Key Points of Deload Week Study on Muscle Hypertrophy
- Subjects performing a deload week at the end of week 4 did not gain more muscle mass than the group trained continuously for 9 weeks.
- Both groups improved across all variables, but there was some evidence that continuous training favored greater strength gains.
- A deload week should be based individually; a mandatory deload for all athletes will likely not result in greater muscle mass.
Overtraining, Plateau’s, and High-Volume Bodybuilding Programs
It is well-documented that regular heavy weight resistance exercise can lead to long-term gains in muscle mass; however, a continuous training routine with no break can lead to a plateau in training and long-term central nervous system fatigue, lack of motivation, and reduced performance. (Vieira et al., 2022) Everyone knows that proper rest is essential in a conditioning program during hard training.
High volume training often used by bodybuilders can elicit a stressor response that can result in excess muscle damage and increased muscle aches. A deload week is a planned reduction in a workout program that provides a break from high training stress, provides tendons relief, reduces fatigue, and allows the nervous system to rest. A deload week allows for proper recovery by reducing the number of reps and amount of weight to facilitate recovery.
Contrary to fears of muscle and strength loss, research shows that strategic deload week does not lead to such losses. (Verma et al., 2021) Deloads offer numerous benefits, including recovery time, reduced fatigue, and the potential to increase muscle growth. (Bell et al., 2022) This article explores the science of weight training deload, optimal timing for deload weeks, and the newest research on if a deload week is necessary.
Benefits of Deload for BodyBuilders: Rest and Recovery:
Athletes engaged in resistance exercise-only sports are prone to system training maladaptations and fatigue, a primary indicator of overtraining. (Grandou et al., 2021) A deload week allows for systemic rest and relief from fatigue, supporting joint and connective tissue recovery while potentially stimulating muscle growth. Studies have found that a deload can:
· Increase testosterone and reduce cortisol.(Hortobágyi et al., 1993)
· Resensitize anabolic signaling pathways.(Jacko et al., 2022)
· Upregulate genes for muscle hypertrophy.(Seaborne et al., 2018)
· Results in increased muscle size.(Hartmann et al., 2015)
Optimal Timing and Frequency of Deloading:
High-volume training cannot be sustained indefinitely, and deloading provides the necessary recovery for long-term progress. Monitoring fatigue levels and understanding the demands of the training program help determine the ideal timing for a deload week. It is generally recommended to incorporate a deload at completing a training cycle or when significant fatigue is experienced.
A reduction in training volume (achieved through a reduction in repetitions per set and the number of sets per training session) and intensity of effort (increased proximity to failure and/or reduction in relative load) are the most adapted training variables, along with alterations in exercise selection and configuration. Deloading was typically prescribed for a duration of 5 to 7 days and programmed every 4 to 6 weeks, although periodicity was highly variable.
Alternative Approaches to a Deload Week for Lifters:
Alternative approaches can be adopted for individuals who prefer to remain active during deload weeks. Active recovery involving low-intensity exercises can be beneficial in reducing training volume while still providing the body with rest. Studies have shown that even significant reductions in training volume, such as dropping from 20+ sets to 8 sets per week, can help maintain muscle size. (Hartmann et al., 2015) Adjusting training volume and intensity based on individual needs and preferences is crucial.
New Study Suggests a Deload Week is Not Necessary
A new study suggests that a deload week may not result in additional gains in muscle mass. A recent study by Coleman et al. has debunked the notion that taking a deload week will increase muscle mass and may even result in lower strength gains. The study investigated the effects of a one-week deload week on lower-body muscular adaptations in resistance-trained individuals.
39 young men and women were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 groups: An experimental group that detrained (i.e., no weightlifting) for 1 week after week 4 (DELOAD) or a traditional training group that performed the same training program continuously over the study period (TRADITIONAL TRAINING).
The subjects performed a high-volume workout that consisted of 90 weekly sets for all muscle groups. Each set was taken to complete muscular failure. The research staff directly supervised the lower body routines, while upper body training was carried out in an unsupervised fashion. MyFitness Pal assessed nutrition to ensure all subjects were consuming a similar diet. However, no substantial evidence indicates a difference in nutritional intake between groups.
At the end of 9 weeks, a 1-week deload, in the form of a complete break from training, has a minimal impact on measures of muscle hypertrophy, endurance, or power in the context of a 9-week training block. The detraining group did not have greater increases in muscle mass than the group that trained continuously for 9 weeks.
This study is similar to other studies finding no additional gains in muscle mass with a deload. (Ogasawara et al., 2013; Ogasawara et al., 2011) Another interesting finding was that the researchers thought the subjects would feel better after a deload, but instead, they felt worse. This may have been due to the increased muscle soreness the subjects felt upon resuming training. The author suggested that it may be better to reduce training volume rather than take a week off. (Max Coleman, 2023)
The results showed that the detraining group had a smaller increase in 1RM and isometric strength than the traditional training group. This suggests that if strength is your main goal, a deload may be counterproductive. However, some evidence was obtained to indicate greater sleep quality in the deload group at mid-intervention and greater muscle soreness in the deload group post-intervention.
