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EVER HAVE A day in the gym where your light sets feel more like your heavy sets? You’re not always going to be on your A game, and that sucks.
Maybe you’re not getting quality sleep, or your nutrition has been a bit off. Sometimes, it’s just a product of not recovering enough from the last few days of training. Whatever the reason, we all have our off days in the gym. But when one off day becomes two, and two becomes three— there may be more to the story.
Marcus Filly, functional bodybuilding coach and ex-CrossFit Games competitor, is familiar with the feeling—especially in the wake of big social events, which can result in a lack of sleep. As he mentions in this video explainer, it’s okay to have a moment where you’re “disappointed in the gym”.
Having days where you don’t hit your goal weights or goal reps range is normal—and sometimes, this malaise could be a warning sign from your body to take a step back. “It is a part of training,” says Filly. “And sometimes it means you’ve been working too hard and you’re overtraining and you need to take a step back and deload and change your training program.”
A deload week is a programmed reduction in volume to avoid overtraining and promote recovery. This makes sense. You can’t be hitting PRs every single time you pick up a weight; progressive overload is just that: progressive, not instantaneous. And to take steps forward, sometimes you need to take a step back.
“Deloading can be as simple as coming in and doing the training program that you had programmed for yourself, but doing half the amount of sets,” says Filly. “You don’t have to drop the intensity dramatically, just drop the intensity a little so you’re not pushing failure on any of your sets.”
If you go upwards of two weeks continuously feeling like you’re not hitting your load and rep goals, Filly says a deload week might be for you. “You’re digging yourself a deep hole of overtraining which could mean weeks to months of recovery time.”
However, the pressure to push heavier and heavier weights can be overwhelming. There’s no shortage of PR videos on social media, and gym culture is known to pressure perfection. But, as Filly says, for most people who are just lifting to get stronger, “there’s no ‘game day’, there’s no deadline. So make sure you’re listening to [your body’s] cues and taking breaks when you need to from training.”
Don’t get caught up in the hustle. Taking a step down when load feels heavy can save you from injury. As Filly emphasizes, “recover, recharge, and get amped up for training again.”
Cori Ritchey, NASM-CPT is an Associate Health & Fitness Editor at Men’s Health and a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. You can find more of her work in HealthCentral, Livestrong, Self, and others.