When you think of recovery, you probably envision cozying up in your Pinterest-worthy bedroom, taking a Pretty Woman inspired epsom salt bath, or even a night of Netflix and chilling with a frosty glass of frosé. But taking a whole week to give your body a chance to rest (so you can come back stronger)? Well, that’s the premise behind “deloading.” And while it might be hard for workout warriors to fathom, it could just be the key to reaching your fitness goals.
“Deloading is a purposeful dip in your training volume and intensity, that usually lasts one week. Think: a slimmed-down version of your training schedule with less weight and less intensity,” explains Alena Luciani, CSCS, founder of Training2xl.
Unlike active recovery or a rest day, you’re not taking a break from your fitness routine. “You’re still working out and moving your body as you would in your regular training schedule, just at a much lower intensity,” she says. Ideally your sweat seshes are 65 to 75 percent of what they’d normally be in terms of time and effort, says Tony Gentilcore, CSCS, a strength and conditioning coach based in Brookline, Massachusetts. Likely, this will include some form of cardio that’s light-to-moderate intensity, yoga, form-focused lifting (AKA light weights), and mobility, he explains.
So, who can benefit from taking a load off of their fitness routines? What benefits do you stand to gain by doing so? And how do you know if you need to take a deload week? Scroll down to read up on the benefits of deloading and find out if it’s right for you.
What’s the benefit of deloading?
Whether you’re a powerlifting #girlboss who needs to be ready for a competition, a CrossFit athlete looking to improve your performance, or a bootcamp buff who loves laying in a puddle of your own sweat, you can benefit from deloading—as can any physically active person no matter your fave form of fitness.
The most basic reason for a deload week is scientific: “If you want your muscles to grow bigger and stronger, giving your body time to recover is crucial. Deloading gives your muscles time to repair,” says Gentilcore.
Another reason? It may actually be good for your bones. In one study published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, scientists analyzed blood samples from 15 elite female rowers during their most intense training weeks leading up to the Olympic season. Then, they compared those blood samples to ones taken during a deload week. During the high intensity training weeks, the rowers had lower levels of osteoprotegerin (OPG), which is a protein that protects against bone loss, and higher levels of sclerostin (SOST), which is a protein that offsets new bone formation, than they did during their deload week. Likely, that’s because training really hard leads to higher levels of inflammation in your body (which may increase SOST levels), wrote study author Nigel Kurgan, a graduate student in the Centre for Bone and Muscle Health at Brock University.
While there was no difference in the bone mineral density at the end of the study, Kugan wrote: “Intense training without adequate recovery period may lead to increased inflammation and subsequent bone loss.” In short, scaling back your fitness routine regularly can do your body good. Keep reading to find out how to incorporate the practice in to your workout schedule.
How often should you take a deload week?
Even if your training isn’t Olympic-level-intense, your workout routine may benefit from a deload week every one to two months, says Luciani. “Deloading is important for anyone to allow their body to ‘breathe’ after a rigorous period of training. It also helps avoid plateauing and boredom. [Plus,] it allows you to reap the benefits of all your hard work,” she says.
But how do you know if you need a deload week? If you’re working with a trainer, listen to them. “Many coaches strategically place a deload week into a training schedule after a heavy strength phase or taxing schedule of training,” adds Luciani. If you don’t regularly work with a fitness pro, listen to your body. “If you usually love exercise and it’s starting to constantly feel like a chore or you have nagging injuries that won’t go away, those are signs you’d benefit from a deloading week,” says Gentilcore.
That said, “most people deload naturally—it’s called life,” he continues. Taking vacation (wedding season, anyone?), getting sick, or unexpected family events can prevent you from hitting the gym for a week. Rather than beat yourself up, see this lightening of your load as an essential part of reaching your fitness goals.
Speaking of recovery, check out the 3 things wellness-guru Tony Robbins uses to recover from super-intense workouts. And here’s the super-effective, post-run recovery method marathoning model Karlie Kloss swears by.