Many lifters know what recovery means, but they don’t truly grasp the severity of the relationship between fatigue and muscle growth. Recovery can be defined as a restoration of physiological systems to baseline before further overloading a muscle again. Muscle growth occurs during recovery! If you are not recovering between workouts, don’t expect to make significant gains in muscle growth or strength



·      Deloads are essential for reducing fatigue, enhancing recovery, and allowing for super-compensation.

deload week deload deloading WHAT how to deload deload workout deload meaning deload weeks


Many lifters mask their fatigue by taking large amounts of caffeine and other pre-workout stimulants. It’s well documented that pre-workout stimulants can increase performance by enhancing mood and vigor, increasing repetitions to fatigue, and increasing total workout volume.[1] The big issue is that excessive pre-workouts can mask symptoms of overtraining and chronic fatigue. In my experience, I have seen lifters needing 2–3 scoops of a pre-workout before workouts to mask fatigue.

Caffeine can reduce pain perception during exercise.[2] It has also been found that caffeine can decrease muscle soreness by 22%.[3] It could be suggested that with increasing levels of muscle damage and fatigue, lifters are self-medicating with caffeine to continue exercising when they should reduce their training load. The other issue is that many lifters will take a pre-workout after work when they go to the gym, disrupting sleep.


A study found that taking 400 mg of caffeine six hours before bedtime disrupted sleep quality.[4] Those who train at night after work should consider a stim-free workout or a pre-workout with a low amount of caffeine. Think again if you don’t think sleep will impact your muscle growth gains! A recent study that took lifters and taught them sleep optimization techniques resulted in greater increases in muscle mass than the group that performed the same resistance exercise program.[5]

I have no issues with pre-workouts with increasing performance but don’t abuse pre-workout to mask symptoms of fatigue, and it’s probably best to cycle pre-workouts. For example, only use pre-workouts during the last few weeks in which maximal effort is required. You don’t need a pre-workout when starting a new training cycle and going light.

how to do a deload week recovery week
In a study of CrossFit athletes, athletes who had performance decline associated with overtraining had three times lower carbohydrates than healthy CrossFit athletes.


Muscle growth involves a stimulus, fatigue, resistance, and exhaustion. Building muscle is highly individualized; some people recover faster and slower than others. Recovery depends on a wide range of variables such as genetics, nutrition, sleep, etc.

Athletes quickly try out the latest training recovery modalities, such as ice baths, foam rolling, and infrared therapy, but forget about the basics. With the ongoing low and keto carb craze phenomenon, many athletes fail to realize that maximizing glycogen stores with carbohydrate-rich diets is essential for recuperation.[6]

Adequate carbohydrates will also reduce muscle tissue breakdown. Low carbohydrates are worse for increasing lean muscle mass than a high-carbohydrate diet.[7] Cutting carbs reduces your ability to recover properly and reduces your ability to train at higher intensities and volume the following day.


In a study of CrossFit athletes, athletes who had performance decline associated with overtraining had three times lower carbohydrates than healthy CrossFit athletes.[8] In a recent meta-analysis of overtraining syndrome, 18 out of 21 studies observed reductions in performance because of inadequate energy or carbohydrate intake rather than excessive training load.[9]

Depending on how hard you are training, most lifters will need 1–3 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. Protein intake should be close to 1–1.5 grams per pound of body weight. This also depends on what kind of daily activity you have. If you have a physically demanding job, you will need more calories than someone who sits at a computer all day.

It’s best to consume most of your carbohydrates directly after exercise to maximize glycogen replenishment. Consuming proteins with carbohydrates enhances glycogen synthesis following exercise, which has implications for speeding recovery.[10] Also, it’s best to keep fat intake low directly after training because consuming fats with carbohydrates slows glycogen replacement.

It has been reported that high-fat feeding post-exercise can impair muscle protein synthesis and anabolic signaling pathways (i.e., p70S6K), potentially causing maladaptive training adaptation responses if performed long term.[11]


A highly detailed scientific paper on offseason dieting for bodybuilders suggested that bodybuilders looking to gain muscle while minimizing excessive fat gain consume[12]:

Calories: A slightly hyper-energetic diet (~10–20% above maintenance calories) with the aim of gaining ~0.25–0.5% of body weight per week.

