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Deloads, Diet Breaks and Dialling it Down

DeloadsDiet_Cover1“You’ve got to burn it to earn it!”

“Sweat is fat crying!”

“You got to train balls to the wall!”

All these statements are well intentioned. YES, you do have to train hard to make progress, but not so it leads to injury, pain and eventually, a total lack of progress.

With achieving a result with training, we need to be aware of our own bodies unique needs for recovery and regeneration. There is nothing that brings the same type of satisfaction as hitting new PR, finishing a WOD in a record time, losing some more stubborn bodyfat or having an old workout that formerly destroyed us, become easy.

We get it. It’s fun, its motivating and it brings an intrinsic pleasure to exercise. What if though, we could maintain this cycle of constant improvement, but over a longer time period?

What if every leg workout did make us walk funny and we still got stronger and leaner? What if we didn’t have to exhaust our willpower each and every week resisting foods we shouldn’t eat because we have to stick to our 1460 calories a day or grow fat dammit! Today we are going to explore the concepts of deloading your training and diet breaks, two of the keys for achieving long term results First, lets investigate the terms over-reaching and over-training and what they mean to us.

DeloadsDiet_Points-01Overtraining Vs Over-Reaching (with a little bit of under-recovery)

Many people will claim they are over-trained if they have a workout over 45 minutes due to stress hormones. Other people will claim there is no such thing as overtraining, just under recovery. Where is the truth in these statements?

As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle. For the majority of people, who are looking to lose fat, build some muscle and look better, overtraining isn’t really a concept that they need to be concerned with. If you are a professional athlete, or someone looking to break into the upper echelons of physique or strength sports, then it is a very real cause for concern.

If you are training 3-4 times per week and aren’t recovering from workouts properly then it is more a case of under-recovery. The best strategies for that are listed below and we also suggest you read the following articles so you optimise what we have found are most peoples limiting factors.

Recovery Strategies




Over Reaching is another matter entirely. What it essentially boils down to is Over Reaching being a period of training where you push yourself into a fatigued state. The objective here is to reach near breaking point and then back off from training so hard so that the body can supercompensate and recover at a faster level. This is something all athletes do before a competition so they can reach a higher level of performance. We can also use it in your training to build more muscle, burn more fat and get stronger!

What is a Deload?

The simplest way to explain a Deload is that it is a planned week of recovery from training. It usually consists of shorter workouts, less sets and more rest than a normal training week. Here are some benefits of Deload weeks:

  • Consolidation of Stressors – Training is a stress that our body has to adapt to. We only have a finite ability to adapt to stressors and when we are training hard, eating a caloric deficit, working a stressful job and trying to maintain some semblance of a lifestyle, these are all things we have to adapt to. Having a lighter training week can allow your body to recover from training and lead to greater output and work capacity over the upcoming weeks.
  • Improved Immune Health – Training taxes the immune system, particularly if you are training with intensity and purpose.
  • Better joint health – Healthy joints mean productive training. Giving your joints a break and some rest means the next cycle you can train with more intensity

How to Deload

There are a few common ways to effectively implement a deload. Here are some of the ones we use most often at DC Health Performance

  • Reduce volume, maintain intensity: In this deload approach, we simply drop the sets of each exercise by 40% while maintaining the same weights. If you are performing 5 sets of 5, we will reduce it to 3 sets of 5. This is a great way to maintain strength and reduce the stress on the Central Nervous System (CNS) and joints. This approach is recommended if you lose strength rapidly if you do not maintain some heavy loading.
  • Reduce load lifted: In this approach, we reduce the weights to around 40-60% of your 1RM and do lighter workouts. This is a great method to practice and refine your lifting technique and is very useful for people who can’t train for a long period at high intensity.
  • Change exercises: Int his approach, you use slightly different exercises to change the stimulus. For example, add a light incline to a DB Bench or change your hand position on a Bench Press. This is good for people whose joints can’t handle the same movement repeatedly.

DeloadsDiet_Points-02What is a Diet Break?

A diet break is simply taking a scheduled break from a period of dieting. It means not worrying about counting your calories and staying in a deficit, but eating some more calories, some more carbohydrates and not worrying too much. There are many reasons why we do this, both physiological and psychological. Here are some:

  • Hormonal health – During periods of dieting, stress hormones increase and sex hormones generally decrease. Having an increase in calories (particularly carbs) can help restore these to normal
  • Metabolism – Thyroid hormones and Leptin will generally decrease while in a caloric deficit  so having a 2 week period to allow them to reset will allow for faster fat loss when you go back on your diet.
  • Increased strength and performance – Training on a caloric deficit can plain suck at times! Increasing calories can allow you to feel stronger and get more motivation for training.
  • Peace of mind – If you have a LOT of weight to lose, you may be looking at 1-2 years of dieting (assuming a loss of 0.5 kilograms per week). No one is going to enjoy being hungry for that period of time but by breaking it up into 12 weeks blocks of dieting followed by 2 weeks of less restriction can make the progress much more sustainable.

How to have a diet break

This is simple. For 2 weeks don’t count calories or macronutrients, eat an amount of food that makes you feel satisfied and occasionally indulge in something you truly enjoy. A diet break is not a situation in which you go completely off the rails. You just ease up on yourself and enjoy 2 weeks of enjoying food.

Caveat: The diet break MUST be 2 weeks. It cannot be abbreviated because this will not allow enough time for your physiology to respond optimally.

DeloadsDiet_Points-03The Importance of a Balanced Program

All of what we have mentioned above comes down to having a BALANCED program. We can’t go balls to the wall at all times as it is unproductive, increases injury risk and lead to burnout. We can’t do the same thing with our diet plans as it will lead to stagnation, uncomfortable and annoying plateaus and metabolic damage. We need rest and recovery just as much (if not more if we are under high amounts of stress) as we need the stimulation of training and the challenge of a productive diet. Here is a sample template that us extremely useful for looking at a training year:

Divide the year into 4 12 week blocks.

Pick a goal for each block – fat loss, strength, flexibility whatever you like

Each block plan for weeks 4, 8, and 12 to be deload weeks. Deload based on the method that works for YOU

For each gap in the training plan, decide to put your diet break here.

If you do this, you will know exactly what to expect each month of the year. This can also allow you to put holidays into diet breaks which is a very productive schedule.

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