You work hard during the week, so when it comes time to use your vacation days, that extended break from sitting at a desk, hacking away at a computer and conducting office meetings is an amazing feeling.
Even a couple days away from the office does wonders for your brain as you can reset and come back fresh and more productive.
However, far too many lifters, gym rats, and workout enthusiasts fail to do the same. If you’re like many of these people, you’ve worked hard to see your muscle gains and drop the weight, so the thought of a reduced week may seem terrifying. After all, you don’t want all of your work go right out the window.
Thankfully, that really isn’t the case. In fact, a de-load week is extremely effective and important.
What is a de-load week and how should you implement it into your own workout schedule?
We’ve got the answers you need right here, so keep on reading!
What is a Deload Week?
In the world of working out, you’ll discover techniques, workout trends and moves have names that are either straight to the point or really make no sense at all.
Deload is the former.
It means you reduce, cut down or “de-load” the amount of work you do during a set period of time. Now, it doesn’t mean you just skip the gym entirely and sit on the couch, eating Ring-Dings while watching episodes of the Price is Right.
You don’t want to completely stop exercising for a week because doing this makes it far too easy to skip out on working out once a deload week is over. Instead, you greatly reduce what you do and go super light (Build Lean, 2014).
The Science Behind a Deload Week
So how in the world did the idea of going light for a week enter the world of working out?
Did some weightlifters call their friend out for skipping a week, so the friend made up an excuse of “de-loading” to improve his lifts later?
Chances are this excuse did exist before the idea of de-load became popular, but there are some scientific merit and reasoning behind the concept.
The idea of de-load comes from something known as the “Law of Supercompensation.” Under the law of super compensation, there are three phases.
The first is known as the application of stress, the second is recovery and the third is super compensation.
During the first phase, application of stress is you working out. You cause fatigue and damage to your muscles. The more training and “application of stress” you put into your workout, the lower your fitness level actually drops. This might sound completely wrong, but at the end of your application of stress, you are unable to perform as you might of before training.
This is due to your muscle fatigue and damage.
The second phase in the law of supercompensation is recovery. There are a few different recovery forms your body utilizes. There is the active rest you utilize in between sets. This is the time where your body repairs both slow and fast twitch muscle fibers and directs more energy to the next set.
However, you’ll never be able to train as hard on the second set as the first set simply because you have already damaged the muscle fibers. In order to completely repair the damaged muscles, you need extended recovery time.
This is why it is recommended to go at least one day in between using the same muscle groups in a row. Recovery brings your base fitness level back to its pre-training point.
Before moving into the third phase, the first phase of application of stress into the recovery phase is a prime example of why you should avoid over training. It is easy to almost become addicted to working out. You see the pump your arms obtain when squeezing out extra curl reps, and so you want to continue on with this every day.
Plus, the chemicals your body naturally releases while working out is something that brings some people back every single day.
The problem here is, as training and damaging your muscles cut down your base level of fitness, you need the recovery time to repair the muscles. If you skip recovery time and go back to working for the same muscle groups every single day, your base fitness level will continue to decrease, reducing or completely eliminating your potential gains.
So take this as a warning as to why you need to avoid over training and why both active and extended recovery is extremely important.
The third phase is supercompensation.
During this stage, the body rebounds and the fitness level is elevated to a higher base over the initial, pre-application of stress level. Following the recovery phase, the body has rebuilt its muscles, repaired damaged tissue and restored its fatigued energy levels.
A de-load week is part of the second phase. By extending recovery time, it gives the body additional time to repair, recover and restore, which in turn may help boost the supercompensation levels over a shorter recovery time (such as a day).
However, it is important to completely understand what a de-load week does and determine whether or not it can help you out in your own quest for gains (Schwarzenegger, 2014).
De-load Week Benefits
So, you’re training at the gym.
You’re getting a good sweat and your muscles are already burning. You think of how amazing it would be to have a few days off from lifting, but you know it doesn’t fit your workout goals and you don’t want to just “take a break” from workout out. Yet, in between bench sets, you hear a couple of guys talking about their upcoming de-load week.
What is this magic they speak of?
They tell you what it is and how you can actually take a week off from heavy lifting?
How do you sign up!?
