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Discussing Deloads for Bodybuilding

Deloads have been a frequently written about topic from a variety of authors, particularly in the strength sport side of the lifting. Body building routines typically havent included them as the structured, built in part of the program though. Although some authors have spoken about the magical qualities of taking time off

For the purposes of this discussion we will consider a deload any intentional reduction in training parameters (volume, intensity, load, sets, reps, effort, etc…) whether its planned or built around a “feeling” of needing time off.

I’m not real curious about people who havent ever done deloads, so while pontificating online can be fun, please sit on the side lines for this discussion unless you have some real world experience with deloading.

So I’m curious who here employs deloads successfully (aka who here saw an improvement in their progress when they began incorporating deloads), OR unsuccessfuly (you find you get worse if you deload, as I have experienced in the past)

How do you implement them?
Planned or intuitive?
How much time off do you take?
What do you reduce during that time, or do you just go completely off?
What benefits do you see from them?
Any other details you want to include

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Forgive me if this is side tracking your intent of the thread but I have a specific question about deloads.

Let’s say you take a week break in the gym, but during that week your sleep is greatly reduced… so no gym stress, but stress from working very odd long hours and erratical sleep patterns.

Did that Deload do anything?

Sure, it reloaded the stress the gym
Imposed on you. I doubt the week was productive from a gains perspective but from a QOL perspective it’s beneficial I bet.

Although there I go pontificating without experience. I generally don’t scale back with busy weeks, but I don’t ever have REALLY crazy weeks and haven’t had to deal with that.

I go on call (24/7 availability) once every 6 weeks for 7 days. Record is 42 hours straight of work… I try not to miss the gym during call weeks but have often wondered if I could take that week and make it a “deload” week. Just wasn’t sure if there would be any Benefit to that.

Ha. Me either honestly, hence the thread.

I actually find if I just full on take a week off it takes me 2-4 weeks to get back to where I was because of strength loss and crippling soreness the first week back (thus I have to “reload” into my training by taking it easy on week one, then getting back into hard training after that)

I’m talking from a strength perspective but my experience is that deloading needs to have just enough work to keep blood flowing but not so much you actually have to recover from anything. We train four days a week.

Our deload is every four to five weeks (the bigger guys tend to go every four) and all we are required to do is 5x3 at 50 per cent, no assistance. If we want, we can do the Friday which is a full body pump day. So, we reduce volume and intensity by a ton. It works. I dont find myself needing to catch back up when I start training normally again. I also have progressed better (strength and size) in the 18+months since I started with Greg.

Because in bodybuilding you don’t deal much with percentages I would think deloads would be more based around reducing overall volume and possibly spending a week or so using exercises that are less taxing on recovery (less press instead of squat, etc). I’ve seen Dave Tate even talk about something similar he did for a few weeks after a meet where he wouldn’t have a bar on his back at all.

I think the hard part would be determining when to deload for a bodybuilder. I prefer scheduled deloads that are set so that you continually accumulate fatigue but back off regularly so you erase just enough fatigue to reduce the risk of injury. For powerlifting (and I’m guessing for a lot of other strength training) anywhere between every third to every seventh week seems to be the sweet spot, depending how the training and deloads are set out. I really do think every fourth week is about as perfect as it gets. The interesting thing is all the systems I know of that use the three to seven weekly setup also use a training max that is between 85 and 92.5 per cent of your actual max.

Now, applying that to bodybuilding I’m going to go ahead and say you could probably stretch your deloads out to six to 12 weeks or so because it doesn’t seem like the loads are going to be as high (while the volume is probably a bit higher). Unless you use higher loads, of course. Then, given that your overall intensity would be somewhat lower you could probably tolerate more volume in a deload than for strength training, it still would be lower than your regular training. Instead of being around 25 per cent of your usual amount, for example, it might be 60 per cent.


Periodization Training

The foundation of a well written and executed training program is have planned progressive intense training session followed by planned recovery periods; where muscle growth occurs.

Periodization Training is cyclical training that incorporates a specific number of weeks of progressive increasing the load/intensity, pushing yourself to the limit.

The final week of the training program is then followed by deloading.
going down to a lighter/lower intensity for…

Active Recovery

Active Recovery means using light loads/intensity. It increased blood flow to the muscle which promotes faster recovery; recovery is where muscle growth occurs.

Active Recovery can be something like going for a bike ride, playing some basketball, etc.

The General Adaptation Syndrome

Essentially, this means the body learn and adapts. Once adaptation occurs,progress stops. That means you need to make some changes: decrease you training intensity and vary your exercises.

