Deload 101: What It Is and How To Use Them

A common question I have been getting lately has been about how to deload. 

Maybe you have never heard of a deload before

Or maybe you have been hearing a lot about it and think that it could be something that benefits you but you just dont know how to do one. 

Lets go over it today. 

Before we go on, I do want to state that this isn’t some magic thing that will transform your physique. 

It really doesnt do much, but if you are training correctly and the longer you train, the more this becomes a tool in the toolbox that you should use periodically. 

Deload 101

Have you ever found yourself training hard for a period of time and then all of sudden you start to notice your motivation go down? Maybe you also have had some nagging injuries like tendinitis pop up. 

Mainstream fitness will tell you to push through at all costs. 

“No days off baby!”

“Only strong people push through”

While there is some truth to pushing through when times are tough, there are also times when you need to dial things back temporarily to let your body recover. 

A lot of people will listen to the mainstream advice and just push through. 

And what ends up happening is that the person thinks something is wrong with them, they eventually get very unmotivated and then the next thing you know they are not working out for a period of time. 

This is where we insert the deload. 

A deload is a temporary reduction in intensity or training volume. 

The only goal of a deload is to lower your fatigue from training.

With online clients, we focus our training on progressive overload. This means that over time we are trying to do more whether that be through adding more weight, more reps, more sets, better technique etc. 

The plus side to progressive overload is that this is what is needed to build muscle, but the downside is that it also comes at a cost, and that cost is fatigue. 

Fatigue isn’t all bad, but too much fatigue can lead to higher injury risk, burnout, and poorer training performance. 

So at some point, we must lower that fatigue. 

Here is an example of the fitness/fatigue model:

As you can see, the higher fatigue is, the lower performance is. 

Insert deload weeks. 

The overarching goal of a deload is to lower fatigue. And we know that overloading can induce fatigue, therefore we want our training to not be overloading during a deload. 

There are multiple ways to deload, you can:

  • Do less sets
  • Do less reps
  • Do less weight

You can do just one of the things mentioned above, or you can do a combo of two, or a combo of all three. 

But ultimately we want the training to be less intense than it normally is and less volume. 

It really just depends on how the client/you are feeling in terms of what to do. 

If a client is feeling really burnt out, beat up, and has some nagging injuries then we may just have them do a combo of all three. 

If a client is feeling good overall and not overly fatigued, then we may just have them do less reps. 

One other thing you can do, and what I like to do is to train fewer days. 

For example, during my regular weeks of training ill go 6 days per week, but in a deload ill do 4 days. 

The best part about all of this is that studies have shown that even multiple 3-week layoffs during a 6 month resistance training program did not cause strength or muscle loss (Ogasawara et al.).

This is key because for most deloads we just do this for 1 week. 

The other big part of the deload is the mental side of things. 

Sometimes it is just nice for the client to go into the gym and not have to worry about pushing themselves and trying to do more than they did in previous weeks. It can be refreshing. 

Not only does it lower fatigue, but it also helps the clients with motivation moving forward. 

Many clients come to me where in the past they just always kept pushing it, but then they plateaued and became disheartened by that eventually leading to less motivation. 

They think something is wrong with them, but they just need to take a lighter week in the gym. 

We take these deloads about every 4-6 weeks. 

For beginners they can go much longer, with them we take one every 8-12 weeks or so. 

At first, clients are weirded out by this, but as they dial in their training they start to realize the importance of deloads.

The downside with deloads is that they do NOT fully get rid of all fatigue. But they do a good enough job.

If you want more information on periodization for hypertrophy read this blog HERE

Example programming:

Lets take the bench press

  • Week 1: 185 x 8,6,5
  • Week 2: 190 x 8,7,5
  • Week 3: 195 x 8,8,5
  • Week 4: 200 x 8,6,5, 5
  • Deload week: 185 x 5,5 
  • Week 1 of next cycle: 195 x 8,6,5

The biggest thing here is to not overthink this. Just remember the main goal is to lower fatigue. 

So any question you have must have this in mind. 

Nutrition on a deload

Since the main goal of a deload is to lower fatigue then you also want nutrition to line up with this. 

For example, if you are cutting, it might be a good idea to increase your calories to maintenance for that week, and you can use this as a diet break (studies have shown diet breaks can help mentally with sticking to your diet long term). 

For leaner individuals cutting, I think this is the route you want to go. 

If you arent very lean and cutting, then you should be fine to cut through the deload week, but its all about preference at that point. If time isn’t a concern you could look at increasing cals to maintenance for the week. If time is a concern, then maybe you cut through the deload.

The increase in calories would come through carbohydrates. 

If you are in a building phase, you have the option to go to maintenance or keep calories the same. 

IF you are trying to stay fairly lean during a building phase, then dropping calories to maintenance might be a good idea. Or if you are someone who gains weight easily, then going to maintenance during a deload is probably a good idea. 

However, if you are a hard gainer, then keeping calories at your regular surplus is totally fine and recommended. 

Other stuff outside of the gym

Use this week to do other things in your life. 

For me personally, I use this time to get more done business-wise. 

Maybe for you, it’s focusing more on nutrition

Or maybe it’s trying a new hobby. 

The goal is to get away from having to be in the gym for an hour at a time and multiple days per week. 

We also want you to focus on sleep and stress management.

You can also use this time to drink less caffeine as well. 

I like to drink more caffeine during my hard weeks of training, and then during a deload I will cut back. 

To summarize, the main goal of a deload week is to lower fatigue, not just training-wise, but really everywhere. 

Once you start training properly you will see the need to take these every so often. I see this with clients all of the time. 

Their initial thought is why the hell am I doing this, and then months down the line they are like thank you for this deload!! 

If you are someone who is inconsistent with training then there isn’t much of a need to do deload weeks. 

Just realize that there is no magic to deloads and they won’t replace consistency and hard work in your training.

If you more guidance/structure around your training or nutrition fill ou the application for 1:1 online coaching HERE.

3 thoughts on “Deload 101: What It Is and How To Use Them

  1. Solid info here. You’re absolutely right – mainstream fitness does tell you to “push through” despite injuries, burnout and fatigue. As you’ve indicated, proper periodization builds in deloads which results in greater adherence and adaptation. I enjoyed reading. Great post!

    1. Thank you Kris. Glad you enjoyed it. Periodization isn’t the most important thing, but if you are training a lot or tend to overdo it, then it becomes more important in the long run and can lead to greater adherence and adaptation. Thank you again for reading!

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