Was due to write about power this week, but ended up feeling super flat in the gym, subsequently picking up a few niggles when I had football training on short notice the other day. I was due for a deload anyway, but this affirmed that I’d overdone my gym work the past 6 weeks (especially as I’m in diet mode). So wtf is a deload? Why should you care? Here we go.
“A Deload” is a term given to a period – typically a week – in which the training load or intensity is significantly reduced in order to reduce accumulative fatigue. Dropping down the load for a week allows the body to recharge before the next training block, which will help increase adaptation to training and reduce the chances of overtraining. The procedure for deloading is often debated amongst academics and professionals, some suggesting a total rest week whilst others recommend an active recovery period. The most common suggestions for an active recovery are:
- Continuing a similar weight training programme, but reducing the load significantly (drop the total KGs lifted).
- Continuing weight training, but completely changing the training parameters. Consider this more of a change up week e.g. doing a low volume strength week as a Deload for a hypertrophy block.
- Staying away from weight training altogether, but still doing some sporting activity you’d consider different to your normal training e.g. a footballer playing basketball to keep fitness up during an off-season.
- Doing nothing to replace the weight training sessions in your Deload week, just carry on with your in-season football training as usual (in-season).
When to Deload
Academics typically suggest that for every 3 loaded training weeks, an athlete should have 1 Deload week. For each extra training week without a Deload, a further week will be required to recover e.g. 4 weeks of solid training will require a 2 week Deload period, 5 weeks will require 3, and so on.
For a lifter who isn’t competing in sport it’s incredibly simple to plan a Deload into a programme as it doesn’t matter if they’re physically fatigued at any given time, as long as the accumulative fatigue is reduced prior to the next training block. This could apply to a lifter who plays no sport, or an athlete in an off-season e.g. Uniball player with the summer break.
Planning a Deload week for an in-season athlete becomes slightly trickier, as ideally an athlete will have very low levels of fatigue prior to competing. If excessive fatigue isn’t reduced or removed prior to competing, your performance is hindered and you’ll be significantly more susceptible to injury.
With just a single game per month to prepare for, planning in a Deload to be fresh for a game is really simple, as shown in the diagram below. By planning this way, an athlete is able to have 3 weeks of training without disruption whilst still being able to perform at their best for their game. Understanding the visual, if you imagine each bar represents how much fatigue you’re inducing per session, a game day will likely be the most strenuous activity you will do all month, with training and gym sessions being similar levels (Sunday likely a longer session therefore more taxing).
The process becomes more complicated when games are more frequent and irregular as we often see with our BUCS or BAFANL schedules. This is the most common problem when trying to programme in-season, as a 3:1 loading to deloading model wouldn’t work that well unless an athlete is going to prioritise certain games over others, or is prepared to sacrifice game performance for their own physical development, which could be a strategy used for rookies or non starters if athleticism is the primary thing keeping them benched or their long term development is more important.
Looking at the above, the athlete would play their game in Week 3 under a considerable amount of fatigue, before deloading prior to their game in week 4, which would be considered sensible if they’d trained that intensely before 3 consecutive game weeks. Having deloaded, the athlete should be in a decent position to begin lifting properly again in week 5 (game week) and likewise in week 6 (no game). However, having just had 3 games in quick succession followed by 2 heavy gym weeks, the likelihood that an athlete doing hard strength training will be free from fatigue going into week 7 (game week) is incredibly low, performance will be severally reduced and the chance of injury will spike.
To bypass this issue, more thought is required when loading a training block. The 3:1 deload model must be abandoned for something less conventional as you must take advantage of the free time you have by really pushing yourself when you can, before sensibly cutting down the intensity prior to game time. An example of this with the above game schedule is below.
Loading this way keeps intensity high enough during non-game weeks to get some precious gains, whilst the big drop off “light” weeks of training will allow sufficient recovery for peak performance whilst still reaping some minor gym progress on the side. Alternately, load could be kept lower but constant during this period, which will ensure gradual progress is made without risking excessive fatigue, this will work for a block or two, however long term this won’t provide the overload required to continue to make progress.
It’s incredibly important to track what you’re lifting in the gym so you can tell what’s considered a hard or easy training session, but even more important is listening to your body. If you feel exhausted and close to death, you need to drop the intensity down. Adaptations are made at 95%, not 105%. You gain nothing by flat lining yourself week after week because you want to drop a few #Beastmodes on your Instagram story. Your body won’t always get fatigued after lifting e.g. 500kg per week of squatting movements and your lifestyle will affect this. Factors including sleep quality, stress levels, diet, time of day, age and hormone levels can all effect your ability to shift iron on the day, so be sensible and realistic with your sessions if you’re fucked having had no sleep because you’ve been made redundant, lost your wife to your next door neighbour and decided to summer cut to get back in the game you’re probably gunna need to pay attention to your body.
Will cut this here as it’s dragged on a bit, feel free to ping questions into the comments. Next article might be on youth S&C, maybe sleep quality having just touched on recovery. Peace.