How many times has your body been beaten up by squats, bench presses and deadlifts? For most of you, getting after it and ignoring discomfort is a way of life. However, there are times when it all gets too much. This when deloading is a good idea.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
What is a Deload?
Deload training involves either taking time off from training, or reducing your sets, reps, and/or intensity for a period of time before moving on to your next training phase.
The way people approach deloads vary in terms of training and how long they take but they’re typically a week long and are about 60 percent of normal volumes of training.
When to Take a Deload
There are two main reasons one might take a planned deload:
You can take a deload period prior to a competition or before and after testing your one rep max.
Hard training imposes a large stress on the body and the fatigue you accumulate can mask your gains. A period of reduced training (or tapering) can help you recover, reduce your stress, and reveal the strength you gained during your hard training cycle.
A certain amount of fatigue is normal when you’re training hard. But it helps to be in tune with yourself to figure out whether you’ve crossed the line of fatigue to overtraining.
Some prefer to call overtraining “under recovering,” which can help you to reframe it. The bottom line is when you’re training hard and pushing yourself to get stronger and this is not matched with adequate recovery, you may enter an overtraining state.
Here are some warning signs that you’re training too much
- Decreased performance
- Increased perceived effort during workouts
- Agitation and moodiness
- Insomnia or restless sleep
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Chronic or nagging injuries
[Learn the difference between overtraining and overreaching in your workouts.]
What Exercises Are Good for a Deload?
There are three main types of muscle contractions: concentric, eccentric and isometric, and when it comes to deloading, all muscle contractions are not created equal. Let me explain.
Isometric contractions are when the muscles produce force, but there is no change in the length of the contracting muscles. Think of this like a tug of war between opposing muscles. Examples include front planks and side planks.
Eccentric contractions involve the muscle lengthening while under tension due to an opposing force (gravity or added resistance) being greater than the force generated by the muscle.
Examples are lowering into the bottom of a squat (slow eccentric) or the preparation for a plyometric movement like power push-ups or squat jumps (fast eccentric).
However, eccentric contractions can lead to delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS, muscle swelling and decreased range of motion.(1) Eccentric contractions are great, just not for recovery purposes.
[Learn more: 6 ways to eccentrically load exercises.]
Lastly, there are concentric contractions. Concentric contractions happen when force generated by the working muscles overcomes the resistance, and the muscle shortens.
Like eccentric contractions, concentric contractions are essential for hypertrophy and strength. Examples include the “push” portion of a push-up and the “curl” part of a bicep curl.
However, using only concentric moves can help lessen the pain of muscle soreness caused by DOMS, as pointed out by a 2006 study in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.(2)
Now imagine for a moment exercising while minimizing your eccentric contractions and hey presto, you have the perfect deload training.
Concentric Deload Training Recommendations
Most concentric dominant moves are not overly technical, but you must have mastered the basics of pushing, pulling, hinging and squatting.
Choose moves with little or no eccentric contractions, like plate pushes, sled/ prowler pushes, step ups, medicine ball throws, kettlebell swings and resistance band exercises like chest presses and rows.
The repetitions should be in the 8-12 range. When doing for time, do 20-30 seconds of maximum effort.
As a guideline, keep the rest periods between exercises and circuits to 60- 90 second but if you need more rest, take it.
1A. Medicine ball squat toss, 8-10 reps
1B. Overhead medicine ball throws, 8- 10 reps
1C. Kettle bell swings 20-30 seconds
1D. Straight arm band pulldown 10-12 reps
1E. Sled push (up and back)
Complete this as a circuit for a total of 3-4 circuits.
3 More Tips for Deloads
If you’re not wild about going all concentric, you have a few other options.
1. Reduce your poundages. As a guide, most your sets should be performed at 40-60% of your 1RM. This doesn’t mean you bust out and do a lot of volume. The loads are light and the reps and sets are low.
2. Keep your weights more the same, but greatly reduce your volume. For example, your regular training program calls for five sets of five bench presses with 300 pounds. Under a normal deload, you’d do your five sets of five at 180 pounds. With a volume deload though, you could stick 300 and hit a couple of singles or doubles, or just go for one set of five reps.
3. Keep your movements the same but use a different piece of equipment. For example instead of busting out barbell squats, you can do goblet squats or kettlebell front squats, using a similar set and rep scheme.
1A. Squat/deadlift/press using 60% 1 RM using your current set and reps
1B. Mobility exercise (Half kneeling hip flexor. Forearm slides)
2A. Rack pulls/barbell front squat 4- 6 reps using 60% 1RM
2B. Half kneeling Landmine press 8-12 reps
3A. Barbell bent over row 4-6 reps using 60% 1RM
3B. Lat stretch 30 seconds each side
1. Dumbbell snatch 4- 6 reps on each arm . 2- 3 sets
2A. Dumbbell front squat/Goblet squat using your current set/rep scheme
2B. Half kneeling hip flexor stretch 30 seconds
3A. Deadstop row 6 reps
3B. Single arm floor press 4- 6 reps
3C. Deadbug 6 reps
Deloading gives your body a much-needed break and helps you recover from accumulated fatigue and soreness. After deloading, you’ll come back feeling refreshed and ready to take on the barbell again.
Featured image via astarot/Shutterstock
1. Yu JG, et al. Eccentric contractions leading to DOMS do not cause loss of desmin nor fibre necrosis in human muscle. Histochem Cell Biol. 2002 Jul;118(1):29-34.
2. Zainuddin Z, et al. Light concentric exercise has a temporarily analgesic effect on delayed-onset muscle soreness, but no effect on recovery from eccentric exercise. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2006 Apr;31(2):126-34.