What is a deload week? And how often should you have one?

·3-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

With a new year ahead of us, many 'fitspo' accounts on social media will be urging us all to burn off those Christmas calories (reminder: you don't actually need to) with intense workouts and extreme weightlifting sessions at the gym. But it's important to keep in mind that, as with anything, sometimes less really is more – and that couldn't be truer than when it comes to your workouts.

While it sounds counter-productive, taking time off from your workout routine can actually help you reach your fitness goals in the long run. Cue: deload week, the latest fitness trend you've probably never heard of, but really ought to be doing.

"Deloading is a break from your usual training routine, giving your muscles a chance to recover and to replenish from overtraining," Tom Jenane, personal trainer turned nutrition and fitness expert at Nature's Health Box, tells Cosmopolitan UK.

"That's not to say take a week off from the gym, you still train, but perhaps fewer sessions, lower weights or lower reps," he adds. "The intensity is taken down a few notches."

So, how does taking time off from exercising improve your fitness? As Jenane explains: "If you’re training regularly, it’s quite possible you’re actually overtraining and not providing your muscles the time to recover sufficiently."

It's a feeling many of us who've gone too hard at the gym can relate to. Yep, that OMG I can't walk up the stairs feeling. But it's not just our muscles that can be impacted if we don't have sufficient rest time. "You may see your progress hindered by several factors such as a lack of sleep, poor nutrition and over training," the fitness expert adds. "So deloading week is a chance to allow your body to recover a bit and to avoid over stressing the muscles."

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

How often should you do a deload week?

"You should take a deload week every eight to 10 weeks" advises Jenane, "that's regardless of your experience levels."

It's not a one-size-fits-all rule though. "If you’re on a reduced calorie diet, you may need to take a deload week sooner, such as after six weeks," the expert adds. "[Because] you’ll be running on empty and you’re not necessarily providing the body with the nutrients it requires to recover properly."

What are the benefits of a deload week?

On top of giving your body that much-needed rest time, Jenane emphasises that a deload week gives "your joints, muscles and central nervous system the chance to recover." This, in turn, helps you to "push past your plateaus in the gym and to progress further in the long run."

And that's not all, as the former PT reminds us: "If you’re overly fatiguing your body, you may be more prone to injuries – so a planned deload week can help to avoid this." Win, win!

How can you deload safely?

Like weightlifting itself, you'll only reap the benefits of a deload week if you do it safely. "There are a few ways to take on deloading," explains Jenane. "You could do the same exercises but drop the weight by 20% and reduce the reps slightly (if you were doing 10 reps, maybe drop to six instead)."

Alternatively, he says: "You may also want to try some different exercises that you don’t normally try, this can be an interesting way to experiment a little, without any expectation on lifting a heavy weight."

Outside of the gym, there's measures to put in place as well, especially when it comes to what you're eating during deload week. "If you’re bulking, I would certainly decrease [your intake] slightly, as you won’t need as much to recover from your sessions," Jenane points out, before adding that if you're on a normal or reduced calorie intake, it's safe to keep this the same as you would with any other training week.

Happy deloading!

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