Deloads are often used by serious trainees and strength/physique athletes to take a step back from hard training, recover and resume getting after it. Although deloads are a relatively widely used concept, no studies actually exist on the concept in the context of physique or strength sports (or at all to be honest). This is the first study to explore the concept and provide an “evidence based” approach to deloads.
What did they test? The investigators explored the perceptions and practices of highly experienced coaches and athletes around the concept of “deloads”.
What did they find? Deloads are periods usually lasting 5-7 days aimed at reducing fatigue with reductions in training volume and intensity of effort being the main modifications being made to one’s training. Deloads should be individualized and do not necessarily need to pre-planned, but can rather be reactive to an individual’s fatigue and performance in the gym.
What does it mean for you? If you’re feeling very fatigued and performance in the gym has been regressing for over a week, take a deload week where you drop volume by 20-50% and leave a few more reps in the tank in each set you perform.
What’s the Problem?
I’m sure in your lifting “career” at some point you’ve experienced the following phenomenon:
You’re training hard. Each session is slightly harder than the other and you’re continuously hitting mini PRs. An extra rep here, a few extra pounds here, an extra set there. Your food is on point, your sleep is on point and you can’t wait for your next session so you can crush it.
Fast forward a month or two later and you’re feeling somewhat tired and unmotivated to train, you can’t really connect with the weights, sleep is “meh” and your performance in the gym is taking a hit, to the point where you’re leaving sessions half finished and crawl home thinking “it was all too good to be true”.
We’ve all been there, and in my first years of training, these weeks were the worst. They’d almost always end up in some form of relaxed training week or even a few days completely off training, not because I planned it but simply because I wasn’t feeling like working out. A week after not training much, training would start feeling good again and I’d soon be back in good spirits hitting PRs and feeling like everything was going to be fine. As I matured as a lifter and also started my academic journey in the world of sport science, I realized that those random unplanned easy weeks actually served as “deload” weeks, where I allowed my body to alleviate fatigue after weeks of hard training.
But what are “deloads” you ask? Well, at the moment only one study has formally investigated the concept of deloads, including its definition, and it’s the study we’re looking at today. Despite no literature currently available on deloads, the concept is widely known in the world of fitness and strength & physique sports (eg: powerlifting & bodybuilding). There are a multitude of guides and YouTube videos on how exactly to deload, some with over half a million views 1. In most of those resources deloads are referred to as an “easy training week” where the goal is to reduce fatigue and allow for hard training to resume for a period of time.
A “sister” concept of deloads you may have heard of is the concept of tapering. Unlike deloads, there are quite a few studies on tapering, even in elite sporting populations (eg: strongmen and weightlifters) 2 3. Tapering is defined as “a nonlinear reduction in the training load over a period, which reduces the stress, or fatigue, of training while improving fitness to achieve optimal performance at a specific time” 2, and is mostly used pre competition.