Deloading: When, Why, How ... Plus Whoop Data (Whoop Diaries Part 5!)
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
It happened. The dreaded "RED" light on my Whoop. Not once, but twice, in a short period of time. This is not normal. What the heck! I was sleeping well, eating well, and I thought ... recovering well. But Whoop said otherwise. (What's a Whoop you may be wondering? Click here for Whoop Diaries Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4)
Don't panic. Don't send up the batsignal. It's just time for a DELOAD!
Wait. Wait. Backup. Before we get into the nerd science my friends at Whoop give me, let's talk about DELOADS.
What is a "deload"?
- A deload is a period of time, typically 1 week, in which an athlete purposefully does less working out than normal to promote recovery.
Why does one "deload"?
- Working out creates stress. Good stress. This is how we grow and get stronger and more fit. But over time, as workout stress accumulates, we eventually hit a tipping point, where more is not better. The body is signaling it needs some time off, a little rest, to "catch up" from all the fitness, and get back to a recovered baseline.
What happens if one does not "deload"?
- Injuries. Fatigue. Poor performance. Lack of "gains"
How does one "deload"?
- Let's say, for example, I workout 6 hours in a normal week. On a deload week, I would workout 3-4 hours, and during those workouts, I would use much less weight than normal, and with much less intensity. If I typically do "sport/rx" level, I would go to health scaling. It's a "come in, move, get a little sweat ... but don't work too hard". Try to maintain most of your normal workout schedule to maintain the habit.
I'm amazing. Do I need to deload?
- Yes. Every single person needs to deload. How often you need to deload is based on your workout to recovery ratio. The average athlete needs to deload once every 2 months.
Now that we have the basics down, let's get into some of that sweet sweet workout & recovery data! If you are new to Whoop, don't worry, I'll break it down. There's some good stuff in here we can all learn from.
Image #1 - 6 Month Recovery Score Overview
What is this showing us?
Whoop Recovery scores every day for 6 months.
Why is it important?
Green = Great Recovery
Yellow = OK Recovery
Red = Poorly Recovered
Take note of the REDs. Not many. That's great.
Where do they occur? May 29. July 9th, 12th and 17th. August 20th. Sept 27 and 30th.
Looks like every 4-6 weeks for me I pop a RED or two.
What does this mean?
I should deload every 4-6 weeks.
Why so often?
I workout a bunch. More workouts = more stress = more need to recover.
Image #2 - Recovery Versus Stress
Gray shading = Recovery biased days.
Blue shading = Overtraining biased days.
It would be interesting to see a mathematical breakdown of the "area under the curve" so we can compare the gray and blue directly, but I'll leave that to other calculus loving friends. What we can generally see, is there is more blue than gray. This means I'm "over-training". It sounds bad, but it's actually good in this context. Overtraining is how we make gains. If we only lifted kinda-heavy weights, we would never get stronger, same as if I only ran 1 mile, I would never become a good distance runner. Weights need to be heavy to promote strength gains, and farther distances need to be run to promote distance running gains. So here it shows I'm overtraining, and then towards the right, you see the red dots at the bottom. That's when I got a RED score on my Whoop. Time to deload!
Image #3 - My September Monthly Performance Report. A useful little guy for showing that overtraining stimulus I talked about in the last image.
If I had photoshop skills, I would overlay this image with my Recovery scores, and I bet the Red recovery scores would correlate to the peaks of the mountains right before I deload and go into the optimal range.
Question - Why am I never in the restorative stage? That's a great question. I've asked myself that question, and I've yet to figure out the answer. Clearly I need to do even LESS when I deload, and perhaps, even schedule a deload month into the yearly calendar.
Image #4 - This shows daily exertion levels (aka - strain) over 1 month time.
If you take note of the dates on the bottom, remember I had my RED recovery days on Sept 27th and 30th. Those days were very low exertion. That's good. Now look back. The week prior to my REDs was a super high exertion week. This overtraining (good thing) in a cumulative effect, is what triggered the RED.
Image #5 - Ah sleep. This is a 1 month overview of my sleep. As you see, it says right on here "Sleep performance is a key component of your Recovery, and dedication to sleep has been shown to improve athletic performance."
Remember those RED days? Sept 27 and 30th.
Check out the sleep on those days.
I still slept about 7 hours, but the quality, that deep/dark blue, is non-existent. Terrible sleep quality.
You may be looking at this and seeing some trends. Poorer sleep quality about every 7 days ... typically around Fri/Sat/Sun ... yep. Alcohol. Wrecks sleep quality. And when I drink, I have 2-4 beers, and I typically stop drinking at dinner. The closer to sleep you drink, the worse the sleep quality.
If I was a "serious" athlete or had a race coming up or some big goal, the clear answer is to stop or limit drinking. It's clearly bad. But I also enjoy having a few beers on Friday afternoon. It's all about balance.
Image #6 - Recovery scores over 1 month
This is a great image to close on. It really shows what leads up to some REDs. You can see I was crushing some GREENS for a while, then I had a period of YELLOWS. This is typically a bad sign if you have a lot of yellows. And sure enough, the REDs came soon after.
Takeaway - We need deloads from the CUMULATIVE EFFECT of training, not just a hard day or week.
One big area which I have not touched on yet is mental stress. Mental stress plays a HUGE role in recovery. You could be doing everything right in terms of working out, eating, and sleeping ... but if you are stressed mentally (work, boss, finances, family, politics, pandemics, etc) it drastically drops your recovery score. Everyone has mental stressors unique to them, and its up to you to find measures to counteract it. Yoga. Mindfulness. Breathing apps. Going for walks. Detaching from electronics and social media. As cheesy as it sounds, happiness is a state of mind.