Been doing intense bodybuilding sessions without a break for weeks now? It may be time to consider a deload.
So how do you deload for bodybuilding? You can deload your bodybuilding by reducing both your volume and intensity by approximately 50% of what you normally train at. This will give you both a physical and mental break from heavy lifting, which will allow you to return to normal training at heightened levels of performance.
In this article, we’ll talk about what a deload is, the reasons why you should deload, when to know you may need one, and how to deload properly so you don’t detrain.
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What is Deload?
A deload is a period of time, typically a week, in which you significantly reduce the amount of weight and volume that you train at. It provides your body a break from your workouts so that you can recover faster and better, while simultaneously allowing your mind some rest time as well. Most people are afraid of a deload week, thinking that deloading will set your progress back and hinder your growth but when it’s timed correctly and done well, it can actually do wonders in propelling your forward, getting you ready for your next training block or program.
Reasons Behind Deloading
But why would anyone need to deload, you may ask? Why not take your usual 1-2 days a week for rest and recovery?
When you train for bodybuilding, you are essentially pushing your body day in and day out in the gym or wherever you work out. You’re placing tremendous stress on yourself and eventually, those 1-2 recovery days aren’t going to cut it.
That’s where a deload comes in. If you want to hit your next block of training harder and better than ever, having that deload gives you adequate time to recover physically and mentally enough to do just that.
The Right Time to Deload for Bodybuilding
A deload typically comes at the end of a program or training cycle. It’s when you’ve completed a block and want to prepare for the next phase of your workouts. It’s also a good idea to deload when you feel like you’ve been overtraining and you’re feeling much more fatigued than usual for a longer period of time.
Strength and Deloading
There is a misconception that deloading will cause you to lose your hard-earned gains and strength. However, this is not the case. It takes much longer than a week to lose your strength gains, and that’s completely without lifting as well.
Deloading is still providing stimuli for your muscles, just as a lesser intensity. But this means that it’ll give your joints and tendons a chance to recover and your muscles time to repair so that you’ll be able to hit your workouts feeling good as new. In the long run, deloading will actually help you become stronger. You can still get in a workout, but just at a reduced load.
Not to mention, by lifting lighter loads at a much lighter volume, you’ll be able to refocus much of your concentration on your form and technique. This is a great time to revisit your cues and correct any issues that need to be corrected.
Who Would Benefit From a Deload?
Bodybuilders, powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters and anyone who regularly trains with heavy weights can benefit greatly from deloading. Those who feel as though they have been overtraining should also deload.
WHAT IS OVERTRAINING?
Overtraining is when you do more training than what your body can handle. It’s what happens when you push yourself too much without allowing for adequate rest and recovery. If you’re overtraining, then it’s time to reel back the number of workouts you do as well as the intensity.
SIGNS THAT YOU’RE OVERTRAINING
There are many physical and mental signs that you’re overtraining that we’ll talk about here:
1. Struggling to lift the same loads as usual
When you lift weights regularly, you realize your capabilities—the weight you can lift and the RPE that you can lift them at. So when you start to struggle to lift loads that you know you should be able to do easily, then that’s a sign that you’re overtraining and your body is telling you that it can’t manage much more. It doesn’t mean that you’ve suddenly lost all your muscle and strength, so don’t worry about that. A deload week can give your body the rest it needs so that when you hit the weights again, you’ll find that you’ll be back to normal.
2. Constantly sore
Soreness is a common thing in the fitness industry, however, you shouldn’t be constantly sore all the time. If your joints are aching, your muscles are burning and no amount of foam rolling, active recovery days or massages are helping, then you’re overtraining. You’re not giving your body the time it needs to actually recover completely before placing more stress on it. When you have nagging injuries or soreness, the smartest thing you can do is to back off from the weights you’re lifting and reduce the load or take a break. Not to mention, trying to push through it now can actually cause future, more serious problems which can see you out of action for much longer.
3. Struggling to sleep
Exercise (unless it’s late at night), should be helping you sleep better. However, if you’re working out too much, then you may find that you’re struggling to not only fall asleep but also to stay asleep at night time. This is because your body will be producing more stress hormones, like cortisol, than usual that can keep you up at night. Not to mention, a bad sleep will mean that your performance in training will be weaker than usual the next day and so begins a vicious cycle. If you’re tossing and turning and finding that you’re restless throughout the night, then skip the workouts or significantly reduce the load for a week or so to give your body time to catch up on the rest it needs.
Your mood can take a hit if you’re overtraining as well. Not only will struggling in your gym performance cause unhappiness if it’s beginning to happen on a regular basis but the extra stress hormones will also affect your mood. If your emotions are starting to become irrational and disproportionate to the situation at hand, then it’s a sign of overtraining. You may be feeling agitated, easily irritated over irrational things, more snappish towards people and unable to focus and concentrate.
