Everyone has a different view on this. Some coaches/athletes don’t de-load at all. My view of de-loading is taking the foot of the gas for 7-10 days to let the body recover and recharge from a hard block of training. It doesn’t mean you don’t train that week. It just means that you have lighter training sessions and or drop a few sessions all together. Using sprinting as an example if you are in a heavy gym phase of your training you may decided to drop all you gym session on your de-load week and maintain all your track sessions as normal. If you are in a speed phase you may drop all your speed sessions and do tempo based sessions for a week. I will often give athletes a few options and let them choose what the feel like doing on the de-load week so they really look forward to training. We always drop our hill session on our de-load week as hills can definitely leave you flat and heavy for a few days.
It always difficult convincing athletes to have a lighter week if they are in a purple patch of training. I can remember on the lead up to the 2010 Winter Olympics trying to convince an athlete to have a few lighter days followed by a few days off. It was like taking candy from a child. 🙂 However, I have seen the results of continuous heavy load training and and the benefits of de-loading. An athlete will either end up injured or so fatigued that they loose a few weeks of training instead of a just a few days.
There are a few different theories on training blocks the most common being the 3 weeks of progressive load follow by a de-load week. Is this the best method? I don’t know. This is were the art of coaching comes in and knowing your athlete. Encouraging constant honest feedback from you athlete and not being offended when they challenge your thoughts and views. However you also need to know when to just take control and back training off even if they want to do more.
Here is a good article on the 3 week de-load cycle