Deloading for Optimal Strength and Speed

When you train hard for a long duration of time, you eventually have to take one step back in order to take two steps forward. Training should be planned around periodic deload or recovery weeks in order to allow the joints, tendons, muscles, and mind to regenerate and come back stronger than before.

What is a deload week?

A deload week is when you significantly reduce overall training volume, intensity, or frequency or a combination of different factors. I have used all three before in my own training and all hold merit. I personally favor reducing overall training volume but keeping the intensity on the higher end (75–90 percent range). This allows you to maintain strength from the loading or overreaching period in the previous phases while allowing your body to recover and express your true levels of strength, speed, and fitness. Honestly though, even if you were to slightly decrease training intensity (percentage of your one rep maximum), you aren’t going to lose much strength, if any at all.

How to deload

Luckily, this isn’t very difficult. You simply have to make minor adjustments to your overall training plan. (You do have a plan, right?) Let’s say for example that you’ve been training on a four-day upper/lower split.

A sample lower body day might look something like this:

Week 7

Monday—lower

1A.) Back squat, 6 X 4 (worked up to 345 X 4)

2A.) Bulgarian split squat, 3 X 10

2B.) Glute ham raise, 3 X 8–12

3A.) Ab wheel/back extension superset, 2–3 X 12–15; backward sled drag X max distance in five minutes

During your deload week, you simply would reduce training volume by 50 percent and reduce training intensity to around 70–75 percent.

Week 8 (deload)*

Monday—lower

1A.) Back squat, 4 X 3 X 70–75% estimated 1RM

2A.) Bulgarian split squat, 2 X 8

2B.) Glute ham raise, 2 X 8

3A.) Ab Wheel/back extension superset, 2 X 10–12

*Conditioning optional

It doesn’t look like much, but that’s the idea for a deload week. You should be able to get in and get out of the weight room in less than 45 minutes tops. And that’s assuming your warm up is around 10–12 minutes. Every session should leave you feeling refreshed. You should also pay special attention to warm-up and regeneration techniques during this time. This is a week devoted to recovery, allowing the body to rebound from an intense loading phase.

When to deload and planning ahead

In a perfect world, the deload or unloading week typically occurs every 4–5 weeks, but everyone responds differently to training and loading. I’ve gone 8–9 weeks training very intensely without ever stopping to deload, but looking back, that was pretty foolish. So how is a deload week implemented?

In my opinion, you should allow yourself one week every fourth or fifth week during a training cycle to deload. Not only is this important physically, but it’s very important mentally and emotionally as well. So assuming you plan ahead by at least 12 weeks, you would reduce training volume and intensity every fourth week.

After a period of progressively overloading the athlete with volume and training that he isn’t typically used to, a period of regeneration and recovery time must be used in order for supercompensation to occur and the athlete’s true state of fitness to shine through. “Fatigue masks fitness.” In other words, you won’t allow yourself to truly express personal best levels of performance if you’re constantly in a state of overreaching and fatigue.

Plan accordingly for this to occur to help prevent injuries, keep the athletes fresh, and constantly look for new personal bests in strength and speed.

Insane storage rack that has nothing to do with this article. Click image for more information about this beast.

What to expect

If you’re doing it correctly, you’ll feel very refreshed and ask, “That’s it?” Again, don’t over think this and second guess yourself. Like Jim Wendler has stated on deload weeks, “You won’t get weaker during this period. If you do, it’s all in your mind.” Training is a long-term progression and should be planned with periodic recovery weeks that help prevent injury and constant overreaching or chronic fatigue.

Do this right and you’ll be on your way to feeling great, breaking records, and asking yourself, “Why the hell haven’t I been doing this before?” Until next time…

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About the Author

John Cortese is a full-time college student at Cal Poly-SLO, working toward his bachelor’s degree in exercise science and a personal trainer/performance specialist at a personal training facility. He works with athletes who want to get stronger, faster, and more explosive for their sport as well as with the “average Joes” who still want to train hard and be in kick-ass shape. You can check out his blog at http://CortesePerformance.com or email him with any training related questions or comments at john@corteseperformance.com.