Well, before you sign that imaginary list in your head, you first need to understand who benefits the most from a de-load week…and who may see little to no or even negative results from bringing in such a week into their workout routine.
If you partake in any kind of sporting event, whether it is a recreational rugby league or you play for a semi-pro hockey team, deloading is the way to go. The main reason why you should consider implementing this kind of plan to your workout routine is because you cut down on the chance of injury.
By deloading once a month, you’ll still receive optimal levels of training while allowing additional time for your muscles and joints to repair. The deterioration of joints and ligaments is one of the leading causes of injuries during the season, so you need to take extra care to ensure these areas are strong.
Beyond training for athletic activities, you should consider adding in a reload week into your workout routine if you have any kind of recurring injury, if you are older or if you have been lifting for a long time.
Many of us have recurring injuries.
Whether it stems from a bad knee, sore shoulder or back problems, these issues can pop back up out of nowhere. Going hard at your training week in and week out is admirable, yet if it increases your chance of injury you need to do something about it. By bringing in the de-load week, you cut down on those injury chances.
If you are on the older side (realistically this means anyone heavily training past the age of 40, as your body simply takes longer to recover and repair), you should consider the de-load week just to give you more time to repair your body.
And lastly, if you are an experienced lifter who has been pumping iron for years (if not decades), there comes a time where your body hits a performance wall and you just can’t lift any more. When this occurs lifting weights is not as beneficial as when first starting off (it is why you see more gains early on, which then taper off the longer you lift).
Bringing the deload week into every month goes a long way in allowing your body to repair itself and it may help you boost gains by forcing your body to go into longer recovery modes (Muscle and Strength, 2017).
Any Problem’s With a Deload Week?
The main problem with a deload week is the main problem with many other workout routines.
You follow the same script as everyone else. The thing is, not everyone plays the same role.
What exactly does this mean?
During any kind of exercise routine, you target the same muscles and perform the same moves as the guy or gal next to you. However, you may have a great chest but small arms, while the person next to you may have great arms but no chest. Why would the two of you perform the exact same workout routine when each of you
However, you may have a great chest but small arms, while the person next to you may have great arms but no chest.
Why would the two of you perform the exact same workout routine when each of you needs to focus on something different?
With a de-load week, some will tell you to follow a similar pattern. You’ll be told to perform certain kinds of cardio or other exercises, but these exercises are not designed specifically for you.
Just because you’re going lighter on the weights does not mean you should not focus on improving yourself. You still need to target the weaker areas of your body and look for ways to improve upon each, even with little to no weights.
So, do not fall into the de-load problem area.
Plan ahead and look at ways to continue improving your performance. By doing this, you will continue to see improvements.
Workout Example During a Deload Week
A deload week typically occurs following three heavy training weeks.
During the week, you’ll perform very light to no-stress training. If you intend to lift weights, you do not want to exceed your 40 to 60 percent one rep max. Due to this, most who utilize a de-load week focus on mobility drills (time to break out the shuttle cones).
This can be seen as a time to try and boost endurance without placing a large amount of stress and strain on your body. If you do bring weights into the workout, it usually is in the form of a medicine ball or small hand weights for cardio.
One thing to keep in mind though in regards to a deload week is, much like your actual workout, you need to tailor it to your specific needs and goals.
For example, if you’re training for a contact sport (such as football), during the deload week you should focus on mobility training that improves your performance on the field. This may be footwork drills or changing running directions with less deceleration.
If you simply lift just to lift, you’ll want overall cardio workouts that hit your entire body.
Cardio kickboxing is something you can incorporate into your deload week workout as it hits every area of your body, all without putting additional strain and weight on your muscles (Perfect KETO, 2017).
Reducing your overall strength training for a week doesn’t need to be a death sentence for your overall fitness goals.
In fact, it may be the exact opposite.
You don’t need to go balls-to-the-wall every day for the rest of your life. That actually is a very quick way to burn yourself out and to reduce your chance of lifelong fitness success. While there may be an event of activity you’re training for, the overall purpose of working out and exercising is to extend your life and to look good while doing it.
So take a page from your work schedule and look to incorporate a de-load week. It does the body well and will help improve your overall performance long term. Just make sure to follow through with these tips and instructions laid out.
As long as you do, you’ll continue to see the kinds of gains you’ve been going after.