THE BENEFITS OF A “DELOAD WEEK” (AND HOW TO DO IT PROPERLY)
It might seem counter-intuitive that taking time away from the gym would assist you in building more muscle over the long term, but that’s exactly what a “deload week” can help you accomplish.
In this post I’ll be explaining exactly what a deload is, how it will benefit your muscle building and fat loss program, how to implement a deload properly, along with a few additional tips you can employ.
Let’s dive into it…
What Is A Deload?
Simply put, a “deload” is a scheduled break that is taken from your regular training program as a way to fully rest and recuperate from your previous training cycle.
This can either involve a reduction in workout volume and/or training intensity, or taking a period of time off from the gym altogether.
The Benefits Of Deloading
Why would you want to intentionally take breaks from your training plan?
The main benefits of deloading are as follows…
First off, deloads give your central nervous system, joints and muscles a chance to fully recover from all the previous weeks of hard training you’ve put in.
Although common wisdom simply tells us that “the more work we put into something, the better results we’ll achieve”, this is only true up to a point.
Intense resistance training is fairly stressful to the body as a whole, and you can only go so hard for so long before you end up “hitting the wall” and to where those heavy workouts can actually begin doing you more harm than good.
A strategically placed deload phase will help to prevent sticking points in your training and reduce the risk for injury by ensuring that you don’t overtrain yourself.
Secondly, a deload has psychological benefits by allowing you to relax and “mentally re-charge”.
Consistent hard training doesn’t just stress your body, and accumulated mental fatigue can be equally as draining in the big picture.
Deloading gives you a chance to “let go” for a little bit and focus your mind on things outside of the gym to prevent mental burnout and increase your overall motivation.
Thirdly, there is some evidence to suggest that deloading may actually have a direct positive effect when it comes to maximizing your muscle building potential over the long-term.
Although the studies were done on rodents, research has shown that deloading may produce improvements in mTOR signalling (this is the primary “anabolic switch” within the muscles) and increase the body’s sensitivity to muscle damage upon returning to the gym (this increases satellite cell count within the muscles, potentiating you for greater overall growth in the big picture).
Side Note: Keep in mind that the incorporation of deloads assumes that you’re following a consistent training program and are pushing yourself hard in the gym multiple days a week. If you’re more of a casual lifter who simply “goes through the motions” without sticking to a proper plan over the long term, then deloading is likely not going to benefit you. This practice is for those who are training hard, heavy and striving for progressive overload in their workouts on a long term basis.
How To Deload Effectively
Although there is no single agreed upon method when it comes to “optimal” deloading, these are the two methods I recommend that will work well for the majority of lifters in the majority of situations…
Deloading Method #1
Continue with your regular training program, but reduce the amount of weight lifted on each exercise by 50%.
You can keep your training days, exercises, sets and reps the same, but simply crank down the intensity level so that you’re only lifting about half of your normal weight.
This is a form of “active recovery” that allows you to remain in the gym and perform all of your regular movements, but without putting any real stress on your body.
Although some will advocate the opposite approach (lifting the same weight as usual but reducing your training volume by 50%), heavy lifting should ideally be excluded from a proper deload week.
Reducing the intensity level is a much more effective way to derive the full benefits of deloading and to ensure that your body truly has a chance to sufficiently recover.
Deloading Method #2
Discontinue weight training altogether.
With this option you’ll simply take time off from the gym completely.
Including some light cardio is fine (just as it is with option #1 as well), but you won’t do any weight training at all until the deload phase has ended.
Which of these two deloading methods should you choose?
Either one is ultimately fine and will serve the same basic purpose, and my suggestion is to just select the one that you most prefer.
I personally go with option #2 because I like to use deloads as a way of completely recovering both physically and mentally and removing myself from the gym environment altogether.
That way I can completely let go of my training plan for a short period and allow my mind to fully relax, and I find that I always come back more focused and motivated this way.
However, if you’d prefer to continue with some light activity by choosing option #1, that’s fine too.
Just experiment and see which one works better for you.
How often should you take deloads, and how long should they last?
My recommendation is to have your deload phase last for 1 week, and to incorporate a deload after every 6-12 weeks of consistent training.
Whether you go with 6 weeks, 12 weeks or somewhere in between depends on the following factors…
Calorie Intake: Those who are bulking and eating in a calorie surplus can get away with longer stretches of consistent training before requiring a deload in comparison to those who are eating in a calorie deficit and training to lose fat.
Experience level: Since beginners won’t be handling very heavy weights in comparison to more advanced trainees, they can get away with fewer deloads since the overall stress on the body isn’t quite as high. Once you become more experienced and are moving greater and greater loads, more frequent breaks will likely be needed.
Age: Those in the 40+ age category will usually be best off incorporating deloads more often since recovery ability declines with age. Younger guys can usually get away with training for a higher number of consistent weeks without over-training themselves.
Lifestyle: If you live a generally stressful day to day life (physically and/or mentally), more frequent deloads will probably benefit you, and vice versa.
Inserting a deload anywhere within that 6-12 week range is ultimately acceptable, but you can use the above factors to determine more precisely whether you should go with the lower or higher end.
All pre-set numbers aside though, simply listening to your body will be the best way to determine when a deload week is in order. (If you’re still a beginner, this is something you’ll get better at over time as you gain more training experience)
Do your joints feel fine, or are you starting to experience minor aches and pains?
Are your energy levels still going strong, or do you find yourself feeling rundown and fatigued throughout the day?
Is your motivation to train still there, or is the thought of hitting the gym starting to become a turn off?
Is your progress in the gym continuing to climb, or are your numbers starting to stagnate?
Take a look at each of these factors and use them as a way of gauging when a deload phase might be appropriate for you.
How should you structure your deload diet?
You can continue eating in a net calorie surplus or deficit during your deload week (depending on what your specific goal is), but I’d recommend eating a bit closer to your calorie maintenance level and reducing the size of your surplus or deficit slightly.
Since you won’t have the same weight training stimulus in place, eating closer to maintenance will prevent the chance of excess fat gain during the week if you’re bulking, and it will prevent the chance of muscle loss during the week if you’re cutting.
The Bottom Line On Deload Weeks
When it all comes down to it, proper deloading is actually very straightforward…
1) Incorporate a 1 week deload after every 6-12 weeks of consistent training. Gauge your deloading frequency by your calorie intake (surplus vs. deficit), experience level, age and overall lifestyle stress, as well as by simply listening to your body and assessing how you feel at different points in your training.
2) You can implement your deload by either continuing with your regular training plan and reducing the weights you lift by 50%, or by simply taking the entire week off altogether. In either case, some light cardio can still be included.
3) Continue eating in a calorie surplus or calorie deficit during your deload week depending on what your goal is, but reduce the size of that surplus or deficit by roughly 50% in order to prevent excess fat gain or muscle loss.
A lot of dedicated lifters may not be crazy about the idea of incorporating a deload week in their training, but it’s a basic practice that should be included as a staple in your plan to ensure consistent, long-term, injury-free results.
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