Are You Ready For A Deload Week?
When you have a good routine going, it can be tough to take a break from the gym.
You’ve been feeling good, making progress, and understandably don’t want to break your flow.
However, just as with your diet, there is sometimes good cause to dial your workouts back.
This is especially true if you’re developing any of the typical symptoms of overtraining: your joints are sore, you’re feeling tired all the time, you’re having trouble sleeping, etc.
That being said, even if you aren’t currently showing any of these symptoms, it is still important to consider a deload week, in order to avoid developing them (and trust me, you will eventually)…
Basically, a deload week is an alternative to taking a week off from the gym, where you work out at a lower level of intensity than usual.
There are many, many benefits to doing this – and I would say that pretty much every single person who works out seriously should do this from time to time.
Let’s get into some of the specifics.
What Benefits Will You Get From Taking A Deload Week?
As I just mentioned, there are A LOT of good reasons that you should consider taking a deload week.
Here are just a few of them:
- You’ll give your joints, ligaments, tendons, and supporting tissue a chance to rest and properly repair
- You’ll give your central nervous system (CNS) a chance to recover, which is essential if you want to avoid overtraining symptoms
- You’ll give yourself a psychological break from the intensity of lifting heavy weights
- You’ll be more primed to achieve better gains in the gym after the week is done
- You’ll reduce the risk of injuries that can cause major setbacks to your progress
All pretty good reasons, right?
I mean, this is one of those cases in life where less is truly more – where taking some time off and doing less work will actually lead to better results in the long run.
How Often Should You Deload?
You might be surprised by the answer to this one…
It turns out that many professional athletes have very frequent deloading weeks – much more often than many people would ever think.
In fact, some elite level weight lifters will take a deload week once every 3-4 weeks, which helps them stay in top form, and reduce the risk of career-disrupting injuries.
For most people, however, I would recommend taking a deload week every 6-8 weeks – and definitely don’t go more than 12 weeks of heavy lifting before taking one.
Also, as you might expect, younger people don’t need to deload quite as frequently as older people.
If you’re over 40, you should be taking a deload week at least every 6 weeks – and possibly more, depending on how you feel.
Younger people can get away with taking one every 8 weeks or so.
In order to make sure that you actually take your deload weeks at appropriate intervals, I would strongly recommend scheduling them ahead of time.
It can be very easy to plow along otherwise, especially if you’re making consistent progress, and forget to take one entirely!
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you should listen to your body.
If your joints are starting to hurt, or if you are displaying any of the other symptoms of overtraining, then consider taking a deload week even if it doesn’t fit into your regular schedule.
How To Deload Effectively
Fundamentally, deloading is simply a way to give your body and your central nervous system a much-deserved break.
For this reason, there are various different ways that you can accomplish this goal. Here are the main ones:
- Decrease the volume (total sets) of your workouts to about 50-60% of what you normally do, while keeping the amount of weight that you lift the same.
- Decrease the amount of weight that you are lifting by 50-60%, while keeping the volume of your workouts the same.
- Decrease the amount of weight that you’re lifting by 50-60% AND decrease the volume of your workouts by about 60%.
All of these can work, but the last one would be my personal recommendation.
Remember, the purpose of a deload week is to let you adequately recover, so I generally advise decreasing both weight and volume for the best results.
Also, I should note that if you typically work out in a low rep range (4-6 reps), you may want to consider working in a slightly higher range – say, 8-10 reps – during your deload week with lower weights.
Why Not Just Take A Week Off Instead?
And that is certainly a viable option, but there are several reasons that many people find taking a deload week preferable to taking a full week off from the gym.
First of all, taking a deload week has specific physiological benefits that taking a week off won’t give you.
You see, during your deload week you will still be putting your muscles through your routine, just at a much lower level of intensity.
This will allow them to recover more efficiently, since they are still getting higher levels of blood pumped to them, helping with nutrient uptake.
This is called ‘active recovery’, and will actually help your body recover faster than if you remained sedentary.
Secondly, there is the benefit of keeping yourself psychologically in the routine of going to the gym.
The movements will still seem fresh after your deload week, and you won’t break your rhythm.
This is especially true if you enjoy going to the gym, and are in a good groove. Taking a deload week instead of a week off will mitigate any feelings of laziness or perceived atrophy.
All of that being said, some people prefer to just take the week off instead.
And that is completely fine.
There are obviously mental benefits to taking a complete week off from the gym. You can relax a bit, and see it as a reward for all of your hard work the weeks before.
A week off can also be preferable if you’re going on vacation. The physiological benefits of a deload week simply don’t stack up to really relaxing and enjoying your holiday, at least in my opinion.
Other Things To Consider
Now that I’ve covered most of the essential components of taking a deload week, I want to touch on a few other points that you might be wondering about.
In terms of your diet, many people stress about how to handle this during their deload week.
Should you adjust your calories, since you aren’t burning as much at the gym?
What about your protein requirements, and your overall macronutrient intake?
To simplify things here, I am going to suggest that you keep your diet exactly the same.
Same caloric intake. Same macros. Same amount of protein each day.
However, you can also choose to have a diet break coincide with your deload week. This can serve as an enjoyable mini mental vacation from the whole fitness and dieting lifestyle.
And don’t worry, you won’t get fat in a week, even if you do go overboard a little!
Next, in terms of cardiovascular activity, I would suggest that you keep it to a minimum.
Some people will increase their cardio during deload weeks, presumably out of a fear that they’ll get fat otherwise.
Don’t do this!
The whole point of a deload week is to give yourself a rest – and that includes your central nervous system.
If you are pounding out grueling sessions of HIIT cardio each day, you are hardly accomplishing this goal.
Instead, stick to no more than 2-3 light cardio sessions during your deload week (or skip the cardio entirely).
We covered a lot in this article, so I wanted to quickly summarize the main takeaways so that you’ll know exactly what you need to do.
- Take a deload week every 6-8 weeks (I recommend scheduling them ahead of time), or if you start noticing symptoms of overtraining.
- Deload by lowering your weight to 50-60% of what you normally lift, and lower the total number of sets to 60% of what you normally do.
- Keep your diet constant during your deload week (same calories/macros), or have it coincide with a planned diet break.
- Take it easy with the cardio. No more than 2-3 light sessions, and hold off on the HIIT.
- If you prefer, take a week off from the gym instead. Just make sure to take it at the same intervals mentioned above.
At the end of the day, getting in great shape, and staying there, is all about pacing yourself.
I completely understand the tendency to want to keep pushing yourself endlessly, but it is wise to temper this urge.
As someone that has felt the sting of overtraining and needless injuries more often than once, I assure you that taking routine deload weeks is in your best interest.
Just leave your ego at the door and embrace the experience.
And when you come back, you’ll often be shocked to find that you are stronger than you were before.