It may sound like counterintuitive workout advice, but research shows that doing less may actually help you to accomplish more in the gym. If you want to see increased gains in your muscle strength, size, and endurance, and you're also struggling with post-workout aches and pains (i.e., delayed-onset muscle soreness), it's time to consider deloading. A well-scheduled deload week every couple of months may be just what the personal trainer ordered!
What Is Deloading?
Whether you're hitting the treadmill or pumping iron, you're putting your muscles under two significant types of stress:
- Mechanical stress: Your workout creates actual physical damage to your muscle tissue and muscle proteins
- Metabolic stress: Exercising depletes the energy (e.g., glycogen particles) stored in your muscle cells
This is why many people feel sore after a good sweat session. And it's actually during the repair process that your muscles become stronger and more resilient. But if you're constantly pushing yourself hard, your body never gets the full recovery it needs. This is why overtraining often leads to injuries and slower fitness progress.
That's where deloading comes into play.
Deloading is a period of time when you simply reduce your workout intensity. Keep in mind that you're not taking a full break from the gym, sometimes referred to as passive recovery. Deloading still involves lower-intensity exercise (i.e., active recovery), and studies show that deloading leads to better performance improvements compared to passive recovery.
3 Popular Ways to Deload
There's no one-size-fits-all approach. Depending on your fitness levels and current routine, one or more of the following approaches can incorporate active recovery while also keeping your workout fun and creative.
1. Reduce Your Volume
With this option, you lift a similar load as usual. However, you'll cut the volume by either:
- Reducing the total number of sets, and/or
- Reducing the number of reps in a set
For example, let's say you typically do five sets of five squats with a 200-pound load. You could reduce your volume by doing the same number of reps but just with 1-2 sets, or you might stick with your five sets but only do two reps a set.
2. Reduce Your Load
This is a more commonly used approach during a deload week:
- Use this calculator to calculate your 1-rep max (RM)
- Multiple your 1RM by 0.4-0.6 (this gives you 40% to 60% of your 1RM)
- Do your workout as you normally would, with the same number of sets and reps, but using weights that are 40% to 60% of your 1RM
For instance, if you normally bench 100 pounds for five sets of eight reps, you'll continue doing five sets but will instead bench 40 to 60 pounds when you're in a deloading phase.
3. Introduce Exercise Variations
If you need a deload week but you're also feeling a bit unmotivated or like your workouts are stuck in a rut, use deloading as a way to add some innovation, creativity, and variation to your exercise:
- Take a break from your regular exercises and instead try different exercises that hit the same muscles (e.g., swap out box jumps for burpees during your deload week)
- Increase your cardio and temporarily decrease your strength training (e.g., focus on stair climbing versus squats when deloading)
- Change the form of the regular exercises you perform (e.g., lighter medicine ball squats versus your usual barbell front squats)
- Completely switch up your actual exercises (e.g., go for daily hikes every day during a deload week)
Your goal is simple: Lower your training intensity for a short period of time while still keeping your body active.
Scheduling a Deload Week: When Is the Best Time to Deload?
Listen to your body. Symptoms of overtraining are your body's way of telling you that you could benefit from deloading:
- You hit a plateau: Your strength or endurance isn't progressing like it used to
- You're getting weaker: You struggle to push through your standard workout and have a hard time even when you lower your intensity
- You're sore: Muscle aches and pains that last longer than a few days
- You're injured or sick: Overtraining taxes your nervous system, sabotages your immune system, and increases your risk of injuries
But don't wait for your body to ring its internal alarm bells. A regularly scheduled, proactive deload week gets ahead of the problem and ensures optimal progress in the gym.
How to Schedule a Deload
If you want to incorporate deloading into your routine, you can either focus on a time-based schedule or a goals-based schedule.
- Every two months: A deload week every 6-8 weeks is one of the most common deloading schedules and works for athletes and fitness enthusiasts of all levels.
- Every four months: Competitive powerlifters and more experienced gym-goers tend to want fewer deload weeks because it can extend the length of their total workout routine.
- After an intense period of exercise: If you just pushed through a few weeks of very vigorous training, such as a new Tabata protocol, you may need a deload week to reset.
- After a competition: Just competed in a strongman event? Checked off your first CrossFit Games? Deload weeks should ideally take place immediately after a competition.
It's Important to Fuel Yourself Correctly
Whatever approach you take to deloading, don't forget you also need to properly nourish your recovery, too. During a deload week, you may want to pull back on your calorie intake a bit. This is especially true if you're on a bulking phase — your macro requirements will drop as you deload.
However, supplements and adequate protein intake are still essential for muscle recovery and growth.
At Tiger Fitness, you'll find a diverse array of protein supplements and recovery-enhancing supplements from some of the world's most trusted fitness brands. Power up your deload week today with our best-selling collection of protein powder supplements.