You'll sometimes see a workout including a "deload" or "back off." You might hear of one having a "light week."
A deload is a planned reduction in the volume or intensity of your workout. This is in order to allow your body to recovery from heavier training earlier without going so long between training sessions that you begin to de-train and lose some of your gains.
Why do I want to do this? Can’t I just work hard week after week? Taking a deload allows the body to recover without de-training. It helps prevent you from overtraining.
Taking a regular deload, or otherwise cycling the intensity of your workout (see Bill Starr 5 x 5, below) allows you to train steadily for a long time. If you don’t, you will eventually plateau and be unable to progress through harder training. You may get injured from pushing too hard too long, as well. A deload acts as a safe way to let the body get ready for more heavy training without the effects a total layoff can have on your progress. Remember, the goal is steady progress.
How do I do it? There are many ways to deload. So many, in fact, Eric Cressey wrote an e-book on the subject! But generally, you reduce either the volume or the intensity of your workout to about 50-60% for a number of workouts - usually one week, if you are using a weekly rotation of exercises.
If you deload volume, you keep the same weights you'd use but reduce the number of reps. For example, if you do 3 sets of 5 squats at 225 pounds (100% intensity), a 60% deload would be 3 sets of 3 (5 x 0.6) at 225 pounds.
If you deload intensity, you keep the volume but lower the weights you use. Using the same example, 3 x 5 x 225 would become 3 x 5 x 135 pounds (225 x 0.6).
The first approach keeps your muscles working at the same intensity but you get a break; you don't have to do as much hard work. The second approach lets your muscles work less hard, but demands the same amount of work.
Where can I see this in action?
Some training plans that use deloads, and how:
Eric Cressey's "Maximum Strength" book uses 4 x 4 week cycles, each of which includes a deload week for the final week. Some exercises are dropped, the others remain at a high intensity but a very low volume.
Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 workout has a planned 1-week deload every 4th week. Unlike the earlier weeks, in which you push your final set to the limit, you just get the reps in. The volume remains the same, but the weights used as significantly lower than the three preceding weeks.
The Texas Method (detailed in Practical Programming) and Bill Starr's 5 x 5 both use deload days - you have a medium, light, and heavy day each week. You do not need weekly deloads, because you are constantly varying the load. This forces your body to work very hard, and then gets enough of a respite to recover on the light days while still training enough to keep the benefits of the heavier days before and after.
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