Once you find a suitable training volume, a break should be followed at the completion of the training cycle for a week. Training with high volume is not sustainable for long periods; a break from high-volume training should occur every 4-6 weeks. High-volume workouts cannot occur for prolonged periods. Once you experience fatigue from increased volume, a subsequent reduction in volume should follow. Many lifters don’t want to take deloads or training breaks for fear of losing muscle and strength.


TAKE A DELOAD WEEK: DISCOVER HOW LOADING CAN INCREASE MUSCLE GROWTH & REDUCE FATIGUE SUMMARY

  • You won’t lose muscle or strength with a strategic deload week.
  • You will give your nervous system a break.
  • You will start your new training mesocycle psychologically rejuvenated.
  • Start increasing volume slowly after a deload. Don’t jump back to your previous training volume.

WHEN TO TAKE A DELOAD

Once you find a suitable training volume, a break should be followed at the completion of the training cycle for a week. Training with high volume is not sustainable for long periods; a break from high-volume training should occur every 4-6 weeks or whenever you feel high levels of fatigue. There is no definite proof that you need a deload every 4-6 weeks, but you should monitor your fatigue levels to make an accurate assessment.

High-volume workouts cannot occur for prolonged periods. Once you experience fatigue from increased volume, a subsequent reduction in volume should follow. Many lifters don’t want to take deloads or training breaks for fear of losing muscle and strength.

THE IMPORTANCE OF DELOADING: GIVING YOUR BODY A BREAK

Deloading involves intentionally reducing your training intensity and volume to alleviate stress, diminish fatigue, and allow the nervous system to rejuvenate. Surprisingly, many athletes train continuously throughout the year without taking any significant breaks. A survey involving 605 competitive athletes revealed that 71% experienced unanticipated drops in their performance levels, and out of these, 77% participated solely in resistance training sports.

A staggering 71% of athletes who noticed a sudden dip in their performance attributed it to acute maladaptation, which indicates immediate fatigue.[1] Upon delving deeper into the causes behind this training maladaptation, researchers identified several factors:

  • Athletes with more years of resistance training experience weren’t necessarily more prone to unexpected performance drops.
  • A significant number of athletes who experienced severe training maladaptation (lasting more than 4 months) frequently trained to muscular exhaustion.
  • Overwhelming feelings of tiredness were the predominant symptom reported by those experiencing both short-term and long-term maladaptation.
  • Following general fatigue, musculoskeletal discomforts and pains ranked as the second most common symptom of short-term maladaptation.

This survey indicates overtraining is more prevalent in the resistance training genre and that systemic fatigue is a primary indicator of overtraining. Other benefits of a deload are providing a psychological break, allowing for joint and connective tissue recovery, and potentially producing more muscle growth. Short-term deloads can result in greater increases in strength training.[2,3] Many lifters don’t believe in taking breaks. Despite many people not wanting to rest, there are no negative consequences to taking a deload after a high-volume training mesocycle.

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WHAT IS A DELOAD WEEK?

Deloads provide a super-compensation response in which you will exceed previous training gains. A 2020 study found that a deload week with as little as one set of 6-12 repetitions with an intensity of 70-85% performed 2-3 times per week was sufficient to increase strength.[4] This suggests that bodybuilders and other athletes can take a low volume week to give their bodies added rest and still retain strength gains with as little as one set per muscle group

WILL I LOSE MUSCLE DURING A DELOAD WEEK?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that if a person takes time off from the gym, they will lose muscle. Researchers had subjects that were divided into two groups. One group trained continuously over 24 weeks, whereas the other group performed periodic resistance training, in which they trained for six weeks and had a 3-week detraining period. This was repeated twice.

At the end of the study, both groups had similar increases in strength and muscle size.[5] If you do a thorough analysis of the study, the group that took off the 3 weeks had initial losses in strength and size, but this was regained rapidly when training resumed. The retraining group gained muscle twice as fast as that of the continuous group, so by the end of each 6-week retraining phase, the periodic group had caught up with the continuous group.

In another study, resistance-trained men followed a 4-day per week program in which they trained for 4 weeks, did not train for 2 weeks, and then re-trained again for another 4 weeks. When they stopped training for two weeks, there was no decrease in muscle mass or strength (lean mass was retained); when they retrained, muscle mass increased.[6] Other studies have shown that deloads for 3–5 days can reduce fatigue, increase strength, and increase muscle size.[7,8]

DELOAD WORKOUT ALTERNATIVES

What if you are the type of person who can’t take off? You want to do some exercise but keep it light weight. Researchers compared active vs. passive recovery after an intense 6-week protocol during which, in the final week, they were using 32 sets per body part. The passive recovery group stopped training, whereas the active recovery group had a deload of 85% reduction in volume (5 sets per week).

