Let’s talk about one of the most divisive weeks in a powerlifter’s program, the deload week. Some love it for its ease, while others despise it for its lack of challenge. What we can all agree on (hopefully), is its necessity. From the simplest perspective possible, we must admit that we simply cannot add weight to the bar every single week. There will come a time when taking a step back is necessary. This simple truth clearly demonstrates the need for a deload of some kind, so what exactly is a deload?
A deload is a reduction in volume, intensity, or both that is generally performed over the course of a week to allow a lifter to recover before jumping into a new block. Generally, I like to reduce a lifter’s volume by about 25% for the first half of the weak and then by 50% for the second half of the weak. I keep intensity a bit higher, at 90% for the first half of the weak and 80% for the second half. This is due to volume generally being a much higher driver of fatigue than intensity. However, there are several valid ways to implement a good deload. Our head coach Juan Sanchez generally prefers to drop intensity by only 5-10%, but drops volume by about 50% throughout the entire week. It’s important to note, however, that the optimal deload strategy is a very individualized thing. Some lifters can actually handle go heavier than previous weeks and maintain optimal recovery if the volume drop-off is steep enough. Others will become too exhausted by heavier intensities and require a bigger drop-off in weight but can maintain relatively higher volumes. Determining your optimal deload strategy often takes several blocks of trial and error and is one of the many factors that will become more dialed in the longer you work with your coach, assuming that you picked a good coach (see our incredible staff).
Now, let’s take a moment to discuss the benefits of implementing a proper deload week:
- Planned Recovery: Having a structured plan, deload included, is essential to success in the world of powerlifting. Planning your deload ahead of time will ensure that you’re able to properly recover, perform at your best when needed, and greatly decrease your injury risk. Knowing you have a deload coming up also gives a green light to push a little bit extra for that last week of overload, something that would be much riskier if you weren’t planning to prioritize your recovery the following week.
- Technique Reinforcement: After 3-5 weeks of overload training, with a majority of your focus being dedicated to adding weight to the bar week after week there’s likely to be some level of technical breakdown by the last week. These habits can roll into a new block without being checked. This is why I love deload weeks. It’s important to emphasize correcting these technical deficiencies rather than just going through the motions because “it’s too easy,” but if you do the results will be oh so worth it.
While many popular coaches push a “never deload!” approach on social media, I can guarantee that any coach worth their salt is still implementing these principles. They often simply push an athlete to the point of overload where they would usually deload, and then start a new block of exercises and rep schemes at such light intensities that it essentially fulfills the role of a typical deload week. This approach is sometimes referred to as a “reload” vs. a “deload.” In reality, there is probably a very small physiological difference between these two approaches. I would argue, however, that there is a substantial psychological difference. In my experience, athletes are much more likely to overshoot on the first week of a new program due to the excitement of seeing new exercises and rep schemes. There’s also the additional temptation to start a new block at a higher intensity so that they will finish the block by hitting heavier weights and potentially set bigger PRs. A true deload week removes this temptation completely as it will have little to nothing to do with the numbers that will be programmed for the next block. This allows the athlete to focus purely on their recovery, which should be the primary goal of the week. It also allows for a greater focus on our other big goal: technique reinforcement. Giving an athlete the chance to perform the same exercises they’ve been performing without the focus on pushing weight and volume allows for them to instead focus on perfecting technique and serves as a mental reset before jumping into a new block of training. While they may seem tedious and pointless, deload weeks are an essential part of a good program and an excellent opportunity to improve your technique.
If you want to learn more about deloads or programming in general, shoot us a DM on Instagram. We’ll be happy to help!