What’s a deload week? A deload week is a week you *De* load, or decrease your load. A workout has 3 real variables: volume, frequency, and load. Load is the weight you use, so a deload week is a week you use less weight. Traditionally a deload week is 50% of your usual weight and is implemented every 4th week. On this week the frequency and volume should not increase, you're supposed to let your body rest!
There are many opposing views regarding the deload week and I will discuss the arguments and alternatives here. Why? Because I love this shit, that’s why!
Deload Week Rational
The basic premise is that there is either accumulated fatigue which reduces your work capacity or there is mounting microtrauma on your joints.
If you’re a Bodybuilder or a “recreational bodybuilder” then you’re often super sore and may even go into a workout sore from head to toe. Now many athletes don’t listen to their body and will train like this. Over time this will result in the workouts sucking, you hate lifting, your joints hurt, minor muscle spasms and muscles lock down putting stress on the contralateral muscle and much more. For these people a week at 50% Load will allow them to recuperate from the previous 3 weeks, and the movements and minor pump they get will push some blood flow into the muscles. As we all know blood flow is the key to speeding recovery!
If you’re more of a heavy lifter such as a powerlifter or a strongman or an olympic lifter then you will find that after 3 weeks of training 5-3-1 that your joints are going to be in a lot of pain. Maybe not every joint, but one wrist, one shoulder, a knee or a lower back won’t survive that type of dedicated heavy ass training week after week for endless months. By using 50% of your standard weight for one week like a speed only week you can alleviate some of that trauma and allow you to break more PRs more frequently.
Arguments Against Traditional Deload Week
The big counter argument is that if you know how to listen to your body you will make adjustments to your grip to protect your joints, decrease your volume when you’re tired, and decrease your weight when you’re feeling weak on any given workout. That people know to abort a T bar row for a Hammer Strength machine when they have a lower back pump so strong they can’t feel their lats. But most people don’t actually know what they are doing. Not even a little really, certainly not enough to make common sense substitutions or adjustments based on subjective internal self assessment. To walk into the gym and say “I feel like I should do sets of 15 with less weight and focus on a 1 second contraction and run a diagnostic on all my left back muscles to see if they are firing before releasing the weight.” Is not what most people do.
And an athlete who was that intuitive and experienced he would likely have a program he payed for and probably wouldn’t deviate from it.
Now many will just skip a workout and give themselves extra rest days. I for one do see this as a rational thing to do. But in my experience if i train 6 days a week I’m less tired than if I train only 4. So I suggest that you do lift when you’re miserable, just make one of the following adjustments.
If you’re not feeling a given workout is right for you then perhaps decrease one of the variables.
If you’re tired then use less volume and more weight. Decrease the reps and sets but increase the weight and rest duration. You could do this for one workout or do this for a whole week thus “turning down the volume” with more weight.
If you’re about to have a panic attack in gym the parking lot because your body does NOT want to lift heavy again. And or you have been shaking and having vomiting and diarrhea after the last few workouts then this week why not increase the reps on all exercises to 15-20 for lower body and 12-15 for upper?
If your joints hurt and you do the same exercises, then use different exercises this time or different grips to find the one right for you, and return to the offending grip or exercise every 4th week until it’s pain free. Then reintroduce it as a staple grip.
For example: you’re a powerlifter and your wrist and knee hurt. For a week or 3 do bodybuilding, and avoid flat bench and competition squat. Then return on the 4th week for to hit a 1 rep or 3 rep max. Then don’t touch it again for 3 more weeks.
These are all reactive fixes that invalidate the need for a Deload Week. But the DeLoad week WAS designed to PREVENT these issues by being programmed in…
The Grand Solution
I feel the ideal situation is at the least have one week where you have programmed in an alternate method of training.
Option 1 would be to do bodybuilding for 3 weeks and powerlifting for one week. To decrease volume and increase frequency and weight along with likely different approaches to these classic moves.
Option 2 would be to include a 4th week which is more of a light weight, fitness week for bodybuilders or for powerlifters.
Option 3 would be to have a variety of exercises and rep ranges that different every week. The idea would be to have one week light for endurance and form, then the next heavy for strength like 5 x 5 method, Then the third week the high end of hypertrophy, then the fourth the low end of hypertrophy.
Option 3 Example:
Week 1 Heavy: 5 sets of 5 reps for the heavy compound barbell movements. This develops strength and White fibers. rests are 90 seconds to 2 minutes. I’ll call this Thor week, after the Norse god of stregnth.
Week 2 light: This would be 15+ reps for upper body 20+ reps for lower. Machines and contraction with lots of supersets. This is for endurance and pump, Rests are 30-45 seconds or the millisecond your partner is done you’re in the breach. I’ll call this Freya Week after the Norse goddess of sorcery.
Week 3 Heavy Hypertrophy: Upper body is 6-9 reps, lower body is 10-14 This should work white fibers and develop size. Rest periods should be 60-90 seconds. I’ll call this Fenris’ Week, after the werewolf god of war.
Week 4 Light Hypertrophy: Upper body is 10-14 reps, Lower body is 15-19 reps. this is mostly antagonist supersets so it looks easy but is hard as F***. I’ll call this Loki week after the Norse god of Deception.
Together I call this system of undulating heavy and light weeks T4R. I have been using it on clients for months and it works phenomenally well. The complete training system is only available to Operation Ragnarok members.