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I recently read about a Deload-Week (doing about 40-60% of either the weights or reps you usually use/do for a week) in order to give your muscles a little time to recover without completly stopping to workout for a week nor training like normal.

In the articles I read and the videos I watched about the topic, everybody spoke about, that deloading isn't useful for beginners (and could even hurt the gains of a beginner). It was recommended to use a Deload-Week only when you are an advanced gym-goer, but none of them stated what they consider advanced.

In the articles, the authors write, that beginners can grow muscle more easily than advanced tranees, just because they are beginners (some call it newby-gains). This phenomenon seems to plateau over time as you train longer and thus making you an intermediate/advanced in the definition of these articles. Problem is, they don't give any information about when these newby-gains decrease nor when you should start doing deload.

I'm going to the gym since pretty much excactly half a year now. I did a full body workout for about 5 months and since one month I'm doing a split into upper and lower body workout. Before I went to the gym I did some bodyweight exercises at home for around another half a year.

I'm really interested in trying out deloading, but I'm quite unsure about my current level. Would I still be considered a beginner, and thus would deloading for a week hurt my gains?

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Why do people deload?

Because training is very taxing on the body. Very often while training, a person does not give full time for maximum recovery. Over time performance decreases and eventually, the performance lost outweighs the performance gained. Deloading resets the body back to top levels, so it can repeat the cycle again.

Why can beginners get away with deloading less?

Because the intensity of the workout is less. Thus, overall the workout is less taxing. The ability to recover from the less intense workout ranges from a few hours to maybe a couple days. An intermediate person from a much more intense workout may take a few days to up to maybe two weeks to fully recover. A highly advanced person can have workouts that take up to a month to fully recover (in extreme cases).

Why don't advanced people deload all the time?

Because they are usually recovered enough to train again. They may not be able to lift to 100% of their ability or run 100% of their speed, but people usually train around 70% of their ability. So if you train at 70%, then you don't have to be fully recovered.

Should you deload?

Are you in pain? Are you exhausted? Are you unable to meet your scheduled numbers? Are you seriously underperforming, especially for three workout sessions in a row? If you're weightlifting, is your form suddenly collapsing? Are you having trouble sleeping? Do you have a cold that seemingly won't go away?

If you answer yes to any of those questions, then yes. You probably should deload a week or two irregardless of how advanced you are.

  • Thanks for the detailled explanation. I guess the "Are you having trouble sleeping?" refers to a longer period of time (maybe a week or so), am I right? Some slight degree of trouble falling asleep sometimes to me doesn't seem "enough" to justify deloading. – Suimon Aug 21 '18 at 8:58
  • @Suimon I'd say if you can't get to sleep for two or three days out of the week, then you're stressed out and need a break. A really good sign is if you can't sleep because your heart rate seems erratic and you feel energized. That probably means you have a lot of cortisol (stress hormone). – DeeV Aug 21 '18 at 13:53
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There are a few ways to define a trainee "level", yet none of them are very accurate:

  • How long does he train consistently: 0-1 beginner, 1-3 intermediate, 3+ advanced. It's not very accurate since the definition of consistency is problematic, and each trainee differs in how he strives to learn and improve his knowledge and skills - some "advanced" lifters know less than intermediate ones. On the other hand, practical experience in the gym shouldn't be ignored.

  • Maximization of potential: When you follow the rule of progressive overload over time, it becomes harder and harder to keep going with the weights. A beginner can increase weights on a weekly basis (or even on a session basis), an intermediate usually once or twice a month and an advanced lifter every few months, and they usually have a dedicated preparation plan.

  • The obvious things: Familiarity with exercises, good technique, "muscle control" (i.e. your ability to isolate muscles successfully and to contract muscles), etc.

Everything that I wrote is just rules of thumb.

When it comes down to deloading, I generally agree with what you wrote, and it seems that you don't really need to go for a deload at the moment. Moreover, I think that the "need" of deload is something that you feel - your body is stressed and tightened up before you even start the session, your success in major exercises decreases, etc.

  • These rules of thumb are a good starting point but don't really seem to be relevant in this topic, because it's more about your "state of gains" than your knowledge about the exercises etc. I guess I didn't make the term "beginner" clear, my bad! I'll add that to the post. – Suimon Aug 20 '18 at 9:04
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    I think that the second rule of thumb is what you referred to. – Neria Nachum Aug 20 '18 at 9:07

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