At our Optimizing the Big 3 seminar this past weekend, we spent a good chunk of our lecture section talking about training philosophy and program design. When the topic of when to use a deload week came up, people had lots of questions. It got me thinking that my philosophy on deloading has changed a lot over the years, so I wrote an amendment to my original 10 deload week mistakes. (And nobody rests and recovers like my cat Aggie, which is why she gets the honor of the featured image.)
1. Waiting to Deload Until You Need It
This is actually contrary to a “mistake” I listed in my original blog. I used to think always deloading on a regular basis was a mistake because you’d risk dialing back your training during a “hot streak” of progress. But experience has taught me that it’s way better to deload too early than too late.
At The Strength House, we deload our lifters every fourth week unless they’re peaking for a competition. This lets us stay ahead of fatigue and keep everyone fresh. I’d much rather listen to my lifters piss and moan that they WANT to train during a deload week rather than complain about how beat up they feel.
2. Taking Away Supportive Gear
A deload seems like the perfect time to put away your supportive gear. Forget the belt, the knee sleeves, the wraps; that’s for heavy lifting only, right? Not a bad idea, but whenever you take that stuff away, the relative intensity of the weight you’re using gets higher so you end up going “heavier” than intended.
For example, for my deload squat workout yesterday, my workout called for 375 lbs for 2 sets of 5 reps. That’s about 68 percent of my all-time best squat (545 lbs). I could easily have done that without a belt. However, my best-ever beltless squat is only 495 lbs. If I went beltless, suddenly that 375 is 76 percent, nearly 10 percent HIGHER than intended and hardly in deload territory.
Keep wearing your gear during your deload week with the exception of overload stuff like knee wraps, SlingShots, etc. so you don’t artificially go heavier than intended.
3. Overusing Caffeine
Caffeine is a legal competitive advantage that works for pretty much all athletes. However, like many drugs, you can quickly build up a tolerance to it. If you always drink coffee, an energy drink or a pre-workout supplement before your workouts, you’re gradually reducing the boost you get from caffeine.
A deload is the perfect time to dial back your caffeine use so that when you return to it, you actually get the enhanced performance you want. In fact, going sans caffeine more often is probably a great idea. It sounds miserable, I know, but if you’re using a program that takes a high-low approach (i.e. some days are harder than others), try saving your caffeine for the harder workouts only. That way, you’ll get a bigger boost instead of just a moderate bump in energy.
Fellow Strength House coach Greg Robins stopped using pre-workout caffeine for several weeks prior to his last meet. That way, when he chugged some of that sweet, sweet nectar before his competition, he got a legitimate boost in energy and pulled this incredible 700 pound deadlift.
4. Removing Conditioning
There’s a saying that all recovery is aerobic. That’s because the processes by which you body regenerates ATP (your body’s energy “currency”) uses your oxidative energy system. This process doesn’t happen efficiently if you can’t walk up a flight of stairs without gasping like Jabba the Hutt.
That said, you certainly want to deload your high-intensity conditioning like hill sprints, prowler pushes, etc. But don’t cut out conditioning altogether. Low-impact, low-intensity work like walking, biking or dragging a light sled ramps up recovery. Don’t skip it during your deload.
5. Skipping the Warm-Up
Greg and I always joke that we get way more stuff done during deload weeks because we have way more time. Reducing a training session from 90 minutes to 45 minutes can make a world of difference for conquering a long to-do list.
To carve even more time off your workout, it can be tempting to skip the warm-up. You might think, “Oh, I’m not going that heavy. I don’t need to do my foam rolling or mobility work.” I’m guilty of this from time to time, but I always regret it when I move like the Tin Man the following week.
Similar to the last point, a quality warm-up routine can enhance recovery, which is what a deload week is all about. Keep your warm-ups exactly the same as you would during a regular training session. Remember, getting outside the sagittal plane is one of the best ways to stay healthy as a powerlifter, and the warm-up is the time to do exactly that.
Deload Week Wisdom
Now you’ve got 15 mistakes to avoid while deloading. Don’t overthink it. Be smart, get some R&R, and come back ready to crush your training the following week.