Q: Is reloading (also known as "deloading") a good idea or just an excuse to kick back?
Why do you think most NFL teams have a light, non-contact practice before game day? It's to give their players a chance to rest their bodies—and their minds—before the big game.
Same goes for lifting. You need to give your body time to recuperate after heavy lifting so your central nervous system (CNS) and your muscles don't get fried.
Reloading is the practice of following periods of high intensity and volume with periods of lower intensity and volume. It's also the perfect time to work on your form.
You might know this lowering of intensity as a "deload." I was first introduced to deloading by powerlifter and Bodybuilding.com contributor Paul Leonard. I renamed it "reload," simply because I think it sounds more proactive—and because this is not a blow-off week. On the contrary, it's a strategic retreat so you can come back and attack some serious pig iron!
Reloads should generally be about 70 percent of the total volume and intensity of a heavier session. An easy way to make this adjustment is to cut all your working sets down by one full set per exercise, multiply your working weights by 0.7, and use maximum acceleration through the entire range of motion. Voila, there's your reload.
Because you'll be using lighter weights, this is a chance to build your technique, which is hard to do when you're lifting more than 90 percent of your max. In that sense, a reload week could also be called a "technique reinforcement" week.
I recommend reloading every 3-6 weeks, depending on how hard you train, any past injuries, and of course, how quickly you recover. Start by reloading every fourth week. As you learn how reloading affects your body, adjust your timing to meet your own needs.
Are There Exceptions?
Some lifters may feel reloads are not for them. It's true that some successful strength athletes don't reload at all. Keep in mind, though, that these same athletes base their training on a deep knowledge of their body, earned from years of training. When these lifters feel mentally or physically beat up, they take a couple days off, or go lighter and do fewer sets and reps. They don't plan these breaks, and they don't call them reloads, but that's basically what they are.
By planning your reloads, you can avoid those days when you feel so beat down you can't lift a beer bottle, much less a dumbbell. Instead, you can be proactive, cycling periods of reduced volume and intensity into your training so you can stay healthy and keep lifting.
What if you're skinny and trying to increase your bench press? Still need to reload? Of course! Without adequate recovery, you won't become stronger. Your brain may tell you to lift heavy without rest, but your body knows differently.
Is recovery important if you're looking to drop a weight class? Yep, still important. When you're dieting, your body is in a catabolic state: You're losing both body fat and muscle tissue. You want to reach that lower weight class with as much muscle as possible, so neuromuscular-repairing recovery time is non-negotiable.
To recap, here's how to plan your own powerlifting reload:
- Reduce your volume (sets x reps x weight) by 60-70 percent of your normal workload
- Perform reps using maximum acceleration through the entire range of motion
- Work on perfecting movement techniques
- Reload every 3-6 weeks. This is a guideline, not a rule.