- A Deload Week help your body reduce fatigue so you can come back stronger and reduce nagging injuries
- Active Recovery weeks are great during a bulking cycle to really reduce stress
- #TeamNoDaysOff is stupid
At one point in your drinking career you’ve hit that point where one more drink will make you the toilet’s bitch for the night. You want to keep the party going but your body is quitting on you.
So what do you do?
Chug some water – Seems like a good plan. Hydrate a little in hopes you can flush some of the alcohol out.
Wait it out – Alright let your body do its thing so hopefully you can pound one more beer.
Throw caution to the win and take that next shot – Ah, the bro approach. You show those people you’ll never see again how bad-ass you are.
Having gone through this phase we all know that the first 2 choices are your best bet. Option 3 might result in a “cool” story your friends tell years later of you smashing your head off a toilet.
So how does getting nearing the point of praying to the porcelain god have to do with working out?
In weightlifting circles, the first 2 options are called deloading. Option 3 is #TeamNoDaysOFF trying to push through.
The best option is to curb the ego and give your body a break.
If you’ve been training hard in the gym you’ll eventually hit a point where your body can’t recover quickly enough. The constant heavy lifting has taxed your nervous system, your muscles, and your brain.
Your body aches, the weights seem to be heavier, progress is nonexistent and your motivation is almost gone. The only thing keeping you going is that you hope of pushing through is where all the gainz lie.
It’s not btw.
This is the perfect time for what scientists and bros like to call…the deload week. A whole week of reducing the work you do in the gym to help your body bounce back bigger, stronger and better.
And THAT’S where the gainz lie.
How Important Is A Deload?
Deloads are the Ron Burgundy of the workout world.
Weightlifting, running, and basically anything that pushes your body adds stress. While this is a good stress, sometimes too much of a good thing is a bad thing.
The deload week allows your body to catch up to the stress you put on it. Once the body recovers it overcompensates and makes you stronger.
As stress adds up, the deload week is designed to let your body overcompensate and you get bigger, stronger and faster.
If you were to be #TeamNoDaysOff the best case scenario is you plateau for weeks and months which causes you to pull back and figure out WTF is going on, but the most likely scenario is that you’ll get hurt.
Heavy weights and lots of reps and sets over the weeks and months beat you up.
Your body is trying to adapt, but like running downhill at a certain point it just can’t keep up and you faceplant.
The muscle damage you create in the gym can’t be fully repaired, ligaments and joints are sore and your mentals are getting tired.
The smarter option would be to take an easy week, let your body recover slightly, enough to take the edge off and then jump back into training the following week.
It’s a preventative measure for your body and your training just like changing your oil is for your car. It’s a pain in the ass sometimes but it’s necessary in the long term.
If you think about it from an evolutionary standpoint, if our bodies didn’t overcompensate and get stronger from the common cold, a paper cut, or lifting weights I doubt the human race would be alive today.
When you get sick, your body overcompensates and develops the antibodies for that particular strain. When you have surgery, your body develops connective tissue the opposite way of the muscle tissue (scar tissue) to strengthen the wound.
With Deload weeks, we are just tapping into that.
Deload Week Percentages
On your deload week, you are still going to be hitting the gym and you’ll still be doing your workout.
The only change is we are going to be reducing volume and weight. The same two variables we push in your workouts to build muscle are the things we need to take our foot off the gas for this week.
By reducing weight and volume you’ll reduce stress.
The best way to do this is to do 2 sets of 90% of the heaviest weight used for half the reps of your strongest set the week before.
Here’s what I mean.
You went balls out and benched 225 for 10 reps last week.
On your deload week, you would take 90% of 225 (202.5) and do 2 sets of 5 reps with it.
You should be far from failure, which is exactly the point. The goal is rest so your body. No PRs this week.
How Long Should My Deload Be?
Normally deloads are a week.
A full seven calendar days where you are lifting 90% of your heaviest weight for half the reps.
This is 99% of the time.
But there are certain instances where a week just doesn’t cut it. You’re a little too beat up, stress is a little high and you’re lifting like garbage.
If you are bulking for an extended period of time, you’ll want to pay attention to this next part. Fat loss, not so much.
When you are just feeling too run down I would use a Deload week with an Active Recovery week after it.
An Active Recovery week is when you skip lifting for some rest and/or some light cardio. And by light cardio I mean walks or light jogging.
HIIT is without a question going to be a bad move and make the Active Recovery week about as useful as tits on a nun. You’ll just add more fatigue.
Active Recovery weeks are a quick way to reduce a lot of stress quickly since you aren’t lifting to get you back on track faster.
The cardio aids in recovery by increasing lung capacity and heart strength. More lung capacity = more oxygen=more recovery. Likewise, a stronger heart can pump more blood around the body.
How Often Should I Have Deload Weeks?
Ahh the age old question, the fine dance between being smart and wasting time.
And the answer is going to be very disappointing…It depends.
It depends on your goal.
It depends on how hard you’re training.
It depends on how you deal with stress.
It depends on how long you have been training.
It depends what other shit you have going on in your life.
Lotsa factors to think about.
