What I often face among novice lifters is a strong belief that if they want to increase their best score, they need every session to be heavier than the previous one. However, one day everyone understands that sometimes you need to take a step backward so that you can then take two steps forward. What you need to do is to keep proper timing and make sure you do it right. This step backward, or as I would rather call it, a little march rest, can be called a deloading period, where your main aim is to let the body rest from heavy work, big weights and volumes, and at the same time not lose your form and try to pursue some aims which you would normally not have time for.
Deloading Period vs. Deloading Week in a Cycle
To avoid any further confusion, it is worth mentioning that this deloading period should be not confused with deloading (or as you may call them in the cycle “light”) weeks which you incorporate in your cycle from time to time to make sure that you get sufficient recovery before “heavy” weeks. They have some similarities, however, so I will mention the main distinct features of deloading period:
Timing & Duration
- The deloading period is longer than any deloading within the cycle (which normally lasts a week).
- The exercise selection is different than the exercises used in any other period.
- The overall decrease in workload is greater than that during “light” weeks within any period.
As a general recommendation, I would say you need to have a deloading period twice a year which corresponds to two important meets (peaking of results) which is a normal schedule for an intermediate lifter. However, as for more advanced athletes, training in national teams or close to that level, the best they can allow themselves is one deloading period during inter-season. Ideally you would want even more periods, e.g. four, but since it would correspond to four meets, I doubt that anyone apart from kids and novice lifters would have such meet schedule.
Since I said that number of deloading periods corresponds to number of important meets, the best timing for them will be right after the meet. The duration of such periods shall be 3 weeks or more.
Main Principle of Routine Composition
*I use “loading” instead of volume, intensity and workloads, because these measurements are not that applicable to the exercises used in deloading period. It is hard to measure them in the GPP work and auxiliary exercises which you do not normally do.
Examples of Aims You May Pursue During the Deloading Period
- You train 2 or 3 times a week.
- The duration of the session shall be 1.5-2 times shorter than you normally do.
- Overall loading* shall be 1.5-2 times less then during light weeks of other periods.
- You prioritize GPP over weightlifting exercises.
- You prioritize the exercises (both GPP and weightlifting) which you normally do not have time for and which you are bad at.
As I mentioned in point 5 above, you focus on what you are weak at and what you normally do not have time for. Based on my experience and on the experience of lifters I have trained or talked to, these are examples of such things:
Why You Really Need a Deloading Period
- Cardio Cardio is something that many lifters do not have time or desire to do, so why not spend some time swimming or jogging? You will have a healthy cardiovascular system and more endurance for high-volume sessions during the season.
- Technique Drilling You practice technique with moderate and heavy weights during the season, but normally many lifters neglect working with the empty bar. It helps to maintain a high number of reps in a set, which is beneficial for technique building, without overloading (since working high reps even with moderate weights is too hard and not beneficial at all). Other athletes believe that their technique is already perfect, but the wise lifter knows that the technique is something that you need to refine all your career.
- Developing Small Muscle Groups While you spent years focusing on leg and back development, some lesser muscles sometimes lack your attention during the season, so paying them some attention during deloading is not a bad idea since you do not want them to drag behind.
Surely, the deloading period allows you to focus on some auxiliary aims, but this is not its most valuable feature. What you can achieve only during a deloading period is deloading of your neural system. Even if for some magical reason your body can work all year long without any rest, your mind surely can’t. And indeed sometimes it needs rest even more than the body, which at first glance seems to be the doing all the barbell work.
This aim is the most important one and the only way to achieve it during a deloading period is to enjoy your training. If you hate treadmills and swimming pools, go to the countryside to run in the forest and swim in the river. If you need to develop your arms but you do not feel like going to a hot and noisy gym to do some bench press, stay at home and do some pull-ups and push-ups. Do not have strict routine—train on the days you can and want to train. Keep the good mood and let your mind have some rest after the hard season and successful meet, because that is what you deserve!