Psychological benefits of a Deload week

What is a deload week?

Training in most weightlifting activities are primarily focused on the improvement of maximal strength and power to improve performance to become stronger. (Stone et al., 2006). A deload week allows the athlete to recover physiologically and psychologically from the stressors put on their bodies.  The ultimate aim of a deload is to increase optimal performance and to decrease chances of burnout (Mujika et al., 2004). It has been found that tapering can effect performance by 3%, this might seem low but it could be the difference from 1st and 2nd place in competition (Mujika & Padilla, 2000). Research has shown that performance improves when, on a deload week, intensity decreases (about 50% of 1RM), volume decreases (back off the sets) and frequency is maintained over a period of 1-4 weeks (Gibala, MacDougall & Sale,1994; Pritchard et al., 2015). With adequate rest and recovery, the athlete can start a new intense training block to aid performance.


Overreaching/Overtraining Syndrome

Overreaching is a state of excessive volume or intensity of exercise that will result in a decrease in performance (Kreher, 2016). As an athlete reaches their ‘tipping point,’ the athlete starts seeing a decrease in performance on a consistent basis. This is either called overreaching or, worse, over-training syndrome (op cit). If an athlete does not take a de-load, and insists on overtraining, it can have a decrement affect to their performance for as long as >3 months (Meeusen et al., 2006). Over-training can impact different systems within the body such as hormonal, immunological, neurological, psychological disturbances and mood changes (Kreher, 2016; Kreher & Schwartz, 2012).  Focusing on the psychological aspects, there are many symptoms to watch out for including insomnia, exhaustion, lack of concentration, feelings of depression, becoming more anxious and having a short temper. Interestingly, a study by Morgan et al., (1987) found that 80% of over trained swimmers were found to have the same signs and symptoms of somebody that is clinically depressed. This showing that is it very important to prevent over training for your own psychological well-being.


There are many factors that could explain the relationship between over training and depression. Firstly, cortisol increases in over trained athletes compared to normally trained athletes (Budgett, 1998). An increase of cortisol means there is a decrease in testosterone production meaning a change in hormonal balance of anabolism to catabolism (op cite). Another consequence of catabolism is losing muscle and strength, which is completely counterproductive for weightlifters. Secondly, in over-trained athletes, there was a rise in noradrenaline levels and a fall in dopamine (Koutedakis et al., 1995). Without going too scientific, all drug abuse increase dopamine transmission in the Nac, this can include exercise as well. As we exercise, dopamine is released and we get a ‘natural high.’ However, once the brain gets used to this, the brain craves more dopamine (Nestler & Carlezon, 2006). It can be argued that the more we exercise, without giving the brain and the central nervous system time to ‘reset’, will not only increase the likelihood of exercise addiction but also increase the chances of over-training.


Fatigue is defined as a condition of declined ability and efficiency both mentally and physically caused by excessive mental or physical activities (Tanaka, Ishii & Watanabe, 2015). Think of your brain like any other muscle, it can be overused and can suffer from fatigue. It can be possible that the brain could fatigue before the body due to psychosocial stresses such as high workload, being unwell or high anxiety.


The human body regulates to maintain an inner balance called homeostatis, (McEwen, 2000). If training disturbs this balance, the body will react to maintain the balance, but if it continues the body adapts to meet the demand (op cit) i.e getting stronger. According to the Suprecompensation cycle below (Bompa, 1999), recovery is important to regain homostatis. It can be argued, if we stay in a fatigued state, homeostatis will not be regained and problems stated above (overtraining paragraph) will begin. If athletes stay in a fatigued state, it can take longer to reach homeostatis and will have a long term decrement to performance and mood disturbances (Kreider et al., 1998).


A study by Smith et al (2016), found that mental fatigue decreases soccer performance. They found that after a demanding cognitive test, the players could not run as fast or kick the ball as skilfully as before the test. Not only does it affect skilled performance, it has an impaired effect on decision making as well (op cit).


As a weightlifter, we need to make sure our decisions are perfect otherwise we could injure ourselves. For example, deciding to go heavier for a lift and going off programme because you think you are strong enough to do it. As a coach, monitoring your athletes and getting to know them is key for their success because knowing when they are fatigued, either mentally or physically, will aid their progress and prevent injury. Coaches that have qualities such as praising athletes, providing them with instructional feedback, being empathic and having a democratic coaching style are more beneficial to prevent burnout in their athletes.  (Eklund & Cresswell, 2007).


Psychological benefits of deload


  • Better Mood- During overtraining, it has been found that athletes reported undesirable changes in their mood states. Once the training load was reduced, athletes reported better mood and their mood scores increased (Berger et al., 1999).


  • Return to homeostatis- Keeping your brain in equilibrium will help hormonal balance such as maintaining serotonin levels and testosterone levels, this in turn, will increase strength and muscle mass as cortisol is kept in control (Kreher, 2016).


  • Increased motivation- Interviewing elite powerlifters, it was found that reducing their training load made them ‘hungry to lift’ as they get more excited to get back to heavy training (Pritchard et al., 2016).


  • Recovering from stress- Taking a break from training stress and giving the central nervous system can help athletes to increase optimum competitive performance (Hellard et al., 2013).


  • Giving your Central Nervous System a break- By giving the CNS a break, it will help the recovery process from the stressors of lifting heavy weights. This will help the CNS ‘fire’ more effiently






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Budgett, R. (1998). Fatigue and underperformance in athletes: the overtraining syndrome. British journal of sports medicine, 32(2), 107-110.


Eklund, R. C., & Cresswell, S. L. (2007). Athlete burnout. In G. Tenenbaum & R. C. Eklund (Eds.), Handbook of sport psychology (3rd ed., pp. 621–641). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley


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Koutedakis, Y., Frischknecht, R., Vrbová, G., & Sharp, N. C. (1995). Maximal voluntary quadriceps strength patterns in Olympic overtrained athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.


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Kreider, R. B., Fry, R.W., & O ́Toole, M. L. (1998). Overtraining in sport: Terms,


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Pritchard H, Keogh J, Barnes M, and McGuigan M.Effects and Mechanisms of Tapering in Maximizing Muscular Strength. Strength & Conditioning Journal 37: 72-83, 2015


Pritchard, H. J., Tod, D. A., Barnes, M. J., Keogh, J. W., & McGuigan, M. R. (2016). Tapering practices of New Zealand’s elite raw powerlifters. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 30(7), 1796-1804.


Pritchard, H. J., Tod, D. A., Barnes, M. J., Keogh, J. W., & McGuigan, M. R. (2016). Tapering practices of New Zealand’s elite raw powerlifters. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 30(7), 1796-1804.


Smith, M. R., Zeuwts, L., Lenoir, M., Hens, N., De Jong, L. M., & Coutts, A. J. (2016). Mental fatigue impairs soccer-specific decision-making skill. Journal of sports sciences, 34(14), 1297-1304.


Stone MH, Pierce KC, Sands WA, and Stone ME. Weightlifting: Program design. Strength cond J28: 10-17, 2006.


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