Are you tired of hitting strength gain or weight loss plateaus?
Our body is not designed to train or diet 24/7. In fact, training very intense and staying in a caloric deficit for an extended period of time will increase Cortisol levels, the stress hormone. Cortisol increases muscle loss and fat storage – not what we want, right?
Thus, sports medicine doctors, as well as good coaches, always prescribe their athletes a workout plan that consists of different cycles of training. You might work out hard for 4-8 weeks and then transition to deloading for 1-2 weeks. Today, I will explain the science of deload week and provide a FREE training and nutrition plan to help you reach your goals faster.
What is Deloading?
A deload week is often used in exercise regimes of athletes. It is a planned period of time (usually 1-2 weeks) where the athlete reduces intensity, sets, weight, repetitions and exercise frequency. This method of training is also called “periodization”.
There have been many studies indicating that for optimal performance, muscle growth, strength, as well as weight loss, it is important to cycle intensity of exercise.
While exercising is probably one of the best ways to prevent many diseases, too much of something good can also harm our body. As we work out, our body produces many toxic end-products and lactic acid. If we work out frequently, our body might not have the time to get rid of those toxins and they might accumulate. This does not only harm our organs, it will also reduce muscle growth and strength development, as our body cannot efficiently rebuild the teared muscle fibers.
Typically, it is recommended to switch to low-intensity exercise every 8-12 weeks. Some people might also need a resting week after 6 weeks, it all depends on your fitness level and nutrition.
Why should you deload?
First of all, our muscles don’t grow when we work out. Exercising, especially lifting weights or doing plyometric movements, tears muscle fibers. Then, our body repairs our muscles by increasing the number of muscle fibers and glycogen stores in our muscles. As a result, we gain strength and endurance. Thus, in order to get stronger and fitter, we need to allow our body enough time to rest and rebuild.
Especially if you are using exercise as a tool to fight osteoporosis, arthritis and want to build stronger muscles and tendons, you need to pay attention not to reach a state of overtraining.
Apart from that, deloading can actually help you to lose weight. If you have been dieting for a while and have reached a plateau, your body might need a rest from training. In order to lose weight or fat, you need to eat less than you burn. However, intense exercise and low-caloric intake can increase Cortisol levels in our body, the stress hormone. Unfortunately, stress does stop all fat burning processes and might cause you to stop loosing weight, despite all your efforts.
Lastly, one of the main reasons to deload is give our central nervous system a break. As I explained in my article “The science of muscle activation”, all of our muscles are connected to our brain. Whenever you want to contract a muscle, our brain sends a signal to the muscle to activate it. If you train intense for a long period of time, our brain can simply get tired and become less efficient at activating our muscles.
As the central nervous system regulates all processes in our body, CNS overtraining has much more severe symptoms than muscle overtraining does.
What is the difference between CNS overtraining and muscle overtraining?
Muscle overtraining occurs when we don’t give our body enough time to heal itself, repair muscle fibers and get rid of all toxins in our body. Typically, you will experience delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and contracting the same muscles you worked will cause you pain. This soreness can last up to 1 week, if we reach the state of overtraining. It is not recommended to continue training intensely in this state, as it can further break-down muscle fibers and inhibit the healing process.
Apart from that, CNS overtraining is a systemic issue. Our central nervous system regulates sleep, release of hormones, hunger, breathing, practically all processes in our body. If your CNS is tired, you will have trouble sleeping, you will feel weak and probably get sick more often. If you experience muscle twitching, it can also be an early sign of CNS fatigue.
What helps against CNS overtraining
First of all, you need to make sure you get enough sleep. Also, make sure you are getting in enough macro- and micronutrients. A balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats, along with high amounts of green vegetables and fruit will make it easier for your body to regenerate after intense exercise.
Apart from that, you can also supplement with omega 3-oil and BCAA (branched chain amino acids). Amino acids are crucial to help repair muscle tissue and will decrease muscle soreness. Omega 3 is very efficient at decreasing overall inflammation in our body and strengthen our immune system, heart, brain and liver function.
Lastly, you need to periodize your training and cycle intense training with resting weeks. Thus, deloading is a great tool to prevent and treat CNS fatigue.
How to deload
So, how do you deload? There are many different ways to deloading. You can decrease sets, repetitions, weight used, exercise frequency and much more. In general, your training volume should be maximally 50% of your normal exercise regime.
I favor not to use weights during deload week. The reason for this is that I love to get stronger and challenge myself using weights. I know that during my workout, I might skip all intentions of taking it slow and still use heavy weights.
In addition to that, I think we should train to achieve overall fitness, not just strength. Endurance, balance and flexibility are all important factors when it comes to preventing arthritis, osteoporosis and keeping our muscles and tendons strong and stable.
Thus, I always stick to calisthenics, bodyweight strength training, typically 3-4 times per week. Those workouts consist of bodyweight movements, using bands or ankle weights as extra resistance. The workouts last for 30-60 min and don’t containing any jumping movements. They are still intense and I feel like I have done a solid HIIT session. However, they are low-impact and challenge our muscles in a different way than traditional strength training.
On the other days, you can stretch and do low-intensity cardio, such as walking, cycling, or swimming. During deload week, it is not allowed to engage in sprints, HIIT, spinning classes or running.
Your FREE Workout Plan for Deload Week
If you are curious to see my own workout plan for deload week, make sure to download the plan! I have followed this exact plan a couple of times and every time I feel refreshed and full of energy. As your fitness level might be different to mine, so feel free to adjust the program. You can do 2 workouts instead of 3 to 4 or reduce sets for the workouts. In order to make deloading (and training in general) work, you need to learn how to listen to your body’s signals.
I have already started my deloading plan, as I travelled to Turkey for vacation. Vacation is the perfect time to serve as a deload. You are not going to be as physically active or don’t have access to a gym anyways. I took some bands with me to serve as extra resistance but you can complete the program with your bodyweight only as well.
I decided to create a facebook group for my subscribers for additional information and the opportunity to ask me questions, as well as motivate each other. Click here to join the group!
Let me know if you are going to do this program and if you have completed it, how you felt! Which exercise felt the best, which one was the hardest?