I think I’ve mentioned one of the greatest mistakes I used to make in the gym: training heavy all the time without varying my routine. One way to avoid this mistake (and over-training) is a training technique called deloading.
Deloading is pretty simple: you just train at a lower intensity every once in a while.
Before I go into more detail, let me tell you some benefits of doing this:
1. You allow your central nervous system (CNS) to recover. The CNS just gets “burned out” on heavy lifting. A light week allows it to rest (see also: strength training and neurology).
2. Injury prevention: A light week gives your muscles, joints, and ligaments some rest from heavy lifting.
3. Psychological boost: deloading gives you a mental break as well as a physical one. A week of relatively easy training gets you mentally primed to hit it hard the next week.
4. Strength peaking: a lot of powerlifters use deloading as part of their peaking cycles—building up to maximum effort lifts (see periodization and strength).
How often should you deload?
I’ve seen different opinions on this, usually varying between 4-8 weeks. It would depend on how heavy you train and how advanced you are.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: the more advanced you are in training, the more often you should consider deloading. A beginner trainee still isn’t lifting very heavy and could probably deload every couple of months. But advanced/older lifters (let’s say 35 and up) may want to consider taking a complete break from training every fourth or fifth week (sounds crazy, but I know of some really experienced trainers who recommend this). Advanced lifters are training harder and heavier and need to give their bodies a break more often.
How to deload:
I’ve seen several sample workouts, but let me tell you the simplest way to start: just reduce the weight you use–you could train with about 40-60% of your one rep max (instead of 70-80%). You can also reduce the training volume by a few sets. What I do is reduce the weight (as mentioned) and go for a slightly higher rep range.
A deloading workout should be relatively easy–the point is to give your body a chance to rest.
Try incorporating this planned rest into your routines—I bet you’ll get bigger and stronger in the long run.