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Purely strength-wise, what is the difference between taking a deload week (where work is done in the range of around 40% of 1 rep max), compared to taking a complete break from weightlifting for the same period.

Assumption: Intermediate lifter, trains 4 times a week, in a cycle of 3 weeks of work (60-90% of 1 RM), 1 week deload rutine.

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2 Answers 2

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Deload and rest weeks are two very different ways of giving your body, and your central nervous system (henceforth CNS) some time-out.

In your example you'd go pretty much all out on 3 weeks out of 4. So naturally, you'd want to cut yourself some slack during the fourth week, so the CNS doesn't break down and you don't go into overtraining (joints will thank you, too). What exactly you do during that week depends mainly on your training status, though. Let's look at two extreme examples:

  • a newbie lifter decides to start with what you suggested. He doesn't really have the technique to reach his maximum muscular performance, nor does he have sufficient CNS recruitment. He probably feels like it, but he'll never go all out.
    For this case, a deload (about 50% of 1RM at normal rep/set-count) would probably be best. As the lifter is not really experienced and neither his body, nor his CNS adapted to lifting, he is prone to 'unlearning' form and losing CNS recruitment.

  • a seasoned powerlifter works hard on a 5/3/1 plan to prepare for a meet. He'll probably go all out on every lift, as he has the physical capabilities, the CNS recruitment and the technique to force the last bit out of him.
    In this case, an off-week would probably make sense, as he'd probably be able to exhaust himself enough to invite injury and/or overtraining if he just kept going.

As I said, those are extreme examples, so most of us are probably somewhere in the mix. With that considered, I'd say one should mostly just deload. The decreased intensity and/or volume should provide sufficient recovery for any non-pro lifter, given you've got everything else in order.

You might want to consider to further decrease load or really take some off-days/an off-week if you suffer from sleep deprivation, heightened stress or other problems that further impede recovery. This goes in reverse, too. If you feel you need an off-week every month, you should consider brushing up on your lifestyle.

If you're really looking forward to spending a week on the couch though, don't sweat it. If you don't do it every month (i.e. every fourth week of your programm) you won't suffer any critical setbacks.

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Lasse,

The difference between deloading or resting is this: the former allows your body to rest (with lighter loads, thus increasing endurance and strength) while the latter allows your body to rest completely (something you don't want to do often) .

Given that strength training is hard, taking rests (especially for a beginner) doesn't increase your endurance and make your body give reasons why you should quit the program. The more often you lift heavier weights (without passing your optimal frequency), the stronger you'll be. More rests will reduce your strength growth. Or you might finally give in to your body and quit the entire program.

So, plan your weightlifting on non-consecutive days, lift heavy, and rest on your non-lifting days. If you really need a rest (absent of any illness, injury, or doctor's recommendation), deload instead and re-structure your weightlifting plans.

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