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Have you ever been there, where you wake up and your joints are achy, you don’t want to get out of bed, you have no desire to go to the gym? What about when you have been training with all out intensity and you have a meet a week away? What about when you had a vacation coming up and you were trying to decide whether or not you would train while on vacation? This article will address how to handle some of these situations and others through the use of deloads.

What is a deload exactly? It's a planned period of recovery. If you think of your training stress as a process of digging a hole in the ground and recovery as a period of filling that hole back up and then some, a deload is a period in which you dig a little bit less (or none) and focus more on pouring some more dirt back into the hole to make a larger mound of dirt.

We also have to realize that our training isn't the only stress we have in life and it isn't the only shovel digging per se. So there are times when the training stress may not be the biggest cause of our hole not getting filled back up fast enough.

What are the different types of deloads?

  • Intensity deload: During an intensity deload, the maximum amount of weight being lifted is decreased, typically about 10–20 percent. The total amount of reps remains the same and the weight being used decreases.
  • Volume deload: During a volume deload, the amount of total reps at higher percentages decreases, typically about 10–20 percent. The weight being used remains the same, but the number of times it is lifted decreases.
  • Frequency deload: During a frequency deload, the number of times a lift or muscle group is trained during a given period of time (typically a week) decreases. For example, a lifter may go from squatting three times a week to twice or once a week.
  • Mental/emotional/exercise deload: This is a deload in which the athlete gets to relieve himself of the pressure of training (i.e. hitting specific numbers, following a targeted plan/training schedule, competing against other lifters in the gym). Optional workouts or allowing an athlete to choose what lifts he wants to do are examples.
  • Time off: This is time off away from any type of training. The length of time can vary from a day or two to several months.


When should you take a deload, and what type of deload should you take?

Planned Deloads

There are times in your training when you could benefit from putting in some type of deload, such as prior to a competition, post-competition or after a period of overreaching.

  • Prior to competition: After a long, tough training block in preparation for some type of strength sport competition, it is typical for athletes to feel a bit beat up. They may have some nagging pains that they have been dealing with throughout the cycle and probably have an overall feeling of fatigue after hitting multiple attempts at weights close to 100 percent of their max. Typically, a one- to two-week deload is necessary for an athlete to put up his best performance at competition. This period allows some of those nagging pains to heal up and fatigue to decrease so that the athlete is feeling fresh and ready to go on competition day. During this deload, you would typically use some type of combo between lowering the intensity and the volume. The week prior to competition, I have my athletes still come in the gym and complete some lifts in the 25–50 percent range. For example, on Monday, I may have them do 3 X 3 at 50 percent on all three lifts and then the same thing at 25 percent on Wednesday. This keeps the motor patterns fresh and grooved without being too strenuous. On Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, I have them do some light body weight movements and some light mobility/flexibility/tissue work to keep them from tightening up and to keep their muscles contracting and relaxing. On competition day, they feel fresh from the lightened workload but not stiff from not moving all week. This is all we will do if we take our heaviest lifts two weeks prior to the competition. For some athletes, we will take their heaviest attempts three weeks out and then drop down about 10 percent two weeks out. It all depends on the experience level of the athlete and how his or her body responds.
  • Post-competition: After a competition, an athlete has to deal with the physical effects of competing as well as the mental effects. Because of this, I usually suggest some type of time off, with a week being a pretty good time frame. If the athlete wants to address some pain issues he's dealing with through massage, chiropractic work or acupuncture, this is a pretty good time to do it.After the initial time off, there are several different paths you can take. Some people can jump right back in to competition training. This would be required if you had another competition relatively soon. Another option I commonly utilize is going through a training phase where the athletes use a lot more “non barbell” exercises and do much more unilateral work to address any imbalances they may have developed or exaggerated. Another option is to let the athlete have a month or so to choose what he or she wants to train. Most of the time, it will be some ridiculous arm program.
  • Overreaching: This is a lot like a competition peak only without any planned competition following it. Also, this could be utilized for physique sports or if you've purposely pushed yourself past your ability to recover and utilize some nutritional methods to super compensate after that period. The best time to utilize some type of overreaching is prior to a vacation when you know you're going to overindulge in food and be away from the gym both physically and mentally (overreaching can be very mentally taxing). Time off is the best type of deload after a period of overreaching. It allows you to regenerate both physically and mentally and, when you return, you should feel much better, bigger and stronger.


MORE Not all Fatigue is Created Equal


Unplanned Deloads

There will also be times when you need a deload that you hadn’t planned for. These are times when your ability to recover isn't sufficient enough for the stress that you're putting on your body. This could be from not getting proper sleep, not getting sufficient nutrition or poor stress management of non-training stressors. Either way, it's important to not dig a hole so big that you can’t refill it.

If you're having body aches and pains, your joints are hurting, you’re starting to develop some tendonitis or you feel you’re stiffening up, I suggest using an intensity deload and/or changing up your exercises. If you’re feeling overall fatigue, lack of motivation, drop in hunger or trouble falling asleep, you may consider using a volume deload, frequency deload and/or time off. If you’re feeling burned out and not as engaged in your training, consider taking some time off or a mental deload where you go in and just do what you feel like that day. When taking time off, it doesn’t always have to be a week. Oftentimes, one to three days is all you need to feel back to 100 percent. When I put clients on CTP training, I typically have them take three days off at the end of every cycle.

A final thought on deloads—while deloads can be extremely useful for making continual progress and preparing and recovering from competition, you have to train in a manner that will actually require a deload at some point. The average person going to the gym won't ever push himself to a point where a deload is needed. Oftentimes, the desire for a deload is just a reflection of poor recovery habits or a lack of mental toughness. However, if you are someone who trains intensely, properly utilizing deloads can insure that you're making the progress you want without ever having to take extensive time off due to overtraining or injury. Use the information in this article to make the best decision of how and when to deload.