Deload Principle: When to Back Off
This morning was chest and biceps for me but for some reason I just wasn’t feeling it. It was more than just being tired or not eating enough the previous day, and it was more than merely having to break through mentally. I could tell my body was needing a break. Rather than throwing in the towel, I shortened my workout and lowered both my weight and intensity; kind of went through the motions. You hear many say it’s good to take days or even a week off from the gym entirely now and then. That may be true to some extent but I personally don’t like taking more than a couple days off. I find I benefit more during these times by using a principle known as deloading. This prevents me from breaking my routine and allows me to get some sort of exercise in that day without overdoing it.
Deload Training – Keep it Simple
Deloading certainly isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a complicated concept. In the most simple of terms deloading is backing off your training volume, amount of weight used, and intensity level. I’ll use this morning’s workout as an example since that’s what inspired me to write this article. Today’s normal routine would have consisted of 3 exercises for chest and 2 exercises for biceps (I’m currently on a 4 days on-1 day off split and the 4 day sets alternate with different workouts).
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I started out with bench press doing a couple warm-ups as usual then dove into my first heavy set. What I normally handle for close to 8 reps with I racked the weight at 4 reps. Needless to say I wasn’t too happy. So of course I tried again and…same thing. Now sometimes we just have to dig deep within ourselves, grasp that mental edge, and push through. On the same token we really have to be in tune with our bodies and know the difference of when we need to push harder or back off. I knew I needed to back off. So I simply cut the volume of my workout in half, didn’t go near as heavy, and didn’t go all-out on my sets.
Below are 2 workouts. The first one is what would have been my normal workout for today and the one below that is the deload version so you can get an idea of what deloading is.
Normal Chest and Bicep Workout
Bench Press: 4-5 sets x 3-12 reps (progressively go heavier each set)
Incline Hammer Strength Press: 4 sets x 12-20 reps
Cable Flyes: 4 sets x 20 reps
Preacher Curls: 4 sets x 8-12 reps
Incline Dumbbell Curls: 4 sets x 12-20 reps
Deload Chest and Bicep Workout
Bench Press: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Incline Hammer Strength Press: 3 sets x 10 reps
Preacher Curls: 4 sets x 8-12 reps
As you can see the volume of the deload workout is substantially less, almost 50% less. And as I mentioned above the amount of weight was reduced from what I normally use and I did not train until failure on any sets. I did however feel a little pumped after this workout and I will probably deload for the next few workouts (for each body part trained this week). On that note, you can deload for an entire week or deload as you feel you need to. You may only find you need a day or two. You really have to listen to your body on this one. If you’re losing strength then you certainly need to deload for about a week or so. If you’re gains are stagnant then you may need to deload for just a few days.
Knowing When to Deload
Here’s a few key times to consider the deload principle in your weight training:
> If your strength gains have come to a halt – maybe a few days of deloading
> If you’ve lost strength when nothing else (ex: diet) has changed – deload for at least a week
> If you did not get enough rest the night before – possibly deload just that workout
> If your did not eat enough quality calories that day or the day before – possibly deload just that workout
> If you’ve been getting great workouts and progressing but all of a sudden feel sluggish – deload for a day or 2
It’s a fact that we simply cannot train with all-out intensity 365 days a year. Week after week of handling heavy weights and intense workouts eventually takes a toll on our bodies and our central nervous system. Sometimes you have to back off a little in order to grow. Whereas I think the term over-training is overused quite often, I do believe this deload principle can really help you break past that plateau and get to that next level of muscle growth. In fact I believe deloading every so often is necessary for this to happen. Deload for a few days, or even a week, and you might be amazed at how strong you are when you go back to training heavy and all-out.
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