MX4 user Frank writes in with a question about the deload week:
“Do you subscribe to the idea of programming in regular deloads? If so, how and when?”
What Is a Deload Week?
A deload refers to a planned reduction in training volume and/or intensity, with the aim of encouraging recovery and improving performance during the next training cycle.
You lighten up on the weights, maybe train a little less, and generally just take your foot off the gas.
In days gone by, I used to find that a light week for every three weeks of hard training was a nice way to give my body a break from the constant stress of heavy training.
But as a blanket recommendation, it doesn’t work for everyone.
Do You Need a Deload Week?
For many, inserting a light week between each training cycle wasn’t beneficial, and they would have made faster progress without one.
If you’re someone who trains consistently 3-4 times a week, and rarely misses a workout, then some kind of reduction in your training load from time to time is a good idea.
However, not everyone is in this position.
Often, a deload week will happen naturally. Maybe you go away on vacation. Perhaps you have an unusually busy week, and you can’t get to the gym.
“Regular lifters (probably you) are never going to need a deload week because deloads are already built into your program by default,” explains strength coach Emily Socolinsky, SSC.
“Illness, vacations, work travel, sick children, visits from family, work functions, parties, weddings, funerals….these are your deloads.”
“Deloads are important for the advanced competitive lifter. For the recreational lifter who has two kids, a dog, a new baby on the way, a trip planned next month, tickets to see the Avengers tomorrow night and, oh yeah, a job, deloads are already part of the program. It’s called life.”
In other words, life will throw a “light week” your way, either in the form of a week off training, or a week where you only get 1-2 workouts in. It might be the case that you don’t need to plan a deload week, because it happens by itself.
How Often Should I Have a Deload Week?
In general, I think it’s good practice to have a light week, or give yourself a complete week off, for every 12 weeks of hard training. Some people like to do it more frequently, having a break every 6-8 weeks.
These days, I prefer to use something called a “reactive deload,” which involves backing off when your performance in the gym takes a dip (I explain how to do it on page 36 of the MX4 manual).
However, it’s also important to pay attention to what your body is telling you.
Just because you start out with the intention of doing 12 weeks of hard training doesn’t mean that you can’t change that plan if your body tells you otherwise.
For example, if you find that progress is stalling across the board, you’re feeling a bit frazzled, and your joints are giving you grief, that’s a good time for a deload. On the flip side, if you’re feeling good and motoring along nicely, there’s no reason why you can’t just keep going.
Think of it as the “play it by ear” deload – you have a light or easy week only when you feel like your body really needs it.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORChristian Finn is the nation’s leading authority on science-based, joint-friendly ways to build muscle. A former "trainer to the trainers," he holds a masters degree in exercise science, and has been featured in or contributed to major media on two continents, including the BBC and Sunday Times in the U.K. and Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness in the U.S.