Deloading is a training technique which many strength coaches and athletes have been embracing more closely in the last few years. This is where you lower the load, frequency, volume or intensity of your training, or a combination of these variables for a certain amount of time. Based on my experience as a very experienced coach and athlete, I have found that it is not wise to preplan a deload cycle weeks in advance for intermediate and experienced athletes. However, you can get away with such things as a beginner, and in many cases it is a good idea for new athletes to include preplanned deload periods in their training cycles.
For intermediate and advanced athletes, I recommend an alternative approach, as there is no possible way to know how your body is feeling or responding to the training weeks in advance. Your body may be telling you that you need to deload earlier than expected. Likewise, you may get to your scheduled deload period and you feel great.
By deloading when you don’t necessarily need it, you can potentially rob yourself of some great progress, slowing your gains significantly. No one intentionally undermines their training but deloading at the wrong time can do just that!
I believe this to be true even when you are preparing for competitions. It is unnecessary in most sports to take an entire week to deload before a competition. The body will adapt to a certain amount or volume of work, and eventually creates a high threshold for it; even expects it! At this level of prowess, you may need only a day or two off before a competition. Deloading for an entire week may be counter-productive, as it is rare that an athlete would need an entire week in any circumstance. It is imperative that you LISTEN to your body!
As an example, there have been times that I have felt completely trashed and took only one day off of training, and that is all I needed. Other times, I have needed much more. I recently took and needed a four day deload, and I have never needed four days before unless I was extremely sick. In this case, I went to a highland games clinic and threw all day, taking more throws that I generally would in a competition. Then the very next day, I competed all day in a Highland Games. I have never done that before, but my body let me know (in no uncertain terms) to scale back my training. Note that I didn’t take those four days completely off, I did train with less total sets and didn’t use maximal weights. By the fifth day I was fine and ready to lift with high intensity again.
I am actually firmly against taking a complete week off of training to deload. It makes no sense unless you have an illness or a severe injury that keeps you from training. The more experienced you become, a small amount of fatigue can carry over from session to session, especially if you handle maximal loads often. Strength athletes experience this most frequently. Advanced athletes know their bodies well, and IF THEY LISTEN, they will know if and when they need to scale things back or take time off. Deloading isn’t really a difficult concept, nor do I think that it is something that you can arbitrarily plan for when competing at a higher level.
Like most things in training, you need to experiment to find the optimal deloading protocol for you. Try taking an extra day here or there if you are feeling fried; don’t just take a complete week off because a generic program said to. A good coach/trainer will be able to see if his athletes need a break to deload. Programs must be adaptable and based around your daily lives. Don’t live and die by the program that is on paper. You can trust the program, but know your body.
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