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Why Deload Weeks Could Be The Secret To Hitting Your Fitness Goals

10th February 2021

10th February 2021

By Shivraj Bassi

Picture the scene. You work out diligently, following a training plan to the letter. You eat well and don’t often splurge on a plate of waffles and whipped cream for a weekend brunch, opting instead for an egg white and spinach omelette. You get enough protein and use the right protein shake for you. And yet your progress with increasing your muscle mass or getting leaner seems to be at a standstill. What gives?

You’ve probably heard the term deload week bandied around the fitness world, but do you actually know what it means? It can be a misunderstood concept, but it’s incredibly important for anyone who’s training seriously, works out several times a week or has a propensity to push themselves too hard. 

What is a deload week?

A deload week is a time for your body to repair the damage you’ve been doing to it with your intense workout routine. Without this time to heal and rest, your progress will plateau as you’re pushing your body too hard. It’s not about being lazy, it’s about rejuvenation and growth. 

Wellness coach and personal trainer Mike Bufton is an expert at understanding the way deload weeks can boost your training, reboot your body and ensure the progression of both your mental and physical health. 

‘Deload weeks are essential for the body to relax and repair after weeks of intense training,’ says Mike. ‘It allows the body to rest from the damage and trauma you do to it when you put it through excessive stress. Exercise is good trauma, but your body still has to recover from it. Taking a week off allows you to rest and recoup - when you’re training in an intense way, you need more than just two or three days to rest.’

Should I be deloading? 

It’s very likely that you should. Even if you’re just working out a few times a week, that’s still a lot of stress for your body.

Mike has more insight. ‘You get the most out of a deload week when you’ve been training intensely,’ he says. ‘When I took my first one, I had reached a frustrating plateau in my weight training and had stopped making any progress or hitting any goals. I took a week off, didn’t lift anything, did a single gentle jog and came back feeling stronger than I ever had before.’

It might help if you consider how intense your workouts are, rather than how many hours a week you work out. ‘If you’re doing HIIT or long runs on multiple days every week, that’s a lot of bodily stress,’ says Mike. By taking some time to rest, you’ll be doing yourself a bigger favour than you know. 

Mike continues: ‘If you’re not exercising intensely, it’s less essential to take that time off. However, it’s still nice to take some time away from your regular routine as this can help you to remember how much you love exercising and the benefits it brings you. This can be easy to forget until it stops.’

How often should I be doing a deload week?

The schedule you work to will very much depend on your individual training plan, which Mike can’t overstate the importance of. 

‘To make progress, you have to document and write down the exercises you’re working on, the weights you’re doing and what your plan is to maintain or to ramp things up,’ he says. ‘If you’re simply rolling your training plan over week on week, you can’t expect to make the maximum amount of progress you could be. Your deload week needs to be incorporated into these plans.’

In short, how often you deload depends on your workout schedule. ‘Some people train for four weeks then have a day or two off, while others train for eight weeks followed by a week off,’ says Mike. ‘As a professional personal trainer, I train for two months then take a full seven days off. For amateurs, every month is a good guideline. This allows the body to recover and adapt.’

What should I be doing during a deload week?

It’s all about rest and relaxation - think about a deload week as a vacation for your body. You’re giving your muscles and joints the space they need to fully heal, which prepares them better for the work you’ll do on them in the future. 

If the thought of dropping your gym routine makes you antsy, you’re not alone. Just keep in mind why you’re doing what you’re doing, and remember that deload weeks are crucial for mental health as well as physical health. 

‘I find deload weeks difficult mentally, because I feel like I should always be doing something,’ says Mike. ‘A lot of people live for that physical exertion, but you have to counterbalance that with the goodness you’re giving your body by letting it rest. 

The good news is that you don’t have to just lay horizontal on the sofa the entire time. ‘Think about ways to treat your body with respect, such as going out for walks or a gentle jog rather than pounding the treadmill for an hour. Yoga, a swim, connecting with nature - this is what you should be aiming for,’ says Mike. 

Before you head off for your week of long baths, nature walks and Shavasana pose, however, Mike has one more point to make. ‘Don’t use this week as an excuse to have a food cheat week. It’s important you stick to the healthy, nourishing diet you eat when you’re training. Just because you’re resting, it’s definitely not an excuse to eat a bunch of junk food.’ 

