Deload?

“You mean like…. a week of easy training?”

“I ain’t got time for that…”

“How is less lifting gonna help?”

“Team NO DAYS OFF”

“Bro, that’s soft”

These are some of the very articulate, concise, educated, and logical arguments made by those against deloading

As always, let’s get some operational definitions out on the table first.

DELOAD: ~1 week of lower training volume and intensity in an attempt to dissipate fatigue built up over accumulation weeks

ACCUMULATION WEEKS (AW) – weeks of hard training leading up to a deload

VOLUME: # of hard sets performed in a given time frame

INTENSITY: how close to failure you are going on your sets

AW:D ratio: Your split of accumulation weeks to deload

A 3:1 split would be 3 accumulation weeks followed by 1 deload week.

In this article I’m going to explain

  1. Why you need to Deload
  2. How often you should Deload?
  3. Should you Pre-plan or Autoregulate?
  4. How to Deload

The truth is, whether to deload or not is not up for debate. It’s necessity.

“Training that is hard enough to cause adaptation is by definition hard enough to require deloading.”

Anything that brings adaptation also brings fatigue.

The same hard training that makes you better also beats you up

WHY YOU NEED TO DELOAD

Well let’s start with a simple question:

What is the point of rest?

Why take rest days during the week?

Why not workout all 7 days?

Well…at some point it would be “TOO MUCH”

Fatigue would rise

You wouldn’t be able to recover from constant overloading sessions

Performance would decline

You wouldn’t be able to produce an overloading effort (you’d stop progressing)

Injury risk would increase

You’ll eventually feel like shit and get sick

Those 2-4 days off during the week are NECESSARY to allow you to have a subsequent productive week of overloading training

Intuitively YOU KNOW THIS.

You know training 7x per week is dumb. That’s why you don’t do it.

A similar example would be the relationship between the Weekend vs. the Workweek

Will you be more productive over the long term if you work 24/7…

or if you take evenings and weekends off?

Duh. Weekends. You will be more productive with breaks.

Deloading is the exact same thing on a larger time scale

Deloading is more like the long weekend or vacation that you take so you come back fresh.

Instead of taking days off in between weeks, you take a week off between months

A Deload is a week-long break from overload training in between 3-7 week training blocks so future training can be more productive.

Deload Analogy:

Imagine you are an empty glass

How much water is in the glass represents how much fatigue/stress you are carrying

A full glass would represent an overreached or overtrained state

An empty glass is you completely fresh

With every hard session you do throughout the week, you pour a little bit of water in the glass

Remember: HARD training…training that is hard enough to cause adaptations, also beats you up

When you have an off day, you pour *some* of the water out…aka you drop some fatigue

However those rest days are not enough to clean the slate

What this means is that even though you’re pouring some water in and pouring some water out, each week there is MORE water going in than going out

So…over time the glass inevitably fills up

When the glass fills up….no bueno

Any further training into an overtrained state will, at best, cause no growth and, at worst, cause some pretty serious negative health outcomes.

Fatigue/stress within the body caused by hard training builds up across a Mesocycle (~month of training), forcing us to eventually dump the water out and start again…fresh.

The goal of deloading is to empty the glass (as much as possible).

What Happens If You Don’t Deload?

First let’s assume this conversation is in the context of proper training focused on progressive overload

If you train 1-2x per week pretty nonchalant you likely won’t need to deload

But you wont see gains either…

Which is totally fine…just not who this article is for.

So let’s say your training is on point but you think deloading is soft

You put #noPAINnoGAIN and #CRUSHIT and #NOdaysOFF in your instagram bio

Not only do you probably lose a lot of friends (rightfully so) but eventually the deload takes YOU anyway.

-Glycogen stores will slowly decrease over weeks

-Anabolic hormones like testosterone that are important for performance and adaptation go down while catabolic hormones like cortisol continue to rise

-Pathways that promote adaptation, such as mTOR, begin to work less and less as hard training continues for weeks…

-While catabolic pathways like AMPK turns up.

-And eventually…we see a high risk of illness and higher injury rates.

Long story short….your body eventually forces you to stop.

How Often Should I Deload??

So…remember that empty glass of water?

Well…it doesn’t exactly start empty

Remember: that glass represents ALL the stressors in your life.

  • Work stress
  • Family stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of carbs
  • Lack of calories (deficit)
  • Other life stressors…
  • and yes, TRAINING.

Imagine it all goes in the same glass.

So, what that means is…

Your glass might be half full (or half empty ha. ha.) before we even talk about training

The less room you have in the glass for training, the sooner you’ll likely have to deload (assuming volume/intensity is equated)

So if you’re going through a divorce, you have a newborn, and you’re in a calorie deficit, expect your capacity for training to be lower

Simply stated: There are two main factors that will decide how often you have to deload

  1. Your volume + intensity
  2. Life stress/Fatigue management

What this ends up looking like is anything from a 3:1 split to a 7:1 split in most cases.

