Do You Really Need to Deload?

Deload week is one of those concepts that’s engrained into our heads as a way to force feed a recovery period into our training.

You’ll see it in a lot of prominent strength and muscle building routines, and while deloading does work, I will also tell you that the traditional deload is a complete waste of time.

Let me elaborate.

Traditional deloading typically looks like this:

  1. A planned week of rest (or light activity) following 3 weeks of intense training.
  2. Intensities ranging from 40-60% of your 1 rep max (RM) for the entire deload week.
  3. Lots of bodyweight training.
  4. Mobility and tissue work.

diagram-21Check out the training cycle above.

The traditional deload falls into the “recovery” phase. It is followed by the “supercompensation” phase, which I call the “rebound” phase where your body rebounds to come back from fatigue with a heightened level of performance.

The problem with the traditional deload doesn’t lie in its premise or concept as it relates to recovery. The guidelines for a deload are effective and have a time and place; but the problem lies in that it fails to take into account the specific needs and performance variances of the individual.

So Do You Really Need to Deload Every Four Weeks?

Of course not.

I’ve personally had intense training cycles last for upwards of 6-8 weeks before I saw any dip in performance. If I would have taken a prescribed deload week, I would have lost a week of heightened performance and gains.

Let me put it to you another way. One week of deload for every four weeks of training equates to 13 weeks off from training per year. That’s not a recipe for success.

Maybe there comes a point when you need to take a week off. That is up to you. For me, and most people I know/train, those times are few and far between. In fact, I usually feel worse after a week off and have to play catch up from taking the extra rest time.

With that being said, there are better ways to deload.

A Better Way to Deload

A much better way to approach your deload is through a concept called cybernetic periodization, a term coined by sports scientist Mel Siff.

Cybernetic periodization is essentially programming your deload days according to how the weights feel that certain day. Doing it this way allows you to account for the daily variances in your training as opposed to putting blanket guidelines on yourself.

For example, I had a girl come into the Primal Strength Gym about a month ago. We were talking and she was expressing disappointment that it was deload day.

As she was warming up, she realized that the weights felt light and her body was primed to perform. A prescribed arbitrary deload was not optimal for her progress that day. Instead of a deload, she kept pushing the weights higher and higher.

The result? She set a 10lb deadlift personal record.

Never sacrifice training performance and momentum for prescribed deload days. Ride the highs for as long as you can take them.

(Note: There is a difference between riding the highs and not being honest with the feedback your body is giving you (the key to using cybernetic periodization). Ignoring negative feedback from your body is a pathway to crashing and injury.)

arnold-bench-press
So with the concept of cybernetic periodization in mind, here are two ways to deload:

#1: Autoregulatory Deload

In non-scientific terms, I call this the “play it by ear” deload. This deload is simple in concept, but it may take an advanced lifter to recognize when to apply it.

Essentially, you have no prescribed deload days. As with any program, your training volume and intensity will cycle but there are absolutely no planned deload days (not to be confused with days off in the training program).

Instead, you deload based solely on how your body feels on that given day. This takes honest self assessment and heightened body awareness but in my opinion, this is the best deload strategy you can use.

How do you put this into practice?

  • Weights feel light and your body says it’s time for Hulk Smash?
    • Push yourself to the extreme and aim for some PRs.
  • Weights feel moderate and you have good energy?
    • Push yourself above par but no need to max out.
  • Weights feel sort of heavy and energy levels are so-so?
    • Follow the program and meet your expectations, but don’t push yourself too hard. Technique above intensity.
  • Weights feel like immovable lead and you feel like shit?
    • Deload to 40-60% of your 1RM and back off the volume.
    • Walk away after a thorough warm-up and self assessment. Give it a honest shot (some of my best days have actually come after starting sluggishly), but take the day off from the bar if need be and get some solid stretching and foam rolling in.

#2: Max Effort Deload

This one is similar to the “play it by ear” deload but it has a prescribed rest period while still utilizing cybernetic periodization.

Basically, you will plan to have two consecutive deload days within a 4-8 week training window (around week 6 is most common). They are not scheduled but you will base the deload days on how you feel in a given day.

As soon as you hit a “feel like shit” day that I mentioned earlier, your two day deload starts. In this two day window you will:

  1. Drop the intensity of your max effort barbell lifts to 40-60% of your 1RM
  2. Or drop the max effort barbell lifts entirely and focus solely on accessory work.

After those two days, you can ramp your training back up and start progressing as normal.

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Wrapping Up

  • A deload is effective and will work, but in a traditional sense, it is not optimal or necessary for training progress
  • Deload needs to be based on individual needs and feelings, not prescribed programming
  • Cybernetic periodization should be the main factor in deload programming
  • There are two optimal ways to deload
    • Autoregulatory Deload
    • Max Effort Deload
  • Deload programming requires honest self assessment and being in tune with your body
  • DO NOT sacrifice performance and training momentum because a program says you have to deload

All the best Primal Nation,

— Tank

2 thoughts on “Do You Really Need to Deload?”

  1. Jim Wendler’s 5x3x1 prescribes exactly a deload week after 3 weeks of training.

    I’m following this method, and recently did a week of deload, but felt it was not necessary.

    1. Yea, I’m with ya Luis. Jim Wendler is the man, and obviously knows what he is talking about, but I typically scratch the deload weeks with 531 as well.

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