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Deload Weeks Explained: How To Get Bigger By Doing Less

by Jeremy Ethier - April 27, 2019

If you want to learn how to progress faster and avoid overtraining... Then you need to start implementing deload weeks.

Let’s face it, building muscle is no easy feat and requires you to consistently push yourself harder and harder in the gym week after week.

Because generally, the more effort you put into your workouts, the more you get out of it.
why should you deload
But, there is one often overlooked aspect of training that can enable you to gain more size and strength more effectively...

...all with less effort than you’re currently putting in.


It’s with something called deload weeks.

And if you’ve never heard of them and/or currently aren’t implementing them, then it’s likely time you do so.

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What Is A Deload Week?

A deload week is basically a week where you take it easier on your training.

This is done by significantly decreasing your workload for that week.

This then enables your body to fully recover and come back bigger and stronger afterwards.

I’ll provide specific details and a protocol for you to use later on in this article, but for now just think of it as an "easy week".

Why Is A Deload Week Needed?

The reasoning behind this is based on research of how the body deals with and recovers from the physical stress of our workouts.

Basically, with our training we provide physical stress to our muscles during our workouts. This breaks down portions of our muscle and as a result actually temporarily decreases components of our fitness like our strength.

Then, as we recover by using rest days and deload weeks, the body adapts and comes back bigger and stronger for the next session. This is a phenomenon commonly known as supercompensation.

A summary of the above theory can be seen in the graph below:
what is a deload week
But on the contrary, what happens when we push too hard for too long without proper recovery in place?

Well, we eventually burn out and experience symptoms like joint aches and pains, fatigue, and little motivation to train.

This then often results in a plateau or even decrease in your strength, which then obviously hinders your ability to build muscle.
deload week
Fortunately, if you’ve reached this point then the solution is more often than not simply taking a deload week.

Will A Deload Week Help Me Build Muscle Faster?

Although there isn’t much formal research on how exactly deloads affect muscle growth, a 2013 paper from the University of Tokyo does provide some insight.

The researchers took two groups of subjects and had one train 6 weeks on with 3 weeks off versus continuously throughout 24 weeks.

Surprisingly, they found that both groups gained virtually the same amount of muscle by the end of the 24 weeks.

But, as shown in the following graph:
deload weeks explained
...the intermittent group experienced rapid growth to catch up upon returning from their 3 weeks off.

Thus hinting at the fact that if we better optimize rest through the use of 1 week deloads instead of 3 complete weeks off...

...we’d likely be able to grow at an even faster rate by better managing recovery while maintaining our strength and size during the time off.

In fact, two papers (one, two) that analyzed the effectiveness of deload weeks both showed a slight increase in strength after subjects returned from their “easier” period of training.

However, in order to successfully reap the benefits of deload weeks, you need to ensure that you’re properly implementing them.

And how you do so will mainly depend on your training experience.

How To Deload

1. How To Deload As A Beginner or “Casual Gym Goer”

So let's say you're a beginner just starting out in the gym.

Or alternatively you're someone who just goes through the motions with their training. Meaning that you don't really push your body or train hard enough during your workouts, nor do you track your lifts.

In these cases, a deload week is actually less applicable since you have yet to accumulate much fatigue.

So rather than implementing a full deload week, you'll instead want to do the following:

  • Start tracking your workouts and focus on getting stronger week to week while staying at least a couple reps away from failure to prevent excessive fatigue
  • Once you reach a plateau and can’t seem to further progress in a certain lift, you can apply a similar concept as a deload in the next session. This can be done by slightly decreasing the weight for that lift by 10% for example before re-trying the weight that you were stuck on. When you return to the weight you were stuck on, you should now be stronger and able to successfully lift it since you're better recovered.

how to deload
This process will help you manage your recovery overtime while best taking advantage of your "newbie gains".

2. How To Deload As An Intermediate Lifter

On the other hand, let's say you’re a more experienced lifter who’s consistently progressing in the gym.
what is deloading
Then in this case you’ll want to schedule a full deload week into your routine every 4-8 weeks or so. How often you implement them will depend on your age and training history.

Another option is just to listen to when your body "feels" the need for a deload week based on the overtraining symptoms I described earlier.

Now, as for what your deload week entails, we’ll use the guidelines of multiple papers (one, two, three) on the topic, which suggest the following.

You want to still go to the gym and perform your usual workouts rather than taking a full week off to rest, as that may negatively impact your strength when you return.

And during this week, reducing your training volume is more important than reducing the weight you lift.

Thus, you should:

  • Reduce your workout volume by 50% or more. This can be done by simply performing half the number of sets you usually do in your workouts and doing less reps per sets.
  • Reduce the weight you lift for each of your exercises by roughly 10%.

This way, you’ll be able to effectively dissipate fatigue and enhance your recovery for the following week. All while preventing any strength loss and excessive muscle damage from occurring when you get back to your usual workouts.

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Deload Week Nutrition And Cardio

Now as for your nutrition and your cardio during this week, it’s quite simple.


For your nutrition, you'll want to eat at roughly maintenance calories in order to provide your body with adequate energy and nutrients to fully recover. This is true even if you’re cutting and have been previously eating at a deficit.


For your cardio, you can still continue to perform whatever you've been doing or add a little bit of low intensity cardio into the week.

However, you’ll want to avoid too much high intensity cardio as the goal of this week is to reduce the stress placed on your body and central nervous system.

So if you’re going to do some, stick with light intensity activities such as walking and keep the more intense forms of cardio to a minimum.

Concluding Remarks On Deload Weeks

And that’s pretty much it!

To sum everything up for you, here are the main points to keep in mind:
deloading explained
Although deload weeks can be boring and feel counter-productive in your pursuit of gains, just trust me when I say it’s absolutely vital for your long term progression in the gym. They will be the key to consistently getting bigger and stronger overtime while minimizing injury.

And as I say quite often, if you want to see the best results then it’s vital that you optimize not just your training, but your recovery and nutrition as well.

This is what is going to enable you to progress at the fastest rate and is why thousands of members are experiencing incredible results with the #BuiltWithScience programs.

Within my programs you’ll have access to weekly workouts, a powerful nutrition software, in depth exercise video tutorials, meal plans, a private Facebook group, and so much more.

To get started with your transformation today, simply take my starting point quiz below to determine which program is best for you:

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Anyways, that's it for this article – hope you enjoyed it and found it useful! Don’t forget to give me a follow and connect with me on InstagramFacebook, and Youtube as well to stay updated with my content. Cheers!

Deload Weeks Explained: How To Get Bigger By Doing Less