Hey! Give Your Body a Break!
The benefits found in resistance training seem to be endless, but those benefits are stunted due to chronic training sans a deloading week. Often, detraining and deloading are used interchangeably to describe the cessation or reduction of exercise; however, the difference between the two will elicit one of two responses, positive or adverse effects in the body’s physiological response.
Detraining is the complete cessation of all exercise or a dramatic reduction. Gym goers often think that detraining is a necessary component to anaerobic training adaptation enhancement, but the truth of the matter is that it provides the opposite effects. Detraining may result in a loss of muscular strength in as little as two weeks; however, the severity of force reduction will depend upon the length of the detraining phase. Not only will strength gains decrease, but muscle atrophy will continue to persist as the detraining period extends. Typical responses seen in detrained individuals include decreases in muscular strength and muscle fiber size, increases in body fat percentage, increases in capillary and mitochondrial density leading to increases in aerobic enzymes, as opposed to anaerobic, and decreases in short-term endurance and maximal oxygen uptake. While these changes aren’t ideal following detraining, the adaptations typically revert to pre-training levels.
Deloading differs from detraining in that it still employs training, but the frequency, intensity, volume or any combination of the three decreases. A semi-frequent deloading phase is essential to physiological growth in anaerobic training to prevent a plateau. Symptoms of overtraining include fatigue, muscle soreness, and the inability to adapt to known stimuli, this results in the maintenance of strength and muscular size, rather than growth, in addition to mental and physical exhaustion.
Athletes may employ an active rest period which gives the body a break, but not so much so that the symptoms of detraining begin to occur. The deloading phase occurs within a larger active rest period and lasts for one week to ensure that maladaptation does not occur. The deload period not only provides the body with the necessary rest for growth, but it prepares it for increased and changing demands of the upcoming training program. The larger active rest phase may consist of a 1-4-week period composed of lighter intensity, volume, and the frequency with unstructured workouts and various recreational activities, typically not about the typical training stimulus.
Consequences of not participating in deloading phases will eventually lead to increased stresses both inside and outside of the gym, causing exhaustion that suppresses the bodies natural adaptation to stimuli. Training may still be performed through the stress and exhaustion phase; however, will yield little results. To allow growth to occur, some form of deloading must happen every few months for at least one weeks’ time.