Let’s face it: The recovery aspect of fitness doesn’t spark much enthusiasm or interest when there are far more exciting things, like finding a new training program or working on your favourite lifts.
Still, recovery is integral for our long-term results. As dull as it may seem, we need to pay just as much attention to our recovery as we do to our training.
With that said, deload weeks are one essential component of sound recovery.
Let’s dive in.
What Is a Deload Week?
A deload week is a predetermined amount of time where you deliberately do less intense training. The goal is to give your body a break and allow your muscles, joints, connective tissues, and central nervous system to recover.
A deload week is typically seven days long, but it can be a bit shorter or longer, depending on the trainee’s unique needs.
You can go about setting up a deload week in three ways:
- Reduce the training volume - for example, if you usually do around 20 sets per muscle group, do 10 during this week.
- Reduce the training intensity - for example, cut the load across all movements in half. If you usually bench press 225 pounds, train with 110-120 pounds for a week.
- Reduce both intensity and volume.
The goal is to warm-up, do your movements, practice good form, and go home to rest.
The Importance of Taking Deload Weeks
Longer periods of recovery play an essential role because stress is cumulative. The more training we do, the more fatigue we accumulate and eventually reach a point where we can’t do any productive work (1). Our joints, connective tissues, muscles, and central nervous system need a break from training, and a deload week helps achieve just that.
While it may seem counterproductive, this is a necessary step back that allows you to take a dozen productive steps forward. It’s not uncommon to go back to regular training and feel energized, more motivated, and stronger than before your break.
Plus, research finds that up to two weeks of detraining seems perfectly fine for maintaining your hard earned muscle mass and strength gains (2).
How Often to Take a Deload Week
General guidelines recommend taking a deload week for every six to eight weeks of solid training you do. How often you need a deload week will depend on factors like your:
As a rule of thumb, you should monitor your performance and subjective feeling of fatigue and adjust. For instance, if you’ve done six weeks of consecutive training and are starting to feel tired, take a few light workouts and go back to it.
Good signs that you need a deload include:
- You’ve had several bad workouts in a row
- You’re having a hard time falling asleep despite feeling tired
- Your appetite is lower
- You’re more stressed and irritable
- Your grip feels weaker
While it may seem impossible, not pushing hard from time to time is beneficial. A deload week gives your body a chance to repair itself and grow stronger. You also get to dissipate some of the built-up stress and go back to your training fresher, stronger, and with greater enthusiasm.