February 11, 2024 5 min read
Although there is compelling evidence on the benefits of resistance training, it’s been suggested that continuous
bouts of intense resistance training are associated with fatigue.
Deloading is a period (∼1 week) of decreased training volume, load and/or intensity of effort.
It is a common strategy used by coaches and athletes to counteract accumulated fatigue and diminish the potential for nonfunctional overreaching. Non-functional overreaching is a transient decrement in performance capacity despite increased training stress which restores within weeks(1).
A recent study using the International Delphi Consensus technique defines deloads as “a period of reduced training stress designed to mitigate physiological and psychological fatigue, promote recovery, and enhance preparedness for the subsequent training cycle”(2).
It has been speculated that the diminished rate of muscular adaptations typically seen in the latter phases of resistance training programs may also be negated by implementing a detraining period.
This detraining period may attenuate the reduction in anabolic signaling protein phosphorylation usually seen with continuous bouts of resistance training, as well as upregulate genes associated with muscle growth(3).
The idea is that this period facilitates a “re-sensitization” of muscle hypertrophic stimuli.
In addition, the detraining period is beneficial to hormonal balance as evidence shows that testosterone increases and cortisol decreases following a detraining period(4).
Although findings are intriguing on the benefits of deloading, current research on the effects of detraining do not reflect the typical practices of those in the lifting community.
Research typically uses about 3-week periods of detraining whereas in the real-world; detraining is typically about 1 week.
There is also no evidence on the direct potentiating effects of deloads on successive training cycles in resistance trained individuals. In order to answer these questions, a recent study investigated the effects of deloading, implemented as a 1-week period of cessation from training at the midpoint of a 9-week resistance training program, on muscular adaptations in resistance-trained individuals(5).
This is the first study to directly assess the potential to enhance the efficacy of a 1-week deload period on muscular adaptations. Results indicate a 1-week deload of no training at all has a minimal impact on measures of muscle hypertrophy, endurance, or power in the setting of a 9-week training block.
There was no evidence of a prospective positive effect to re-sensitization of the muscle. Interestingly, while both groups increased strength, the group without a deloading week experienced moderate benefits in measures of both isometric and dynamic strength.
Both groups increased muscle size over the 9-week duration of the study, with similar between-group increases observed in all measurements. These findings indicate that although 1 week of cessation of training does not attenuate the hypertrophic adaptations seen in the first half of a 9-week training block; it also does not enhance results over time. This finding is generally in agreement with other research(6).
Although no objective measures of fatigue or
anabolic signaling were meaured, participants anecdotally often reported feeling lethargic after the deloading period rather than refreshed. This could be due to the total cessation of training during this 1-week deload period.
Most practical applications utilize a deload period which involves reduced training volumes and/or intensities.
It is plausible that a reduced rather than total abstinence from training would allow for the dissipation of fatigue without bringing about a feeling of lethargy upon return.
Although both groups showed enhanced dynamic and
isometric strength; the group that did not deload demonstrated superiority in these measures. These findings are particularly surprising considering the extensive use of deloads in athletes involved in strength sports such as powerlifting and weightlifting.
An important notation is that the aim of the resistance training protocol in this study was not to maximize strength, but rather to maximize hypertrophy.
Therefore, it is feasible that deloads may present different effects when utilizing a resistance training protocol consistent with that of strength athletes. It also is unknown if a brief period of reduced training, rather than total cessation, may attenuate the blunting of strength gains or perhaps even potentiate improvements.