Everything you need to know about how and when to deload.
By Coach Hunter Bennett
In the world of fitness, pushing yourself to the limit is often celebrated – however, at times it can also be counterproductive.
Training hard without paying attention to recovery can lead to stagnation, plateaus, and even injury.
Which is when the “deload week” comes into play.
Deloading is a strategic period of reduced training volume which allows your body to recover and adapt to prior training stress.
In this article, we will explore when to incorporate deloads into your training, highlighting both reactive and proactive approaches.
We will also provide outline how you can effectively implement a deload week.
Different Types of Deload Weeks.
There are two key types of deloads – reactive deloads and proactive deloads.
Reactive Deloads (AKA Listening to Your Body)
Reactive deloading involves listening to your body and implementing a deload week when you feel you need to, rather than in accordance with a scheduled training plan.
In short, you train until you feel like you need a break, and then you implement a deload week.
Reactive deloads ensure you don’t waste time deloading when you don’t need to. In this manner they allow you to maximise the amount of time you spend completing productive training, which may lead to better long-term gains.
However, for them to be effective, you do need to be able to listen to your body and accurately identify the signs that a deload week is needed.
Some of these signs include:
- Chronic fatigue or persistent soreness: Feeling excessively tired or experiencing abnormally long periods of muscle soreness after workouts.
- Decreased motivation or performance: Noticing a decline in enthusiasm for training or a drop in performance levels.
- Frequent injuries or aches: Suffering from a higher incidence of minor injuries or experiencing persistent joint or muscle discomfort.
- Disturbed sleep patterns or mood swings: Experiencing disrupted sleep, changes in mood, or heightened irritability.
When any of these signs persist for a week or more, it may be an indication that your body requires a deload.
Proactive Deloading (AKA Scheduled Recovery Periods)
On the other hand, we have a proactive deload weeks.
Proactive deloading involves incorporating planned deload weeks into your training schedule.
In this manner, you schedule deloads at regular intervals to prevent excessive fatigue accumulating, thus optimizing performance over the long term, instead of waiting for signs of overreaching or overtraining.
Proactive deloads offer an effective way to mitigate fatigue and minimise the risk of overtraining and injury. They are also a great option for those who like to have their training pre-planned, and don’t like feeling unprepared.
However, when implementing proactive deloads you do run into the risk of deloading too frequently, or before it is really needed. This may reduce the amount of productive training you do year-round compared to reactive deloading.
This doesn’t mean they are less effective than reactive deloads, just different.
When to Deload Proactively?
If you are planning on implementing proactive deload weeks, there are a few considerations that need to be acknowledged.
We recommend planning a proactive deload every 4-8 weeks. However, this will be dependent on individual factors such as training experience, age, and training style.
More advanced athletes or those using higher training loads may benefit from more frequent deloads (i.e., closer to 4 weeks than 8 weeks), with the reverse being true for novice trainees.
How to Deload Effectively
Irrespective of which deload strategy you use, they should both be the same from a programming perspective.
Firstly, one training week will be sufficient to implement a deload. I mean, there is a good reason why they are known as “deload weeks.”
Secondly, a deload week should contain between 50 and 70% of your normal weekly training volume.
For example, if you normally perform 10 sets of squats per week, 15 sets of bench press, and 6 sets of deadlifts, your deload week might involve 6 sets of squats, 12 sets of bench, and 3 sets of deadlifts.
This reduction in training volume is what allows recovery to occur.
Thirdly, your training intensity (i.e., the load used on each exercise) should be around 90-95% of what it was the week before the deload.
You want to keep intensity relatively high to maintain strength and skill, and ensure you don’t feel rusty when you return to proper training.
Lastly, you can also reduce the number of training days per week during a deload. So rather than making each session shorter (which some people find a bit boring), you can complete a lower number of sessions per week.
For example, if you normally train five times per week, you might do three normal-length sessions during your deload week.
Deload Week Extras
During a deload week there are also a couple of additional things you can do to expedite recovery and leave you feeling prepared for another solid block of training.
Incorporate Active Recovery:
Engage in light activities such as walking, yoga, or low-impact cardio to stimulate blood flow and promote recovery.
Use your deload week as an opportunity to focus on mental well-being.
Engage in activities that help reduce stress and promote relaxation can also facilitate recovery.
When to Deload: Take Home Message
Deloading is an essential component of any training program, ensuring optimal performance and recovery, and leading to better long-term progress.
Both reactive and proactive deloads can be effective, and you should choose the one that resonates most with you. They should both involve a reduction in weekly training volume, combined with a very small reduction in intensity.
Remember, the goal of a deload is to allow your body to recover, adapt, and come back stronger.
With a well-structured deload, you can optimize your training, minimize the risk of injury, and achieve your goals more effectively.