There is more than one kind of "rest". For example, eating and sleeping are both forms of rest. They provide the body with much needed fuel and recovery, and proper strength gains just can't be had without them. And, while food and sleep are both vital components of a strength program, they're not the only necessary forms of rest. Deloading is another essential form of rest, and again, proper strength gains just can't be had without it.
But what IS deloading?
Deloading is a reduction in training intensity that allows your body (1) to stay active, (2) to continue to practice the movement patterns on your program so as to avoid detraining, and (3) to recover from heavier training at the same time. There are a few different ways you can deload on a program:
1. Keep the weight the same or similar and reduce the REPS
2. Keep the reps the same or similar and reduce the WEIGHT
3. Change the exercises you're doing entirely
ut no matter HOW you deload, the intent is to lower the intensity of your training for a set period of time.
Deloading is different from taking a break, however, in that you will still be lifting weights; you'll just be lifting at a lower intensity. This period of lower intensity will last somewhere between 3 and 6 training days (not consecutive days) before your body has had a chance to recover from the heavier training that preceded it. After this period of rest you'll be ready to get back into your normal intensity training sessions.
But, how do you know when it's time for a deload?
Trust me when I say, your body will let you know. You'll experience fatigue, muscle exhaustion, extreme soreness, and/or performance decreases. These are a few typical signs of overtraining, which is how you know it's time to take it down a quick notch. To continue attempting to train at the same intensity despite the bodily signals mentioned above will, for one, likely be impossible after a while, and two, will eat away at strength gains and cause a regression of progress. So, as boring as it may be, deloading is very necessary.
Deloading is used for styles of weight training like powerlifting and olympic weight lifting most often, because on these types of programs a handful of the SAME movements are used over and over and over again and trained at a high intensity. For example, in powerlifting, you'll train the back squat, bench press, and deadlift religiously. You may also train the front squat and the overhead press, but these and any other lifts are secondary to the "big 3." (Olympic lifting makes highest use of the clean and jerk and the snatch and their variations.) Because of this excessive use of the same exercises, it's important to let those movement patterns and the muscles that go with them rest every once in a while. As mentioned before, this rest can come in different forms; food, sleep, and deloading.