How to Deload Properly… And Why It’s So Important


Deload weeks are when you want to take plates OFF the bar

Once you’ve been training more than a few years the need to deload on a somewhat regular basis becomes more and more prevalent.

How often you do so depends on your training age, strength levels and injury history. Countless  successful lifters have had great results by training hard for three weeks and deloading on the fourth week.

It’s a pretty widely accepted formula and has been proven time and time again. So there’s really no need to try and reinvent the wheel. Three weeks hard, one week deload is my standard go-to-recommendation.

There are other options, however, and if you have only been training for a couple of years you won’t need to worry about deloading just yet. Beginners can go a few years without deloading. Eventually you’ll want to start with 12 weeks then work your way down to 10 and so on. When you get a little more advanced some people might be able to go 6-8 weeks hard before deloading. If you’re more of an early intermediate lifter, eight weeks may be a better option for you. If you’re more advanced and go eight weeks you might want to consider deloading for two weeks.

But to keep things simple let’s assume everyone is following the three to one rule. That’s the easiest thing to do since it fits nicely inside of a month.

I usually recommend reducing the total training volume per workout by 40%. So say you normally do 20 sets per workout; on your deload week you would do 12 sets at each workout.

On big barbell exercises that you do for maximal strength like a bench, squat, dead, military I recommend cutting the weight to 50% of your one rep max and just doing two sets of five. So lets say your 1RM on the bench is 315 and the previous week you were doing 255 for sets of 6-8, the deload week would be 155 (or technically 157.5) for 2×5.

The other option is to remove the lift all together for that week. I like this option for experienced guys who have a mastery of the lift and/or are also beat up from years of heavy training. The removal of the big barbell lift all together helps their joints recover. You also may kind of “lose the groove” if you do this, if you are more inexperienced, so it’s something you have to decide for yourself. But I think the benefits of taking that week off of heavy barbell lifting usually outweigh the negatives. You’ll get back in the groove in not time the following week.

For assistance exercises you have two choices. Intermediates should just do fewer sets but keep the intensity the same. You could do the same weight as the previous week or even try to go up. However, the intensiveness (not what some people mistake as intensity) should not be as high as the previous week . This means that you need to give your CNS a break on your deload week and shouldn’t be going to failure or getting overly psyched up on anything.

For guys who have been training a while and are a bit beyond the intermediate level I  recommend cutting the intensity by 20-40% on assistance exercises. So just take 20-40% off all your weights. If you did incline db presses for 10 reps with the 100′s on week three you would do 60′s- 80′s on your deload week. The stronger/more advanced/more beat up and further along in a training cycle you are the greater the drop off % should be. It also depends on the exercise. If you’re normally using 150lbs on a 1 arm row I would want to drop that down by a full 40%. But if it was just something like a face pull or curl you could easily get away with just dropping it 20%. You would do the same number of reps as the previous week but just cut the sets.

The other option is to just take the week entirely off from heavy lifting. I first did this back in the mid 90′s after a phone conversation with Ian King, and my results were awesome. My recovery dramatically improved, my testosterone went up, I was sleeping better and I had fewer nagging injuries. Like any good American I wanted more and got suckered into other stuff and got away from that for a while.

Be sure to lighten your weights on deload weeks

That was until I went to Nazareth Barbell one day for a visit and big Mike Miller told me that that’s what they did. Three weeks on of balls to the wall training, one week off entirely. They went at it hard and absolutely killed it for three weeks, then they rested. They were all monsters and I’m pretty sure Mike was the first guy to squat 1200. So it was hard to argue.

I went back to it again and had some of my over 35 year old clients doing it and they were making great progress.

Like the stubborn, glutton for punishment knucklehead that I am I have yet again gotten away from that schedule but it does work incredibly well and should strongly be considered by all those over 40 who like to go heavy and balls deep like we do. If all you do is some light bodyweight training or kettlebell stuff, deloading won’t be as important for you. But if you like moving iron and do stuff that stresses your shoulders, spine, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles regularly (like military presses, squats, farmers walks, tire flips, deadlifts- ya know, all the fun stuff) then  I would highly suggest deloading regularly.

If the over 35 crowd doesn’t want to take the week off entirely they should definitely at least reduce both the volume AND the intensity on their deload weeks. Not doing so really isn’t even an option, in my opinion, because it will keep you in the game and healthy a lot longer. Either you take the deload week and truly deload or you will be forced to deload due to an injury sooner or later.

Also, for the over 35 crowd I can’t recommend going more than 10-12 weeks without taking a complete week off entirely; with once every 8 (or fewer) weeks being an even better option. During these weeks you can stay active- walking, swimming, hiking, stretching, etc. But no lifting.

Hopefully that gave you some good ideas about how to deload properly without being too confusing.

