Deload: It’s Okay to Take It Easy

The hardest thing about lifting isn’t programming, or eating right, or even the lifting itself. It’s the consistency. Anyone can, if they really put their mind to it, finish a hard workout. But to do so thrice or four or five or six times a week, week after week, for months, years, and decades, is difficult. Being consistent in your training requires discipline, mental fortitude, and real character. And it requires a deload, every now and again.

There will be times when all these traits falter and you really, really don’t want to go. This is to help you through those times.

Take It Easy

First things first – learn not to go all out during each workout. Contrary to what you might’ve been told early on in your training, you don’t have to “lay it all out” every time you hit the gym and going at full intensity every time you train will actively impede your recovery and leave you burnt out, physically and mentally. Going hard saps your motivation over time, so learn to conserve your mental energy, approach the majority of your training sessions with a significant sense of calm, and ramp it up for a big psych up later down the road.

For example – I currently follow a 4-week GZLP plan. Over the course of four weeks, the volume of the program decreases, and the intensity ramps up. The final week is always composed of singles and heavy T2s. These singles come with an AMRAP set that determines how much extra weight I pack onto the bar for the next cycle. If I go all out for each workout, pushing myself every time I train, I’ll have no mental reserves for the final week.

I take it easy, go into each training session with a calm, focused demeanor, and slowly ramp up my eagerness to lift and ferocity under the bar week after week. After hitting a peak, I go right back to week one and slip into a more relaxed mindset. While deloads are scheduled, there will come a time when progressive overload is more than just lifting heavier week after week – programming is important to help you continue to improve while varying intensity and volume, as well as exercise selection.

Some programs require you to ramp up into a hard mindset, and then maintain said mindset – but only for a few weeks. These programs are usually known for an extreme intensity and are not meant for long-term results, but a short-term burst of strength.

It’ll Be Fun Once You Get There

Often, intermediate lifters slip into this idea that they have to follow the rule of progressive overload not only with regards to the weight in the bar, but with regards to their intensity and training mindset. In my opinion, that idea only fuels a high dropoff rate among lifters.

Learn to take a breath, slow down, and adopt a training program that let’s you better manager your physical and emotional state.

Rule one is that consistency is key. But rule two is that if you don’t want to train, you have to at least try.

About 95% of the time when I feel like not training at all, all it takes for me to change my mind is some time next to the barbell. Sure, I have to change, pack my bag, find a ride, get to the gym, sort out my locker and warm up – but once all of that is finally out of the way and I start getting into my warmup sets, everything else melts away. The stress and frustration that led me to hesitate training in the first place disappear. The thought of half-assing the workout vanishes. And before I know it, I’m ten sets deep into the session and I feel like I’ve got way more left in my tank than I would’ve expected.

Consider a Home Gym

In my opinion, the thing most lifters dread is actually getting to the gym. If you have the resources for it, I highly recommend building a home gym for that very reason. It cuts out a lot of time and hassle. I don’t have the resources for it, and on top of that, powerlifting equipment is notoriously difficult to get over here, and prohibitively expensive. A decent power bar would set me back about four or five times what it would set me back in the US. And there are a dozen other expenses to consider.

Like many others, I have to suck it up and go even when I don’t want to. But as I’ve mentioned – if you persevere through that inner voice that tells you not to go, and if you finally make it all the way to the platform and the barbell, then your will to train often comes back all of its own.

If it doesn’t, you may have another issue on your hand – you may simply be extremely tired, in one way or another. Issues that fuel the loss of motivation in training are:

  • A lack of progress.
  • A lack of recovery.
  • Immense outside pressure.

Give Yourself a Deload

A deload should be a solid 7-14 days spent not training, or training at a much lower intensity. A good deload consists of an hour or two of stretching and massage therapy per day, and another half hour of slow, steady cardio. If you’re going to lift during your deload, then it’d have to be at a low intensity, with low volume – but the whole point is to give your body and mind a break.

For powerlifters, deloads are ideal for maximizing strength gains over a long period of time. But you have to learn to listen to your body and understand exactly when it’s time to shoot for a deload. A good indication that you need a break is a weakened immune system, or a constant plateau. It’s not enough to just take a day or two if you’re starting to feel sick or weak after sticking to a hard program – make sure to take at least two weeks if you’re feeling on the verge of illness, and a solid week if you’re just feeling beat up.

Some programs have built-in deload periods, while others ramp up and ramp back down at a pace that generally shouldn’t require a deload. It’s best to decide on your own when you feel like you need a break and take a break accordingly.

If you’re going to take a deload, make sure to come back from your break with the same weight used before the deload. Don’t make a jump in weight right after your break. So, if you finished your mesocycle, but need a break, go through the break and do the same weight for the next mesocycle.

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