This week’s workouts are structured a little differently because we’re taking a step back from heavy weights and lots of reps to give your body a chance to recover. The process is known as deloading and it’s a cornerstone of any strength training program. To truly understand the purpose of periodically taking a lighter week it’s important to understand that you don’t get stronger when you’re in the gym, you get stronger when you’re out of the gym.
Biologically speaking, your body prefers to avoid stress. When it encounters a stressor that means it has to recalibrate all of your internal systems (nervous, metabolic, hormonal, etc) to mitigate this disruption and get back to a state of smooth sailing. Everything we do during class is intended to be a dose of physical stress. Each rep you do breaks down muscle tissue, uses up energy stores, and generally depletes your body and its resources. As soon as you step out of class, however, your body gets to work not only repairing all of the damage you just inflicted upon it, but also fortifying itself so that the next time that stressor comes along it will be better prepared to handle it. It’s during this period that your body is getting stronger. The nice thing about these particular repairs and fortification is that they take the form of less body fat, stronger muscles, better physique, a more robust cardiovascular system…the list goes on and on, but virtually all of the changes are beneficial and desirable.
Moderation, however, is key and this where things can go awry. While it is critical that we stress the body to elicit these favorable adaptations, we have to do so in a measured manner. Unfortunately the stress/repair ratio is not 1:1 meaning that an hour’s worth of class requires more than an hour’s worth of rest to let the body fully recover. Depending on your age, what you eat, how much you sleep, how heavy you lifted, and a host of other factors, this recovery may take as little as 24 hours or upwards of a week. A teenager that eats plenty and sleeps well can typically recover in about of a day or less, but most of us have lost that luxury; our recovery window is closer to two or three days. But if we come to class three or four days per week then we’re never fully recovered coming into a workout. This is perfectly acceptable, even desirable, because it increases the cumulative stress we’re exposed to meaning that we’ll experience an even bigger adaption, i.e. a better body and healthier heart, provided that we eventually give our body a chance to fully recover.
This is where the deload week comes into play. A proper deload consists of taking a step back in how much and how hard you’re exercising. It doesn’t mean shutting down for a week and doing nothing; that will actually impede recovery. If your body was an engine then a hard cycle of training would be running in 6th gear and flirting with the redline while deloading would be letting the engine idle, but not turning it off. Last week’s max outs were the culmination of a training cycle meaning this week is the appropriate time to back off to let the body fully recover and prepare for the next training cycle. So don’t be alarmed that there isn’t a strength portion to the classes and that the workouts are shorter this week, we’re just deloading.