To sum it up…
- Reduce total # of sets by 40%
- Reduce intensity on big lifts to 50% of 1RM or just eliminate them all together
- Reduce intensity on assistance work to 80% of the previous weeks weight (if that doesn’t allow enough recovery drop the % down to 75% the next cycle, and so on and so on until you decide what % works best for you)

Leave me a comment, if you liked this post, do me a favor and hit the FaceBook “Like” button for me, and let me know if you have any questions.

PS. For a complete program with the deloads built in, minus the guess work check out Triple Threat Muscle.

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28 Responses to How to Deload Properly… And Why It’s So Important

  1. Bill July 28, 2010 at 6:57 am #

    Great suggestions, Jason! I like how you drew a distinction between intensity and intensiveness. It’s something that is easily forgotten or neglected but they are two different things!

  2. Frank July 28, 2010 at 6:59 am #

    Jason,

    I am 60 years old and have been exercising regularly for the past 25 years or so. Mostly running, lap swimming, aerobic machines, weight machines, etc. I began barbell training four months ago and really enjoy it but there is some pain, especially in my shoulders as I try and increase my bench (it’s only up to 160 lbs). Rest is becoming an issue in the workouts (which follows a 5 x 5 format for the core lifts) but I am learning my body and what I need to do, including warming up properly. My goal is to move forward without hurting myself….it’s not something I’m obsessive about. I want to stay in shape and maintain my strength as I age as much as possible. I thought I would have some trouble with squats, since I had an ankle fusion last summer, but I have worked my up to squatting my body weight but I don’t want to overload the fusion, which included four screws in my ankle. Anyway, without babbling too much more, I find that taking some time off (missing a day here and there) or including some light days is beneficial in recovering my freshness, mentally and physically, even though I really haven’t been at it that long. Keep writing, but remember those of us who don’t pump big time all the time.

  3. craig July 28, 2010 at 7:16 am #

    Mandatory reading.

  4. Brian Gladfelter July 28, 2010 at 7:49 am #

    Great article. I’m 26 and still love the boost I get that first week back from a week off every 6-8 weeks. Over the winter I may try this as I teach snowboarding and ride 2-3 days a week.

  5. Mark July 28, 2010 at 7:54 am #

    I don’t train for strength or mass but aesthetics and attaining that “bodybuilder” look but as an athlete. My workouts are no more than 45 mins long and very short rest intervals. After 3 weeks of hard training with volume, I take the recommendation from Coach sommer from gymnasticbodies.com in that I keep the INTENSITY HIGH, but drastically lower the volume and instead of training 4 days a week, train 3. I do this for 2-3 weeks.

    Dan Duchaine always recommended 3 weeks on, 1 off. As a 42 year old, I have given up the concept of heavy lifting and attaining mass. I want to be lean, muscular and fit but still portray a great physique.

    Mark

    • Anofuctus September 3, 2013 at 3:02 am #

      If I were to take one week off from training after training three week, it would be like starting all over again. That my metabolism. I used to train Mon. Wed. Fri. and take the weekend off. When I return to the gym on Monday, I find that I’m not as strong as I was when I left the gym last Friday.
      So I’ve adopted to exercise every other day; training for 21 total days and taking only two day or 72 hours for recovery.

  6. Matt July 28, 2010 at 8:10 am #

    Thanks for this. I hit the 36 on August 9.

  7. Michael July 28, 2010 at 8:16 am #

    This is a great article, weightlifting 101. As I am now 35 I have come to greatly appreciate the deload week (3 on 1 off type). This is one of the more understandable articles on the subject. I am writing cliff notes in my workout journal tonight. I also prefer taking the week “off”. I always come back fresh and perform well. This leads me to my question:

    How do you feel about doing mostly/entirely conditioning on the off week? For example: hill sprints, sled dragging/pulling, prowler, tire flipping, kettlebells sandbag work, barbell complexes, etc. (all this assuming weight is appropriately light enough).

    ps does Triple Threat Muscle have the conditioning tools (prowler, tire, sandbag, etc.) I listed above worked into the program? I have “weightlifting” and strength training programs, but I do not have a program that utilize all the tools I own and I prefer to use as many of them as possible to keep things fun and interesting. Thanks for the post.

  8. Brandon Cook July 28, 2010 at 8:25 am #

    This just happens to be my deload week… so AWESOME timing!

    As a smaller framed guy I always seemed to hurt my shoulders, wrists, knees (basically all joints) from training hard and doing my best to lift heavy as everyone recommends. I could never figure this out as many never even talk about taking deload weeks and backing off from time to time.

    Once I started doing these deload weeks, foam rolling, mobility exercises and regular stretching… my body has been able to stay healthy and recover from the workouts.

    As you say, if you don’t take the deload weeks… your body will FORCE you to take some time off. Usually by injury. Even the younger guys should heed this advice!

    Thanks again Jason. Great post!

  9. AJ July 28, 2010 at 9:03 am #

    I like the article. but article after article i read. i get so curious as to where you find pictures of these ridiculously hot women doing squats and curls and posing.

