When it comes to strength training, how you structure your workouts and the exercises that you choose will play an important part in your progress, but allowing your muscles to get enough rest in between is equally as important.
There isn’t such thing as an effective workout routine if your muscles aren’t well-rested. Luckily, there are many ways to implement resting times in your routine without needing to take an entire week off from the gym! One of those ways is by incorporating a deload week. This isn’t a new method at all, in fact, it’s been around for a long time, allowing both beginners and advanced lifters to take a small break from their constant high-intensity training.
We’ll tell you all there is to know about deload weeks, from what they are and their benefits to when and how you should take them, so you can have a better and safer fitness journey starting now!
What is deload week?
You’ve probably heard of progressive overload before, a strength-training technique that focuses on gradually increasing the amount of work that your muscles do in order to keep them growing and avoid hitting a plateau. If this is overload, then deload means the opposite, reducing the intensity of your workouts so that you can rest and recover without interfering with your routine.
Of course, deload typically only lasts a week, but if you do it correctly then that should be enough for your body to recover, reset, and get ready to keep killing it at the gym. By doing it correctly, we mean decreasing the intensity of your workouts just enough that it feels easier but still gives you a good workout to keep your muscles active.
A deload week example for someone in weight training might be cutting their workout intensity in half, maybe doing half the sets they usually do in a week, or keeping the same number of sets but using half the weight. You don’t necessarily need to reduce everything by 50%, but this can be a good starting point for those who haven’t tried deloading before.
Benefits of a deload week
Since it is a resting period for your muscles, there are a few benefits to deloading that might help you in your fitness journey. They’re not strictly necessary, but it’s a good tool that weightlifters like to use every now and then as a kind of (more) active recovery. Here are the main benefits of deload week:
- Helps avoid burnout
Over-fatiguing your body is a common issue among active lifters, particularly because of the belief that if you stop training for a quick moment, your muscles will completely go away. And this isn’t true at all!
Yes, it’s important to give your muscles constant work to do, especially if you’re on a muscle-building journey, but they also need to rest. And if you don’t rest properly, all that accumulated fatigue will turn into burnout, which can heavily interfere with your workout performance.
Having a deload week helps bring your muscles back to the healthy and rested state where you need them to be.
- Minimizes the risk of injury
Burnout isn’t only going to affect your performance at a superficial level. If your muscles are tired from the constant training, you might struggle to keep your form and complete your reps, but this can only last so long. There will come a time when your muscles completely give up and possibly cause an injury in the process.
The last thing you want to do is injure yourself because then you won’t be able to work out at all, or at least not that specific area for a while. This is why you should make sure you're giving your muscles enough resting time, no matter how advanced you are in your journey.
- Helps get out of and avoid plateaus
Workout plateaus happen when you don’t give your body and muscles enough work to keep making progress, leaving you stuck at the same fitness level. If you’re experiencing this, you might be feeling frustrated, and a deload period might be all that you need!
Turning your workout intensity down a few notches will help you relax for a moment and take the time to reevaluate your goals. What steps to take next, how to rearrange your routine, and how to change your strategy so that you can start your next workout week with a fresh mind and body.
When should you take a deload week?
Every person is different as well as their workout plans. Usually, the frequency of deload weeks will depend on how intense your training routine is. If you’re following a pre-designed training program, chances are that it has its own deload schedule, so do your best to stick to it! But if you’re following your own routine, then you need to evaluate the intensity of the workout and schedule your deload accordingly.
The general rule is to implement a deload week every few weeks of high-intensity training. The numbers may vary according to different experts and advanced lifters, but the consensus is somewhere between 8 to 10 weeks. Of course, if your routine is more demanding, you might do well with 6 to 8 weeks, and on the other hand, a not-so-intense routine can have a deload scheduled every 10 to 12 weeks.
But it’s not always about the routine. Sometimes you might need to deload, even if it’s before your scheduled deload week. This can happen because you’re feeling overtrained or burned out, maybe you’re on a calorie deficit and don’t have enough fuel to go for that long, or you’re feeling demotivated and need to take a step back to reevaluate.
The key takeaway for when to deload is – listen to your body. If you’re able to wait for each scheduled deload week, that’s great, but if you need some rest right now then go ahead and do it. Your body always goes first!
How to implement a deload week
There are three main ways to plan a deload week – reduce the volume, reduce the intensity, and reduce both at the same time. Additionally, there are other options you could try for a successful deload week, but first, let’s talk about the main three:
This is the most common method of deloading. It involves decreasing the amount of weight that you use for your workouts while keeping your number of sets and reps the same so that you work out for the same amount of time without struggling as much.
The percentage of weight decrease will vary according to your current body state. You can decrease it at around 30% if you’re feeling pretty good about your shape and only need the deload week as a resetting point. But if you’re starting to feel slight pain or discomfort during your workouts, aim to reduce the weight by around 40-50%.
This one refers to reducing the number of reps or sets that you do for each exercise while keeping the same weight. Your workouts will be significantly shorter, but you will be lifting your usual load, allowing your muscles to stay active.
Similar to the intensity deload, the decrease will depend on how you feel. You can cut your sets or reps in half if your muscles are feeling particularly tired, or just cut about 1/4 of the original goal and see how you feel.
This one combines the intensity deload and the volume deload, creating the ultimate deload week for very tired muscles. Sometimes, we push our muscles to their absolute limit and there’s no other way to go but back, so a full deload might be the best option for those cases.
Essentially, you’d be reducing both the weight used as well as your sets and reps. You can aim to do half of each: half the weight, half the sets, and half the reps. Or maybe play with the numbers a little, like sticking with 50% of your usual weight, only reducing your sets by 30%, and then reducing your reps by 40%.
Now, there are other ways to deload that you can try if you need more of a routine change. You might be selective with your deload and only reduce the training volume/intensity for the toughest compound exercises while keeping the simpler ones intact, or change your routine completely for a week by trying less demanding strength training exercises.
You can even say goodbye to resistance training completely for the whole week! This isn’t to say that you should stay in bed for 7 days straight. It means staying active in different ways just like you would for regular active recovery, such as doing low-impact exercises like light cardio, yoga, and dynamic stretching.
Deload week is a method intended to give your whole body an active break, not only your muscles and central nervous system but also your mind. So make sure you add one every once in a while to your workout schedule. But keep in mind that strains and injuries should be treated accordingly, not just by deloading but by completely resting the affected areas. Don’t overdo it!
Want some help structuring a fitness plan with the appropriate resting times?
The Fit With Iulia app is here for you!
Iulia creates weekly goal-focused workout plans to help you get the best results for your strength training journey with the appropriate training splits so that your muscles get enough rest in between workouts. Try your first workout for free by downloading the Fit With Iulia app, choosing a goal, and starting your first workout with Iulia - no subscription required!