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De-Loading: When Less Is More

Ever heard the term de-load bandied about your gym and wondered what it was?

A de-load is a planned period of recovery, typically about a week long.

You might be tempted to think that it’s just a fancy excuse to sit on the couch all day for a week, but in fact a de-load could be just what you need to get you out of that training plateau, lifting heavier…and making gains!

Why Should I De-load?

You can’t go 100% all out in the gym all the time. You might be badass, but you can’t keep up that kind of mental and physical intensity indefinitely. If you try to, you’ll wind up getting injured, or finding yourself “going through the motions” in your workouts, stalling in your progression, and perhaps even contemplating giving up completely on your goals.
Consider de-loading a way to prepare for greater gains. A planned recovery week allows you to make more gains than you would without de-loading and just gives you a break mentally from the constant grind.

When Do I Need To De-load?

⇒ Your progress has stalled. It could be a sign that your central nervous system is getting overloaded and just needs a break to recover.
⇒ You are not recovering as quickly as you used to. If you’re experiencing constant muscle soreness it’s time to de-load.
⇒ You are experiencing frequent niggling injuries
⇒ You are always fatigued
⇒ You are experiencing insomnia
⇒ You are getting sick more often
⇒ You feel depressed or don’t look forward to your training session anymore
⇒ After a competition or major sporting event which can place a lot of physical and mental stress on your body
⇒ You are gaining body fat and losing muscle tissue despite your nutrition plan being as healthy as it ever was

How Often Should I De-load?

If you de-load at regular intervals, you will find that over time you will make better progress, reduce your injuries, and keep yourself in the game mentally.
You should include a planned recovery week every 4-8 weeks for best results. The 6 week point is popular.
Whatever you do, don’t leave it till you feel absolutely awful. It will take you much longer to recover if you let yourself go that far.

How Do I Deload?

Option 1: Lighten Up
The most common method of deloading is to lighten up on your weights. As a guide, all your sets should be performed at around 40-60% of your heaviest lift. This doesn’t mean you go hell for leather and bust out a ton of reps either. The loads are light and the reps and sets are low. That’s the whole idea of a de-load – unload that barbell, and take it easy.

Option 2: Less Is More
A less popular option is to keep your weights more or less the same, but greatly reduce your work volume. Instead of doing 3 sets of 12 reps on a really heavy weight, go 2-3 sets of 5 reps instead.

Option 3: Change It Up
Have some fun and change up your exercises. Give your usual weights routine a complete break and try some bodyweight or plyometric activities instead. Spend some time working on technique, mobility drills and stretching. You might find it hard to give up your weights, but your mind and body will thank you for the break…and who knows you might even enjoy trying something different for a change.

Option 4: Playing It By Ear
This approach is less about inflexible scheduling of de-load weeks and more about listening to your body in order to determine when to push the envelope and when it’s smarter to back off.
So, if you feel amazing, go ahead and set some PB’s or smash your next crossfit wod.
Feeling good? Then give it all you got and push yourself to the max!
Just so-so today? Do your program but don’t feel pressured to go crazy. Don’t stress too much about your weights, focus on your form.
What if you feel terrible? Do the right thing by your body and go for option 1, 2 or 3.

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