How to Properly Implement a Deload Week

If you are not taking the time to include a deload week into your training regimen then you are likely missing a key component. A well timed deload, or recovery week, can the allow your body to heal from those long hours you put in the gym.

We all know that you don’t build muscles in the gym. That’s just the place where you put them under stress so that they bounce back bigger and better and ready to conquer heavier iron. To that end we try and maximize our day to day recovery through proper nutrition, sleep, and stress management in order to be ready to push ourselves in the gym the next day.

While the daily recovery is important, it is also beneficial to give the body a longer period of restoration and that is were the deload week comes into play. A deload isn’t just sitting on your ass twiddling your thumbs all day, but rather it is simply reducing  the training volume, intensity, or both in order to give your body some extra recovery time. This usually comes after a hard charging four to six weeks of lifting, but that time frame isn’t written in stone.

Recovery weeks can be scheduled around holidays or periods of travel when you know you will have other obligations that will make it difficult to hit the gym as you would like. They can also be scheduled into your long term programming in regular intervals. You can even choose to incorporate them whenever you are feeling particularly beat up or to recover from injury. Like I said earlier, there are no hard and fast rules as to when you should deload, and that’s the beauty of it.

You just have to make sure you ARE doing it periodically.

So what does a deload week look like? Well, much like the “when” question, there are no set rules that say, “Thou Shalt Deload Like This…” And that’s great because it allows you some leeway to get creative. I am going to share with you a sample deload week that I recently wrapped up, but first let’s examine the plethora of options available for a proper deload.

First up, there should be some reduction in volume. This can be done in a number of ways, such as reducing the number of days you workout, the number of sets and exercises within a workout, the weight used, the reps done in a certain set, or any combination of these.

Secondly, there should be a moderate reduction of intensity. The easiest way to do this is to drop the weight used. You can even go as far as to do only bodyweight movements, but that is not entirely necessary. Reduce the amount of conditioning or metcons you are incorporating is another option. Notice how I said “moderate reduction.” We still want to give ourselves a little push each workout and not just sleepwalk through it, but these sessions shouldn’t be nearly as intense as your normal workouts.

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Weights optional this week.

One of the benefits of reducing the amount of weight used is that it can still lead to some skill improvement, which can manifest itself as strength gains when you pick the heavier weights back up later on. Most lifts, especially the Olympic lifts and kettlebell skills, require a level of skill proficiency that comes only with practice. By greasing the groove with these movements during your recovery week you are enhancing the neural pathways that will improve the efficiency of your lifts. Simply put, better movement patterns equal better lifts.

So if you are spending less time in the gym this week, what do you do with the extra hour or two you gain? Well, if you’re anything like me you probably feel the itch to stay active. That’s good. You can take advantage of that desire. Get outside and do something. Walk, take your kids to the park,  try a new sport like pickup basketball or tennis, rock climb, ride your bike, anything really. Don’t be afraid to experiment or revisit old activities that you used to enjoy. The change of pace can be very refreshing.

The last element of a good deload week is recovery, which is the main reason we are backing off this week anyway. It almost goes without saying, but it is especially important to get some decent sleep in. The majority of your cellular repair occurs during the deep stages of sleep so don’t skimp here. In addition, there’s nothing wrong with sneaking in a little catnap here or there this week either.

Another thing you shouldn’t skimp on is high quality nutrition. It can be tempting to dial the calories back due to the decreased volume, but you still need the nutrients to recover. The only thing I tend to do a little differently is to replace some of my starchy carbohydrates with even more green leafy vegetables since the intensity of my workouts make them less glycolitic in nature, thus the need to replace glycogen is not as great.

Self care is one aspect of recovery that can be stepped up this week too. Now I won’t harp on you for not including some sort of flexibility and mobility regimen into your normal bag of recovery tricks, but seriously, if you want to see faster improvements you need to include this stuff. During the deload week in particular I ramp up my mobility work, spending quality time with my foam roller, bands, and Yoga Yune Up balls. The rule of thumb is that I double the amount of time that I normally allot to it and I ALWAYS feel better by the end of the week. So much so that I often wonder how great I would feel every week if I spent that much time on it.

