Deload is the term for a planned period within a programme in which you would reduce the intensity and/or volume of your overall training for a one to two week stretch.
Within this period, you would still be doing the same lifts and sticking to the same diet, but with an overall lower amount of work. It is important to understand that any period in which you are taking time off to recover from an injury or illness is not a deload. This is because your body in this time will be trying to combat the illness or recover from the injury and not from the effects of training. What a deload does is help your body fight the built up fatigue from training.
When we train we put multiple systems within the body under stress. Over time, this can cause us to start to underperform and have undesired effects on our training progress.
We should add a deload to help these systems alleviate the stress we've put them through. The systems we are talking about are as follows...
- Neuroloical (nervous system)
- Endocrinoloic (hormonal)
- Immunologic (immune system)
A deload will also help the Central Nervous System (CNS) recover, which gets put under stress every time we workout.
Impact of a deload
We put our bodies through a tremendous amount of stress when we train, so without this break people tend to hit a plateau in their workouts or sometimes drop off the frequency of their training. The deload is implemented to help break through these plateaus or make sure that the progressive overload we put on our body continues increasing.
So, after one week of reining your training back, you’ll be hitting even heavier weights than before on a strength programme or adding in more volume for a hypertrophy or fat loss programme.
When and how to deload
Although it has been shown to be anywhere between every 4 to 10 weeks, 6 weeks seems to be a decent starting point if you aren't new to lifting and are training for hypertrophy.
In respect to new lifters, you could take this a little further and deload towards the 10 week mark within the first year of training.
If you are Olympic lifting or strength training however you should bring it down closer to the 4 week mark, as your body is going to be put under an increased amount of stress from the heavier weights.