One of the most frustrating experiences every lifter faces is hitting a dreaded plateau. You might be eating well, sleeping, and following your Uplift Others program to a tee, but some days, even warm-up sets feel immovable.

In a utopian world, progress would be linear and every session we’d add 10lbs to our lifts until we are squatting 1,000lbs in our nursing homes. Life isn’t that kind.

Our bodies accumulate stress at the same time our fitness levels increase from training. This can be visualized through the “fitness-fatigue model” pictured below.

fitness-fatigue-model

We experience stress on multiple levels: through our central nervous system, metabolically, as well as outside stressors. These things are natural but cause temporary dips in performance. You can’t max out your bench on Monday and turn around and hit another grueling chest day Tuesday and Wednesday. It takes a few days to feel physically prepared for another session.

The graph shows that on those days where we aren’t prepared, it’s not that our fitness levels have all of sudden decreased, it’s that our performance is being hindered by cumulative fatigue.

One way to provide relief from stress is by incorporating deload weeks.

In this article, we will talk about what a deload is, its benefits, and how to use them in your training to see more consistent growth and fewer plateaus.

What is a Deload Week

A deload week is a strategy where a lifter intentionally reduces volume (sets x reps), intensity (weight), or both in order to shed fatigue and increase physical preparedness. There are two types:

  • Proactive Deload: These deloads are pre-planned into your programming regardless of how your body is feeling. For instance, some programs use them every fourth week of training to end a block. It’s nice to not have to worry about self-monitoring, but your preparedness doesn’t always line up perfectly with the training schedule. There are deload weeks where you feel like you can hit a new PR and there might be tough training weeks where you could really use the modified routine.

  • Reactive Deload: Our preferred method of deloading is reactive. These are incorporated on an as-needed basis. It requires strict self-monitoring but offers programming flexibility. Traveling for work one week? Plan a deload. Feeling beat up after a challenging training block? Pull it back for a week. The challenging part is not letting the stress exceed the tolerance.

There are also programming styles that auto-regulate training day by day and even within the session so in theory, you never have to deload, but since that requires either a personal coach or years and years of experience, we won’t focus on that in this article.

Benefits of Deload Weeks

While there are many ways to incorporate deload weeks, they all seek to provide the same benefits:

  • Shed built-up fatigue
  • Prevent injuries
  • Reduce burnout
  • Offer flexibility when sick, traveling, or pivoting to a new program
  • Increase muscle sensitivity to muscle damage (can help with hypertrophy)
  • Taper for an event

How to do a Deload Week

Here are some deload examples using volume and intensity as variables:

Volume Based Deload

Normal Training Session Example

  • 4 sets of 12 reps of Squats at 70% 1 rep max

Volume Deload Session Example

  • 3 sets of 8 reps of Squats at 70% 1 rep max

For strength-based athletes, this might be a preferred method to allow continuous use of heavier weights.

Intensity Based Deload

Normal Training Session Example

  • 4 sets of 12 reps of Squats at 70% 1 rep max

Intensity Deload Session Example

  • 4 sets of 12 reps of Squats at 50% 1 rep max

Volume and Intensity Based Deload

Normal Training Session Example

  • 4 sets of 12 reps of Squats at 70% 1 rep max

Volume and Intensity Deload Session Example

  • 3 sets of 8 reps of Squats at 60% 1 rep max

You will have to gain experience and try to manipulate the variables to see what your body responds best to. Some people can train heavy year around and are more sensitive to high volume, where others will need to lay off the heavy work. Test and see what works best for you!

How often to do a Deload Week

Now you know how to use deloads, but how often will you need them? That depends on a few factors:

  1. Recovery Ability & Habits: If you get sore and drained from sessions fairly easily, you’ll need to incorporate deloads more frequently. Make sure you are sleeping well, eating plenty of calories and protein, and staying hydrated.

2. Training Age: Beginners don’t need to deload as frequently as trained lifters. You haven’t accumulated as much fatigue over the years, are likely handling lighter weight, and are going to be able to see a lot of progress without much volume.

3. Biological Age: The older you are, the longer it takes to recover.

4. Outside Stressors: If you have high physical and emotional demands from work, family, etc. you likely will need to have more frequent deloads scheduled.

5. Training Intensity: Doing high reps on bands at home won’t be as taxing as someone who is doing heavy squats and deadlifts 2-3x a week.

For general guidelines, try to deload every 4-10 weeks. For older, more experienced lifters, aim for more frequent deloads. If you are newer and not training at a very high-intensity level, you can get away with less frequent deloading.

When to Deload

What should you look out for so you know when you need a deload? Pay attention to the following symptoms if they are happening for a few weeks:

  • Weight you typically use feels heavier than normal
  • You feel worn down
  • Less motivation/enthusiasm for going to the gym (program feels stale)
  • Performance stalls or decreases

Over time you will learn to recognize these signs early before they turn into long-term issues. Deload weeks will feel boring since it’s not fun to go the gym without being challenged. But remember the big picture and use deloads like a slingshot.

Buy an Uplift Others Program Today

After your next deload, consider starting an Uplift Others program! We have at home, in the gym, and running programs for all skill levels and goals. The best part is that we donate 100% of the program profits to help cover teachers’ classroom expenses. Shop today!