Upcoming Deload Phase
Recently, I have been walking into the gym only to find that I am actually feeling particularly weak. I have become so used to getting up and getting ready for training, that it has become ritualistic to neglect any second thoughts as to why I am going that day. If I am feeling rather stiff or achy, I shrug it off as dehydration or a mental state that exercise will rectify. However, after reflecting upon this, I think perhaps I should be listening to my body. I need to take these signs seriously. After a few months of training at a higher intensity, I am certainly feeling the lesser expected after effects of heavy lifting: my body feels heavier, workouts are becoming tedious, and even after sleeping, I feel fatigued. After voicing these concerns, I was given extremely helpful advice to undergo a deloading phase.
What is a deload and its purpose?
After some research online, I knew a deload was exactly what my body was asking for. The term refers to when you continue to train and eat, but you ensure that the training is less taxing on your body. This can be achieved with a reduction in weights (eg, halving your standard squatting weight), lesser volume (lesser sets/reps), or less frequent training sessions. For me, I intend on focusing on decreasing the intensity; this will also allow for greater emphasis on my form and execution. I knew a deload was just what my body was asking for, especially as I have started training 5-6 times a week. As well as this, it can be mentally beneficial too. When you begin to feel the consequences of training too hard, it can take an emotional toll: you may begin to question where you prioritise the gym, you might feel weaker in day-to-day life, and you may even begin to feel that all of your hard work is being expended in vain. By incorporating a phase of taking it easy, you can recover and heal immensely without hindering progress, ready to get back into the game when returning to normal training. A common deloading phase takes place across a week-long enough to grant sufficient recovery, but not too long to lose any muscle mass. This makes deloads effective at pushing past plateaus, something that is likely to happen on almost any person's fitness journey.
But, if muscles only take a few days to recover from a session, why is a deload necessary? Well, our muscles function in correspondence with ligaments, tendons, and bones, and it is these parts of the body that can suffer micro-fractures and tears which take longer to heal. Sure, you can increase your protein intake, maybe incorporate a little more calcium into your diet, but excessive stress will always require extra compensation. When you practice weightlifting at a deload, you give these parts of your body a chance to repair, without getting any weaker. Being relatively new to weightlifting, I estimate that 5 days, rather than a week, will suffice for me. This is because the damage to my body is new, and can be undone in a shorter time. If you are more experienced than I however, perhaps a week or a couple days longer would be more suitable. Of course, age, gender, height, lifestyle, etc, and personal preference, should be your guide also.
The next 7 days
Following a self evaluation of what I feel my body needs, I have outlined a recovery plan for the next 7 days. This evening, I intend on indulging in the largest pizza I can find for under £15, and maybe some ice cream. A little break from the usual meal plans, though they are sustainable and satisfying, can remind you that there is more to life than abiding a calorie goal! As long as these indulgences are not overly frequent, they can be essential for a good relationship with food, as well as the added benefit of boosting your metabolism following the meal.
Tomorrow will be my rest day- no weightlifting or cardio. Non-exercise activity thermogensis (NEAT) exercise like walking can benefit recovery, as well as burn calories, so I may go on a long walk if the inspiration arises.
For the next five days, I will continue to attend the gym and execute each exercise to a high standard, but with lesser intensity. I will direct my attention to my form, to ensure that I return to the heavy lifts having gained something in my deload phase.