The study’s author concluded, “The implementation of a 1-week detraining period at the midpoint of a 9-week training block produced similar increases in lower body muscle size, endurance, and power when compared to a continuous training block compared to a continuous training block. These results suggest that both continuous and periodic training blocks are viable options when attempting to maximize hypertrophy, at least within a 9-week period.”
Deloads can be a useful way to prevent fatigue, but the current study suggests that it is not mandatory to take a deload. Deloads should be taken individually; additionally, a deload results in the same gains in muscle mass as training continuously for 9 weeks.
Bell, L., Nolan, D., Immonen, V., Helms, E., Dallamore, J., Wolf, M., & Androulakis Korakakis, P. (2022). “You can’t shoot another bullet until you’ve reloaded the gun”: Coaches’ perceptions, practices and experiences of deloading in strength and physique sports [Original Research]. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 4. https://doi.org/10.3389/fspor.2022.1073223
Grandou, C., Wallace, L., Coutts, A. J., Bell, L., & Impellizzeri, F. M. (2021). Symptoms of Overtraining in Resistance Exercise: International Cross-Sectional Survey. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 16(1), 80-89. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2019-0825
Hartmann, H., Wirth, K., Keiner, M., Mickel, C., Sander, A., & Szilvas, E. (2015). Short-term Periodization Models: Effects on Strength and Speed-strength Performance. Sports Med, 45(10), 1373-1386. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-015-0355-2
Hortobágyi, T., Houmard, J. A., Stevenson, J. R., Fraser, D. D., Johns, R. A., & Israel, R. G. (1993). The effects of detraining on power athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 25(8), 929-935.
Jacko, D., Schaaf, K., Masur, L., Windoffer, H., Aussieker, T., Schiffer, T., Zacher, J., Bloch, W., & Gehlert, S. (2022). Repeated and Interrupted Resistance Exercise Induces the Desensitization and Re-Sensitization of mTOR-Related Signaling in Human Skeletal Muscle Fibers. Int J Mol Sci, 23(10). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms23105431
Max Coleman, R. B., Francesca Augustin, Alec Pinero, Jaime Maldonado, James Fisher, Mike Israetel, Patroklos Androulakis-Korakakis, Paul Swinton, Douglas Oberlin, Brad Schoenfeld. (2023). Gaining more from doing less?
The effects of a one-week deload period during supervised resistance training on muscular adaptations. SportRXiv, Preprint. https://doi.org/https://sportrxiv.org/index.php/server/preprint/view/302/version/391
Ogasawara, R., Yasuda, T., Ishii, N., & Abe, T. (2013). Comparison of muscle hypertrophy following 6-month of continuous and periodic strength training. Eur J Appl Physiol, 113(4), 975-985. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-012-2511-9
Ogasawara, R., Yasuda, T., Sakamaki, M., Ozaki, H., & Abe, T. (2011). Effects of periodic and continued resistance training on muscle CSA and strength in previously untrained men. Clin Physiol Funct Imaging, 31(5), 399-404. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-097X.2011.01031.x
Seaborne, R. A., Strauss, J., Cocks, M., Shepherd, S., O’Brien, T. D., van Someren, K. A., Bell, P. G., Murgatroyd, C., Morton, J. P., Stewart, C. E., & Sharples, A. P. (2018). Human Skeletal Muscle Possesses an Epigenetic Memory of Hypertrophy. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 1898. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-20287-3
Verma, P., Kaur, T., & Kaur, R. (2021). Cost Assessment of Deloaded Photovoltaic Systems. IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering, 1033(1), 012001. https://doi.org/10.1088/1757-899X/1033/1/012001
Vieira, J. G., Sardeli, A. V., Dias, M. R., Filho, J. E., Campos, Y., Sant’Ana, L., Leitão, L., Reis, V., Wilk, M., Novaes, J., & Vianna, J. (2022). Effects of Resistance Training to Muscle Failure on Acute Fatigue: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med, 52(5), 1103-1125. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01602-x
Taking a Week Off?
A deload week is a planned period of reduced training volume and intensity that allows athletes to recover while still maintaining their fitness levels. It typically involves reducing the weight lifted or the distance covered during workouts, as well as decreasing the frequency of training sessions.
Is 4 days off enough for Deload?
The duration of a deload week can vary depending on individual needs and training goals. While some athletes may benefit from taking four days off, others may require a longer or shorter period of rest. It is important to listen to your body and adjust your deload period accordingly.