  10. Roger July 28, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    Just taken a week off (due to over worked knee joints) I ride to work most days as hard as I can & back & lift as heavy as I can 3 times a week.Getting close to the magic 38 years of age I find 6 days a week on the bike 10 miles or so a day + the weight training is really taxing my knees , so a complete week off & I have just broke my PB for squats & Dead lifts on my first week back so really worth taking a time out for your body to rest :)

  11. Bryan Veil July 28, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    Mr. Ferruggia, I’m entering a deload week the day after tomorrow after a big squat workout. (: I love squats. Anyway, is it okay to do conditioning during the deload week? I have hill sprints and bodyweight circuits planned, but I just wanted to make sure this will not hamper the effects of the deload week. I will be doing no heavy lifting. By the way, I am 18 years old and I have been lifting for about 4 years (since I’ve been in high school and playing football). If that information helps. The information you possess is priceless and you have certainly helped me change my life. Keep up the good work and thank you in advance for your opinion on the conditioning during the deload week thing.

  12. Dave July 28, 2010 at 5:36 pm #

    Excellent thoughts. I’ve always gone with the full week off after about 10 weeks of training but I think I might experiment with the approach of 3 weeks all out training, 1 week reduced training/off. Thanks for the insights!

  13. Terry Harris - New Zealand July 28, 2010 at 7:12 pm #

    Hi
    Jason
    Great post on training and how to plan training for the long haul.
    Another great book to get for the over 35s is Brooks Kubik ” Gray Hair and Black
    Iron
    I am now 52 and have been training strong for over 33 years.Still learning but most of all still enjoying the thrill of training I use most training tools KBs sandbags ropes kegs rocks tires
    etc.
    All those in the training world have a great day or night

    Train hard
    Train strong and smart.

    regards
    terry

    • Ciencias August 20, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

      I love deload week!Rx’d Angie 16:04Unbroken sit-ups and staqus, push ups were definitely the time suckNeed a day off really badly we will see what tomorrow brings =)

  14. Jason July 28, 2010 at 8:13 pm #

    Thanks for this. I have always wondered about the deload. I have often wondered why cut back, will that week of reduced work do anything for you. Seems like a waste of my time. I am glad you said it was OK to take it off. That is what I do but it is not as strict as you suggest. I do it on vacations and long weekends and things like that. I work my deloads into the calender, maybe I should look at a more strict approach.

    Thanks for the post, I will be able to sleep tonight knowing that it if fine that I do not lift on my deload weeks.

  15. Paul Kesrouany July 29, 2010 at 1:28 am #

    Great info as always.

    I just have a quick question – when ever I rest from a serious bout of training, my body weight drops by a few pounds. I only weigh 154 – 156 and am trying to get to 160+. My best D.L = 300lbs for 1 and I have upped my bench from 150 to 185 for 4. But my weight is increasing very slowly. I am interested in keeping my body fat down, so how would you recommend I add lean muscle whilst keeping body fat at bay, and keeping my body weight up.
    Thanks in advance,

    Paul

  16. clement July 29, 2010 at 6:06 am #

    Hey jay, is it alright to do a lifting session (stronglifts 5×5) the day after a soccer game?

    My exercise goes like this:
    sun/tues/thurs – stronglifts
    sat – soccer game (2h)

  17. Lame-R July 29, 2010 at 7:23 am #

    3 on, 1 off (entirely off, not just a light week) also has merits for the psychological value.

    Maintaining a productive level of intensity is as much mental as it is physical; towards the end of 3 weeks I’m starting to lose focus and desire, but by the end of that week off I’m dying to get under the bar again and hit it hard.

  18. Chad July 29, 2010 at 8:30 pm #

    Jason,
    This makes sense, even before I went through mgs my body would tell me to do this on a regular basis probebly once a month. I listened and it gave me results. Thanks for backing up that method.

  19. tihomir101 August 7, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    yep

  20. wrestler strength October 11, 2010 at 6:07 am #

    Great deload tips Jason! I’m happy I stumbled upon this post as the last week of my training was extremely rough and I’m looking to deload this week but have never really taken a systematic approach to it like you describe above. I’m definitely going to look back and cut my workload by the percentages you talk about. Thanks for the helpful info man!

  21. Radislav Nahaba February 9, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    Look, that is really good post and I must admit that I like your blog. Keep up the good work.

  22. Rayca May 17, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    Awesome article, Jason. You’ve covered it all for everyone. I’m in the older set and am especially cautious about doing “too much.” Thanks again. Look forward to more from you.

  23. Trevor February 28, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    Should I be taking glutamine and protein during my deload week if I don’t work out at all?

    • Trevor February 28, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

      Should I be taking protein and glutamine during my deload week if I don’t work out at all?

  24. Andy June 30, 2013 at 7:24 am #

    Good article I need to either deload or week off strength train. Have arthritis in shoulder at 41 also elbow now playing up so yeah I think a week of lighter weight and less workload.

  25. Paul Tran August 10, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    What about athletes? Do they still deload like bodybuilders or do they just keep training until the season comes?