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

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

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.