1
Deloads can be an important part of the training process to allow for long term progression in strength and muscle gains via periodically reducing excessive fatigue accumulation and potentially lowering the risk of injury. We explain why with this free guide

Getting your deload right after training is so important

Deloads can be an important part of the training process to allow for long term progression in strength and muscle gains via periodically reducing excessive fatigue accumulation and potentially lowering the risk of injury. This article will cover everything related to deloads, from why they’re used, how they differ from tapering, variables that can be manipulated within the deload, and practical guidelines on how to construct a deload.

Currently, there is little to no controlled research on deloading for strength and physique sports. Deloading guidelines have been generally adapted from literature using planned reductions of training in endurance-type activities. Most of the information provided in this article is predominantly drawn from expert opinion via strength and physique coaches (2). Therefore, use this article only as a guide and not as rigid rules.

 

What are deloads? 

Deloads can be defined as a period within a training block where training is intentionally reduced. Deloads are technically different to tapers. A deload is typically done at the end of training blocks. In comparison, tapers are implemented on the days/week before competition. As such, tapers and deloads can be separated by their position within the training program.

Additionally, they can also be separated by their end goals. A taper is generally used to clear fatigue and peak performance for competition. The purpose of deloads is explained in more detail next.   

 

Fatigue accumulation and overreaching 

Fatigue can accumulate when a lifter performs consecutive weeks of challenging training in a row. If fatigue is beyond what the lifter can dissipate, a lifter may become overreached. Symptoms of overreaching may include; performance decrements, increased likelihood of illness, disrupted sleep, higher subjective feelings of fatigue, elevated muscle soreness/DOMS, increased feelings of anxiety, depression, reduced training effort, enthusiasm and motivation to train (2,3,5).

 

Why are deloads used? 

The purpose of a deload is not to enhance performance but to reduce fatigue which may affect the ability to complete training at a prescribed intensity and prepare an athlete to undertake the next training cycle. Furthermore, dealods are used to reduce the risk of maladaptation (failure or poor ability to adapt to training), injury, and sickness.

 

What training variables are adjusted during a deload? 

Training volume 

Volume can be reduced by lowering the number of repetitions or sets of exercises. Coaches might opt to maintain volume on the squat bench press and deadlift and reduce volume from accessory work (1). Other coaches may reduce volume of all lifts. It is not clear what the ‘optimal’ decrease in volume is. There is likely no optimal, as deloads should be individualised to the lifter. On average, coaches appear to reduce training volume by approx. 30-50% from habitual training volumes.



Training intensity

Intensity can be broken up into external and internal load. External load relates to the percent of a lifter’s one repetition maximum. Internal load refers to the proximity of failure, generally measured via repetitions in reserve (RIR) or ratings of perceived exertion (RPE). Coaches will generally reduce both internal intensity (stopping further from failure) and external intensity (reducing the load/lifting lighter relative to a lifter’s 1RM). Interviewed coaches indicated they generally wouldn’t reduce intensity by a large amount and may reserve this for situations where reductions in training volume were not enough to achieve the desired outcomes of the deload (2) (which is generally to reduce fatigue).



Exercise selection 

Some coaches choose to change exercises during deloads to reduce training monotony (lack of variety) and/or to decrease the potential of overuse injuries by lessening the constant specific loading on the body– Eg lowering spinal loading from back squats and swapping to belt squats. Other coaches choose not to change exercises during deloads and only adjust training volume and intensity. To maintain specificity, coaches may only rotate accessory exercises or rotate the competition lifts to similar movements, such as a front squat instead of back squat.



Training frequency 

This refers to reducing the frequency of movements within the program. For example, changing bench press frequency from 3 to 2 days a week. Expert coaches interviewed in the study by (Bell et al., 2022) indicated they generally maintain training frequency during deloads, but sometimes will reduce the number of training sessions within a week if a lifter is showing excessive fatigue (2).



Duration 

General deloads go for approx. 5-7 days in length. This is believed to be long enough to reduce fatigue without causing a detraining effect. However, a loss in training adaptations from 7 days of no training is unlikely. Bosquet et al. showed reductions in force output only became significant after the third week of no training (4). Likewise, lifters doing very low training volumes using 3-6 sets of 1-5 repetitions per set per week on the squat, bench press and deadlift for 6-12 weeks can maintain and even increase 1RM strength (2). Based on this research, the likelihood of losing training adaptations in a 7-day (or even 14-day) deload is unlikely.

