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The Importance of a Deload Phase for Athletes

Benefits Athletes Obtain Scheduling Deload Phases

We all strive for progress. We want to see ourselves improve and grow, whether physically or professionally. At our Indianapolis chiropractic clinic, many of our athlete patients ask us why they are hurting, and not making more progress? What we typically see as a common denominator is a lack of built in deload phases in their workout program.

Many athletes incorporate very little, if any deload phases into their training schedules. Most are focused on pushing the limit at each workout, doing so multiple times a week, and not giving the body any recovery time. This repetitive strenuous demand eventually lead to chronic wear and tear on the joints and muscles, and potentially cause irreversible damage. To prevent this from happening, and to decrease the risk of injuries, I highly recommend a deload phase.

A deload phase is essential for the body to repair connective tissue and restore hormonal balance. Muscles recover much faster than other tissues in the body, due to their increased vascularity. However, connective tissues need longer time for proper recovery. Hence, deloading phases will help decrease the chances of developing tendonitis, tendinosis, and other forms of joint pain.

Did you know you actually get stronger during your recovery phase? Your system adapts to the stress and stimulus (snatch, squat, etc.) during the rest phase, so when you expose your system again to the same stimuli (snatch, squat, etc.), it will handle it in a more efficient manner. In fact, if you constantly stimulate your system without adequate rest, you will put yourself in a deficit mode, and you will actually become weaker.

Here is a recommended breakdown on how to deload:

Plan your deload phase in advance.  Make it part of your workout routine and stick to it. When it is time to deload, just do it. Don’t wait until your progress begins to plateau, or worse yet, you experience irreversible injuries that can only be treated with surgeries. Talk about deload time then.

Deload frequently. Keep your normal rest days during the week, however incorporate a deload phase once a month, during which you should do an active deload. Again, make sure you schedule your deloads in advance and stick to them.  I recommend four to five days after every three weeks of intense training.

Stay active during your deload phase.  By active recovery, I mean you are still active in the gym or box, but the intensity is nowhere near what you would normally do on a typical workout session. Keep your workout at about 50% of the typical load, with very few reps and sets, I recommend two to three exercises each consisting of three sets or five reps. The intent of this is to keep your normal neuro-musculature connection active, without inducing any muscle breakdown or joint and ligament stress.

Use your deload time to improve stability and technique. Work on improving your lift patterns and techniques and form. Also, use this time to incorporate stability work. Many athletes ignore the importance of working out the stabilizers around joints, particularly the shoulders.

Maximize your deload time by incorporating mobility drills.  At our Indianapolis chiropractic clinic, we highly encourage you during those deload phases to incorporate lacrosse ball soft tissue drills, foam rolling drills, including some deep tissue massages, and yoga sessions,  among other mobility techniques. These drills should be targeted to improve thoracic mobility, ankle mobility,  or which ever area you find deficiency and restriction in. [youtube_sc url=””][youtube_sc url=””]

Learn from others. Blair Morrison, for example, works out every other day, and often works out three times, if not more, per day. He does this for three weeks, and then typically deloads on the fourth week. Gabe Subry, Anthony Malta, and Mauricio Leal also have workout schedules that you can adapt to fit your personal needs.

Maintain a proper nutritional and sleep regiment. Proper sleep (seven to eight hours) and nutrition are always important for proper recovery. A delaod phase is not a time where you slack off your healthy diet or your sleeping schedule!

Again, make sure you schedule your deloads in advance, and stick to them. A proper deload time will help you get stronger, spare you from hitting a plateau, and improve your chances of avoiding injuries.

About Integrated Health Solutions

Dr. Charbel Harb is a licensed chiropractic physician and the Medical Director of Integrated Health Solutions. Our core belief is that each patient who walks through the doors is a person, not just a medical record or chart. Our greatest pleasure is bringing joy to our patients and helping them to fully embrace life, allowing them to enjoy each day: active, healthy and pain free.

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