Deloading: Back Off to Get Bigger, Part 1

By Skyler Zarndt MS, ATC, CSCS

As the Holidays approach, I find myself tinkering with my current lifting program, trying to schedule my lifts around the hectic schedule that awaits me at the end of the month.  Between traveling, family time, more traveling, and then some more traveling on top of that, this time of year can be perfect for my deload period of this current training block.

So what’s a deload?  Well, a deload is simply a planned period, usually around a week, where we back off of our intense training schedule to give our body a breather.  If you missed my last post about CNS fatigue, check it out here:

https://skylerzarndt.com/2014/12/09/central-nervous-system-fatigue/

I touch briefly on WHY we need some recovery in our training sessions.

We know that the body obviously goes through a large amount of stress whenever we train – nervous system stress and physiological stress.  We also discussed that if we don’t balance the amount of stress (training) that we place on the body, then eventually we will break down, get sick, get injured, etc.

Training, whatever the goal may be, is not simply about going all out every single workout.  If you do that, you’ll find yourself not gaining much ground.  Unless your goal is to never adapt and never improve, then go ahead.  But if you’re like most people, then we want to see improvements.  And the deload week is something that, in my opinion, is critical to seeing improvements.

First, lets go ahead and look at WHY we need to rest.  The General Adaptation Syndrome describes the stages that the body goes through when encountered with stress.  In our case, that stress is training load, but the principle applies to any stress applied on the body.  The stages of the Syndrome are:

  1. Alarm (Become aware of stressor)
  2. Resistance (Body prepares to fight stressor)
  3. Exhaustion (Negative consequences of stress appear)

GAS

The body has a natural reaction to stress, and this stress is what allows us to grow.  However, if this stress goes unchecked for long periods of time, we end up deep in the exhaustion stage.  Like I said yesterday, training and improving is all about balancing workload with recovery.

If we don’t plan enough recovery into our training, our body never has a change to ADAPT to the training.  This next picture is a prime example of how the General Adaptation Syndrome can apply to training.  This time, the bell is reversed to demonstrate the effects of stress.

general adaptive syndrome

This graph depicts an “overtraining” phase (4) that shows exactly what will happen to our training goals if we are overtained, if our CNS is fried, or if we never give our body a chance to recover.

So this applicable science should show that if we don’t rest AKA – DELOAD, then we are making it that much harder on ourselves to achieve our training goals.  So HOW and WHEN should we deload?

First, I’ll say that the deload period is something that is EARNED.  So let’s say that if you’re a beginner (training less than 6 months), you don’t need a deload period.  The total accumulation of stress from training isn’t great enough yet.  You can still take days off, you just don’t need a whole week or two off just yet.

If you periodize your training to include 2-3 LOW INTENSITY/LIGHT DAYS a week, you probably don’t need a deload week, either.  These low intensity days, in addition to off days every week, are plenty of rest and recovery for you body.

Also, if your training is comprised mostly of CORRECTIVE exercises, then you don’t need a deload week.  Corrective’s are fantastic.  I use them daily with my athletes and use them myself.  But they aren’t physiologically/neurologically taxing enough to necessitate a week off of training!  You don’t need the time off if you aren’t working hard enough to begin with!

So now that we know WHO qualifies for a deload, tomorrow we will discuss HOW and WHEN we should deload, with specific examples.

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