Every time I finish a mesocycle (4-6 week training period, progressively increasing in difficulty), I try to tell myself I don’t need a deload. This is how my thought pattern goes:

I’ve been progressing so well.
I really don’t want to risk halting my progress by deloading.
I should probably be smart and deload.
But what if the weights feel heavier when I come back?
What if I lose motivation to train hard?
I worked so hard for these gains, I should see how far I can take it…

Then I remind myself of the following:

I have never ONCE, in my 22 years of training, regretted taking a deload week.

I have never gotten weaker; never felt worse afterwards; never lost muscle, never lost motivation.

Despite all of my delusions, I don’t skip my deload weeks anymore. I’ve realized that they are the closest thing to a drug that a natural athlete will encounter from simple variable manipulation. Seriously! Here’s what is accomplishes:

1. Decreased fatigue (fatigue masks ability to manifest optimal performance)
2. Flush inflammation (inflammation makes you feel like shit and look bloated/soft)
3. Re-sensitize the body to the stimulus (you can’t add volume/weight/reps forever)
4. Decreased joint stress (you don’t know your joints are stressed till it’s too late)
5. Increased motivation (nothing like a “light” week to get you fired up to train)

There is actually no one “proper” way to deload. Many athletes have found ways that work best for them. Some prefer to take an entire week out of the gym to explore other activities. I know a few that prefer to take 3-4 days off entirely, and then hit one upper and one lower (per below deload protocols), and then get back to progressive training at the start of the new week.

For the Evolved Programs, you can absolutely take one of the two approaches above and get out of the gym. I promise you won’t lose any gains!

There appears to be SOME small benefit to continuing training throughout the deload period. The lighter loads and lower volumes help to move nutrient rich blood into the muscles, aiding recovery.

This is the general approach we will take to deload week in the Evolved Programs:

– Reduce loading 10%
– Reduce number of work sets by approx 50% (depending on prior week volume/intensity load)
– Reduce number of reps by 20%

Here’s an example to provide some context:

5 sets of 10 reps at 100 lbs = prior week workload
2-3 sets of 8 reps @ 90 lbs = deload week workload

As a general rule of thumb, I like to follow this approach:
Demanding compound movements (squats and deadlifts) = 4-5 Reps from failure
Less Demanding compound movements (chest/overhead press, pull-ups) = 3-4 Reps from failure
Isolation or lower fatigue movements (arms, leg ext, leg curls, cable work) = 2-3 Reps from failure

I have found deload periods most effective when the loading is only decreased slightly. It helps to still be able to “feel” the heavier weights in your hands. The true magic comes from doing significantly fewer total sets while also stopping multiple reps shy of failure. This works well since the reps decrease slightly alongside the slight load decrease.

The ultimate goal is to leave the gym without a pump and without feeling like you got a good workout. If you get a pump and feel like you had a quality session, than you worked too hard! Try to emulate the feeling of going for a hike or brisk walk, where you get a small endorphin rush and you feel clear-headed, but not anything more.

I could go on and on about the drug-like effects of my experience with deloads over the last couple years; but instead, I will leave you with one quick story.

I finished the prior mesocycle of DB Floor Press by achieving reps of 9-8-7 heavy, then 14-12-11 backoff sets at lighter weight. All sets were to 1-rep from failure.

I went through my deload week like a smart athlete.

First week back, I used the same weights (but less sets, since it’s week 1 of the build).

Achieved 9 reps and 8 reps on both “heavy” sets (with 3+ reps from failure on both). Then achieved 15 reps and 13 reps at the lighter weight (also 3+ reps from failure). That is some incredible progress. I achieved the same (or more) reps with at least 2 additional reps “in reserve” (shy of failure); and it all happened because of the ONE WEEK of low-effort training that diminished the accumulated fatigue!

The video below is the first heavy set so that you can see how effortless this was (compared to the performance prior that was masked by all that ugly fatigue).

It is truly amazing how much strength and performance the body can manifest when trained intelligently. Make sure you have planned deloads in your training so that you can flush fatigue and reach your true potential!