Deloads For Non-Competitors
In a perfect world, we'd be able to figure out the exact number of days a week to train, with the exact amount of volume that stimulates growth and improves performance without ever feeling burned out. And in that perfect scenario training would never have to stop.
Unfortunately we don't live in a perfect world, so mental, physical, and emotional burnout from training is a real thing. For the non-competitor (who isn't trying to time a training/recovery cycle to create supercompensation for competition) what are the benefits of deloading?
- It gives the sympathetic nervous system a break.
- It gives the lifter time to reflect on the previous training cycle. That reflection allows for better planning on the next training cycle.
- It gives the joints and connective tissue a break. You only have so many revolutions in those things.
- It allows for higher levels of strength and fitness to manifest through the multifaceted elimination of fatigue (systemic, muscular, mental, emotional). Sort of like a mini supercompensation.
Here's some real talk for you. If you don't pay attention to the signs of being rundown from training, then you're probably going to end up getting some "forced rest" from injury. Training is a metaphysical undertaking, especially if you're training hard. That taxes virtually every physiological system you have. So it just makes sense to take some time off to allow for total systemic recovery.
So When Should You Deload?
Here's the method I use:
Every six weeks, do some self assessments.
My self assessment was to ask myself if I was hungry or full. Confused? Lemme explain.
If you're living in primal times and need to find food, then dopamine is going to be elevated because finding food is kind of important when it comes to survival. It's the neurotransmitter for motivation, achievement, and attainment. Once you get food, and eat a lot of it, your serotonin levels will rise and you'll feel satisfied.
I'm oversimplifying, but the point is that the brain is constantly analyzing in order to assess the risk of pain or injury against the satisfaction of winning or achievement. Your brain knows when you need to rest. If you're paying attention to that feedback you'll heed it and rest, not be a dumbass and keep pushing through.
At six weeks, I'll analyze if I feel full or if I'm still hungry.
Do I look forward to walking into the gym to load up the bar (hungry), or would I rather be doing anything other than that (full)? Do my joints hurt? Is my perception of effort really high compared to what it was last week or the week before, i.e. "these workouts feel tougher than they did two weeks ago."
When I realize I need to deload, I take at least three complete days off.
If I need more, I take it. I've taken as much as ten days off. I just didn't want to go back into the gym during that time.
I wait until enthusiasm returns.
That means I'm not ruled by the ridiculous notion that all of my gains are going to dry up while I'm resting. Once I start feeling the itch to return to the gym, I don't. That's right, I don't yet. I sit down and write out my potential programming and think about what it is I'd like to accomplish in the next training cycle.
After that, I use one to two weeks of break-in training.
This is where I slowly ramp the effort and intensity back up.
There's a myriad of ways to deload, but this is the way I've found that works best. Regardless of what method you choose, adhere to the full three-days off no matter what your deload protocol might be.