Protein: Protein intake is recommended to be .7–1 gram per pound of body weight per day, focusing on sufficient protein at each meal (minimum of 20 grams) and even distribution throughout the day (3–6 meals).

Fat: Fats should be consumed at moderate levels, neither too low nor high (.2–.7 grams per pound of body weight per day), to prevent an unfavorable change in free testosterone ratios and prevent reductions in testosterone levels.

Carbohydrates: After calories have been devoted to protein and fat, the remaining calories should come from carbohydrates while ensuring sufficient amounts are consumed (≥1.3–2.2 grams per pound per day).


Muscle growth has been found to occur earlier with single-joint exercises due to the movements being easier to perform and less neural adaptations. Complex movements that require more neural stimulation have a delayed hypertrophy response.[13] A few papers have examined recovery times for single vs. multi-joint exercises. Remember, there is a large variability in how people recuperate from exercise. Some people recuperate faster or slower than others.

One study examined a full-body workout that consisted of either 3 or 7 sets of a 10-repetition maximum. All the sets were taken to complete muscular failure. Many of the subjects who did 3 sets were fully recovered by 48 hours. However, there was large variability among the subjects. For example, after 48 hours of recovery, only 4 of the subjects fully recovered enough to duplicate their initial performance, while 8 of the subjects recovered fully after 72 hours of rest.

One subject had still not recovered after 72 hours! When the researchers increased the sets to 7, subjects needed 96 hours of recuperation before their strength returned to baseline.[14] This was only seven sets per exercise! Imagine what happens to recovery when you boost that to 20 sets.


A similar study did a whole-body workout consisting of one set of eight reps with 85% of a 10-RM and then one set to failure a 10-RM. 80% of the subject’s strength returned to baseline by 48 hours; however, multi-joint exercises such as the squat and deadlift took longer to recover. It should be mentioned that of the ten exercises measured (i.e., barbell bench press, deadlift, military dumbbell press, leg press, knee extension, machine chest fly, triceps extension, dumbbell side raises, hip adduction, hip abduction, lat pull down, bicep curl, and leg curl), the deadlift took the longest to recuperate from (i.e., only 60% of the subjects were recovered by 48% hrs.).[15]


Recovery is required for adaptation to occur. Examining the importance of recovery in both elite and amateur rugby players, both perceive recovery as equally important to enhance performance. However, elite Rugby athletes use significantly more recovery modalities (∼8 vs. 3) than amateurs. Elite Rugby athletes implemented recovery modalities more often (∼25 vs. ∼6 times per week) than amateurs.

Elite Rugby athletes perceived 6 out of 11 recovery modalities to be more effective than amateurs. Stretching, cold baths, active recovery, compression garments, massages, and pool recovery are the most used recovery modalities with >90% of the athletes in the elite group.[16] This is an example of elite athletes using more recovery methods than amateurs.

how to do a deload week recovery week


Many lifters don’t enjoy taking time off; they want to train hard year-round. If you have performed a well-structured training cycle, you will look forward to a recovery phase! After recovery, a super-compensation period in which muscle growth will follow. For example, a 2019 study found that after two blocks of intense blood flow restriction training.

In the initial five-day training block of intense exercise, there was a decrease in muscle size of Type I (-6%) and Type II (-16%) muscles fibers at baseline to Day 4. Then, a super-compensation phase took place after a 10-day rest period in which there was an increase in muscle growth of both Types I (+ 19%) and Type II (+11%) muscles fibers.[17] This provides insight into a delayed super-compensation period in which muscle growth can overshoot after intense exercise, followed by a recovery period.


The super-compensation model is the basis for resistance exercise-induced muscle growth. The first phase is the workout or alarm phase, which leads to a decline in one’s “fitness” level (or performance). After the workout, the body starts recovering to reach the original “fitness” level (resistance phase). If recovery is adequate, then super-compensation occurs, increasing the “fitness” level above the original base.[18] It’s essential for all people wishing to build muscle to include a deload period in their program to systematically reduce training volume and enhance recuperation.

