Time off for me is one of the hardest things to do.
I hate rest days and sometimes I just feel unaccomplished if I am not throwing around heavy weight.
Telling me that I have to decrease my weight(s), take time off, or just not do anything is like telling a child they can’t have a cookie.
I’m a man-child and my cookies look like barbells, mmmm.
When I started to play around with DUP (daily undulated periodization) training, I read a lot more about taking a regular deload week with this style of training.
I immediately knew I was going to hate parts of this training.
So what is a deload week?
Deload weeks are planned time away or off from your heavy work lifting barbells and dumbbells and doing crunches-planks-calf raises.
They’re designed into programming to give your joints rest and allow your body to recover from the stresses you’ve placed on it.
Your body doesn’t make its gains from all the barbell crushing you do in the gym. Your gains are made when you rest and give your body time to recover.
Thus the Law of Supercompensation.
A deload week is the “recovery” phase in the graphic.
This recovery phase also applies to your time after you leave the gym, hence why many programs either split up body parts or have rest days between workout days.
It’s the repair/recovery phase that allows you to come back the next week and add more weight or do a couple more reps.
When it comes to deload weeks, like Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, there are a few different flavors you can choose from for your “recovery”.
The most popular method is to decrease your weight down to 40-60% of your 1RM (one-rep max) and keep reps and sets pretty low, i.e. if you had been doing 5×5 this week you would decrease weight and do 2×5 or maybe 1×5.
In Ben and Jerry’s terms, this is FroYo Cherry Garcia.
You could also keep the weight the same but greatly reduce your volume.
In this case hit the numbers you hit last week but do only a couple sets of single reps or even double reps and then you skedaddle home.
In Ben and Jerry’s terms, this is having the mental strength to only measure out ONE serving of ice cream and fitting it into your macros. (seriously, you have no idea how hard that is)
Another option is to change up your exercise selection.
Instead of using a barbell, on a deload, you could use light dumbbells or do bodyweight.
One of my recent deloads (more on that below) was bodyweight only with an extra scoop of foam rolling. This is like eating the grocery store brand ice cream, no one wants to do it but sometimes its on sale and how can I turn down Buy 2 Get 3 Free!?
Another, far less exciting option is to just do nothing more than taking some nice leisurely walks and spend time working on mobility and perhaps getting a good massage.
This is like NOT eating Ben and Jerry’s because like an idiot you consumed a few too many pints this week and realize you might have an addiction and need to practice “moderation”.
When should you take a deload week?
- If your coach gives you a week to deload, you take it, the end. They’ve worked out your program and know how intense it is on your body and when you need to scale it back a bit and rest.
- Feeling all of a sudden weaker? Not the weaker that happens because you decided to go train after getting woo-girl wasted the night before but like now you notice that weight you normally feel good under feels like you are trying to lift up the city from Age of Ultron. More than likely, this is a signal from your CNS that its time to let it rest.
- If you are in constant pain(more so than the occasional DOMS) when you squat/get in or out of a chair, walk up stairs, or press things overhead or off your chest then you might want to back off for a week. Take this time off to get a massage, foam roll, or focus on mobility drills. Nobody wants to move like the Tin Man when they’re 60. Take care of your joints and they will take care of you.
For myself, in the last couple of months, I’ve taken two deload weeks and each one was different in how I trained.
My first deload came after my 4-month long cut for summer.
I outlined most of that here and I’ll be honest, I didn’t take a lot of days off. I knew once my hips began to get tight and joints felt like rusted hinges that it was time to step back from the barbell.
So I spent a week doing only bodyweight movements.
Pull-ups, chin-ups, rows, lunges, one-leg squats and a good portion of some foam rolling and stretching.
In this case, I changed the intensity and the training modality and I felt pretty good.
The 2nd deload came after doing four weeks of DUP training where I was squatting, sumo deadlifting, and incline bench pressing three days a week plus one day for back and bi’s and show muscles.
My volume went up significantly and I began to feel it more and more this time in the hips.
Hence, why I started to make my mobility a MUST DO on rest days and in the mornings.
This second deload coincided with my summer vacation. I found a local gym in Maine and this time dropped my weight down to about 40-45% of my 1RM and only did three sets of 5, period.
Oh I still got my curls in!
I was at the beach bro, come on like I am going to skip giving myself a Swoltality. However, I greatly reduced the weight and volume on squats, deadlifts, and bench.
Recovery is Key
I made a conscious choice to do something active every day on vacation as well.
Whether it was taking a long walk (cough getting lost in Acadia National Park cough), mobility drills, meditating on the beach, or doing some quick sprints for 10 minutes.
Nothing crazy and nothing that would tax my system but I did more than lie on the beach and soak up the sun. By soak, I mean hide because I’m a daywalker.
Deloading is sometimes a hotly debated issue among those in the fitness industry and whether you should or shouldn’t do it. Personally, I think it should be done if you are working on gaining mass or strength.
If any of the issues I mentioned above are happening to you, then a deload week might be in order.
Use that time to rest, recover, get in some walks, and when you get back to it the next week you will be stronger and more refreshed and the taste of those gains will be sweeter than a pint of Cinnamon Bun Ben and Jerry’s.