At the end of the study, there was no difference in muscle mass, anabolic signaling pathways, cortisol, etc. So, you can either drop your volume significantly or take a week off; both are completely fine, depending on your preference.[9] Another study found that when subjects went from training with an excess of 20+ sets and then cut sets back to 8 sets, they maintained muscle size.[10]

If you are dealing with external emotional stress, muscle gains can also be compromised. If you are a serious athlete and training hard, deloads are essential for making new gains in muscle and strength. Some of the biggest concerns with lifters about why they won’t take a deload are: they think they will lose muscle and strength. These concerns are not warranted during a short-term deload. If you are going to keep training during a deload, here are some general tips:

  •       Cut back on volume dramatically (50% reduction)
  •       Cut back on training to failure with 5 RIR.
  •       Slowly increase volume once you resume training. Don’t jump back to your previous training volume.

STARTING A NEW PROGRAM CYCLE AFTER A DELOAD

When you start a new training cycle after a deload and have dropped your volume, consider changing all the exercises if your primary goal is muscle growth. It’s very important to know that you will be very sore once you start a new exercise routine! Why? Remember, the repeated bout effect takes place over a period of weeks to protect your muscles from further damage.

Training a muscle from a new angle (i.e., unaccustomed exercise) is a new stressor for your body to adapt to. Also, your RIR should be in the 4–5 range your first week back from a deload and gradually decrease your RIR as your volume increases over the mesocycle. Once you resume your workout from a deload, start slowly by adding just 1-2 sets per week. Don’t make extreme jumps in volume, as this can lead to impaired recuperation.

Also, keep in mind that changing exercises will change the adaptation process and increase muscle soreness. This is best duplicated in the Scarpelli study, in which subjects were assigned to 22 sets per week or a 20% increase in volume each week. The 20% volume increase resulted in greater muscle mass at the end of the study, suggesting a gradual increase in volume is better for muscle growth rather than starting with 22 sets per week.[11]

KEY POINTS

  • You won’t lose muscle or strength with a strategic deload
  • You will give your nervous system a break
  • You will start your new training mesocycle psychologically rejuvenated
  • Start increasing volume slowly after a deload. Don’t jump back to your previous training volume.
 

REFERENCES

1.     Clementine Grandou et al., “Symptoms of Overtraining in Resistance Exercise: International Cross-Sectional Survey,” International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 16, no. 1 (July 17, 2020): 80–89.

2.     M. J. Gibala, J. D. MacDougall, and D. G. Sale, “The Effects of Tapering on Strength Performance in Trained Athletes,” International Journal of Sports Medicine 15, no. 8 (November 1994): 492–97.

3.     Mikel Izquierdo et al., “Detraining and Tapering Effects on Hormonal Responses and Strength Performance,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 21, no. 3 (August 2007): 768–75.

4.     Patroklos Androulakis-Korakakis, James P. Fisher, and James Steele, “The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required to Increase 1RM Strength in Resistance-Trained Men: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) 50, no. 4 (April 2020): 751–65.

5.     Riki Ogasawara et al., “Comparison of Muscle Hypertrophy Following 6-Month of Continuous and Periodic Strength Training,” European Journal of Applied Physiology 113, no. 4 (April 2013): 975–85.

6.     Paul S. Hwang et al., “Resistance Training-Induced Elevations in Muscular Strength in Trained Men Are Maintained After 2 Weeks of Detraining and Not Differentially Affected by Whey Protein Supplementation,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 31, no. 4 (April 2017): 869–81.

7.     Hayden J. Pritchard et al., “Short-Term Training Cessation as a Method of Tapering to Improve Maximal Strength,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 32, no. 2 (February 2018): 458–65.

REFERENCES

8.     Hagen Hartmann et al., “Short-Term Periodization Models: Effects on Strength and Speed-Strength Performance,” Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) 45, no. 10 (October 2015): 1373–86.

9.     Christopher G. Vann et al., “Molecular Differences in Skeletal Muscle After 1 Week of Active vs. Passive Recovery From High volume Resistance Training,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 35, no. 8 (August 1, 2021): 2102–13.

10.  Lucas Duarte Tavares et al., “Effects of Different Strength Training Frequencies during Reduced Training Period on Strength and Muscle Cross-Sectional Area,” European Journal of Sport Science 17, no. 6 (July 2017): 665–72.

11.  Maíra C. Scarpelli et al., “Muscle Hypertrophy Response Is Affected by Previous Resistance Training Volume in Trained Individuals.,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, February 27, 2020.

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