What Is a Deload Week? When and How to Use Deloads Effectively

portrait close up view of strong muscular bearded short hair bodybuilder shirtless man holding a heavyweight barbell on the shoulders while doing squats in the dark gym
What Is a Deload Week? When and How to Use Deloadsdusanpetkovic - Getty Images

Lifts becoming lacklustre? Can't remember the last time you saw a PB? You may need to implement a deload week. Training plateaus aren't easy to break through, however, with smart programming, you'll soon see those gains you've been longing for

'It seems that most bodybuilders are so hung up on the "go hard or go home" mentality that they forget that the gains actually happen when you go home and rest,' says coach and YouTuber Jeff Nippard. 'This hardcore mindset often results in these long and gruelling plateaus. Especially when trainees mistakenly assume that the best way to break through a plateau is to work even harder, when in reality the antidote is to actually work smarter, not harder.

'In every other sport on the planet, athletes and coaches realise that you need to have periods of rest and lighter training in order to optimise performance over the long haul. Bodybuilding and strength sports shouldn't be an exception this.'

If the idea of less work and more muscle has piqued your interest, allow MH to delve into the benefits of taking a deload week, when to take one, and how it should be done.

What Is a Deload Week?

A deload week is a programmed phase of lowered intensity or training volume in your workout routine. It allows your body to recover more optimally in between sessions.

During a deload week the weight lifted or reps and sets are decreased to give the nervous system and muscles a bit of a break.

In a research article published by Frontiers, a deload week is considered to enhance progress and preparedness for the next phase of training by facilitating our body's adaptation to the workouts while reducing the risk of injury and illness. In the research, different methods of deload weeks are mentioned and an individualised approach to deloading is widely used.

Is a Deload Week a Good Idea?

Nippard explains that we may need a deload week due to something called the 'two compartment fitness fatigue model'. 'This model tells us that anytime we train, we increase both fitness and fatigue,' says Nippard. 'Fitness is the good stuff: muscle, strength etc. Fatigue is the bad stuff: metabolic waste, muscle damage, nervous system fatigue and so on.

'If fitness and fatigue are both high, performance will suffer,' says Nippard. 'This is why if you max out on Monday, and then go back and max out again on Tuesday, 99 percent of the time, you'll be weaker on Tuesday. Obviously Monday's workout didn't make you somehow lose your gains, it's just that the fatigue you created is temporarily masking your improvement in fitness. '

almost done
mihailomilovanovic - Getty Images

Nippard continues to explain that when this fatigue reduces, you'll then see the progress you have made and will be able to keep pushing forward, 'A properly timed deload allows your body to flush out the fatigue so that overall performance can be maximised. Since performance is ultimately what drives both strength and size, deloads can be a useful tool for both powerlifters and bodybuilders.'

Recent evidence published by Sportrxiv, which compared deloads to continuous training found similar increases in lower body muscle size, endurance, and power. The results suggest that both continuous and periodic training blocks are both good options when you have goals of gaining muscle. Despite this, continuous training showed superior improvements in lower body strength compared to deloading. Therefore, if you have serious goals of strength gain, periods of complete training cessation likely should be used more sparingly.

What Do You Do During a Deload Week?

Nippard breaks down 3 deload methods:

1/ The Full Week Off

This does what it says on the tin. Essentially, you don't touch a barbell for the entire week. Favoured by bodybuilders in the golden era, many now have realised it's best to do some sort of 'active recovery' to increase blood flow to the muscles and keep the momentum going with our training. However, research supports that one week off won't hurt your gains.

2/ The Taper Week

A taper week is when volume is lowered while still maintaining a high intensity. It is usually used by powerlifters. 'So, in a taper week you're still training heavy,' says Nippard. 'You just do roughly half the sets and cut back on the accessory lifts.

'Let's say you want to test your squat max in week 10. Here you can set up a taper so that in week 8 you're still doing eight weekly sets for the squat and still doing squat accessory work. But then, in week 9, you taper the squat work back to four weekly sets and slash the accessory stuff while keeping the loads relatively heavy. Then you'll be primed for your best possible max the following week.'

For example:

  • Week 8: 8 squat sets across two sessions, normal programme with accessories

  • Week 9 Deload: 4 squat sets across two sessions, reduced accessory work

  • Week 10: squat 1 rep max testing

3/ The Standard Deload

For this approach there is a moderate decrease in both volume and intensity. Nippard explains he will drop volume back by 30 to 50 percent. This could mean dropping one or two sets per movement.

'If I'm normally doing three to four sets per exercise, on the deload week I'll do two to three sets per exercise and I'll also drop the intensity back but not by much. For example, if I'm normally training at an RPE of 8 to 10, in the deload week I'll train at an RPE of 6 to 8.'

For example:

  • Week 8: RPE 8-10

  • Week 9 Deload: RPE 6-8

  • Week 10: RPE 8-10

Nippard explains that if you don't use the RPE scale, you can think of your deload week as a 'light week' where you stay a few reps further from failure and do one less set per exercise.

How Often Should You Deload?

Typically there are two approaches to deloads:

  • Proactively: Programmed once every 4-8 weeks

  • Reactively: An intuitive approach, implemented when you feel like you need one and recovery is suffering

shot of a man taking a break from exercising at the gym
zeljkosantrac - Getty Images

How Do You Know If You Should Take a Deload Week?

Nippard mentions that early beginners or those who aren't consistent with their training generally don't generate enough fatigue to need a deload. However, it may be worth implementing them if you:

  • Have been consistent with a lifting programme for at least 4-8 weeks

  • Are getting frequently injured or sick

  • Have poor recovery from training

  • Have hit a training plateau

You Might Also Like