Why Beginners Shouldn?t Deload or Take a Week Off
January 27th 2020
You’re in the gym, busting your butt, pumping through workout after workout every week. Your muscles are screaming for a break, and you’re left with a choice to make.
Do you power through your workout, or do you try to deload or take a week off? Hold on. If you’re a beginner, the answer may surprise you.
You should avoid deloading and taking weeks off, and in this article we’ll explore why.
What is a Deload Week?
When training, lifters can hit low energy points that leave their performance and mind suffering. They push, they struggle, they give it their all, but there’s no progress. They’ve hit at a plateau, and it’s devastating.
To force themselves out of this funk, experienced lifters utilize a deload week.
A deload week is a week where you decrease the volume or intensity of your training. While that sounds counterproductive, it gives your body time to recover from stress and neurological fatigue, which will increase muscle gain in the long run.
Fatigue is the result of your muscles being stressed repeatedly, and it can lead to a decrease in muscular strength. Implementing a deload week prevents burnout, fatigue, and injuries.
How Do You Deload?
Your typical deload week will look much like your regular workout with one big exception. You’ll reduce the volume or intensity of your workload by 40% - 60%. It’s recommended that an experienced lifter deload once every 4-12 weeks.
There are two main ways to deload.
- Reduce the Intensity.
When you reduce the intensity, you’re decreasing your weight, but keeping your volume (number of sets or reps) consistent.
While your lifts are lighter, you should focus on refining your technique.
- Reduce the Volume
Reducing the volume means keeping your weight the same while cutting your sets in half.
Athletic lifters prefer this method as it keeps their performance up and makes transiting back into their normal workout much easier.
Why Beginners Should Avoid Deloading
A beginner’s body can recover from stress more quickly than an intermediate lifter since you haven’t built up a lot of fatigue over a long period. Deloading hurts a beginner’s progress by costing them their gains. Instead, you should focus on tracking your workouts and pushing yourself to increase your strength.
However, if you are a beginner who suffers from chronic injuries, you could practice deloading. This break from heavy-lifting is a beneficial strategy that will reduce your risk of further injury.
Obviously, this goes into the deep end of programming and really shows all your cards on the table for strength training.
But for the majority of beginners, a deload, where you take a week off or have a whole week of reduced training is simply not necessary for optimal linear progression.
What is the best solution for beginners that feel that they need a break from training? Your program should have some sort of auto-regulation setup where if you are failing a certain weight, it should have a system in place where athletes can take some weight off, usually 10% and resume their weight training protocol.
Then, after several months or possibly years of training, you will reach a point where you take weight off and you are still struggling… This may be early signs that you are an intermediate lifter and you have unlocked new areas in programming methodologies that you can now begin to practice and will be very effective in aiding your recovery.
Why Deload Weeks Work for Intermediate Lifters
Intermediate and more experienced lifters benefit from deload weeks because their bodies have built up more neurological fatigue and muscle strain. Working hard every week, but seeing very little gains can be demoralizing. Deload weeks are a way to snap the mind back into focusing on the goal ahead.
Experienced lifters are also more efficient with their movements, and can utilize beneficial techniques when working with reduced volume and intensity.
What is a Week Off?
Similar to deloading, a week off is a planned recovery week. It’s also just what it sounds like, a week free from weightlifting.
Unlike deloading, it’s recommended to take a week off only once or twice a year. This gives your muscles a chance to adapt and recover from the strenuous physical and mental challenges of lifting.
It also gives athletes the ability to do things outside of the weight room. For instance, taking a vacation or a long trip are just some ways people tend to take a week off from training.
If you’ve ever found yourself struggling in the weight room, you know what I mean. You can still enjoy other workouts such as cardio or swimming, but lifting is off-limits.
A Week Off Could Lead to Detraining
As you can probably guess, a week off isn’t recommended for beginners. When you first start lifting, you need to establish a strict routine.
Taking time off disrupts your mental resolve and can make you lazy. A week off could lead to detraining, which will set you back and make it harder to achieve your gain goals.
Once you have an established regiment and have been lifting for months or years, then you can look at adding time off into your program.
What Should a Beginner Do If They Need Time Off?
As a beginner, you should not need time off. Unless you’re injured, you should be at the gym busting through your workouts. Beginners will see the most gain by lifting consistently and utilizing a formal training program that incorporates autoregulation.
What is Autoregulation?
Autoregulation is the art of understanding what your body needs and adjusting your workouts to match it. Every person is different, and their bodies will react to stress differently. The key is to learn what works for you.
Usually, the best way to autoregulate is to work closely with a coach who can observe your performance and adjust the training accordingly. However, not everyone has the opportunity to work with a coach, so what do you do if you’re on your own?
As mentioned early, hopefully, your beginner general strength training program has auto-regulation built into it where it has instructions on what to do when you have failed a weight on a particular set. This is a common way to make sure you are lifting an appropriate amount of weight.
This second way may be more advanced for true novice lifters but I believe it is ideal to get exposure to may different training protocols. Another way to autoregulate your training program is to rely on the RPE scale.
RPE stands for “Rate of Perceived Exertion,” which is a 1-10 scale that measures the intensity of your workout. It asks how difficult the activity feel, with 10 being the max and 1 meaning you’ve barely started. Fitness coach Mike Tuchscherer says strength trainers should be working out at 6 or higher, which means you "could do 4 to 6 more repetitions.".
Some beginner programs may be loose in the way they structure your weight and rep progression so you will be on your own when figuring things out.
When tracking your workouts (and you should be tracking them!), take notes on where you fall on the RPE scale. This way you can compare your progress, track your good and bad days, and fine-tune your training.
Maximum effort, you can’t do anything more
You can handle 1 more rep
You can handle 2-4 more reps with low speed
You can handle 2-4 more reps quickly
You can handle 4-6 more reps quickly
Taking a week off or deloading will only hinder your progress. Until you’ve run into a dead-end, where your workouts are strong but your progress is limited, focus on understanding RPE and what your body needs.
While we strive to be efficient and waste no time, life is not so straight-forward. It is not ideal for a beginner to take a week or two off but if you must, it’s better to just enjoy yourself and resume hard training later on than to stress about it and be a pain in the butt outside of the gym.
Strength training has amazing results only if you put enough work into it and taking frequent deloads as a beginner is just not going to push you into a state where you are hungry for more knowledge, power, strength and results.
So, do yourself a favor if you are a beginner - take your programming seriously and run an efficient beginner general strength training program so that you stop wasting time.