Weightlifting is an intense activity, but going full steam all of the time is not necessarily ideal. Having an unloading week, also known as a deload week, is a strategy for maximizing the effects of your workout plan. An unloading week is one in which you reduce the intensity of your workouts with lighter weights, a reduced workout volume or a combination of both. On your unload week, reduce workout volume -- the number of sets -- to 60 percent of your normal volume and reduce the weight you lift to 60 to 80 percent of the amount you would normally lift.
Unloading weeks can help you reach your goals, but you have to schedule them correctly or you won't benefit. Reducing your workload too often can mean that you won't progress because you won't sufficiently challenge your body, while not deloading frequently enough will put you at risk for overtraining. While beginning lifters may be able to work out for 12 weeks prior to unloading, intermediate lifters should unload once every eight weeks and advanced lifters will benefit from unloading every four weeks.
A key benefit of unloading weeks is their ability to help prevent injury. A workout routine exposes your body to repeated trauma on the same muscles, joints and connective tissues. This can wear down your body, particularly if you perform the same exercises, make use of many explosive lifts or train with heavy weights. Cumulative trauma can cause injuries, and sloppy form prompted by fatigue can as well. Taking a week to unload can help you avoid those causes of injuries.
A high frequency of intense training sessions can help you make some progress, but it can also interfere with recovery. Your body grows when you are out of the gym, not during your training sessions. Recovery time is when your body uses the nutrients you eat to rebuild muscle tissue damaged during workouts. By vastly reducing the amount of trauma your muscles experience through unloading, you allow for more recovery and a phenomenon called "supercompensation." This refers to the fact that providing less stress and more recovery time will produce greater gains in strength than you'd experience with less recovery time and higher-stress workouts.
An unloading week may help your mental health as well as your physical health. Training hard every week can leave you little time for socializing or relaxing, and having an unloading week will give you more free time. Unloading can also be a good time to alter your routine and try new exercises, providing variety and freshness, without the pressure of trying to beat last week's maximum lifts.