Home | Knowledgebase | REHAB | RECOVERY

Deload Weeks & Why you probably don't need them

Everyone loves talking about deload weeks and most coaches will program deload periods into the workout schedule. Deload weeks make a fitness program look serious and sophisticated but are they actually needed? If so, who are they for and why? 

Straight from the start I want to say that I personally almost never pre schedule deload weeks for my clients or for myself. I truly believe that planned deload weeks have been gravely hyped up and are not needed for most. Read below for more!

Home | Knowledgebase | REHAB | RECOVERY

Deload Weeks & Why you probably don't need them

Everyone loves talking about deload weeks and most coaches will program deload periods into the workout schedule. Deload weeks make a fitness program look serious and sophisticated but are they actually needed? If so, who are they for and why? 

Straight from the start I want to say that I personally almost never pre schedule deload weeks for my clients or for myself. I truly believe that planned deload weeks have been gravely hyped up and are not needed for most. Read below for more!

What, Why & when

A deload week is a period of training usually the length of a week when the athlete trains less. Workouts can be adjusted either by changing workout intensity (how hard you train) or by volume (how many sets and reps you do). The idea of using deload weeks is most commonly used in strength based sports such as olympic weightlifting and bodybuilding.

Why should you include deload weeks

When we train we get tired. In order to build muscle we need to create micro tears and then later heal them whilst we rest waiting for the muscle to grow back stronger. In other words training increases levels of fitness and fatigue. The accumulated fatigue masks your gains. As you recover and the fatigue goes away your new fitness levels get to shine.

The problem is that resting only 1 day between workouts often is not enough to recover from very intense training sessions. Instead of being fully recovered you will only recover to 99%. We lose 1% of recovery. Over time this tiny bit adds up and we end up getting more tired than usual, don’t sleep well, can not push hard during workouts and simply do not feel well.

This is where the deload week comes into play. By decreasing volume for a set period of time we give the body the chance to fully recover and to regain all those small percent lost during the previous workouts. 

The aim is not just for your muscles and joints to recover but also for your mind. Training hard is mentally just as difficult as it is physically. By pushing less hard for a week you will be able to regain the thirst and hunger for gains and hard workouts that might have gotten lost over the past couple weeks or months.

Plenty of studies have been done on athletes supporting the idea of deload weeks strongly. All professional sports are seasonal, providing a natural on and off time where an athlete works hard as he competes with time to rest between competition seasons. Yet, there are also multiple studies that disprove the necessity of deload weeks raising the question if they truly are needed or backed with modern science even recommendable. 

The main thing that most studies have in common is that the group of athletes that included the Deload week into their plan compared to the group that didn’t deload had similar gains proving less is not necessarily more but the same. So why train more?

When to include deload weeks

There are 2 ways of planning your deload weeks. One option is to schedule them ahead of time into your long term workout plan. Depending on intensity of training and how advanced of an athlete you are, deload weeks should happen more frequently. This can be planned every 8 to even every 4 weeks. 

The other option is to deload whenever you feel like it. Yet, this option is not as recommendable as you can not really feel what is happening on the inside of your body. Besides resting the mind and muscles a big goal of the deload week is also to recover joints. Inside most joints you don’t actually have nerve endings that are good at detecting pain or levels of fatigue. Only very advanced athletes who have outstanding knowledge of their own body and experience with high levels of intensity during training should consider this type of deload week planning. 

Why you probably don’t need it

Whilst this all sounds great, the reality is that most likely you do not need the deload week. Deload weeks were invented for competition athletes in very high intensity sports such as swimming, weightlifting or bodybuilding in order to max out their athletic results to gain an edge when you are already part of the top 1% of athletes in your field world wide. You are most likely not part of this field and as long as you are not a professional, full time athlete scheduled deload weeks might simply not make any sense for you.

You train Gymnastics based disciplines

Most people who come to me want to get better at handstands, calisthenics, flexibility or all of the above. Whilst training is hard, training is also very technical. It can happen quite often that an athlete works on the same set of drills for multiple weeks to refine and perfect small technical details. 

This period of refinement is naturally less intense as you are not able to go harder without getting better first. After a bit of grinding you break through, you get to work on new skills and intensity increases again. Like this intensity naturally changes and deload weeks get created automatically.

Additionally, due to the huge technical component in gymnastics based training, strength and joint resistance is not the only focus and limiting point meaning you simply can not train hard enough to truly justify a deload week most of the time. 

You do not train consistently anyway

Let’s be completely honest. How consistent are you with your training? 100% truthfully speaking, can you say that you have not missed a single workout in the past 6-8 weeks?!

The reality is that you are not a professional athlete. This means you do not get paid for working out. This means you have an actual job and this also means something, anything at all might be more important than your workouts. 

The logical consequence is when things at work or with the family get busy you skip a workout. 1 skipped workout often leads to a few shorter sessions leading up or following that skipped one and you end up with an organically created Deload week. 

