By deliberately scheduling a deload week periodically in your training, you help mitigate the risks of high-intensity, high-volume training while still maximizing your gains and performance.
But, are deload weeks necessary when training? How should you program deload weeks? Keep reading to find out!
In this guide, we will cover:
- What is a Deload Week?
- Do I Need to Deload?
- Why Should You Deload In Your Workout Program?
- How Do You Deload In Strength Training?
- When Should You Deload?
Let’s dive in!
What Is a Deload Week?
A deload week is a full week where you reduce your training volume or intensity to give your body and mind a relative break from the demands of hard training.
With reductions in training volume, you will perform fewer sets per exercise while using the same weights that you normally lift.
With a deload week that reduces intensity, you maintain the same training volume in terms of reps and sets, but you significantly cut back the weight that you are lifting.
Do I Need to Deload?
If you are not a competitive weightlifter or competitive bodybuilder, or even what you might consider a “serious“ weightlifter, you might wonder, “Are deload weeks necessary?”
The short answer is yes, every athlete, even beginners and recreational lifters, should take a deload week.
However, if you are not strength training particularly intensely and are just doing 2 to 3 total body strength training workouts per week, you probably only need to schedule a deload week every few months (2-3 times per year).
Why Should You Deload In Your Workout Program?
Understanding the benefits of a deload week will help you grasp why you should deload and should make it mentally easier to pare back your training when your mind is telling you that you don’t need a break.
Here are the primary benefits of taking a deload week:
#1: Deloading Allows Your Body to Recover
The primary reason that lifters deload in their training is to give the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, bones, and other connective tissue time to recover fully.
Although the microtears and muscles can heal up within a matter of several days if you are taking adequate recovery between each workout before hitting the same muscle groups again, tendons, ligaments, and bones require much more time to heal fully.
As such, training numerous times per week does not give these tissues enough time to recover fully before they are stressed again.
Taking a deliberate deload week gives these tissues time to heal all of the microtraumas, which, in turn, will reduce the risk of injury and allow these tissues to fully strengthen so that your body actually makes all of the gains that you are working so hard to achieve.
#2: Deloading Prevents Workout Plateaus
A deload week helps prevent a fitness plateau by giving your body time to recover so that you can ramp up your training on the other side of the deload week without stagnating in progress due to accumulated fatigue.
#3: Deloading Allows Your Mind to Have a Break
Intense strength training is not only difficult on the body, but it is also mentally taxing.
Mental fatigue, burnout, and boredom with your workout routine can absolutely contribute to a strength plateau.
Stepping things back during a deload week gives your mind a break so that you stay more engaged and excited about your training.
How Do You Deload In Strength Training?
There are actually three different approaches to deloading, so the specific way that you structure your deload week will depend on your training goals, preferences, fitness level, and general workout structure.
Here are three different ways how to do a deloading week:
#1: Decreasing the Load
This approach to deloading is generally best for athletes who are not competing but still hope to achieve a higher level of performance once the deload week is complete.
When you do this type of deload week, you will maintain the same training volume in terms of sets, reps, and workout frequency, but you will decrease the load or intensity of the exercise.
Rather than using the weights that you normally use for each lift, you should drop your load to about 40 to 60% of your one rep max.
Depending on your normal strength training approach, this typically works out to about half the weight that you are normally lifting for each exercise.
#2: Decreasing Training Volume
This deload week method is ideal for competitive athletes who are training for a competition that is approaching, yet they want to maintain performance levels once the deload week is over.
With this approach to a deload week, you use the exact same weight that you would normally use, but you only do half as many sets as you normally perform for each exercise.
Alternatively, you can cut your number of reps by 30-50%.
#3: Changing the Exercises You Do
This is a less conventional approach for how to do a deload week.
It is generally not recommended for competitive bodybuilders or weightlifters who are training for a competition.
However, if you are a general fitness enthusiast who is being smart about your training by giving your muscles a deload week, this is a great deload week structure to maintain your fitness and challenge your body in different ways while capitalizing on the benefits of deloading in your workout program.
Essentially, instead of reducing your training volume or intensity by decreasing the weight, you instead deload or give your muscles a break by performing a different type of exercise.
For example, instead of leg day with heavy weights, you might do some bodyweight circuit training. Instead of upper-body weightlifting workouts, you might swim or row.
When Should You Deload?
Deciding when to deload and how often to deload depends on several factors, including your training level, fitness goals, age, and primary style of strength training.
There are various guidelines for when to deload based on how these aforementioned factors play out in your own personal situation.
Here are some of the most popular deload schedules:
3 Weeks On
One of the common methods of deload week programming is to push yourself to the max for three weeks and then take one deloading week.
Thus, this is a four-week deload training schedule.
This approach to structuring a deload week into your training is ideal for older athletes since there is a need for more frequent relative rest for better recovery.
It is also an excellent approach for in-season competitive bodybuilders, powerlifters, and strength training athletes who tend to have difficulty moderating their effort level and always push to the max in workouts.
Every 6-8 Weeks
The 6-8 week deload week schedule means that you will do your deload week after every 6 to 8 weeks of training.
During the six or eight weeks, you will employ the principle of progressive overload to ramp up the intensity and volume of your training and then take a solid deload week to recover.
A six-week deload schedule is typically the most popular and is practiced by athletes of all fitness levels, training styles, and ages, as it strikes a good balance of being able to make significant improvements in the gym without overdoing things before your body really should have a recovery week.
Plus, for recreational lifters, this type of deload schedule tends to work well with seasons where you might be traveling and stepping out of the weight room for a week or so for a vacation.
You can use the third approach, where you enjoy other forms of exercise during your deload week, such as skiing, hiking, surfing, or biking with your family on vacation without worrying about getting your strength training workout in.
Every 12-16 Weeks
This is a more aggressive approach to strength training because you will only include a deload week every 12-16 weeks.
As such, this deload schedule is popular among bodybuilders training for a show since this is the typical time frame to prepare for a competition.
With that said, it can also work well for beginners and recreational weightlifters who are not training so intensely that they necessarily need to schedule a deload week so often.
2-3 Times Per Year
If you are only doing strength training for general fitness and health or not lifting at a particularly high intensity or training volume, you might schedule a deload week as infrequently as 2 to 3 times per year.
The body really does need relative rest in order to recover, decrease the risk of injury, and maximize your potential improvement in strength.
You will actually be doing yourself a disservice if you “muscle through“ and never schedule a deloading week.
If you are taking the deloading approach of switching up your training exercises, read our article: A Complete List of Compound Exercises To Spice Up Your Training for some great ideas.