This term has gained tremendous popularity over the last year. It demonstrates the mentality of pushing your limits and giving everything you’ve got in your workouts. For the uninformed, though, this approach has the potential to lead them down a path of plateaus and frustration.
Humans are not machines. We can’t go “beastmode” repeatedly without consequences. In fact, it’s not even optimal for muscle or strength gain. Progression in performance is cyclical, and we need to work within the natural cycles of our body in order to increase strength and build muscle effectively.
A few days ago, I received an email from an SOA followed called Time. He was following the 3 Month Program and said:
I started following your 3 Month Program and I’ve really enjoyed it. It has been difficult, but it’s pushed me to my limits. I have to admit, I was super hesitant about doing the active recovery week. I thought I would lose all the gains I had made during the previous three weeks. But when I got back into it in the second month, I was actually stronger and looked better!” – Tim S.
Tim experienced the power of the deload.
A deload is a planned rest period that allows your body to fully recover from training. Muscles do not grow during a training session, nor does strength increase. During training is when you tear down the muscle tissue. It’s after providing the body with the right nutrients and sufficient rest that it actually grows and gets stronger.
For this reason, it’s during the deload phase that substantial gains will be made.
What Is A Deload?
A deload is a period of time where total workload is reduced, to allow the body to fully recover from the previous weeks of training.
Deloading is a type of active recovery, but is not exactly the same thing. Active recovery is a broad term that means taking a break from intense training, but remaining lightly active. Light activity could consist of kayaking, cycling, walking, etc. Deloading, on the other hand, involves completing your usual workouts, but with either reduced reps, intensity, volume, duration or difficulty.
Before The Deload
Before deloading, you must first load. Progressive overload means challenging the muscles with more weight, harder exercises, more reps, or shorter rest periods, in order to stimulate muscle adaptation. If you are not progressively overloading the muscle, then there is no benefit to deloading.
My 3 Month Program, and the new Hardcore 3 Month Program, are perfect examples. You are asked to note down your reps for every set. The next time you perform the routine, you are asked to increases that number by at least one rep. This is a type of progressive overload. After three weeks of pushing yourself with this incremental growth, a deload allows your body to recover.
How Do I Do It?
As mentioned above, resting is not the same thing as deloading. When deloading, you perform your usual routine, but scale it back.
Every 4-6 weeks, there should be a deload week.
Here’s how to do it.
1. Decrease Volume
Volume is the total number of sets performed. When deloading using volume, you should decrease the total number of sets. For example, if your usual routine is five sets of Omni Set Push-ups, your deload routine would consist of two or three sets.
2. Decrease Reps
When doing bodyweight training, it’s always important to keep track of your total number of reps. This will help you track your progress. During a deload week, you would reduce the total number of reps to 50% of your usual routine. If you normally max-out with 50 push-ups, only do 25.
3. Decrease Exercise Difficulty
There is an inherent difficulty in different bodyweight exercises. If you normally perform handstand push-ups and front levers, during the deload week you would scale back and perform easier exercises. On this page, I’ve laid out a ton of bodyweight exercises in order of difficulty.
How Do I Know If Deloading Is Right for Me?
If you are trying to make progress in muscle growth or strength, deloading is right for you. The question is how to tell when a deload week is needed. Signs that you might need a deload include:
- Always being tired – If you find yourself lacking the motivation to train, or feel like you might be overtraining, a deload may be in order
- Reaching a plateau – If your muscle growth or strength has stalled, your body may benefit from a week of lower intensity.
- Frequently experiencing joint pain – Consistently loading the joints in training means they may benefit from a short break in order to prevent injury
- Training regularly with appropriately high intensity – Training consistently with the intensity required to build muscle and strength will necessarily stress the body
When NOT to Deload
There are also times when a deload is not necessary.
- You train less than three times per week. Remember that you need to load before you deload.
- You are a complete beginner and just learning correct form. At this stage, you are not performing at a high intensity. You are simply learning the exercises and trying to perfect your form before you push yourself to the max.
- Your program is focused on fat loss, mobility, rehabilitation or flexibility. Some people don’t want to get bigger or increase strength. They simply want to lose body fat or improve flexibility. In these cases, you do not need to deload.
Benefits of Deloading
There are so many benefits to deloading. Here are a just few:
- It allows your tendons, ligaments and other supportive tissue to heal. This helps prevent injury.
- It allows your nervous system to recover. Intense training stresses your nervous system, not just your muscular system. Deloading gives the nervous system a chance to recover, enabling you to go “beastmode” when you next train.
- It allows your muscles grow. Hypertrophy (muscle growth) occurs when your body is at rest. The deload week is the ultimate recovery week, and it will allow your body to grow in leaps and bounds.
- It helps prevent overtraining. This is an important factor for advanced trainees. They sometimes hit a wall and think they just need to push harder. The deload week allows them to continue to progress without the risk of overtraining.
What Should I Eat During Deload?
This all depends on your goals. If your goal is to build size and strength, this is the time eat even more. Remember that your body will be repairing during the deload week. Eat an even larger amount of protein and healthy fats than normal during this week. With each meal, you should be eating until you’re full to the brim. You should eat clean (no processed foods), but you should also eat a lot.
Overview of Deloading
1. Every 4-6 weeks of intense training, take a deload week.
2. During your deload week, perform the same or similar routine, but scale back on reps, intensity, volume or difficulty by 50%.
3. Don’t get anxious during this week. None of your workouts should leave you exhausted. They should all seem easy.
One Last Tip: Track Your Workouts & Perform Regular Tests
In order to see the true benefit of deloading, you need to keep track of your workouts. At the very least, you should be doing regular tests of strength (such as the Push-up Test or Squat Test) so you know where you stand.
Have any questions about deloading? Have you tried deloading before? Share your thoughts in the comments below.