The Art of the Deload – How Taking Time Off Can INCREASE Your Gains

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Today’s discussion is all about the importance of taking a break from training – also known as a deload. I think we all get so caught up in the process of either building, or cutting, that wee often forget (or even further, some don’t realize) that it’s not our efforts in the gym alone that’s responsible for growth; but instead, it’s all about the time you take to recover in between training that progress is seen.


But I want to take things a little further with today’s post… It’s one thing to take a few days off from the gym, and a completely different thing to go on a full deload from training – and truly see what the power of rest and recovery can do for your gains.


Now, before we continue, let me add that deloading doesn’t have to mean taking FULL time off. It’s simply a means of taking down training volume, frequency, and intensity for a short period of time. How long you need is influenced by a variety of factors. The main thing to keep in mind is that it is indeed an essential part of any training program, and so on that note, let’s discuss the importance of deloading and how you can incorporate it in your programming.  


Why Is Deloading Important

Now, I’m going to be completely straight up with you. For people like us, deloading is really hard to do – at first. I’m #AboutThatLife, and I’m all about getting in the gym and going balls to the wall – every single time I walk in the room. It truly is exhilarating and energizing.


Most times, I find that I can go weeks on end like the Energizer bunny. But then it slowly starts to creep up… The fatigue. The lost motivation. The contemplation between going to the gym and staying home to zone out with television… The seemingly sudden loss of interest in the gym. And not to mention, achy joints, sore muscles, and a decrease in strength a bit over time really show up – and I hate it. I wonder what’s going on…


But then I remember I’m NOT quite superhuman – yet. This is where deloading steps in. The reason it’s so important is that it allows for a period of longer, and planned recovery. This period of time allows the body to fully repair muscle tissue, and gives the central nervous system a chance to reset as well – both things that can lead to more positive physical changes as you will be able to work even harder in the gym.  


How Long Should I Deload For

Now, this is a responds that truly lies on “it depends”. I have different rules depending on the situation.


When I create a program for my one on one clients, I’ll usually set up the training macro-cycle to last about 12 to 16 weeks, with the intention to deload at the end of that period. Sometimes when that final week comes, the client is still flying along, and doing really well.


So I’ll push for another few weeks without deloading them, adding it in when I want to switch up the focus of their overall workout plan. For others, their body may be showing signs that indeed the deload is needed. They may be experiencing some of the things I mentioned above.


So in that case, making sure to deload them every 12 to 16 weeks is ideal. As for the length of time of the deload, I like to plan for 2 weeks. So during that 2 week period, training volume and intensity is taken way down. If that person was doing 5 or 6 days a week in the gym, I’ll instead program 3 or 4 days of training, take cardio way down (no more than 15 to 20 mins, keeping HR between 65-70% MHR), and have them rest the other days – COMPLETE rest.


Usually by the end of the two weeks, they feel back to being energized again. And if we both feel a little longer may be needed, then adding an additional 2, for a total of 4 weeks of deloading seems to do the trick beautifully.  


Should I Change My Diet During The Deload

During the deloading period, I actually like to take clients to maintenance calories to truly reset the body. If we are on a fat loss plan, then I aim for the predicted maintenance for their current weight at the time of the deload. And don’t worry yourself to do this. You won’t gain any significant amount of weight, and remember you were just coming off of a deficit.


So certain hormones were downregulated, and your body in a catabolic state. Raising calories to maintenance will not put you at a surplus, so significant fat gain is the least of your concern. Taking calories up though is crucial to this process. Again, we are aiming for a period of prolonged recovery.


And that doesn’t just stop at your muscles, joints and connective tissue. That recovery has to happen on the metabolic level, and the hormonal level as well. A lot of that is controlled by way of food, and how much you’re getting in. So don’t skip out on this crucial aspect of the deload.  


How Often Should Deloading Take Place

Much like the section above, it goes in the “it depends” pile. I think the best way to apply the art of deloading is by way of listening to your body, and really becoming in tuned with what YOUR personal needs are. It’s very easy to just keep pounding the body down in the gym, thinking that hard work is everything – and all things.


At some point, you’re going to hit a wall. And when you do, it all comes crashing down like a house of cards if you don’t handle things intelligently. So my advice to you is to deload whenever you feel the following:


  • Your motivation is suddenly lost and you can’t focus in the gym.
  • You’re experiencing nagging injuries that keep popping up, and aren’t getting better with time.
  • You’re feeling exhausted and having a hard time recovering in between workouts.
  • You’ve been training with a lot of volume and intensity for about 12 to 18+ weeks, and looking to perhaps switch up your plan with a new focus.
  • You wish to plan an actual deload in scheduled intervals as a part of your overall programming in general.



All of these are great reasons to take a break and allow yourself some time to step back for the sake of your physical and mental health in the gym. You’ll find that when you get back at it, that fire and power to rev up and go is almost as if it never left!  


What To Do After The Deload Ends

After your planned deload has come to an end, you can feel confident embarking on your goals in whatever way you choose. Set up a new training program for yourself, spice up your workouts with some new stuff, mix up your training split, incorporate some methods of training that you don’t always do.


If you focus on continually challenging yourself in new ways in the gym, you’ll prevent yourself from mental staleness, and give yourself a reason to want to hit the gym as hard and heavy as you can – intelligently.


But to go even further, always keep in mind that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. So the weeks that you are pushing hard in the gym, MUST be met with a period of planned recovery and down time – this is where deloading comes in. So be sure to plan for it. Be sure to allow for it. And start to program your thinking that it should and must be a part of any intelligently designed training program.  


Do you take time to deload? Have you ever heard of it before this article? And if you DO deload, how often do you do it, and what tips can you share with our readers about your approach?


Post your comments below – let’s start a discussion.


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