Written by Coach Austin Current
What Is A Deload?
Deloads are a key component of proper training programming. A deload is often referred to as a light week or back-off week from training ⏤ where volume and intensity are decreased to lower fatigue, enhance recovery, and get you ready to kick some ass in your next training cycle or phase.
A deload needs to help facilitate the recovery needed for you to return back to a state where you can do hard training again. The more damage that has been done from, either overreaching or overstaying your welcome in a certain type of training, the longer the deload will need to be. A common length for a deload is 1-2 weeks, but they can last up to 4 weeks.
The training intensity during the deload should be high enough to maintain strength and neuromuscular adaptations. However, not high enough to cause fatigue and further connective tissue damage. Your reps in reserve (RIR) will need to be increased during the deload (reducing the proximity to failure). The overall volume should also be decreased to a maintenance volume. If you don’t sufficiently decrease volume, you won’t get rid of accumulated fatigue and this can defeat the purpose of the deload. If you are unsure what your maintenance volume would be, it is suggested to cut your current volume by 30-60% ⏤ this can be in the form of sets or reps per session or training week.
If you’re dieting, it may be advantageous to eat at a maintenance intake since an energy deficit may interfere with your ability to recover, which can defeat the purpose of a deload.
How To Utilize A Deload
To best understand how often you should implement a deload, we first need to discuss training volume and periodization.
Training Volume can be defined as a total amount of work done during the session, or more easily calculated by counting the number of sets, reps, or weights done in a particular training session or training week.
The consensus among the evidence-based fitness community, when looking at the amount of training volume, tends to be somewhere in the ballpark of 10-20 sets per week per muscle group.
Periodization more specifically refers to the organization and manipulation of training variables within your training.
Training periodization is an easy way to manipulate your training to ensure you are progressing well within your planned programming, without taking it too far. Through your planned periodization, you could progress sets closer to 10-15 sets per week throughout a 3-4 week period. If you are well trained, you could even take your sets up to 15-20 sets per week per muscle group over weeks 5 and 6. Throughout these 4 – 6 weeks of training, you will accumulate fatigue: local and systemic. This fatigue will need to be reduced to help you stay healthy, steer clear of injury, and maintain progressions within your programming. This is where the deload comes into the picture. For example:
Week 1: 10-12 sets per muscle group - RIR: 3-4 Week 2: 12-14 sets per muscle group - RIR: 2-3 Week 3: 14-16 sets per muscle group - RIR: 1-2 Week 4:16-18 sets per muscle group - RIR: 0-1 Deload: 6-10 sets per muscle group - RIR: 3-4 Week 5: 12-14 sets per muscle group - RIR: 2-3 Week 6: 14-16 sets per muscle group - RIR: 2-3 Week 7: 16-18 sets per muscle group - RIR: 1-2 Week 8: 18-20 sets per muscle group - RIR: 0-1 Deload: 6-10 sets per muscle group - RIR: 3-4
There are many ways to go about your programming and implementing deloads, but this is an easy way to conceptualize it to start.
As mentioned above, the deload will lower fatigue, enhance recovery, and get you ready to kick some ass in your next training cycle or phase. If your goal is to drastically change the style of training that you are doing, you may want to look more into an Introductory phase or microcycle. We will discuss this more in-depth in the next article.
It is common among the bodybuilding and strength sport community to attach ego and work ethic directly to the difficulty of your training. Go hard or go home sort of thing. Well, there is a smart way to progress within your goals, and knowing when to push and when to pull back will be advantageous to your short and long-term goals. Utilizing deloads every 3-6 weeks within your programming is recommended. In my experience as a coach and athlete, it is better to be proactive rather than reactive.
Written by Coach Austin Current, CSCS, CISSN (IFBB Pro)