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Deconstructing the Deload

Deload is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the strength and conditioning community.  You may have heard people say that they “are deloading this week.”  Or they, “have deloaded in 12 weeks,” or that, “deloading doesn’t work.”

What Is a Deload?

So what is deloading?  Well, first it’s important to note that there are many definitions of deloading, but it typically means doing one of the following:

  • 5 to 7 days completely out of the gym
  • 5 to 7 days of only foam rolling, mobility, and light cardio
  • 5 to 7 days of doing similar workouts but with decreased volume and/or load (i.e. if I had been doing 4 sets of 4 reps on squats with 205, then I would do 2 sets of 4 squats with 155)
  • 5 to 7 days of a completely different program (if you’re an avid lifter, you might spend the week doing light hiking and biking, etc.)

foamroll-molly-pro-450x337Sometimes you might just foam roll and do some mobility on your deload week. Many people have their own idea of what a deload means, and as long as you are giving your body a break and an opportunity to truly recover, if it works for you, go for it!

Why Should I Deload?

Deloading regularly allows your body to properly recover and allows you to make progress long-term. It’s just not possible to go hard and heavy day in and day out and make consistent progress without some sort of break.

At some point, you must take time and allow your body to repair itself. Of course, if your nutrition, sleep, stress management, and supplements are all spot-on 100% of the time, then you may be able to get away with fewer or shorter deloads.  But since that doesn’t happen very often, you will probably need deloads every six to eight weeks like the rest of us mere mortals?

alli-dumbbellrow-327-341You see, the body can only handle so much stress at any given time before something gives and your body forces you to slow down by getting sick or getting hurt.  Deloading occasionally reduces the amount of stress your body is under and gives it an opportunity to rest and recover.

Think of it like recharging your batteries.  You need “juice” in your batteries in order to function, so occasionally they need to re-charge.  Your body is no different.  It needs regular breaks, whether it’s from a break from a calorie deficit, several weeks of heavy weight training, or a super intense cardio regimen, you must occasionally pull back on the reins a bit to give your body let your body recharge.

How Often Should You Deload?

There are definitely differing thoughts and opinions about how often a person should deload (or if they should deload at all).  Some people like taking planned deloads; for example every 4, 6, 8, or 10 weeks or more, while others like go by how they feel or their performance in the gym.  Keep in mind, the harder you train and the more advanced you are, the more often you should deload because you are capable of putting your body under more stress.

If you’re not sure whether to deload or not, below are common indicators that it’s probably time for a deload:

  • Experiencing more muscle soreness than normal.
  • Taking longer than normal for the soreness to subside.
  • Experiencing a lack of motivation to lift/train.
  • Major change in appetite (usually a decrease).
  • Decrease in leanness despite not changing nutrition program/exercise regimen.
  • Decrease in overall strength/performance in the gym or in other workouts for several workouts in a row.
  • Bouts of mild depression, fatigue, and or malaise.

Keep in mind that the list above is not exhaustive. And unless you know your body really well, it’s probably best to plan a deload every 5 to 8 weeks and not to wait until you are completely destroyed to give yourself a break. In my experience, if you give yourself a break while you still have a little left in the tank, you will recover much more quickly.  If you wait until it’s too late, it can take several weeks, or longer, until you are fully recovered.



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About The Author: Molly Galbraith

Molly Galbraith, CSCS is co-founder and woman-in-charge at Girls Gone Strong, and creator of The Coaching & Training Women Academy, home for the world's most comprehensive, evidence-based, women-specific coaching certifications. A former figure competitor and powerlifter who has dedicated the last 15 years of her life to helping women achieve their goals and feel more comfortable and at home in their bodies. Learn more about Molly on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.