BUT, for a majority of people reading this, every 5th-6th week is a good starting point for a deload week. This will allow you to have a good solid month of lifting before dialing it back a little.
For long term lifting, this is a good place to be. You can ensure you are doing enough and not just wasting time and you can reduce the time away from the gym because of injury.
Active Recovery weeks on the other hand should be used very sparingly and only if you are bulking consistently without time off for vacations/extended traveling.
Vacations are a great substitute for Active Recovery weeks because odds are you aren’t lifting and you’re walking around more than normal…which is exactly the point of an Active Recovery week. So any time taken off as an Active Recovery week, unless absolutely needed, is just wasted time.
The reason I specify just bulking is because the WHOLE purpose of bulking is to stress your body out into making more muscle. Plus, with a bulk we are dealing with longer time frames.
Fat loss on the other hand is not as demanding in the gym with volume being lower and you are less likely to be dieting for a year plus. Usually, it’s a few months and onto something else.
Assuming you are bulking consistently without a vacation or extended travel here’s some things to pay attention to that would signal an Active Recovery week is needed. Keep in mind, these need to be consistent issues and not just a one off:
- Constant joint aches
- Little nagging injuries
- Getting sick more than usual
- Resting heart rate is elevated
- Strength plateaus in your big lifts
- Having a hard time getting to or staying asleep
Later on I’ll give an example of when I knew I needed an Active Recovery week.
What To Do After A Deload Week
The big question with deload weeks is WILL I LOSE MY GAINZ?
The elephant in the room. Does taking a lighter week ruin all your hard earned strength and muscle?
No, and it’s obvious you didn’t pay attention to my fancy graph earlier.
It takes a few weeks of NOT training to lose strength. A one week deload just enhances your strength.
Sure you might feel smaller after a week off, but that is just your nervous system being less “turned on” and the inflammation of your muscles reducing.
Your gainz you left with are still there.
After a deload week, just go back to your workout as normal. Don’t reduce volume (you’ll actually want to increase volume) and don’t reduce weight.
After a Deload week and an Active Recovery week, THAT’S when you want to reduce volume when you come back. The weeks off will help you resensitize to volume slightly so use that opportunity to reduce volume slightly and gradually ramp up over the months.
Deload Weeks in Practice
It’s always helpful to have examples so here is how you can schedule in deload weeks and Active Recovery Weeks. I’m going to take this right from my Progressive Overload Template article. Check it out if you want to see how to setup a year of gainz.
- Week 1: 3-4 RIR
- Week 2: 2-3 RIR
- Week 3: 1-2 RIR
- Week 4: 0-1 RIR
- Week 5: Deload 3-4 RIR
So every 5 weeks you have a deload.
Then zooming out a little…
Month 1: 3->4 Straight sets (i.e. Start with 3 sets of 6-8 then progress to 4 sets of 6-8)
Month 2: 2 Straight sets with 1 Down set (or another advanced muscle building tactic) – or- move up in the rep range using the same weight as Month 1 (i.e. Month 1 was 3×6-8 so Month 2 would be 3×8-10)
Month 3: 1 Straight set with 2 Down sets (or the same advanced tactic from last month) – or- 2 Straight sets with 1 Down set if rep range was increased in Month 2
Month 4: 1 Straight set with 2 Down sets plus high rep work (15-20+ reps) for 1-2 muscle group/day
Month 5: Strength Phase of 3 sets of 6-12 reps; no increase in volume just weight
After your Month 5 deload week, add in an Active Recovery week.
With this template, you are increasing volume and weight over the course of five months and peppering in Deload weeks. Once you have about 5-6 months of consistent grinding, you might need an Active Recovery week before you restart the process with Month 1.
My Bulking Experience and Deloads
I’ve been consistently bulking since Oct 2020. I haven’t taken any vacations longer than a long weekend and when I did, I made sure to get my workouts in before I left.
Anyway, In May of 2021, my sleep was starting to slip. It would be almost an impossible task to fall asleep and I felt like I’d been hit by a bus just about every day.
Prior to that point I had been taking a deload week every 5 weeks and ramping RIR in the four weeks of training from 3-4RIR to 0-1RIR on every fourth week.
At the end of May was my first Active Recovery week. Instead of working out, I took 30 min walks around my neighborhood.
Sleep improved almost overnight (pun intended) and I felt fresh and ready to get after it again.
That lasted through the summer until late August when sleep started to suffer again. I went from sleeping 7-8 hours a night to 4-5 in the month of September with the same falling asleep issue I had in May.
I took an Active Recovery week in October and everything got better again.
For context why the difference in time, over the summer we tried an experiment of doing 2RIR and moving deload weeks to once every 6-8 weeks.
Now, one could argue that my baseline of stress was higher than when I started my bulk so the time it takes to get to my tipping point would be less. But from a mental standpoint I very much enjoy ramping intensity and deloads every 5 weeks rather than going to 2RIR every week and deloading every 6-8 weeks.
This is why tracking your workouts and how you feel is so important. You can pinpoint the symptoms of when you need to take a step back and schedule deloads/Active Recovery weeks right before that point so you can have consistent good training without feeling like a bag-o-dicks.