Deloading:The Dullest Topic in Weightlifting
(But this might be vital to you!)
By Chris Young – Coach, Trainer, and Powerlifter
I decided to write an article on deloading after swapping emails with Nick Ritchey, GMN head man. Nick, who now lives in Seoul, trained at Darkside Barbell from around July 08 until Sept 09, and he deloads the way we did then, which was through cutting volume rather than intensity. In fact the 4th week of a training cycle was used to test our core lifts, and then we’d cut the volume of assistance work by about 50%; thinking about it now that’s hardly a deload!
So, the questions to answer in this article are
- Why deload?
- Who should deload?
- What type of deload should I do?
- And, what are the psychological effects of a deload?
Chris, Russell, and Darren decide it’s time for a deload week!
It would be nice if we could all train full bore, and the weight / performance levels just kept increasing but unfortunately the human body doesn’t work like that; not for most of us anyway.
You could reframe the term “deload” as “active rest” if you prefer; that’s what it does. It allows the body and mind to heal, rest, and recover from the abuse you just dished out these last 3 weeks; but by training you’re also priming the body for the next 3 weeks.
During this week one can work on areas which are often neglected. This could mean mobility and flexibility work, muscle activation, and working on your weak areas. Concentrate on making yourself ready for the next cycle not, as I did until this year, still doing and pushing the limits on the core lifts.
Who Should Deload? (And the phenomenon of the natural deload)
The natural delaod is what happens to most gym goers; they never actually train on a structured programme for more than 3 weeks. Maybe I should say that this article only applies to serious trainers; but you wouldn’t be reading this site if you weren’t serious.
I think that all trainers with more than 6 months of lifting behind them should perform some kind of deload. Remember, when I say 6 months I mean consistently lifting 3-5 times a week for 6 months, not just dabbling.
How to Deload
My general rule is that the more advanced / experienced the lifter, the easier the deload should be.
From 6-24 months the trainee could cut volume every 4th week by up to 50%, while still performing the core lifts, but not to a high intensity. In his 5/3/1 Manual, my friend Jim Wendler has the core lifts trained on the delaod week but only up to 60% of your 1 rep max for 5 reps; pretty easy stuff.
For the advanced / experienced lifter I would recommend performing only assistance work at a lower volume than usual. For example on a Lower Body day I would perform 1 or 2 Ab movements along with GHRs and / or Kb Swings for only 2-3 sets of each; add a little grip work and that would be all.
At the top of the food chain I have known drug using, equipped lifters in the States have a couple of weeks off after a major lifting meet doing nothing because their bodies are so beat up – or maybe they’re just lazy?! This could be called the enforced deload; injury would also cause this.
The Psychology of Deloading
By now I might have convinced you that deloading is a good thing physically, but how might you react mentally? There are those obsessive types who just can’t allow themselves to miss a session, or even to cut back!
For those I would say identify what is important to you; if you’re a Powerlifter then it’s probably intensity (heavy weight), therefore keep doing a heavy lift but choose sensibly. If you use a Westside style template then perform a 3 seconds Paused Squat as your Max Effort lift, which would require less weight, therefore less stress on your nervous system than a Max Squat with an extra 200 lbs of chain. Along with sensible selection of core lifts be sure to cut back on your assistance exercises.
If you’re a bodybuilder then you might feel that volume is more important than intensity; if this is the case then keep the volume high but cut back on your loads.
I have given several options in the above text; remember, this only applies if you have more than 6 months of consistent lifting behind you, and if the “Natural Deload” phenomenon doesn’t occur in your life. If that’s you, then give your mind and body a break once in a while (month) and deload.
Chris is a British and World Champion Drug Free Powerlifter who has worked in the fitness industry since 1985, he currently runs the gym at the very prestigious Spa at Pennyhill Park (http://www.thespa.uk.com). Along with Powerlifting, Chris has competed nationally in Martial Arts, and has dabbled in Drug Free Bodybuilding. Chris can be contacted through www.getmightynow.com.