Any experienced lifter knows that you only get out of your workouts what you put into them. But if you’re the kind of motivated, driven athlete who knows how to push their body to its limit, it might be time to think about how you can perfect the recovery part of your training.

Deloading isn’t about slacking off, it’s a period of adjusted workouts that give your mind and body a necessary break after a period of intense training. By reducing the intensity (load lifted) or volume (sets or reps performed) for a short period of time (usually about a week) you can prevent overuse injuries, overcome plateaus, ramp up your motivation, and give your muscles time to repair and build. If you’re worried about losing strength by backing off of your workouts, you can put your fears to rest.

If you do it right, you can not only maintain your strength during a deload week but be better equipped to make bigger gains afterward.  

How to maintain strength and get the most out of your deload week

1. Eat right

Whether or not you should cut calories while deloading is a matter of some debate. Some people recommend it as a way to lose fat, but the truth is that you won’t really lose enough fat for it to be worth it. You’re probably better off maintaining your calorie intake to give your muscles the fuel they need to recover, which is the purpose of the deload week. It’s especially not the time to cut carbs which you need for rebuilding muscle tissue and restoring glycogen.

2. Do cardio

Your deload week is a great time to get in some low- to moderate-intensity cardio. About 20-30 minutes of cardio training 3-4 times a week will increase blood circulation which helps repair muscle tissue. But stay away from high-intensity cardio like HIIT which can be just as strenuous as strength training.

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3. Perfect your form

If you decide to deload by using lighter weight, that makes this week a perfect time to check your form and correct bad habits. Sharpen your focus and perfect your technique so your workouts will be safer and more effective when you go back to heavy lifting.

4. Try new exercises

While backing off of your usual program, you might as well try out some new exercises. Just make sure you use light weights and don’t overdo it with new movements or you’ll end up adding to your muscle soreness and fatigue rather than recovering from it.

5. Get plenty of sleep

While you’re spending less time in the gym, why not sleep in or take an afternoon nap? Sleep is when your body’s healing kicks into overdrive, so try to get at least a good 8 hours at night and more when you can. 

Think of deloading as a necessary and proactive part of your training. By backing off on the intensity of your training for a short period, you avoid being out of game longer because of injuries or burnout. Plan your deload week well, focus on doing it right, and remember that it’s just long enough for your body to recover before your back to giving it everything you’ve got.