Deloading is when you intentionally back off the intensity of your program so that your body can fully recharge and heal every so often. Traditionally, a deload week is taken every fourth week of a strength cycle, so you ramp up intensity for three weeks, until you are at peak performance, then drop off and recuperate before starting all over again.
When people deload, they Typically do one of three things:
1. Relax and avoid the gym, or fill time with active rest.
2. Reduce the intensity to 40%-60% of their max, using light power reps and/or forgoing accessories.
3. Going in a different direction. Powerlifters may go for high reps, Bodybuilders might go for less volume, or it may be a week of cardio training instead of weights.
There are two types of people on fitness forums who will say a deload is a waste of time or that overtraining is a myth: people on steroids and people who say deloading is bullshit, but then actually end up advocating for a deload, just not a specifically programmed or scheduled deload.
The fact is, as you stress your body with exercise and resistance, it gets stronger by way of damage. That's right, your muscles literally tear apart and the re-building period is what makes them bigger and stronger. Not only do your muscles rip and repair, but your joints and ligaments can inflame and your CNS (central nervous system) gets taxed when you push your current limits. I don't care if you are 15 or 95 - this stress and damage adds up. Plus, you are subject to the other stresses of life: work, money, relationships, the common cold, etc. No one exists in a gym vacuum. But wouldn't it be cool if we could?
A deload is very helpful with giving your body a break to heal those little, nagging injuries and it keeps you from getting completely exhausted and hitting the skids. Deloading always helps me to repair after maxing out and it revitalizes my body to be able to get back at it, stronger than ever.
Who should deload? Anyone who trains to maximum effort or is at a point where they feel weak and exhausted. A scheduled deload isn't necessary, but I always take one after maxing out or competing. I have learned that even if I feel great on Monday after peak week or a tournament, I quickly lose steam before the week is up. So, I just chill out, regardless of my mood. Right now I'm on a Wendler 531 program, which is three weeks of building up to maximum AMRAPs and taking a fourth week to deload. If I want to compete in jiu jitsu tournaments, I will change my training to suit that goal and deload the week post-competition.
My deloading schedule looks like light, quick power moves in the gym, drilling without sparring, or more often, housework and all the little business I had been neglecting while I was focused on my training. I eat what my body is craving and take a little time to de-stress in general about everything. Unless you are a professional athlete, you have to be realistic about balancing your personal life with your fitness and sport goals.