For most weekend warriors and passion athletes deloading is not the difficult part. Staying consistent on the other hand is!

Therefore truly scheduling and planning a Deload week is usually not needed as life will provide you with plenty of Deload weeks. 

You are a beginner

When you first begin to workout you don’t know how to push hard. Training with an elevated intensity is something that must be practiced. When you first start out, pressure on muscles and joints is not that high. 

Deload weeks normally do not need to be considered during the first 2 years of training. 

Traditional types
of deloding

Looking at sports with a long standing history we can find 3 types of deload weeks. Keep in mind that these types of deload weeks were created for intense sports with a main focus on strength building. These protocols work well for body builders, powerlifters or very focused calisthenics athletes. 

The full week off

This is the least recommendable option as you usually physically feel worse after but sometimes it is exactly what the mind needs. A complete week off from physical activity could happen during a longer and more intense work trip or during a family holiday for example. 

The less volume week

With minimal adjustments to your regular workouts this protocol is fairly easy to implement. Keep the overall structure of your workouts intact and simply drop your volume by cutting out assistance work like triceps isolation work for example. This will keep workouts shorter and have you spend less time at the gym whilst still being able to focus on your main objectives. 

The standard Deload week

As the name already suggests it this is most likely the way you want to go. Decrease your overall work volume by 30-50% and drop your intensity by about 20%. In other words do 1-2 sets less per exercise and push less hard not going to your limits but leaving 4-2 reps in the chamber at the end of each set. 

Like this you continue to work on what you’ve been doing, exercise movement patterns stay fresh in your mind and whilst spending less time training and more time recovering you are still actively working towards your goals. 

How to Deload
with gymnastics based Training

Whilst gymnastics strength is nothing special and relies on all the same principles as regular strength you should still take an entirely different approach when it comes to deloading. 

Technique week

A great and refreshing way of breaking up your regular schedule is to add a technical focus week into your long term plan. No matter what you are training, as soon as your body is involved things get technical. One option could be to cut out all conditioning, make sets significantly shorter and focus 80% of your time training on rehab and technique work. Invest time into filming, watching back and analyzing your workouts. 

Like this your joints will get a break from heavy loads. You will get to come back fresher and more efficient allowing you to break through plateaus that we’re holding you back before. 

These weeks will be easier on a physical level but they will require more mental focus making these weeks almost even harder than just regular training. 

Deload workouts throughout your week

For anyone training gymnastics based exercises this might be the most reasonable approach. Instead of planning a Deload week every 8-12 weeks make the mid day of the week your deload day. 

With gymnastics based training like handstands frequency is key. It is important to spend quality time upside down to make being upside down the new normal. It is highly recommendable to train more often throughout the week but to have harder and less harder days as you go alone. 

I love training and don’t want to delod

I get that. I feel you. The question now is how much do you love training? If you love it so much that you never skip a workout then you definitely can not ignore Deload weeks. If you are extremely serious about training I’d recommend to pre plan a proper deload week or at least implement one of the above mentioned techniques. 

If you do tend to skip workouts every now and then or you know that from time to time you have less intense workouts because you are distracted or maybe you have to take a call whilst training then you might not need to Deload at all (I often end up being the guy on the phone…)

Signs you might need to Deload 

The more experienced of an athlete you are and the more in tune with your own body and emotions you are the better you’ll get at understanding when it’s time to take it down a notch. As mentioned above this is not the best approach as your joints do not have nerves and you often can not feel what is actually happening. 

  • Muscles/ joint pain. You’ll feel like you need to warm up and stretch more before every single workout. 
  • Restless sleep. Waking up more tired than when going to sleep and simply not being able to sleep through the night. 
  • Overly sore. Getting sore after a workout is normal but if the soreness won’t improve after 2 days it might be time. 
  • Loss of strength. If you train harder than ever but consistently get weaker you have a clear sign of the need of a Deload period. 

Boost your everyday recover to minimize the need of deloading

If you skip a workout every now and then chances are high you’ll still accumulate extra fatigue over time. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you recover faster after a big workout and get you back to doing what you love sooner. 

  • Good night of sleep. This can sometimes do wonders. Get some blue light blocking glasses and try avoiding all electronics 2h before bed time. No Waking up early. Give your body the sleep it needs. 
  • Active recovery. You won’t recover from laying on the sofa and eating pizza. Light stretching, mobility work and movement therapy is going to do wonders for you.
  • Fuel your body. Plenty of healthy foods and water will provide your body with what it needs to bounce back fast and strong. 
  • The fancy stuff.  Deep tissue massage, infrared sauna, Trigger massage, cryotherapy. There is a reason why NBA players invest heavily into health and recovery. Many of these things really do help!

Deload weeks are a great tool to help professional athletes to max out their performance and to gain an edge when they are at the top. If you need a delod week is up to you to decide. From my experience you and I both do not need a planned Deload week in our workouts as we get distracted by life’s responsibilities too easily and pressure simply isn’t that high!

WordPress Video Lightbox