Other forms of recovery during a training day are taking light days to improve recovery and days off to rest the body completely. Recovery depends on several factors.[19] The critical defining list of general recovery features are:

  •       Recovery depends on the type of and duration of stress.
  •       Recovery depends on reducing stress, a change of stress, or a break from stress.
  •       Recovery is specific to the individual and depends on individual appraisal.
  •       Recovery can be passive, active, or pro-active.
  •       Recovery is closely tied to situational conditions.


When most people read stress, they only think of stress created by a workout; however, mental stress can have a greater impact than exercise stress. A study found that athletes who were stressed out for personal reasons took longer to recuperate from exercise. Subjects who had little stress in their lives recuperated from exercise 24 hours after exercise, whereas those that had more mental stress recuperated 96 hours after exercise.[20]

A study in mice found that creating psychological stress increased the muscle suppressing gene myostatin.[21] In a study of 135 college students assigned to a resistance exercise program to determine peak strength. Those who had low stress had greater increases in the bench press than those who had high stress.[22] It is important to remember that muscles grow during recovery. Too much stress, both mentally and physically, can hinder your muscle gains.

Taking rest days, strategic deloads in which the weight is reduced, active recovery with low-intensity exercise, and listening to your body are all critical for recovery. There are many new training devices, such as heart rate variability (HRV) to monitor fatigue and training readiness.

These devices are still debatable as to their effectiveness. One study found that HRV was not related to perceived recovery, muscle soreness, movement velocity, or vertical jump power.[23] More research needs to be conducted before solely using heart rate variability devices as your sole recovery method. Performance drops are the best indicators of monitoring your training.


Every 4–6 weeks, you should take deloads where you systematically reduce the total workout volume for recovery. In a deload week, cut your training volume by 50% to enhance recovery and diminish fatigue. Keep in mind, our recovery rates vary individually, and we don’t all recuperate at the same pace.

One fascinating case study was on an elite Olympic weightlifter who ranked top five in the world and was drug tested for anabolic steroids for the Olympics repeatedly. They documented his testosterone, IGF-1, and cortisol responses as the volume of his workouts increased. After the high-volume training, serum IGF-1, testosterone, and free testosterone decreased, whereas cortisol levels increased. Even after the weightlifter tapered his volume workouts, free cortisol levels remained high after 6 weeks.

It showed that the physiological stress induced by such training may last for more than 6 weeks, even when the training volume was markedly decreased by more than 50%.[24] This is an example of someone needing an extended recovery time to reduce his cortisol levels after high-volume training.


  • How to perform a deload week can vary among individuals.
  • There are two types of fatigue: Central fatigue (brain) and peripheral fatigue (muscle).
  •       Compound movements can cause greater central fatigue than single-joint exercises.
  •       Athletes with more Type II fibers experience greater fatigue and are more likely to overtrain with high volume.
  •       Deloads are essential for reducing fatigue, enhancing recovery, and allowing for super-compensation.


1.  Patrick S. Harty et al., “Multi-Ingredient Pre-Workout Supplements, Safety Implications, and Performance Outcomes: A Brief Review,” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 15, no. 1 (August 8, 2018): 41.

2.  Jozo Grgic et al., “The Influence of Caffeine Supplementation on Resistance Exercise: A Review,” Sports Medicine 49, no. 1 (January 2019): 17–30.

3.  Hou-Yu Chen et al., “Effects of Caffeine and Sex on Muscle Performance and Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness after Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage: A Double-Blind Randomized Trial,” Journal of Applied Physiology 127, no. 3 (September 1, 2019): 798–805.

4.  Christopher Drake et al., “Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed,” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine : JCSM : Official Publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine 9, no. 11 (November 15, 2013): 1195–1200.

5.  Pål Jåbekk et al., “A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial of Sleep Health Education on Body Composition Changes Following 10 Weeks’ Resistance Exercise,” The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 60, no. 5 (May 2020): 743–48.

