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Is it time for a deload week?

If you’ve been hitting the gym for several weeks but have started to feel like you’re spinning you’re wheels, it might be time for a deload week.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need to work harder and longer in the gym to transform your body and reach your goals, whatever they may be. But it’s actually during periods of rest where the body transforms, grows muscle and repairs itself.

Rest, sleep and proper nutrition are essential to overall health and wellbeing. Particularly if you’re trying to change your body composition at the gym by gaining lean muscle mass and losing fat (which I’m guessing is why most people go to the gym).

Before I continue, a quick disclosure: I am writing as if I’m some sort of expert, which I’m not. In fact, I’m just an average office worker who goes to the gym three-to-four times a week and recently realised that I need to take a week off.

Usually I’m very motivated to exercise in my lunch break on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Having that day of rest in between has been working well and I generally feel restored and ready for another round of strength training the following day.

But last Friday I was lacking sleep and just felt foggy. I thought the workout would help clear this but it didn’t. If anything, I just felt worse once I started lifting weights and started to feel like I wasn’t as strong as I should be. Then the mental chatter started, telling me it was no use and maybe I should just pack it in altogether. It’s the way I am with everything – all or nothing.

Now I must admit that the idea of taking a full week off from a three-day split wasn’t mine. It was inspired by an interview I watched on YouTube with former bodybuilding champion Dorian Yates. The six-time Mr Olympia is a major advocate of rest. He suggested that, at times, people should take a full week off to recover from training. When they do, he said, they usually find they come back stronger than before after the body has had time to repair and grow, responding to the stress that has been inflicted on the muscles from training.

But when you’re hooked into a steady routine of lunchtime workouts, it can be difficult to fathom that doing less can actually be more beneficial in the long run.

I consulted my personal trainer, who advised me to do a few yoga classes, use the sauna and do some light cardio for a week instead of hitting the weights.

“It’s called a deload week,” he said. This is the first time I’d ever heard the term. A quick google gave me a list of ideas for how I could fill my midday gym time with less strenuous activities than lifting heavyweights. Some of these include:

- Yoga
- Meditation
- Reducing the volume of training
- Reducing the weight but maintaining the volume
- Fitness classes
- Running
- Walking
- Swimming
- Nothing at all

For me, a week away from the intensity of weight training means I can reconsider my goals and what it is I want to achieve through exercise.

It’s also a great lesson in acceptance and listening to my body – which was clearly telling me I needed a break. But on a deeper level, I’ve realised that I don’t need to give up entirely when things aren’t feeling as I think they should be. I just need to take a week off. 

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