I’ve just gone through a period of de-loading most of my athletes and was very surprised to hear the amount of people ask what a de-load was and why we needed to do it. I guess that’s why they are the athletes and I am the coach, but it did inspire me to write a blog and inform as many people as possible about de-loading.
What is de-loading?
De-loading is simply dropping the overall training load (volume/intensity) for a period of time to let the body recover ready for more intense training.
Some people say there is a difference between a de-load and a taper but seriously they are the same thing and you do them for the same reasons.
De-loading is not about having a week off (although a week off is definitely a de-load), it is about dropping the training load just enough so that the emphasis is on recovery as a pose to hard training. It is active recovery. A week off will more than likely do more harm than good, we want to improve health whilst maintaining fitness. We will go into more detail about ‘how’ to de-load near the end of this post.
Why should we de-load?
There are a few reasons why an athlete will need a de-load in their training. Ultimately however it is to allow recovery so that the athlete doesn’t start to overtrain or overload any of the body’s structures which results in a plateau in performance and a higher chance of injury.
If you have been in the game long enough you will see a direct correlation between stress/overtraining and injuries. Injuries very rarely ‘just happen’.
To add to that when you de-load the body compensates for the stress you have caused it through intense training and as a bi-product you get fitter.
During a de-load the nervous system swings into a predominantly parasympathetic state, hormone balance favours anabolism, body tissue repairs itself, the muscles and liver get a chance to fully load with glycogen and pretty much every cell in the body gets to take a small vacation from the constant bombardment of a heavy training cycle.
It’s like anything in life, you want just enough to stimulate, but not enough to annihilate. If the body is under too much stress for too long it will start to breakdown in a bad way.
So by timing and carrying out a successful de-load it is possible to stay injury free and continue to make progress as an athlete.
How and when should we de-load?
Now that you know what a de-load is and the benefits of it, it’s time to dive into the ‘how’ and ‘when’ you should carry out the magical task. The timing (when) is the most important part so let’s dive into that first.
Like usual everyone is different when it comes to the details, and the timing of a de-load is no different. Remembering that the objective of a de-load is to recover, which means that the de-load needs to come after an intense period of training when you are starting to overreach. There is no point de-loading if you haven’t been pushing the limits because you will end up under training and going backwards.
A coach should have a good idea about their athletes and when they will need to de-load, some athletes might be able to last months without a de-load and some might only be able to go a few weeks at a time. An older person may need to de-load more often than a younger person, males potentially more often than females, people that work long, hard hours will need to de-load more often then someone with a slower paced job.
Some key signs that you need a de-load is when you start to feel tired, you aren’t fully recovering between session, weights that are normally ok feel very heavy, a normal session feels harder than it should be. If you keep training hard during this time you head into a state of overtraining.
I know everyone reading this has felt like that before and most people probably just keep on training and wonder why last week they felt amazing and this week they need five coffee’s just to get to the gym.
Another AMAZING way to know when you need to de-load is to use an HRV monitor. I still can’t believe the lack of people using them. Either people are too lazy to learn about them or too old and stuck in their ways to try something new. I have been monitoring HRV for five years now and it’s like having a crystal ball, especially when it comes to timing.
The image below is two weeks into a training cycle and you can see the clear decline in this athletes HRV score.
image[images style=”0″ image=”http%3A%2F%2Fundergroundrx.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2016%2F07%2FScreen-Shot-2016-07-04-at-3.44.42-pm.png” width=”600″ align=”center” top_margin=”0″ full_width=”Y”]
The next image shows the following week which involved a de-load. It is clear to see the when the athlete was fully recovered and ready to jump into the next training cycle.
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With the athletes I program for individually the de-load weeks are not planned in advance, we just keep pushing until the person needs a de-load, this method ensures we are making the most of every training session available to us. Once we start a peaking cycle for a competition, the de-loads then become timed with the competition. For the athletes following the Athlete Program, de-loads are planned at the end of each training cycle BUT each day the athletes are given HRV guidelines so that depending on their individual state, they know whether to drop the training load or carry on as normal.
If you are following a program that doesn’t monitor your training load (volume/intensity) then you are flying blind and ultimately gambling with your fitness. Sure you will get fitter, but that’s IF you can handle the volume and IF the cycle is magically timed right for you.
Just like stated at the start, de-loading is a drop in the overall training load. So that means you could drop the volume or the intensity, or both. And depending on what you do depends on what you want to achieve.
Complete rest is generally not a beneficial way to de-load for a few reasons. Predominantly the fact that if you don’t use it you lose it. That means you could fail to maintain any adaptations previously made and also complete rest will throw you deep into parasympathy which will make you sluggish and lethargic when you try and come back into training.
Some other things that you can do to make your de-load more beneficial is remove any tempo or eccentric movements from training as they tend to cause more trauma to muscles as well as any plyometric movements that involve maximal force, especially when a muscle or joint is at full stretch or end ROM. Other things to remove would be any anaerobic endurance work because of the large stress it places on the energy systems.
Some things you can add to the program is more stability work and more dynamic fluent movements that involve full ROM without a sudden change of direction. Light cardio is always another good addition and a sh*tload of skill work should ALWAYS be present.
If you are de-loading in the middle of a training cycle then you might want to drop volume and intensity to give everything a good rest. Less total reps, less sets, less weight, slower paces on the metcons. Drop training load to about 60 – 70% of normal and watch the athlete rebound and come back stronger, fitter and faster.
If you are de-loading before a competition then it might make more sense to drop the volume but maintain the intensity required for competition which is 100%+. This means you can come into the competition fresh but still moving at the required intensity for competition. After a competition you would more than likely de-load again ready for a new phase of training.
For CrossFit de-loading means less of almost everything and the addition of more recovery techniques. No rebounding box jumps, no heavy lifting >90%, less reps, less duration and intensity in metcons, more mobility, no tempo work, more stability, more concentric loading like sled pushes and rowing. Olympic lifting is still fine but no tap ‘n’ go reps, drop from the top to keep it eccentric and keep it light.
Now that you know the details of de-loading it is time for you to put it into practice. It can take a while to master the details but practice makes perfect so start now. Even write your own template de-load week.
* High Skill
* Concentric Movements
* Dynamic Movements
* Stability Work
* Predominantly Aerobic
* Large ROM
* Mobility Work
* Maintenance Strength Work
* Eccentric Movements
* Plyometric Movements
* Intensity (HR or load or perceived)
* Heavy Strength Work
* Anaerobic Endurance or Conditioning
If you have any questions then just ask in the comments section below!