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Spend quality time with the foam roller.

Now that you know what the components of good deload week look like in theory, how do they look in practice? Well, I am going to share with you the details of a deload week I just finished. Like I said before, there are general rules you should follow, but the actual execution can be very fluid so this is just one example. If I were to dig back into prior deload weeks they would look quite different than this one.

First, a little background. I was coming off close to five solid weeks of training. The deload wasn’t planned, but I had a shoulder that was a little more sore day to day than I was comfortable with so it seemed like a good time. My schedule had me lifting two days on, 1 day off, with one session a squat focused complex day, and the second a high volume, press focused day. Both days included some supplemental strength work and plenty of conditioning sets at the end. In addition to these workouts, I was also including 2-3 sprint sessions a week.

Because of the sore shoulder I made the decision to approach the week using bodyweight only exercises. Like I said earlier, not necessary, but I was hedging my bets that this would help my recovery. I also moved to a one day on, one day off approach, which dropped my volume to 3 workouts instead of my usual 4-5. Instead of morning sprint sessions, I incorporated sprinting into my main workouts on two of the days, thus reducing the volume of sprints as well.

Daily activities usually included an hour long walk (although I missed one or two due to weather), at least thirty minutes of mobility work (up from my normal fifteen), and a half hour of Tai Chi (my new activity).

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Learn or do something new.

So here are the actual workouts for the week:

Day One – Simple day with squat, pullups, and pushups. Burpees and ab work for conditioning. Everything was kept slow and controlled to focus on quality reps.

18:00 AMRAP
1A) Pullups x5
1B) Pushups x10
1C) BW Squats x15 + 10s hold at bottom on rep 15
9 rounds + A

For Time:
2A) Burpeex x30, 20, 10
2B) Leg Raise + Hip up x20, 20, 20
2C) Recline Rows x10, 20, 30
12:05

Day Two – Upped the intensity of this one with sprints and changed things up with targeted core work at the end

EMOM x 20:00
Odd – shuttle sprint x 20yd down and back x 2
Even – Clapping Pushups x 10

6:00 AMRAP
2A) Wall Walks x3
2B) BW Drop Lunges x6/sd
2C) Sit Outs x9/sd
3 rounds + 1 rep of A

4:00 AMRAP
3A) In and Outs x4
3B) V-ups x4
3C) Mt. Climbers x4/sd
3C) Sit Outs x4/sd
6 rounds +A

Day 3 – Some intensity with the sprints and a longer metcon set in the middle

4 rounds:
1A) Sprint 15 yd, backpedal 15 yds x3
1B) Leg Raise + Hip Up x25
1C) Hand Release Pushups x25
1D) Side Plank w/ Reach and Rotation x 12/sd

For time, 20-16-12-8-4 reps of each:
2A) Split Squat R
2B) Split Squat L
2C) Hindu Pushup
2D) Pullup
2E) Burpee
14:45

4:00 AMRAP
3A) Pushup + T rotation x2, 4, 6…
3B) Prisoner Lunge x2, 4, 6…
3C) Burpee w/ Tuck Jump x2, 4, 6…
4 rounds all

One final note, while these workouts may look advanced to some, this was a definite back off for me. The deload workouts need to be designed with what YOU are doing in your current workouts to ensure there is a drop in intensity and volume. There is no set percentage to drop. Mine was probably in the realm of 50% because of the shoulder. 60-80% may be a better option if you are not feeling particularly beat up. That may have been a better option for me too as when I got back to picking up weights this week my first workout was a little lackluster.

Over time you’ll learn how to interpret your body’s signals and be able to fine tune the art of programming a good deload week. Hopefully this post gives you some ideas to implement your next recovery week, and if your are not currently employing the tactic of doing so you can now see why it’s important. Do yourself a favor schedule this crucial week of training into your calendar.

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