      

How often to deload? 

Deloads can be done proactively or reactively. Proactive deloads are performed at set time points (eg every 4-8 weeks). Reactive deloads are performed on an as per need bases. If an athlete displays signs of excessive fatigue, a coach can implement a deload. If an athlete is progressing well and not showing signs of excessive fatigue, it may not be ideal to break this momentum and performing a deload just because it was scheduled.  


A combination of both proactive and reactive deloads can be implemented. Pre-planned deloads can act as checkpoints for assessing the athlete to decide if a deload is required. If no deload is needed, training can continue.

Checkpoints may be used to implement programming modifications or to create a new training block. Typically, new training blocks begin with lighter loads and/or reduced volume (intro weeks). Although not a purposeful deload, this reduction in training stress during intro weeks may result in a small deload and fatigue reduction without implementing a full deload.  

General deload guidelines 

Ref – Bell, L., Nolan, D., Immonen, V., Helms, E., Dallamore, J., Wolf, M., & Androulakis Korakakis, P. (2022). “You can’t shoot another bullet until you’ve reloaded the gun”: Coaches’ perceptions, practices and experiences of deloading in strength and Physique Sports. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living4. https://doi.org/10.3389/fspor.2022.1073223



References 

1.Androulakis-Korakakis, P., Fisher, J. P., & Steele, J. (2019). The minimum effective training dose required to increase 1RM strength in resistance-trained men: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 50(4), 751–765. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-019-01236-0

2.Bell, L., Nolan, D., Immonen, V., Helms, E., Dallamore, J., Wolf, M., & Androulakis Korakakis, P. (2022). “You can’t shoot another bullet until you’ve reloaded the gun”: Coaches’ perceptions, practices and experiences of deloading in strength and Physique Sports. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 4. https://doi.org/10.3389/fspor.2022.1073223

3.Bellinger, P. (2020). Functional overreaching in endurance athletes: A necessity or cause for concern? Sports Medicine, 50(6), 1059–1073. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-020-01269-w

4.Birrer, D. (2019). Rowing over the edge: Nonfunctional overreaching and overtraining syndrome as maladjustment—diagnosis and treatment from a psychological perspective. Case Studies in Sport and Exercise Psychology, 3(1), 50–60. https://doi.org/10.1123/cssep.2019-0006

5.Bosquet, L., Berryman, N., Dupuy, O., Mekary, S., Arvisais, D., Bherer, L., & Mujika, I. (2013). Effect of training cessation on muscular performance: A meta-analysis. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 23(3). https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12047

6.Weakley, J., Halson, S. L., & Mujika, I. (2022). Overtraining syndrome symptoms and diagnosis in athletes: Where is the research? A systematic review. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 17(5), 675–681. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2021-0448

 

Paul Attard
Paul Attard

Paul is the founder and head coach of SPC Performance Lab. Paul has been coaching since 2014 and has worked with all different types of people. From first timers learning the basics, all the way up to the experienced power-lifting competitors.

He tailors his approach depending on the needs, goals and experience of the individual. Paul has extensive theoretical and practical coaching experience.

- Masters of Sports & Exercise Science (Strength & Conditioning)
- Bachelor’s degree in Exercise & Sports Science with First Class Honours
- Competed and won multiple natural body-building shows & power-lifting competitions.
- Held an Australian power-lifting record.

Free advice

SPC Performance Lab is a gym in Taren Point in the Sutherland Shire, Sydney NSW. It is a private gym that offers strength training, powerlifting and body building training. The gym is open 24 hours, 7 days a week with membership options that include casual or regular visits.

Paul also provides a choice of personal training one on one or the option of online coaching.

Share the Post:

More free advice

How to low bar squat for strength training and powerlifting

This article is a complete and detailed guide on how to low-bar squat efficiently. By following the technique points outlined in this article, you can maximise the weight you can squat and minimise injury risk.

VIEW ARTICLE
How to improve your squat depth to achieve a full squat range of motion squat

This article will cover the main variables that affect an individual’s ability to achieve a full-depth squat. The main factors to consider are flexibility and mobility, squat technique and individual anthropometrics. Each of these will be explained in detail along with practical applications for improving your squat depth.

VIEW ARTICLE