For every 8-12 weeks of hard lifting, some people recommend a deload week. A deload week is when you either cut the workload significantly or take the time off from training entirely. It gives your body a chance to recover from the stress of 2-3 months of training.
The truth is, I hate it.
I’d prefer to skip it and keep working out. It’s hard to fight the feeling that my progress will backslide, even though I know that’s false.
As I get older, I’m 40 now (an age up until very recently I thought was ancient), I find that I need to take the breaks.
After 10-12 weeks usually some joint starts to feel uncomfortable. It’s not injured enough for me to consider it injured. Just kind of a creaky knee, shoulder or (newly) an elbow. I want to just train through it and expect it to go away but…
You’ve got a choice:
Option 1: train through it and hope the minor discomfort doesn’t lead to a significant injury that will keep you from training for weeks or months.
Option 2: take a week off, give your body and mind a break, and come back refreshed.
I’ve learned that taking a week off from the gym is usually enough for the discomfort to go away. Right now it’s usually one week every 12 weeks.
In addition to helping Repetitive Overuse Injuries, a well-timed break can alleviate CNS (Central Nervous System) fatigue. You don’t need to feel achy to benefit from deloading. If your progress has been plateaued for a few weeks, giving your CNS a break may lead to a breakthrough.
It’s not a reason to be completely sedentary though. I stay away from the weights but I focus on mobility (something I need to work on more) and get in some low intensity cardio with an hour of walking 2-3 days.
Part of me still feels like it’s slacking. But when I get back to regular training, my mind is fresh. I’m excited to get back to it. It’s okay to take time away so you can miss the weights!
My joints are much less cranky, too. The part that really surprised me is that you don’t lose any strength.
If you absolutely can’t imagine taking a week off, there are other ways to deload:
- You can reduce the weights of your working sets. Keep the repetitions and sets the same but you’ll use 50-60% of your normal working weights.
- You can reduce the repetitions. Keep the number of sets the same and use your normal working weights but you do half the repetitions.
Yes, it will feel easy. That’s the point.
Training hard and consistently is essential to progression but don’t grind yourself into a nub. You’re in this for the long-term benefits of fitness, right? A week off every few months is nothing over the course of years of training.