6.  John L. Ivy, “Regulation of Muscle Glycogen Repletion, Muscle Protein Synthesis and Repair Following Exercise,” Journal of Sports Science & Medicine 3, no. 3 (September 1, 2004): 131–38.

7.  Salvador Vargas et al., “Efficacy of Ketogenic Diet on Body Composition during Resistance Training in Trained Men: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 15, no. 1 (July 9, 2018): 31.


8.  Flavio A. Cadegiani, Claudio E. Kater, and Matheus Gazola, “Clinical and Biochemical Characteristics of High-Intensity Functional Training (HIFT) and Overtraining Syndrome: Findings from the EROS Study (The EROS-HIFT),” Journal of Sports Sciences 37, no. 11 (June 3, 2019): 1296–1307.

9.  Trent Stellingwerff et al., “Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) and Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S): Shared Pathways, Symptoms and Complexities,” Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) 51, no. 11 (November 2021): 2251–80.

10.  John L. Ivy, “Regulation of Muscle Glycogen Repletion, Muscle Protein Synthesis and Repair Following Exercise,” Journal of Sports Science & Medicine 3, no. 3 (September 1, 2004): 131–38.

11.  Kelly M. Hammond et al., “Postexercise High-Fat Feeding Suppresses P70S6K1 Activity in Human Skeletal Muscle,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 48, no. 11 (November 2016): 2108–17.

12.  Juma Iraki et al., “Nutrition Recommendations for Bodybuilders in the Off-Season: A Narrative Review,” Sports 7, no. 7 (June 26, 2019): 154.

13.  P. D. Chilibeck et al., “A Comparison of Strength and Muscle Mass Increases during Resistance Training in Young Women,” European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology 77, no. 1–2 (1998): 170–75.

14.  John R. McLester et al., “A Series of Studies–a Practical Protocol for Testing Muscular Endurance Recovery,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 17, no. 2 (May 2003): 259–73.


15.  John A. Korak, James Matt Green, and Eric K. O’Neal, “Resistance Training Recovery: Considerations For Single Vs. Multi-Joint Movements And Upper Vs. Lower Body Muscles,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 46 (May 2014): 193–94.

16.  Francisco Tavares et al., “The Usage and Perceived Effectiveness of Different Recovery Modalities in Amateur and Elite Rugby Athletes,” Performance Enhancement & Health 5, no. 4 (June 1, 2017): 142–46.

17.  Thomas Bjørnsen et al., “Delayed Myonuclear Addition, Myofiber Hypertrophy, and Increases in Strength with High-Frequency Low-Load Blood Flow Restricted Training to Volitional Failure,” Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985) 126, no. 3 (March 1, 2019): 578–92.

18.  Janice S. Todd, Jason P. Shurley, and Terry C. Todd, “Thomas L. DeLorme and the Science of Progressive Resistance Exercise,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 26, no. 11 (November 2012): 2913–23.

19.  M. Kellmann, “Preventing Overtraining in Athletes in High-Intensity Sports and Stress/Recovery Monitoring,” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports 20, no. s2 (2010): 95–102.

20.  Matthew A. Stults-Kolehmainen, John B. Bartholomew, and Rajita Sinha, “Chronic Psychological Stress Impairs Recovery of Muscular Function and Somatic Sensations over a 96-Hour Period,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 28, no. 7 (July 2014): 2007–17.

21.  David L. Allen et al., “Acute Daily Psychological Stress Causes Increased Atrophic Gene Expression and Myostatin-Dependent Muscle Atrophy,” American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology 299, no. 3 (September 1, 2010): R889–98.


22.  John B. Bartholomew et al., “Strength Gains after Resistance Training: The Effect of Stressful, Negative Life Events,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 22, no. 4 (July 2008): 1215–21.

23.  Andrew A. Flatt et al., “Heart Rate Variability, Neuromuscular and Perceptual Recovery Following Resistance Training,” Sports (Basel, Switzerland) 7, no. 10 (October 18, 2019): E225.

24.  Ching-Lin Wu et al., “Hormonal Responses in Heavy Training and Recovery Periods in an Elite Male Weightlifter,” Journal of Sports Science & Medicine 7 (December 1, 2008): 560–61.

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