Novice Lifter

Novice Lifters can use the same training program for 8 - 12 week before they making changes. That because adaptation occurs slowly.

Advance Lifters

Advanced Lifter need to change their training program about every 3 - 4 weeks. That because they quickly adapt to a new training program.

A Simple Rule For When to Change

When your progress stalls or you start going backwards with you weight and/or repetition, you need to start a new training cycle with a lighter load/intensity.

" Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24832974

Research and anecdotal data have demonstrated that varying exercise rather than constantly using the same exercise increase strength.

That is also true for hypertrophy training. Attacking a muscles from a different angle (exercise) is how bodybuilder make progress.

Changing an exercise can be as simple as going from a Wide Stance Low Bar Powerlifting Squat to a Full High Bar Narrow Stance Olympic Squat.

Passive Recovery

This means taking time off from training. It promotes recovery but not as well as Active Recovery.


  1. Constantly pushing training training intensity eventually lead to overtraining.

  2. Short deloads initially may help. However, in the long run don’t work well.

  3. Periodization Training: This method is the foundation of a well written training program. It incorporates progressive overload to stimulate muscle growth, implementing Active Recovery, which allows fo muscle growth.

Kenny Croxdale

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Smart guys that I trust have said or written that deloads are good for guys trying to build muscle. Making muscles is hard, and you do it when you recover from training, not in training. So making sure you give yourself chances to grow are important.

In my 30’s I’ve had trouble training for weeks on end, so I’ve been messing around with unplanned then planned deloads for awhile. I “can” go intuitively 5-6 weeks in a row training hard, but then I’m forced to cut back, by some tweak or minor injury, lack of desire, or by Ovetraining Symptoms like messed up appetite or sleep. This is a problem because it usually takes like 2 weeks to recover and get back into the flow of things at the gym.

For me, its been much better just to plan to dial things back after 3 weeks of training, or to deload every 4th week. This is usually before I feel like I need it. And that’s the key! If I slow down before I need to, I avoid the problems and I don’t really need to Reduce the workout very much so it doesn’t feel like a vacation or break from the weights.

Some cool ways to reduce;
Isreatel Inspired. Do 3-4 sets, working up in weight, of 3 exercises. During the first week, keep 2-3 or 4 “reps in reserve” on all sets. This easy week is like a deload for whatever you did before this. Next week, keep fewer reps in reserve. Maybe make one of the “warm up” type sets into a more serious “work” set. Or do a couple more reps, or add a little extra weight here or there. The following week, again go harder, keeping fewer reps in reserve. The week after that should be harder still. More sets, or reps or weight, whatever comes natural to have 1 or 0 reps left.

Then to deload you just roll back to 2, 3 or 4 reps in reserve on your sets. Don’t skip anything or be a total puss, just stop your sets short of failure to give yourself a little reduction in intensity or volume. After that down week, start building back up again for 3 weeks.

Thibadeau inspired. I was using stuff from “Best Damn,” where you use 1 set plus Intensity Techniques to maintain/control volume. So first exercise of the workout could be a rest/pause set. 2nd a drop set. 3rd exercises could use mTor, eceentric focus. The first week, I just felt the routine out, getting accustomed to the “feel” of the intensity stuff. This easy week was like a deload from previous training. The next week I went a little harder, feeling out a good weight to use on everything. After that I just added a little weight to the work sets, progressing in a linear way for 3 weeks.

When its time to scale back I just changed the order of the exercises, so each lift got a different intensity technique. If the first block was rest/pause rows, drop set shrugs and mTor pulldowns, it could become rest/pause pulldowns, drop set rows and mTor shrugs. During the deload, or first week with the new exercise order its natural to go a little easier, to figure out good weights for the adjusted work. Don’t go to failure, but don’t totally phone it in. From there, progress the weights for 3 weeks and repeat

Paul Carter Inspired. Pick some exercises, and do sets of 8. Next week do sets of 10 with the same weight. 2nd week do sets of 10. 3rd week do sets of 12. The fourth week will be a deload in volume. Go back to sets of 8, but add a little weight so you’re still moving forward.

The main benefit of taking these planned reductions in volume or intensity is that I don’t get forced to take real time off by injuries or over-training. At first it kind of feels like you’re going too slow backing off all the time. But when I do it right I can go weeks and weeks in a row and make some real progress.

Also, I agree with Kenny that changing exercises is good. I rotate them around all the time. I like to keep it fresh, but not everybody is into that.