How to prolong progress, reduce injuries and stay on top of your game mentally
De-loading is an often overlooked concept in today’s world of all-or-nothing weight training. Bodybuilders are known to be associated with obsessive-compulsive behaviour, never missing a workout because taking a break from training does not gel with the “go hard or go home” ethos of the iron game.
You cannot repeatedly put stress on your ligaments, joints, connective tissues, your central nervous system (CNS) and immune system over a prolonged period of time. A de-load is therefore a purposeful reduction in training volume and intensity for the purposes of recovery, injury prevention and improved performance. The concept of de-loading originates from the law of supercompensation.
The training process is represented by supercompensation via the following phases:
Phase1: Application of Stress
The stress a workout causes in the form of muscular damage and fatigue.
Phase 2: Recovery
This phase allows the body to recover and regenerate. It can take the form of active rest between sets, rest days or an entire week of active recovery.
Phase 3: Supercompensation
This is also known as the re-bound phase when the body effectively rebounds from a fatigued state to a new and higher level of performance.
A de-load is associated with phase 2, which means that it allows your body to recover from accumulated fatigue and primes it for further gains. Your mind will also need a break from heavy, intensive training because you cannot maintain that level of mental intensity for prolonged periods of time. Be proactive, avoid an injury and de-load regularly.
Tell-tale signs when you need a change of pace
- Your inability to increase weight on most lifts.
- You feel irritated, tired and permanently fatigued.
- Loss of motivation and the desire to train.
- Going through the motions and not training at maximum intensity.
- Your joints feel stiff and they ache during lifts.
- You struggle to recuperate from your previous workouts.
Principles of a de-load
- Reduce your volume and intensity by 60% of what you would do in a normal training week.
- Do not exceed 40-60% of your one repetition maximum (1RM).
- A de-load should occur every 4 to 6 weeks. Some individuals may need recovery more often.
- A seasoned bodybuilder who trains with heavier weights and high intensity will need to de-load more often than ‘newbies’ who are only finding their feet in the gym.
- A common practice of bodybuilders who de-load is to focus and train neglected muscle groups but not at heightened intensities.
- You can limit your weight lifting and increase cardio during a de-load.
- Focus on doing more isolation work and avoid the major compound moves that hammer your CNS.
- When you de-load you should not do any extreme intensity technique such as drop sets or going to absolute failure.
- De-loading can also entail taking an entire week off from training.