Deloading is something that powerlifters are incredibly familiar with, but for those of us who have come at fitness from a different angle, it is a wholly unfamiliar territory. Working out at a gym where several people compete in powerlifting competitions, I had both heard the term and seen it practiced before I experienced it myself and I can’t say it was ever something I wished was in my program before!
But, what is a deload? A deload is a deliberate and programmed reduction in training volume and/or intensity. Its purpose is to enable you to recover from intense previous workouts and improve your future training sessions. Deload weeks in powerlifting training typically end with a ‘test’ on your compound lifts, whether this be a new one rep max attempt or a set where you get as many reps as you can at a percentage of your one rep max. Either test gives you a number for you to gauge your progress from your previous training block and to establish a new baseline for your next training block.
Despite this all sounding great, I was very apprehensive to have a deload, mainly because I am used to (and enjoy!) pushing myself to my limits every time I enter the gym. It is not in my nature to ‘go through the motions’ in any aspect of my life; I either give it everything or I don’t bother. I also couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I would gain lots of weight from drastically reducing my time and intensity during the gym.
So, post deload how did I fare?
My first day of my deload, I felt very lost in the gym. I was extremely hesitant to workout (especially as it was a Monday at around 6.30pm, one of the busiest gym times of the week!) I didn’t want people to judge me occupying a squat rack to move minimal weight for a few reps. Looking back now, this was a bit of a ridiculous thing to feel! I don’t go into the gym judging women (or men) who aren’t squatting much more than the bar. In fact, when I spot a new face in the squat rack, I get weirdly excited! I either assume it is someone who is new to lifting and get excited because I hope they develop the same passion for lifting as me, or I assume they are an athlete of some sort (the gym I am a member of is a bit fancy!) and get excited because I know they will, directly or indirectly, motivate me! Despite this, I still did feel very cautious about approaching Monday’s workout and made my warm up far longer than I normally would to delay me squatting! My workout didn’t take me as long as usual, so I decided to spend about fifteen minutes stretching and foam rolling. Recovery and mobility are aspects of my training I severely neglect, and, mid-Monday foam roll, I decided to fully embrace the deload and make these the forefront of my training for the week. Altering my mindset and approach to my deload helped tremendously. Instead of being nervous and cautious, I actually embraced the week. To be honest, I almost forgot that this concept was novel to me and went on with my week as usual. When I entered the gym on Tuesday, I approached the session entirely differently and had come to terms with the fact that recovery is just as important as progressively overloading my workouts every time.
This particular deload ended with me doing AMRAP (as many reps as possible) with 75% of my progressed 1 rep max on my compound lifts. I got between 8 and 14 reps on my squat, bench and deadlift and felt both energized and ‘fresh’ when doing so. I rarely start a gym session without some sort of muscle soreness (those people who say that after a while of working out you don’t get sore just doesn’t seem to apply to me…I am always sore!) so it was an unusually empowering feeling to feel so rested!
Post workout of doing my AMRAP sets, I probably actually felt more sore than from a usual workout. I had a 60 minute massage after my final workout for the week and the masseuse said that my traps, back and glutes were substantially tighter than most people’s. To put this into perspective though, I hadn’t had a massage in about two months and most people that get a massage do not lift weights six days a week.
Aside from feeling like a gym phony, my other main concern was my weight. Right at the start of my deload, my calories were actually increased by 27kcal a day. Doesn’t sound like much, but, over a week, equates to 189kcal. I was convinced that my calories would actually decrease with a lower output, not increase!
I started the week weighing 117lbs (53.1kg) and ended the week weighing 116.6lbs (52.9kg). This has really shown me that calorie expenditure is comprised of how you spend your day as a whole, rather than your workout dictating your calorie burn. I have a sedentary job, but I use my lunch break to walk laps and get outside and I ensure I get up from my desk at least once per hour. I always volunteer for any office task that needs completing too, as it typically involves moving around. Over the past year, I have become a lot more aware of my NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis), I.e. My activity levels outside the gym, and I make a conscious daily effort to ensure I get a substantial amount of steps in.
So why have I written this blogpost? When I was dreading the start of my deload, I was frantically searching for anyone’s personal experience of it. I wanted some reassurance that I wasn’t alone in having my concerns and also some reassurance that it would be okay. So, my final thoughts to you on this are, that it will be okay – better than okay – you will learn a lot from it and you will feel so much more energized at the end! You will not suddenly balloon and you do not need to cut calories. My best advice – embrace it, and make recovery and mobility your priorities for the week.