5. Lack of motivation to train
Another sign of overtraining is losing the motivation and willpower to workout. If you’re normally a disciplined person with your training but are starting to skip multiple sessions or find yourself in a funk that you can’t get out of, then you need to take a break. It’s normal to have days off where we don’t want to get out of bed or really can’t be bothered for a workout, but it’s if it’s happening over an extended period of time and you can’t seem to snap out of it, then you’re training too much, too often. Overtraining affects us mentally as well as physically.
Who Wouldn’t Benefit from a Deload Week?
While a deload week is beneficial to so many people, not everyone actually needs a deload week. A casual gym goer may not need to deload as often as other people who regularly train. This is because they may not have accumulated much fatigue or stress on the body as others have.
When is the Right Time to Deload?
If you have a coach or a trainer writing your programs, then he or she would typically schedule deload time at the end of a training block and before you begin your next cycle. This would be the week where your weights and volume is drastically lighter than what you’re used to.
FitBod provides training programs for you, based on your goals. Take a look at it here.
Don’t have a coach? Here are some good deload guidelines to follow:
Lifting for less than a year: deload after 8 to 10 weeks of intense weightlifting
Lifting for 1 to 3 years: deload after 6 to 8 weeks of intense weightlifting
Lifting for 3 to 6 years or more: deload after 4 to 6 weeks of intense weightlifting
Those eating at a caloric deficit are placing more stress on your body than those eating at maintenance or a caloric surplus. That means, if you’re in a deficit, then the number of weeks before you should deload should reduce by 1 to 2 weeks. It’s also recommended not to train for more than 12 weeks of intense lifting without taking a deload week, so if you’ve found that you’ve hit your 12th week of training without a break, start deloading.
Older athletes will need to deload at a more regular rate than their younger counterparts as well.
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How to Deload for Bodybuilding
There are different ways to approach a deload week for bodybuilding. Here are some examples of how you can make sure that your deload week is an effective one:
REDUCE THE LOAD/INTENSITY
The main way you can deload is to reduce the amount of weight you lift. A rule of thumb is to scale down the weight from your 1 rep max (1RM, aka, the heaviest weight you can lift for a single repetition), by approximately 40-50%.
REDUCE THE VOLUME
Another deload method you can undertake is by keeping the same weight you were lifting previously but reducing the volume instead. This means cutting down on the number of sets and reps by approximately 30 to 50% of your usual training load or eliminating 2-3 sets of what you typically do. So if you typically do 5 sets, then a deload week may consist of only doing 2 sets.
CHANGE YOUR TRAINING TYPE
This method of deloading applies to those who aren’t competing. If you’re a casual gym goer or recreational lifter, then changing the type of training you do can be a breath of fresh air. This means, instead of your weight training, you may want to take up swimming instead. Switch your circuits to heading outdoors on a scenic hike or doing dance classes. This can be physically and mentally refreshing, giving you a much needed break from the monotony and giving you something new to do and enjoy.
If you want to do cardio instead of your usual lifting, then you may do so. However, keep it light. Remember, the point of deloading is to take stress off your body and intense and strenuous cardio sessions may do the complete opposite.
How to Eat While Deloading
Now that we’ve covered how to actually deload, it’s time to cover the other important section of our health and fitness, which is nutrition. Whether you’re a bodybuilder, athlete or recreational lifter, the nutrition side of things makes a significant difference to our results, appearance and most importantly, how we feel.
So, how should you eat during a deload week?
If you’re in a caloric deficit, then maintaining that deficit is still an option. However, if you also need to take a break from this (as caloric deficits can also be incredibly taxing on the mind and body) then eating at your maintenance calories is a good idea. Don’t be afraid of putting on fat while doing. While the scale may increase the first few days of increasing your calories to maintenance, it’s not true fat that you’ve put on. It’s more likely water weight due to the extra carbs and sodium that you may have ingested with the additional calories. The fluctuations will even out shortly.
Those who are eating at maintenance can continue to do so while the people in a caloric surplus have the option of also continuing to eat at a surplus or cutting down to maintenance if they also need a break.
Deloading is an important part of any training program. Even though it may not feel like it sometimes, lifting weights is incredibly taxing on the body. It’s important to recognise that and give yourself a break both physically and mentally. Deloading for bodybuilding doesn’t mean a stop to your gains, it means that you’ll be able to come back to the weights stronger and more ready than before.
About The Author
As a health and fitness writer, Emily combines her two passions—powerlifting and writing. With a creative writing degree under her belt, she spends her mornings lifting weights, her nights putting pen to paper, and eating too many snacks in between.