Easily one of the least understood and utilized tools within high school athletic training programs, the “Unload” or “Deload” week is one we fully ascribe to here at PLT4M. Often, coaches and athletes feel like that if they aren’t pushing forward, they’re falling backward. In performance training, this isn’t completely accurate.
The human body is an incredible machine – when pushed, it adapts and becomes a better version of itself. This is why exercise works, why pushing yourself to the limit in the gym results in a more physically competitive you. It’s important to understand exactly how this works, though, because we aren’t really machines. Our very muscles are being torn apart, connective tissue stretched to the limit, cells pushed to failure. We are physically traumatizing our bodies, which in turn sparks it to grow back better. We can adapt to almost any physical stress, but it isn’t immediate, it requires time.
Think about it – if you cut your finger, you know it will take at least few days to heal. If you continue to use the finger, it will prolong the healing process. The same principle applies to physiological adaptation to exercise. Your body needs a chance to fully recover and adapt to the stress placed upon it. You don’t get stronger from the act of lifting weights, you get stronger from the act of recovering from lifting weights. We often talk about post workout recovery (stretching, mobility, nutrition, sleep, etc), to improve results, but it’s bigger than that. Once in awhile, we need to give your body a chance to fully recover and adapt to everything you’ve asked of it.
What & How?
The unload week is a extremely simple concept that plays a big role in successful training regiments. In its most basic form, it is a strategy that says every 4-6 weeks or so of intense training, you take a week to pull back. We’re not talking about taking the week off completely, but rather actively recovering by still moving while placing less overall demand on your body.
There’s not one single way to institute the unload week concept within a program. Here at PLT4M we employ several different strategies depending on where in the program it is located. Some weeks, we keep intensity high with heavy load strength work while cutting overall workout volume way down by eliminating auxiliary work entirely. Other times we do the opposite – we do a little of everything, but nothing at load or extreme individual volume. We also use some weeks for pure technique or mobility work with light aerobic conditioning as well. Every unload is programmed specifically depending on where it is in the schedule and what is coming next. As long as the physical demand, though, is lighter than your normal training, the athletes will benefit.