What is Deloading?
The deload is a controversial topic that is shared by everyone that cares about strength. Effective bodybuilding, powerlifting, weightlifting, and CrossFIt training all rely on taking some downtime and allowing for better recovery.
The problem is that there are conflicting thoughts on how much load to take off, how best to manage the process, and what the results will be.
There’s a lot to say, but we’re going to distil it down. Today, you’re going to learn how to deload more effectively in 600 words (or less). Since we’re keeping it brief, we better begin!
What is Deloading and Why Do It?
The point of a deload is to provide your body with time to recover by reducing the stress you’re placing on it.
The constant overload of muscles can lead to hormonal and structural changes that make further gains impossible without rest. If you’ve ever followed a linear progression program, you’ll know that you can only add more weight for a short time before you’re just not ready for more.
This applies to more advanced training. Taking lower-loading periods allows your muscles, nervous system, and connective tissues to repair and develop. This is why this graph exists to (roughly) plot how improvement works over the long term:
Figure 1 - the up and down trajectory of strength. The line shows performance, which takes a short-term dip in response to training then rises above baseline. Deloading is necessary when you're not recovering effectively between sessions!
There comes a time where the time between peaks is more than one workout and reduced performance is inevitable. Deloading accounts for this and lets you focus on the recovery and adaptation processes!
When to Deload
If it’s not already obvious, let me reiterate: you need to deload to recover and progress as you get more and more experienced.
The when of Deloading is pretty much down to your recovery ability and your training age (how long you’ve been training, obviously).
While many athletes in strength sports take a week off, this is often excessive. It’s good to be certain that you’re recovering, but you’d need to be severely overtrained to need a week if you’ve been training less than a year.
Rather, you should consider deload half-week. This means 1-2 sessions specifically tailored to support recovery and promote growth. This is often more than enough to let you recover and “supercompensate”.
If it takes you longer to progress, you need a little longer to recover. A 3:1 balance of progressive to Deloading weeks is common for weightlifting and powerlifting, where there’s a hard limit to your progress based on fatigue.
During the earlier stages of training this could be anywhere between 3:1 and 7:1 depending on progress. This is an individualised process, but regular deload periods provide sustainability.
If you stay behind the wave of adaptations, rather than pushing yourself to the absolute max all the time, you’ll be able to ride the crest far longer. Consistent progress is always the best kind!
How to Deload
If your goal is strength and power, a deload is all about cutting volume. This is important for two simple reasons:
- Training volume is the major driver behind chronic fatigue and the physical-psychological stress you’re experiencing. If the point is to allow recovery, reducing volume isn’t optional – it’s necessary.
- Research suggests that you can maintain and build strength with low volumes. This means that a volume-deload maintains (or even builds) your strength, while allowing for maximal recovery.
The result is that you’re going to need to dial down the volume without taking the intensity out. If you reduce both, you’re running the risk of decreasing your strength and familiarity with the movements.
Any elite powerlifter will tell you that strength is a perishable skill when you’re operating at high efficiency. Taking a week or two off of heavy squats will lead to your ability to handle heavy squats depreciating.
This isn’t a huge deal for most people but when your goal is lifting the hugest possible weight, and you’re good at it, a few % can make a world of difference.
Keep sets and reps low, but make sure you’re staying in the 75-90% intensity range to keep your neuromuscular preparedness high.
When it comes to recovery, Deloading is simple: less, but intense, training. And eat your damn veggies.