To get results from your training, you have to work hard. Increasingly challenging your body over time is a vital element in becoming stronger, faster and more athletic. As you progress through your training, pushing yourself on a regular basis, you increase your fitness. At the same time, however, you also accumulate fatigue. Although your underlying fitness is increasing, that simultaneous increase in fatigue translates to a reduction in performance.
Think of it this way: Your performance today = Your body's potential maximal performance minus your accumulated fatigue.
Sometimes, if you have been through a recent heavy training load, you can feel the fatigue - weights feel heavier, you slog through your ruck workouts, your ruck times are slower. Other times, you may not notice it but if you are really pushing yourself week in and week out, that fatigue is there and you are not performing at your full potential. There's nothing wrong with this as long as you aren't going over the edge into an overtraining situation. Accumulating fatigue is a normal and desirable part of training that comes along with accumulating fitness.
So how do you take all that fitness you've accumulated and translate it into maximal performance to supercharge your training?
You have to occasionally remove the fatigue! Luckily, although fitness and fatigue go hand-in-hand in training, fatigue dissipates faster than fitness so we can get rid of it without losing our fitness. This is where the delaod week comes in!
What Is A Deload?
It's a period, typically one week long, where you significantly reduce your workout intensity or volume. This gives your muscles, nervous system, joints, ligaments and tendons a chance to recover from training stress in a way that isn't necessarily accomplished during the rest days you take each week. By continuing to workout, albeit at a lower intensity, you are still giving your body a stimulus to tell it that it needs to retain your fitness for later use but you are also getting the recovery you need for your body to eliminate fatigue and adapt to the stress you've been placing on it over time by becoming stronger, more resilient and more prepared to perform. When you ramp up your training again after a deload week, you will be more prepared to handle the stress of your next bought of training, your performance will improve and you'll get better increases in fitness from your next block of hard training.
How To Implement a Deload Week
For the entire week of your deload, you need to modify your workouts so that they are either less intense (hard) or lower in volume. You may even consider doing both! If you are always working out at what feels like an 8/10, 9/10 or 10-out-of-10 level, drop all of your training during your deload week down to something that feels more like a 5 or 6 out of 10 - you want to feel like you did some work but nothing crazy. For example:
If you're rucking during your deload week:
Drop the weight and the pace of your rucks but ruck the same distance, or
Ruck the same weight and pace but for much shorter distances
If you're doing ruck, sandbag or other high-volume workouts:
Drop the weight and slow down your workout (maybe focus on form instead of doing an AMRAP), or
Use the same weight and intensity but do short workouts with fewer reps
If you're lifting:
Lower your working weight, or
Use the same weight and do fewer reps or sets
How Often Should You Take A Deload Week?
Deload weeks can be scheduled or unscheduled. In the Ruck Strong program, we do 3 weeks of hard work followed by a deload week, so 3 weeks on/1 week deload. Others might choose to schedule them every 6-8 weeks. Ideally, you should make sure to take a deload week at least once every 12 weeks, although it's likely that you will see better performance if you do them more often, especially if you are training very hard.
Even if you schedule in your deload weeks OR if you'd rather take a more intuitive approach to integrating them into your schedule, the following are good indications that you might benefit from a deload week:
When your performance drops - workouts feel harder than they used to
When you hit a plateau
When you feel tired, irritable and worn down
When you start to wonder why you've lost your motivation (If you're a normally highly motivated person, this is a key indicator that you've got a lot of fatigue going on and it's not a time to push yourself harder!)
During periods of high life stress
When your joints feel achy (Muscles can often recover from a hard workout with a couple of rest days but joints, tendons and ligaments take longer.)
The week before an event (A deload week is a form of tapering!)
After an event or after a period of very hard training (For those doing structured training programs where you might be doubling up on workouts or miles to finish before the deadline, consider starting the next round of that program with a deload week. You can still get your miles or workouts in but let yourself recover a bit while doing so. I know you want to crush your PT test or 12-miler on Day 1 of your program but if you just pushed hard to finish the last round, you'll crush it even more if you deload first!)
Do I Need To Deload If I Take Regular Rest Days?
Yes! Hopefully, you are already taking a couple of good rest days each week. (You are, right?) Rest days are important because they allow your body to recover from the acute effects of the training you just did and they help you reduce the fatigue you carry from one workout to the next. But, to really give your body a chance to more fully unload fatigue and recover in a way that translates to improved performance, a deload week at least every 12 weeks is key. While your nervous system and muscles can often recover fairly quickly, your joints, tendons and ligaments need more time and a deload week can give you that time.
I know many of you are hard-chargers and want to go full steam ahead at all times but give a deload week a try and witness the magic of what taking it down a notch can do!
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