The deload week, an often underappreciated and misunderstood tool in the kit of a fitness training program. Some trainers I know believe in it and include it in their programs, while others I know disagree and consider it to be a waste of time. As I was doing a deload week, I decided to discuss it with a few different trainers and it was interesting to hear their different responses to it as it always is. One trainer laughed and said that his deload week, is having a good time in Ibiza for a week.
He’s being honest and is in essence right. A deload week is in reality a rest week, so a week off doing what you enjoy can technically be considered a deload week. However, the more accurate concept of a deload here, as the name itself implies, is the idea of still being active but with a decrease in intensity, volume, weight, or even the use a completely different type of exercise for the deload period.
There are different reasons and of course there are, as with everything life and fitness, different methods, timelines, and opinions on exactly how a deload works. A quick internet search will give you a wide array of information as well as the usual criticisms and explanations of how you are probably doing it wrong. Information results and opinions like these always remind me that there is no one way that works for everyone. It’s important to find what works for you and the balance within a program that fits your life and goals. This article here gives a pretty balanced explanation of the deload week concept and why you may or may not need it.
Personally, I find deloading boring. However, I also understand that our bodies aren’t built to consistently be pushed to their limits and trained to the maximum. Yes, our bodies recover, adapt, and learn as they are sophisticatedly brilliant. They do, however, need to recover and will usually let you know when it’s about the time to have a breather.
I first heard the term deload week from my CrossFit friends. While I understood its significance, in my earlier training years, I didn’t really like the sound of it too much or really the idea of slowing down in my training. In my usual hypocritical fashion, I would continue to push myself and train hard and without many rest periods for a time. As I’ve gotten a bit older and wiser, I’ve finally started listening to people who are more knowledgeable than me and started to incorporate more recovery into my training including deload sessions and weeks.
Recently, I’ve included two deload weeks with a different reason for each. One was because I felt it. I felt the fatigue in my body even though my form and my training were still good and strong. The second one was more of a choice and how I had planned my program, making it more challenging to complete. The timeline between the two, though, was shorter than I would usually go for and from what is the conventional timeline for it. I don’t really do things conventionally in general, so there wasn’t much difference there.
For about a year and a half before the pandemic and lockdown, I had changed my goals and intentionally decreased my training weight. I was still training a lot and regularly. Six days a week was the norm for me. But I wasn’t pushing for weight maximums or really pushing my limits with the weight ranges. I did, however, increase the intensity, sets and reps. I also changed some of the methods I was using. I only allowed myself to do a maximum weight that I could lift with the new methods and grips and never to revert to the previous even if it meant I was a bit was weaker.
While the gyms were closed and I had to drastically change my training to mostly running and calisthenics, I had a rethink about my training and training schedule. I really missed the resistance training, weightlifting, and really pushing myself. So I decided it was time to get back to exactly that when the gyms reopened but with training fewer times a week which is a challenge for me as I previously wrote about. I have been keeping to it and only training at the gym four days a week. However, about a month ago or so, I started feeling the fatigue kick in. It was time for a rest. The problem was, I wasn’t ready to take a full on rest week especially as we just had a long period where the gyms were closed.
A deload week was in order. It felt good, a bit boring, but good. It was more out of necessity, so I had little struggle with it. The fatigue was catching up with me and I knew that my training would probably plateau if I continued the way I was. It was a simple step back to move further forward, and it worked. My next training cycle turned out to be one of the best I have done in years. I pushed weights that I hadn’t touched for a long time and got close to some of my highest numbers.
The real challenging deload, however, was the one I had last week. It was extremely tedious and boring. It came off the back of this really brilliant training cycle. Because this training cycle was so good and I felt good, I wanted to continue going. My body felt good and I knew I could do it without any problems. But I recognized that this deload was just as important as the first. This one would test my discipline as much as anything else which is one of the mental tools I like to train as well.
This one was decided and set at the start of the training cycle and I had to stick to it. My strategy was to push my numbers up with an eye on a deload straight after. If I really think about it, it was probably this planned deload that got me to these numbers. Knowing that I would have this reprieve week at the end of it could be what sort of gave me the permission to push myself harder than I have for years. I also knew that when it came to the deload, I would try to resist and consider not doing it. Discipline is a constant in training and in life. It takes practice, and this, I felt, was the perfect practice. I knew I could keep going. I knew I could do more, but I had to remain disciplined. This made the second deload a lot more challenging. It worked the first time and I’m certain it will help this time as well.
I’m not the most qualified person to explain the concept and mechanics behind the deload week. What I do know is that this past deload week has worked my discipline hard and got me feeling excited for my next training cycle. It’s going to be a good one and I am definitely looking forward to it.