As athletes, there are few things that just seem to not make as much sense as a deload week. For those of you not sure what I mean, a deload week is a week that just is easier than the weeks before. Generally speaking, in most weightlifting programs, we see a set number of weeks to lift heavy and then a week that feels like nothing. How the hell can nothing get you something?
As much as it pains me to say it, that deload week is terribly important for a variety of reasons. But before we can get to the reasons behind we’ve got to understand the idea of “progressive overload.” Basically, progressive overload is more load over time. Whether that means more weight on the bar, or more reps, or longer sessions, or whatever the case may be. In a lot of workout regimens you will see the weight go up as the reps decrease, but more volume come in when it comes to the accessory or assistance work in place.
An easy example of progressive overload is the story or Milo and the bull. Milo of Croton, an athlete from ancient Greece (ancient like 6th century BCE), was known for his many feats of strength and many athletic victories. The legend goes that he obtained a calf and as it grew into a bull, he lifted and carried it daily until the bull was four years old. Milo then carried the bull on his shoulders before slaughtering, roasting, and eating the whole thing in a day. The idea was as the bull grew, so did his strength, just like a linear progression.
Unfortunately this just isn’t how strength works. Anyone who tells you this is more than likely trying to sell you something. Progress can’t necessarily be measured on a day to day basis. We need to look at the big picture, because one week you may take a step back or stay the same for a month or two before breaking through and seeing growth the next couple of months. With progress naturally being kind of “wavy” we start to see deloads as more of a natural part of strength.
Basically, with a deload, we are attempting to offset those waves by structuring in a little bit of down time. In the overall progression of strength we can offset a lot of the negatives from overtraining/under-recovery by just sticking to a deload schedule regularly. Depending on the regimen you are on, you’ll see deload weeks at different times and you’ll see them treated differently.
Deloads come in a variety of flavors but keep in mind the idea of “de”-loading is part of it.
Keep in mind that your body needs a deload. Once you’ve gotten to the peak of the mountain you have two options. You can either walk down on purpose, or fall off the edge. Take your pick. Me? I’ll stick to deloads, even though they may not be my favorite things in the gym.