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How often do you suggest taking a rest or deload week from lifting? —Curt222@bornfitness
We don’t grow when we lift. We grow when we recover. But when you’re not lifting, it can feel like you’re not growing at all. That’s where the idea of deload comes in: You perform a week of lighter training so you don’t stop completely, but you don’t risk training too hard and getting hurt.
The way you train should determine how you deload. Recently, I set a goal of doing a rack deadlift with 500 pounds. Because I was suddenly using heavier weights than I was used to, I realized I needed to deload more often. I trained light one week out of every four, and got my 500-pound pull just 14 weeks post-injury.
Bodybuilding-style workouts—splitting up your training into chest, back, leg days, and so on—generally feature less frequency of training the same muscles and less weight. This kind of training doesn’t require as much deloading, because less work (per muscle group) and load (less overall weight) doesn’t result in as much stress on your joints. The harder you hit it, the more you need to quit it. (At least for a week.)
Here’s how I would structure a four-week training cycle if you’re lifting heavy weights (between your three- and six-rep max).
Week 1: Don’t take any sets to failure. Push to where your form is about to break down but leave a rep or two in the tank.
Week 2: Push to technical failure—the point at which you can’t perform another rep with good form.
Week 3: Deload, backing off one of the variables listed above.
Week 4: Push toward a PR and failure on your last set. Begin the process again in Week 5. Your weights should keep going up.
Take your resting heart rate every morning for a week and determine your average. Then check your heart rate again the morning after starting your program. If your resting heart rate is up over your previous average by 10 beats per minute or more, it may be time for a deload.
But let’s get one thing straight: Deloading is for experienced lifters. New lifters don’t handle weights heavy enough to necessitate deloads, and can sometimes go 12 weeks or more without it.
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Adam Bornstein is an author, speaker, and the owner of bornfitness.com.