(3-7 accumulation weeks followed by 1 deload week)

Remember, if your life is stressful af, you probably won’t have 7 consecutive tough, overloading weeks in you.

Should You Pre-plan Your Deloads or Autoregulate?

Autoregulating means paying attention to your biofeedback (sleep, exercise performance, stress) and deciding when your body really needs a deload. It means taking deloads as needed.

Pre-planning deloads means putting periodic deloads into your training plan and taking them regardless of biofeedback/how you’re feeling.

When you Pre-Plan your Deloads you prevent yourself from OVERDOING it…which is great!

But you also might risk taking a deload before you need one.

When you autoregulate your Deloads you give yourself the chance to get the MOST out of your accumulation weeks by waiting “until you need one”

Buttttt you also leave the door open to overdo it

Personally, I much prefer Pre-planning deloads for myself and online coaching clients. Going a week or two beyond when you should deload because you think autoregulate is a cool word and “nah I’m fine bro I’m just tired” is worse than missing 1 week of training because you deloaded “early”.

Plus…it allows you offload some of the mental energy spent on worrying “should I deload this week?!”

Most people who lift are hardwired to “go hard” anyway…

AND there are some consequences of fatigue that are tough to notice even if you’re paying attention.

Pre planning might be just what you need to protect you from yourself.

In my opinion, MOST people should set it and forget it

You can always change when you pre-plan them if you over/undershoot it a few times.

If you wanna set a tentative schedule and then autoregulate off of there, that’s totally fine too!!

I’m not saying that wouldn’t work. For some, it totally will.

I’m just saying it might be more trouble than it’s worth unless you’re very advanced trying to eek out every inch of gains AND paying very close attention to your biofeedback

HOW TO DELOAD

Here’s the deal. There is one clear “best” option here:

Just do your damn deload workouts.

However, I’m going to lay out 2 other options and talk about the tradeoffs and you can decide what’s best for you

Option 1: Full Deload

Obviously doing the full deload should be your default. It will help facilitate recovery the most.

You’re going to see a lot of difference specific recommendations when it comes to deloads but here is a relatively simple way to go about it

Do all your workouts on your normal schedule with BUT adjust your volume and relative intenstiy to:

50% of your Week 1 volume (sets) with RIR 3-5 on each exerise

So if you did 2 sets of 100lb squats on week 1 of your mesocycle (month of training), you would do 1 set during your deload week making sure to leave 3-5 reps in the tank (RIR).

Simple.

Doing the same movements you usually do will help stimulate blood flow and recovery to the exact joints and muscles you just finished beating up for 3-7 weeks

Also, doing those same movements will help maintain your neural + technical efficiency with certain movements.

This may apply more to sports and olympic lifters but still has relevance to hypertrophy training.

Option 2: Take an entire week off

Cons: Not maximizing recovery benefits…duh

Pros: If you’re feeling psychologically burnt out from going to the gym and you’re totally fine with losing a small % of benefit…you might prefer taking a week off. Yeah, you definitely lose out on optimal physical recovery but you might get a nice psychological benefit from a week off.

Maybe having that time to do other things means a lot to you.

That trade-off might be worth it to you.

But again, technically not physically optimal.

Option 3: Half n’ Half

Let’s say you workout 4x per week

“Half n Half” would be doing your first 2 workouts of the week and then taking the rest of the week off

This is a great way to get the best of both worlds

“But I Don’t Need to Deload”

If someone says this…it usually means one of a few things

  1. You’re not training hard enough to need to deload…which means you’re not training hard enough to see progress. Which is fine…but this isn’t a case against deloading.
  2. You are deloading without knowing it. Remember that time you got sick for a week and a half and had to take time off the gym or that pec injury that kept you sidelined? That was likely your body forcing you to deload.
  3. You’re deloading on vacation or long weekends. Maybe once every month or so you go down to your shore house and don’t train for 3-5 days. Or every few months you go on a vacation.
  4. Remember: If you’re training hard enough to make gains, you’re training hard enough to need deloads.

Final Thoughts on Deloads

  1. If you’re in the midst of a deficit phase, pairing a diet break with a deload can both compound the “de-stress” effect as well as prevent any detraining (unlikely regardless) that might happen.
  2. When coming out of a deload, begin your first accumulation week with less volume than you were doing before your deload. You won’t need to do “as much” work to get a really great stimulus. If you decide to just go nuts you’ll end up getting ridiculously sore and that’s definitely a step backwards
  3. Training hard is fundamental to making gains…but that doesn’t mean keeping the pedal down all the time is what gets you the best gains
  4. When considering how often to deload and how “hard” your training block will be, consider your life stressors as well. They all go in the same bucket.

Train hard

Train smart

Know when to floor it

Know when to put it in park

-JL