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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.’ 

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From the Bedroom to the Gym: Is Your Sex Life Affecting Your Workout Performance?
The relationship between sex and workout performance is one that’s long been debated by scientists and fitness fanatics alike. It’s complicated and multifaceted, so answering the question of whether your sex life is affecting your training is difficult. That said, today we’re going to take a look at a variety of evidence, both academic and anecdotal, as well as several different scenarios and at least try to reduce some of the mystery around the subject. First, it helps to understand what’s actually happening to the body, both physically and psychologically, during both activities.   The Effects of Sex on the Body Sexual activity causes several changes to occur in the body:   Physical Changes That Occur During Sex During sexual activity and the lead up to it, the human body undergoes a process known as the sexual response cycle. This is the case for both males and females, though the cycle can be highly individual and may not be the same each time for each person. Describing the full sexual response cycle is beyond the scope of this article, however it consists of 4 phases: Desire Arousal Orgasm Resolution Factors such as elevated heart rate, increased blood flow and pressure and heightened muscle tension all come into play. If you’d like to read about the sexual response cycle in more detail, check out this great article from Cleveland Clinic.   Psychological Changes That Occur During Sex Several psychological changes occur both during and after sex. Most notable are the release of endorphins and oxytocin, which are associated with improved mood and a better sense of wellbeing. These are also responsible for reduced stress levels, which brings a multitude of additional benefits that are of particular interest to those of us participating in regular training and exercise. Cortisol, the hormone responsible for stress, is catabolic in high levels, meaning it can cause the breakdown of lean tissue. So, whilst it is unclear whether sex itself affects workout performance, the reduction in stress levels it may bring is definitely beneficial for preserving our results!   The Effects of Exercise and Training on the Body Exercise and training also cause the body to undergo a number of changes. These occur both during and after the physical activity. There are in fact a number of similarities in changes that happen during exercise and sex:   Physical Changes That Occur During Exercise The physical changes that happen in the body vary based on the type of exercise being undertaken, however, there are some that are common to exercise in general: Increased heart rate Increased blood flow, especially to the muscles Faster, deeper breathing due to additional oxygen needs Heightened activity within the circulatory, respiratory, musculoskeletal and endocrine systems A full summary of the changes that occur within these systems can be found here. More aerobically demanding exercise will, of course, place greater emphasis on the circulatory and respiratory systems as well as causing fat to be metabolised as an energy source. Resistance training, which often relies more heavily on the lactate and creatine phosphate energy systems, instead promotes greater muscular and endocrine (hormone) activity. Note the common physical changes between sex and exercise here, as they do crossover!   Psychological Changes That Occur During Exercise The psychological changes that occur during exercise are similar to those experienced during sexual activity and are mostly related to the release of endorphins and other ‘feelgood’ hormones. These help to regulate mood, and it is common knowledge that frequent exercise and leading an active, healthy lifestyle promotes a feeling of wellbeing.   Does Sex Affect Our Workouts? This is where things become complicated. Though extensive studies have been done on the subject, the results of these have varied massively. We must also take into account the experience of individuals, and this anecdotal evidence again has huge variance. Let’s look at both:   Sex and Training: What the Science Says Scientific studies on the relationship between sex and training are contradictory at best. There’s no denying the positive benefits of both activities, particularly from a psychological perspective, but as for the effect of sex on actual performance in the gym the results are inconclusive. A study, published in April 2021, by Kirecci, Albayrak and co. examined the effects of sexual activity of 50 men in the 24 hours prior to training on lower body strength. The study measured effects by having the men perform 3 separate squat sessions, each at the same time of day. Each of these sessions occurred after participating in or abstaining from sexual activity the night before. The men performed 5 sets of 5 repetitions of their maximum squat weight during these sessions and the difference in weight lifted was observed. The study concluded that ‘sexual intercourse within 24 hours before exercise [has a] detrimental effect on lower extremity muscle force, which suggests that restricting sexual activity before a short-term activity may be necessary.’ Aside from this study, most others found either no notable relationship between sex and athletic performance. A meta-analysis of 9 crossover studies, conducted by Zavorsky and Brooks and published on 16 September 2022, confirms this. The analysis concluded that ‘The results demonstrate that sexual activity within 30 min to 24 h before exercise does not appear to affect aerobic fitness, musculoskeletal endurance, or strength/power.’ This is perhaps more notable, because these studies incorporated different types of exercise and were not restricted purely to a strength/power based activity like squats.   Anecdotal Evidence: What About the Experiences of Real Gym Goers? The anecdotal evidence is, as expected, highly individualised. However, there tends to be a bias against the results of most studies, particularly in those participating in sports involving strength and aggression. For example, many fighters claim that they perform better when they abstain from sex in the days leading up to a contest. Similarly, bodybuilding forums are full of debate on this topic and many claim they note a significant decrease in motivation to train at maximum intensity after sexual activity. It has been hypothesised that this may be due to a downregulation in testosterone production after sex; during orgasm the mineral zinc is released in the body and this is also a precursor for natural testosterone production in the body and may, therefore, provide some reasoning as to the experience of many trainees.   Key Takeaways The relationship between sex and workout performance will always be a complicated one. The effects of one on the other in terms of physical fitness and, in particular, mental wellbeing, are clear, but when it comes to actual performance this appears to be highly individual. We’d advise doing what feels best for you but not worrying too much about it. Instead, prioritise your nutrition and make sure you’re fuelling your workouts properly. While you’re here, why not take a look at the Innermost range? We’re proud to be completely transparent about the ingredients in our products and we always ensure they’re of the highest quality. Check us out, and be sure to get in touch if you have any questions! Read more