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Deloads: What, Why, and How

If you’ve spent any amount of time in the gym – or on fitness internet – you’ve undoubtedly experienced the “No Days Off” mentality. We live in a fitness world where intensity and quantity are too often valued over quality.

What if I told you that pushing to 100% every single day and depriving yourself of rest days is actually hurting your progress? 

What you actually need to keep making progress is a planned recovery week, or what we call in fitness a deload.

What is a Deload?

In its simplest definition, a deload is a week of lower intensity* workouts.

The lower intensity can be achieved in various ways, including decreasing volume (reps and sets), decreasing weight, or using longer rest intervals.

Why Deload?

Successful training is a constant well-planned cycle of pushing your body to grow and change balanced with giving your body time to recover and adapt.

It turns out that pushing to max effort every single day isn’t the most effective way to make progress. In fact, the “no days off” mentality is more likely to lead to injury and detrimental fatigue. Depriving your body of the time it needs to recover will ultimately stunt your #gainz.

This is why we also stress the importance of other facets of recovery, especially sleep and nutrition. In the gym, we’re breaking your body down. Food, rest, and managed fatigue are the tools your body needs to build back better and make positive change.

There is also a meaningful mental aspect to deloading. 

Consistently pushing volume and intensity for weeks at a time is both physically and mentally draining. Deload week gives your body time to physically recover, and it gives your brain space to dial down a notch and move through familiar patterns without too much stress.

How to Deload

The key to a successful deload is that your overall volume and intensity is less than a normal training session, but not too easy.

If we think about training sessions in terms of Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE), a normal session should have primary lifts around RPE 8 and accessory lifts around RPE 8-9. In a deload week, primary lifts should be an RPE 6-7 and accessories RPE 7-8.

In terms of volume, if you’ve worked up to 5 working sets, drop down to 3 at a slightly lighter weight. If you’ve pushed up to 85% of your max weight, dial down to 75%. 

So you’re not taking it way down to an RPE 5 or 50% of your max. Just dial it back a little.

The goal is to finish deload workouts feeling generally energized and not overly taxed. Sometimes the weights feel pretty heavy when you’re doing them – that’s okay and normal, and generally an indication that your body needed the deload. But in general, you should feel like you moved in a meaningful but not exhausting way.

You can read a more in depth article about how to deload here: The Art of the Deload.

When to Deload

Timing deloads is more complicated than doing them. Deload needs can vary by person, sport, training cycle, and experience level. For competitive athletes, the deload will also be timed appropriately with competition dates and cycles. 

For our current purposes, we’ll assume we’re deloading a beginner or intermediate lifter who regularly lifts 3-5 days per week at an RPE of 8-9. This lifter should deload roughly every 5-7 weeks. 

In LIFT, Power Plant’s flagship strength program, we deload every 6th week. Most of our strongman and powerlifting clients on personalized programming also deload roughly every 6 weeks. After years of running these programs with people of varying experience and ability, 6-week blocks have shown the best results in terms of managing physical and mental fatigue and maximizing recovery.

That being said, if you’re doing your own programming, do some experimenting and see what works best for you. If you’re lifting very heavy (think: advanced athlete lifting multiple times bodyweight on primary lifts), you might need deloads more frequently, like every 4-5 weeks. If you’re newer to lifting or recover particularly well, you can probably stretch your cycles to 7-8 weeks.

As a general rule, you can also think about deloads using the old adage about drinking water: if you wait until you feel like you need it, it’s probably too late. Ideally, your deload should happen right before you feel like you really need it (i.e. recovery is tanking or workouts feel crappy).

The only way to know what works best for you is to try different options. Six-week cycles are a good starting point, and then you can adjust based on your experience.

Go Forth and Rest!

If you’re new to the concept or practice of deloading, it might feel weird or counterintuitive at first, like you “didn’t do anything” at the gym. But trust me, by the third or fourth time, it’ll be your favorite week. You get to move in a way that’s familiar and just the right level of challenging. And your body will feel amazing at the end of the week.

We know this whole thing can be a bit complicated, so we’re always here to help! You can set up a free 15-min coaching call with the PPG Team by clicking the Free Intro button on this page, or sending us an email at [email protected].

*Note that we’re using the term “intensity” here in its more colloquial context of perceived intensity (i.e. how difficult something feels), and not in a technical sports science definition of intensity (i.e. how much measured energy is expended when exercising).

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