Other Insights

This Is How Sleep Helps You Recover From Exercise And Injury
We’ve all been there. You go for a hard workout, pushing yourself as far as you can and … by the end your reward is a new personal best and a series of aching muscles (or worse an injury). In these scenarios, it can feel frustrating. After such an exercise high, the first thing you want to do is to beat your record again and yet you’re now stuck with the muscle pain wondering how long it will take to heal. The fact is that regardless of an individual’s workout experience, sport recovery is fundamental to muscle repair. While there are many ways to speed up the recovery process like taking our Innermost Recover Capsules or slowly rebuilding the muscles through light walks, most of us frequently neglect the most important form of recovery which is adequate sleep. While one-night of low sleep alone won’t impact long-term recovery, figures show that 77% of adults are not sleeping the recommended 8 hours a day and as many as 18% sleep less than 6 hours. As we’ve previously written about the benefits that exercise can have on sleep, we feel its only fair to highlight the importance that sleep has on workout recovery. Why is sleep so important in recovery? As frustrating as it can be, it’s nigh-on impossible to quickly recover from muscle pain and continue to smash those PBs without adequate rest. While getting a good amount of sleep can seem like a small afterthought (perhaps even a luxury) when we have to fit it around our busy lives, a decent night’s rest is where the body is best at recovering the soft and neural tissues after an intense workout. But just why is that? How is it your body heals faster during sleep and what is the science behind it?    Increased Blood flow Interestingly, this occurs during Non-Rem Stage 3 of the sleep cycle in which the body is in the deepest part of sleep. During this stage the body priorities the repairing and regrowth of body tissue, as well as building bone and muscle (sounds like a good exercise-recovery plan to me). While it might seem like it should be the opposite, the faster recovery can largely be attributed to the increased blood flow and therefore greater flow of oxygen and nutrients to the damaged muscles during this sleep stage. Recovery Hormones A well-rested sleep - in line with the internal body clock - also plays a part in the production and regulation of several hormones that stimulate muscle recovery. During the deep stages of Non-REM sleep for instance the pituitary gland aids in the repairing of muscles through the release of growth hormones. Evidence also shows that a well-rested night contributes to improved performance and pain sensitivity as the hormone prolactin – released during this process – regulates muscle inflammation and allows the body to heal itself effectively. Faster reflex times Another perhaps overlooked benefit of sleep on an individual’s recovery are the improvements to cognitive response it can bring during the muscle rehabilitation process. A faster reflex time is a good example of this. In truth, during a light workout after injury the last thing you want to do is put unwanted pressure on a muscle. An improved reflex time allows an individual to react faster and with clearer judgment to any potential hazards and avoiding a recovery setback through injury inflammation. Improved Mental Wellbeing We know we’ve mentioned this before, but a key benefit of exercise is the positive impact it can have on mental wellbeing – thanks to our good endorphin friends serotonin and dopamine. That’s just another reason why recovering from any injury can be a tough challenge; you lose the elation of a phenomenon like runners high and suddenly, your mood can begin to dip. Getting into the routine of a good night’s sleep can actually contribute to improved mental clarity and wellness. This is because the brain’s ability to process positive emotional information is improved during REM - which occurs more frequently from longer sleep. How to get the best possible sleep While it’s true that a deep sleep is really important to recovering from injury, all this means nothing if you’re tossing and turning all night. To this end, there are a few changes surrounding sleep conditions that can vastly improve an individual’s quality of sleep. Sleeping Comfort The idea of comfort being tied to good sleep, who would have guessed? But you’d be surprised how often we take comfort for granted, especially during period of muscle fatigue or after an injury. While the Mayo Clinic recommends sleeping on your side to improve airway clearance, you should try and sleep in a position that best accommodates the muscle injury – the last thing anyone wants to do is to strain the muscle further during a night’s sleep. If you’re not sure on the best position to not further aggravate an injury, consider seeking advise from your doctor or a medical professional. It’s also a good idea to try and invest in a quality mattress that offers healthy pressure relief on injury pain points to better optimise sleep recovery.    Sleeping Environment Often times, the environment with which we sleep in can be just as important as the bed itself in getting a good night’s rest and repairing the muscles. We’d recommend trying to create a restful, cool, and dark environment away from any reminders of day stresses. This does also mean not using your phone before going to bed – something we’ve all definitely been guilty of – as the light from the screen can disrupt the production of the hormone melatonin and disrupt the sleep cycle. If you’re finding that you just can’t get good enough sleep, it can be a good idea to plan a sleep schedule each night based around how much rest you think you can get. This can also be tailored to the injury rehabilitation process to ultimately get the most out of sleep recovery. Essentially it’s about balance. Be kind, plan for the days you know you might have impacted sleep and try to avoid any rehabilitation exercises the next day.        How much sleep should I get? The key question here; how much sleep is the right amount to speed up muscle recovery? While it’s recommended that you should aim for at least 7 to 9 hours per night depending on age, the exact time, speed, and extent of muscle repair varies greatly from person to person. For a more definitive answer, we’d recommend contacting your local physiotherapist – or general practitioner – who can give advice more tailored towards your specific injury and rehabilitation requirements.    At the end of all this, we hope this this will help with any current or future muscle injuries you may have. While it might seem strange, the recovery stage of a workout is arguably as important as an individual’s diet and perhaps even the exercise itself. To this end, it can be a good idea to think of the recovery as another stage of the workout process and sleep as the unexplored treasure that will help you smash the next PB.   Interested to learn more about workout recovery? Wondering on the best ways to fuel your next workout? Perhaps you have some amazing and inspired ideas to share? Don’t hesitate to message us over on our Instagram @liveinnermost. Read more
The 4 Steps To Take Immediately After A Workout To Aid Recovery