Going full HAM in the gym day-in, day-out might seem like the best approach to training. But as performance drops and motivation tanks, a deload week becomes key.
You can’t sculpt the perfect tapered, athletic physique on half-assed workouts here and there. You’ve got to live, love and breathe the iron game.
You want slabs of huge muscle mass, a peeled set of abs and a bench max that shows off exactly how f*cking alpha you are bro.
When tiredness kicks in you’ve got to fight it. It’s deep in the dark trenches where the best bodies are crafted.
But, understanding when to rest, recover and use deloading is just as important as bringing your A-game, especially if you want to avoid the sh*t hole that is overtraining.
Here’s everything you need to know about deload week. From why and when, to constructing the perfect recovery phase…
What Is Deload Week in Bodybuilding?
A deload is a planned block of training where optimizing recovery is prioritized. It’s not complete rest, but a reduction in intensity or volume to help you reduce fatigue and bounce back stronger.
Deload week is a phase of training where the intensity and/or volume is reduced in order to banish fatigue and tiredness while boosting performance.
It’s simply a way of managing fatigue so you can train hard and improve with optimal results.
You don’t skip the gym altogether, instead you adapt your training to focus on recovery over the course of a week.
There are 3 main ways to deload:
Reducing the load and intensity
For an intensity-based deload you keep the same volume (reps and sets) but reduce the weight you lift. With this strategy, many lifters choose to go with 40-60% of 1-rep max.
If you normally did 4×10 with 80% of your 1-rep max you’d drop the load down so that if you were forced to, you’d be able to grind out 20 reps.
Reducing the number of reps and sets is another type of deload week approach.
The exercises and weights you use remain the same, but by slashing the last few reps from each set you are able to avoid hitting muscle failure, which leads to fatigue.
Although it’s a fairly flexible approach, most lifters reduce training volume to around 70% of what they were doing previous to their deloading phase.
For example, you might normally do a 5×5 approach with 90% of your 1-rep max. On a deload you’d use the same exercise but maybe 2×5… or 5×2.
This one isn’t used so much but is still a viable option if you’re deloading. It works if you’re not physically fatigued but are struggling more out of staleness and monotony rather than through muscle-crushing tiredness.
During this type of deload, you swap out the more complex, heavy, compound exercises such as deadlifts and squats and replace them with things like leg presses and leg curls.
Which type of deload should you follow?
The most common approach to deloading is reducing volume – not decreasing the load you lift, but to slash the reps. However, the exact deloading strategy you go with is down to preference and your exact goals.
In other words, it’s up to you.
Deload week is all about planning and preparation
A master artist knows when to take a step back and stop flicking paint at his masterpiece. A good builder knows when he’s built his wall high enough.
And a great bodybuilder or strength athlete knows when he needs to take his foot off the gas and take a break… even from the thing he loves most.
Recovery. Is. Key.
If you’re a real bro you’ll have a plan.
And that plan will consist of a properly organized training routine that shows what your goals are for the next few weeks (if not longer).
Periodization is a concept where you split your training into different phases or mesocycles. For 4 weeks you might focus on muscle mass, then for 5 weeks you might switch to strength training and so on…
This approach to training is said to optimize results and help you tick more boxes when it comes to being a well-rounded god of the gym, chiseled from granite and not from sh*t.
Having a plan is definitely better than rocking up at the gym, not having a clue what you’re doing and then flapping some weights about like a dumb-ass muthaf*cker hoping for the best.[infobox]
There are 3 ways to deload:
- Reduce training volume
- Reduce training intensity
- Change exercise selection
Why Deload? The Importance of Recovery Week
In order to understand the benefits of deload week and why it should form part of your training plan, you need to get to grips with a theory around stimulus-adaptation called the general adaptation syndrome (GAS).
This model is split into 3 distinct actions components, and tracks what happens to your body when it receives a stimulus such as through gym training.
The purpose of you hitting the gym is to cause a change to your body. Whether that’s to grow huge arms, get jacked on the squat, develop a six pack or finish in the top 5 of your next marathon.
A good training program will provide a stimulus to force your body to adapt. Based on the principle of specific adaptation to imposed demands (SAID), your body responds in a specific way to that stimulus.
In other words, loads of arm curls will make your arms bigger; but it won’t help you squat more or sprint faster.
From a physiological point of view, you provide your body with a stimulus, and over time it improves itself as it adapts. As long as you continue to progressively overload with the SAID model, you’ll keep improving.
More mass, better strength, greater stamina.
That’s the result.
But your body only has so much ‘adaptive potential’.
In other words, to keep adapting to the stimulus of exercise, it has to use energy. And as the stimulus occurs more frequently (or at ever-increasing intensities) fatigue begins to creep in.
This is pretty evident by the fact that during a tough, balls-to-the-wall block of training your strength might actually start to go down.
Recovery is important for reducing fatigue and boosting performance
With brutal workouts and regular hard sessions in the gym you build fatigue. The more you train, the more tired you get.
Eventually, you start to suffer side effects such as reduced performance, loss of motivation, lack of enthusiasm and low mood.
Your body is trying to tell you that you’ve maxed out your ability to adapt and need to ease off the gas.
This is what’s known as overtraining – a syndrome where performance can be decreased for weeks to months before you fully recover.[infobox]
You can’t keep training hard forever. At some point, you have to rest, recover and let your body repair itself. If you don’t you run the risk of negative side effects[/infobox].
When Should You Deload?
There are lots of ways to periodize your training.
The most popular are the linear and conjugate methods. Without planning and periodizing your fitness goals, chances are you’re missing out on optimal gains bro.
And that’s what it’s all about. If there’s an easier way to build straight-up savage mass and bar-bending strength, you go for it. Rip that muthas face off.
But for all their differences, models of periodization all have one thing in common: the goal is to progressively make the workouts harder in order to optimize adaptation… but with recovery built in along the way.[infobox]
Periodization models are built around phases or blocks of training, each followed with a deload week.[/infobox]
How to deload and use a week off weight training to boost performance
Once a periodized block of training is complete, you should introduce a deload week to reduce any fatigue you’ve built up on the way… before going again with the next block.
There are 2 main schools of thought on deloading:
- Planned deloads every few weeks
- Autoregulated deloads
If you use a periodization plan you should organize a deload at the end of every block of training (mesocycle). This means you’ll deload somewhere around every 3-7 weeks. How long you deload for depends on how hard the mesocycle was, but also how long it was too.
The second way to deload is based on autoregulation. This is simply taking a couple of days off training mid-way through a mesocycle when you’re feeling tired and in a hole.
So as well as your planned deload week you have occasional 1-2 days off training here and there if you’re feeling a little beat up or lack motivation.
Known as reactive deloading, autoregulation recovery takes into account things like daily stressors, acute illness, tiredness and things that you shouldn’t really push through, but don’t need a full planned deload to get over.
Reactive deloading can also be implemented when you hit a plateau with your training but still have another few days or weeks on program. After all, what would be the point in pushing yourself for a few extra days if you know you’ve maxed out your adaptive potential.
Summary – The Benefits of Deload Week
During intense periods of training you’re providing harsh and repeated stimuli that your body has to cope with. It will adapt well at the beginning, but as you begin to accrue fatigue you soon reach your maximum adaptive potential.
Deload week is a method of recovery where you decrease either the volume or intensity of your workouts in order to reduce fatigue and optimize performance.
There are huge benefits to deload week, and if you don’t already take either planned or reactive breaks from hard training, you really should.