigue than a leg extension. Both work quads to varying degrees, but the latter is less likely to leave you feeling as though your soul has been drained from your body.
Therefore, strategic changes in exercise selection offer a valid method of deloading (if you know what you're doing). So choose wisely!
Reps In Reserve (RIR):
RIR relates to how many reps you have left in the tank before reaching concentric failure.
For example, 0 RIR is total concentric failure, ie lying in crumpled heap of mushed quads and despair, as you hit failure on squats. 3 RIR is generally the point where a set starts to get tough. The point where the concentric phase becomes noticeably slower.
Therefore, managing RIR can be a good way to reduce intensity. Aim for 5+ RIR. Remember, you're trying to recover, so the drop in intensity needs to be noticeable.
The Bonus 5th Way To Deload
Another way to approach your next deload week might be to blend a few of these methods together. In fact, this is how I would personally set up a deload.
Firstly, let me say, this approach makes more sense if your training frequency is high (c. 5-6 times per week).
Start by cutting your set volume in half. For instance, training 6 days a week on a push, pull, legs split, the first round of workouts would be exactly the same as the previous week, but with a significant reduction in the number of working sets.
In the second half of the week, cut the amount of weight you're lifting in half as well.
At this point, hitting the gym should feel worthless. Like you could get a more vigorous workout at home with Madame Palm and her 5 Sisters. But that's kind of the point! The goal is to significantly reduce fatigue. And the only way to that is to do less work.
How Often Should You Deload?
How often you deload depends largely on your training experience and the type of training programme you're following.
In my experience, some people never need a deload week. This is because life often forces you into periods of natural deload. A holiday, a busy week at work, or a business trip, for example. Therefore, the need to specifically plan further reprieve from training is simply not there.
But if you're diligent with your training and pushing hard continuously, a deload week makes absolute sense.
Consider planning a deload at the end of every 12 week training block (if that's how your training programme is structured). Theoretically, training volume and/or progressive overload is incrementally increasing over time, so planning a deload week avoids inevitable burnout. Yes, going balls (or ovaries) to the wall ALL the time is a bad idea.
Obviously, if you're following a specific training programme that has more frequent (or infrequent deloads) follow those instructions, because they're probably there for a reason.
Finally, look out for some of the obvious warning signs that a break from training is needed:
- Progressively getting weaker (be careful not to confuse this with some expected strength loss due to calorie reduction on a diet).
- Sore joints.
- Poor recovery and constant tiredness.
- Low mood.
The Bottom Line On Taking A Deload Week
A deload week is an essential part of a structured training programme, for many people. Managing fatigue effectively will help you build muscle and get stronger over the long-term, while avoiding burnout.
If you're someone who loves training, a deload week sucks!
All you want to do is hit the gym hard and throw some weight around. After all, this is therapy and your release from the stresses of day-to-day life. But they're a necessary evil.
Your main goal is to build muscle and get stronger. And to do that, deloads are likely to be an integral part of the process. Don't think of them as a negative thing. Use the time to focus on technique and hone this aspect of your training.
So embrace your deload weeks, plan them, and execute them diligently.
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