Body builders do it. So do long distance runners, cyclists and professional athletes of all kinds. Even weekend warriors and recreational athletes can benefit from it.
Deloading: what is it?
Deloading is simply a planned period of recovery from training.
A ‘rest’ or ‘taper’ week. A period of reduced intensity that occurs as part of a well-designed training plan, rather than from boredom or injury or overtraining.
Deloading prepares the body for the increased demand of the next phase of training, be it running a marathon, switching from hypertrophy to power training or being called up to the NHL.
Note that deloading isn’t synonymous with spending a week on the couch.
It can vary from taking a complete break from training (but continuing with activities of daily living, like walking and hiking and kayaking) to switching training modalities (runners might focus on knee and ankle strengthening exercises, body builders might head to the yoga studio, NHL players might head out on the golf course) to simply reducing the frequency, intensity and duration of your usual training sessions (for example, swapping five days of heavy body part strength training for three days of shorter, lighter, whole body exercises).
When I deload, I take a week away from strength training in the gym, but continue to teach my group fitness classes and accumulate my daily 10 000 steps.
Benefits of deloading
- break through plateaus; runners, swimmers and body builders who taper or deload in the weeks before competitions often go on to PR at the event itself. Studies have shown that deloading can result in up to a 20% increase in strength and power when the athlete returns to regular training. Take a break to get stronger? I’ll take it!
- create a new workout plan or redefine your fitness goals; often, taking time away from an activity that’s no longer moving us towards our health and fitness goals is exactly what’s required to refocus and redirect. Plan your training in phases and incorporate a period of reflection at the end of each phase.
- renewed enjoyment of exercise when you return; humans love novelty. Repeating the same activity over and over again often leads to boredom, even with exercise. Taking planned time away from training (ideally, before you’ve lost your enthusiasm for it) often leads to renewed enjoyment upon your return. This is the main reason I cut back my group fitness teaching in the summer. When fall arrives, I’m excited to get back to it and my students know it.
- spend time doing things that you’re usually too busy for; we’re all busy. Things fall through the cracks. Use the hours that you’d usually be training to get caught up on things that exercise has bumped down your to-do list. Being healthy and fit isn’t just about muscles and speed. It’s also about feeling connected to your family, friends and community. And perhaps, having time to de-clutter your house (my go-to de-training week activity).
- reduced levels of stress hormone; exercise causes stress on the body. Over time, an excess of stress hormones can lead to anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance and weight gain. Studies have shown that regular reductions in exercise intensity can return stress hormone levels to within normal ranges, thereby improving sleep, reducing anxiety, elevating mood and turning weight gain around.
How long should you deload and how frequently should deloads be incorporated in your training schedule?
Deloads are typically a week in duration. But depending on the athlete and their goals, can be as little as 5 days in length or as long as 3 weeks. In general, the more intense your training, the longer (and more frequent) your deloading period should be. Note also, that older athletes may need to deload more frequently than younger athletes (oh those aching joints…).
If you’re regularly upping the intensity of your training (and you should be; the best way to keep making progress towards your health and fitness goals is to challenge your body regularly with new loads and exercises…), try taking a deload week every 3rd or 4th month.
Keep track of how you feel before, during and after the deload. Did you come back feeling refreshed? Were you stronger upon your return than you thought? Did it leave you hungry for exercise? Any effect on nagging injuries?
And remember; if fat loss is your primary fitness goal, you need to scale back on the nutritional side of things too. Eating for a high intensity training week when you’re deloading is a quick way to put on pounds and make you feel like deloading is the wrong approach for you.
Have you ever deloaded or ‘tapered’ your training?
Did you experience any of the above benefits of deloading?