Who is a gym junkie? I know I am, and perhaps some of you reading this too. We know that since we have the heart for fitness and are paying for a gym membership, we might as well make the most of it and utilise it more than three times a week, right? Then we can justify the inclusion of membership fees when we do our occasional budget audit.
While I can vouch that being a gym rat is great, one thing we often misunderstand is that the mantra of “more is better” does not always ring through. You see, our exercise regime really should be about the quality rather than the quantity. If you stress out the same muscles while weight training every day, then not only do you get diminishing returns, it will actually hinder your progress.
The answer: a “de-load”. What this is is a period of time where you intentionally reduce the load in order to allow your muscles to recover fully. This term comes from the world of professional weightlifting, which is presumably why we are generally unfamiliar with it. But if you think about it, that totally makes sense. Do you think that professional weightlifters can train with the same maximum load day-in, day-out? Probably not, right?
Why is it important? Well, you may or may not have thought about things this way, but when you’re working hard at the gym, you’re actually breaking down muscle fibres. The reason why you get stronger is when they recover, your muscles get used to the load. This recovery period occurs after your gym session, not during it.
Therefore, if you are lifting heavy and breaking down more fibres, you will need more time for them to recuperate. Don’t deprive the muscles of this. Another benefit to de-loading is that it will ensure you are feeling fresh at the gym and better able to concentrate and lift, reduced load notwithstanding. From a psychology viewpoint, it also helps with your motivation.
So when should you deload? There is no blanket rule for this. At the risk of sounding like a hippy, you really have to listen to your body to find out for yourself. If your ligaments feel sore, if you are always tired, if your muscles are always sore, or if you find that your concentration is waning easily, then you probably need a deload, unless of course those are due to different reasons.
How long should you deload for? Well, depending on the stage you’re at, it could go for a few days to a week. The latter is actually quite common in professional weightlifting circles. In fact, they even schedule it in their calendar, such is their level of discipline and devotion to their craft. Of course, you don’t have to do it that way – just have an awareness based on your body signals.
So what should you do when you are de-loading? You can do the same sets with much less weight. This will allow the blood to flow to areas where the lactic acid has built up, and therefore help with your recovery. You can also mix it up a little and do other exercises which focus on the red muscles rather than the white ones. Put on your thinking cap and come up with something.
To conclude, I understand that if you are a gym rat, you feel guilty while de-loading, mostly because we live in a world where everything is black and white – which means that if we are not training optimally, we are perceived to be slacking. However, this is not true – think about it. It is merely part of a good plan that will work in the long-term. Once you get into this frame of mind, you will have achieved a breakthrough and be in a position to progress.
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