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.