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December 28, 2023

What Is A Deload? And How Often Do You Need One?

Truth be told, some of y’all be taking deload weeks on the regular because you’re working at lower intensities than you should be. L O L.

Today’s blog is going to get down and dirty on deloads – but what is a deload? When to use them, and do you even need to be doing them?


My name is Annie and I help you learn as you train and enjoy your lifts again. Today we do that by getting you or your clients to rest when they need to in order to come back stronger. 

A deload week is when you lower the load and volume of your normal exercises.

In traditional strength and power training, deloads are a MUST. In fact, they’re naturally built into many classic strength training programs like Wendler 5/3/1 and Juggernaut training methods.

Deload weeks are used in order to continue pushing and building those one rep maxes, or maximal effort lifts.

The idea here is to give the body (muscles, joints, CNS) and mind, time to recover from accumulated stress and training demand of past phases.

Remember that training, if you’re pushing even relatively hard in the gym, is a STRESS. 

Training is catabolic – meaning to break down – by nature. 

If we want the gains (the anabolic effects) – be it strength, muscle size or metabolic adaptations, we have to give the body a chance to RECOVER from said stimulus.

Let us put our learning caps on and review the idea of supercompensation.  

Supercompensation is simply what we want from our training. We want to repeatedly provide stress or stimulus and then have the body adapt stronger, more efficiently etc. 

Before that, comes “General Adaptation Syndrome.” or GAS. On a 72 hour scale, it looks like this. So think like ONE training session. You start at your baseline – or “homeostasis.” 

my biology teacher in highschool Miss Waters taught this like “homyo-stasis” and all through college I could not look at or say this word without throwing one up for Miss Waters. Shout out.

Then comes that catabolic situation we discussed earlier (the shock phase). That is the training.

Ideally, we have resistance – your body adapting to and finding a new baseline in response to training. Then, exhaustion – the need for rest and recovery before the next training session. In this case -before hitting that same muscle group or stimulus again.

We always want to be overreaching with our training. This provides new levels of stimuli to the muscle, heart, lungs etc, and elicits progressive overload to make Ze Gains.

If you are indeed pushing, pushing, pushing and not resting, you may end up over-trained or under-recovered (the green in this image). This is where a deload week would have been helpful.

Let’s say you push push push for three phases in a row. You’re upping weights, hitting higher percentages or adding reps at the same weight. And you’ve got another phase ahead of you. 

Maybe you take a deload week at the end of that third phase before beginning your next one; as to not enter the fourth phase in a state of fatigue.

If you’re a trainee who lives for the burn and only believes a good workout is one that leaves you gripping the wall as you sit on the toilet, then delload weeks are going to be a mental struggle for you.

BUT, I’ll bet plateauing or going backwards in your training performance or physique will be even more of a struggle for you. Take the deload week.

By now, you get the gist of a deload week. The goal is to lower the overall stress to the body-the mechanical stress and metabolic stress. Do less, God bless.

I am not going to lose sleep over how MUCH you lower that intensity by. I am sure there is a threshold, but I don’t have that on hand. 

You’re going to deload EVERYTHING outside of your warm up. So… main sets and accessory work- that assumes you’re doing some kind of traditional strength training.

I generally have clients work at 70% of what they normally would. If you use RPE (rate of perceived exertion) as your loading method, then think of an RPE of 5-6. 

You can also lower volume as well, but don’t HAVE to. This might depend on the current program you’re following. 

If volume is already relatively low, three sets of 5-8 for most exercises, then perhaps keeping the volume the same is fine.

If volume is high, 4-5 sets at 10-12 reps, then you may consider lowering volume as well. Not quite halving it. But, same as intensity – 70% of the normal volume is probably safe.


If you’re worried about taking time off, or lowering the stimulus, THAT IS THE LITERAL POINT OF A DELOAD. Trust me, your body will thank you and come back feeling and being stronger.

How often should you deload? 

Some programs like the Wendler 5/3/1 or Juggernaut have you taking a deload at the end of each phase before heading into the new one.

That is not necessary for most general pop training.

For instance, in my Built By Annie programs, we take four deload weeks throughout the year where it makes the most sense for the program.

Generally speaking, a deload week makes the most sense AFTER a high demand phase of training, and/or BEFORE another high demand phase of training.

In reality, and in training for the long haul, most of you will likely get sick, go on vacation or just WANT a break from training hard. 

These scenarios can make for natural deload weeks.

You can intentionally push hard leading into a vacation, knowing that you’re going to back off intensity and likely volume during that time. 

Sickness or acute injury *CAN* be a deload if not severe. But if you’re super sick, I’d almost re-enter training via a sort of deload week after being completely down for the count.

If you’re training for strength or power, you’re likely working through a phase up to 1, 3 or 5 rep maxes. 

Deloads, as I said, make sense at the end of a 1-4 month building block depending on the programming.

For those working more bodybuilding or hypertrophy, you can just choose a time or look at individual biofeedback.

For instance, if we see that the resting heart rate is starting to rise, and the HRV is maybe falling for a week at a time, it may be a great time to deload so that the body can adequately recover.

You may subjectively feel a bit more sluggish and run down at that point as well. We never want to JUST rely on wearables like a watch or Oura Ring, but they can be a helpful tool. 

If you missed it, I have video reviews of both the Oura Ring Gen 3 and the Polar Unite watch and heart rate strap. So check those out if they’re of interest to you. 

Deloads might just be the missing piece to your program design or training. 

Just remember… you probs don’t need a deload if you’re not pushing pretty freaking hard in the gym. 

Aka, if you’re never working to RPE of 8-9, leaving 1-2 reps in the tank per set, you may be just fine continuing to train without significant deloads. 

Maintenance is a thing, and it’s quite alright.

Do you do deloads? Have you?

I remember two seasons of training where deloads were ESSENTIAL. Both involved max effort lifting FOR SURE.

One was the Wendler 5/3/1. Working to those legit 1 rep maxes and just working high percentages week after week required those deloads, and I actually looked forward to them. The other time was when I did isometric pin work one week, with alternating speed chain work the other week. I. WAS. DEAD. 

I’ve never felt CNS fatigue like that in my life. I hadn’t until then, and I still haven’t to this day. It was gnarly. And very much so demanded a deload after 6 weeks of that. 

I will say, that isomeric pin work is wildly underused and probably underrated in gaining strength and getting past sticking points in any of the main lifts. But, perhaps that’s for another video.

Let me know below if you use deloads or need to start!

Happy gains, and I’ll see you guys in the next one.

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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.

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