Your body needs to be “stressed” in order for it to adapt, get stronger, become more resilient and reach fitness goals. But if your muscles, joints and bodily systems are consistently being broken down at an intense level without a chance to recover overuse injuries are likely to occur, and your performance and results will decline.
The solution? Deloading. Many training programs have a built-in “deload week,” or a week that’s less intense to help your body recover more efficiently. For people who have been training consistently for two or more years, a deload week every four to six weeks is encouraged. For those who are newer to the training game, a deload week can typically be scheduled every eight to 12 weeks.
The classic methods of deloading include reducing the intensity or resistance of your usual exercises or reducing the number of sets. Here are some examples:
Lower Intensity Training
Let’s say you’re performing a deadlift as one of your exercises for your current phase of training. In previous sessions, you may have completed four sets of five reps using a resistance of 225 to 245 pounds. During your deload week, you would complete four sets of five repetitions at 205 pounds.
Lower Volume Training
Taking the same example above, instead of reducing the weight, you reduce the number of total reps completed. So instead of four sets of deadlifts at 225 to 245 pounds, you would do only two to three sets.
But there are other methods that you can use to limit the stress on your body and give your brain a bit of a break with a slightly different stimulus. Most of us know that mental breaks are just as important as physical breaks when you’re training.
Try these three alternatives during your next deload week:
1. Use a Thicker Grip
Sticking with the same example of the deadlift, you can change the thickness of the grip in order to create a different but similar stimulus. My favorite way is to use Fat Gripz (or any other method of increasing the thickness of the bar). With a thicker grip, you’ll be forced to use less weight, which will help to deload the body while still working on the same exercise pattern.
You can do this with nearly any exercise where grip is key — chin-ups/pull-ups, dumbbell lunges, bench-press and arm curl or extension variations, etc. Just make sure that you stay safe and don’t load an exercise past the point of grip failure.
2. Go Unilateral On Bilateral Exercises
For bilateral exercises (using both feet or arms) like deadlifts, squats, bench presses, etc., try going unilateral (one arm or one leg) with 40 or 50 percent of the weight.
For example, let’s stay with the deadlift: Instead of four sets of five reps with 225 pounds using a barbell, do single-leg deadlifts with a pair of 45- to 55-pound dumbbells. (The exact amount used will vary upon your ability to stabilize.) And once you feel fluid with the exercise, perform it as explosively as possible to increase the training effect.
- one-arm dumbbell bench press in place of barbell bench press
- single-leg squats or split squats in place of regular squats
- one-arm rows in place of double-arm rows
3. Go Bilateral and Go Quick
Just the opposite of the previous point, if you’ve been doing unilateral exercises, switch to bilateral exercises using the same weight. So for a single-leg deadlift with 55-pound dumbbells, switch to a bilateral barbell deadlift with 110 pounds.
This weight will be light, which is the point of the deload. With the bilateral exercise, make sure to move the weight as quickly as possible. This will take stress off the joints with the lighter weight, but by completing the exercise as explosively as possible you’re still stimulating your muscles while reducing overall demand.
It’s up to you how you want to approach a deload week, but no matter which method you use, your overall goal should be to reduce stress — both physical and mental — so you can recover and continue to make progress.