LIFTING SMART SERIES: Deloading week for physical and mental recovery


Everyone needs a break to recover and re-energize. You need a break from work i.e. vacation.You take a break from eating when you sleep or fast. Even pro-athletes have off-season. 

Similarly, your body needs a break from lifting. This break does not mean skipping workout all together. Pro-athletes don’t stop training in off-season. You do not stop thinking on vacation. The only thing that happens on a break is we reduce the intensity. 

De-loading weeks are exactly that. They are vacation for your body and mind from heavy lifting. We do not stop lifting, we just reduce intensity. Here are most common deloading questions (with answers) that will help you on your journey to strength mountain.


Q: What is de-loading week and why is it important?

A: A de-loading week a.k.a a low-stress week. The goal of this week is to allow body to recover physically, and most important mentally. This is done by reducing intensity, volume or both. At higher performance levels, neurological fatigue can have huge impact on physical performance. Deloading helps with both.

Q: Should everyone take a de-loading week?

A: No. De-load week should only be take by intermediate to advance lifters. Novice lifters should NOT take a deload week. If you are a novice lifter, stop reading this further. 
Novice: Someone is doing same workout but adding little weight each session. Even multiple times a week.
Intermediate: Someone whose progress is weekly or even monthly. i.e. you can only increase weight on an exercise every week or month.
Advance: Someone whose progress is more than a month apart. More like 6 months – 1 year.

Q: Should novice lifters (<1 year) worry about deloading weeks?

A: NO and if you are a novice lifter and still reading this. STOP. Novice do not need deloading. Why? Because their body is not under that much stress. You only need deloading when your body and mind is stress. At novice level, the stress is not big enough to justify a deload.
Reading about deloading now is similar to taking a break from studying, 5 minutes after you started studying. Your brain is not tired yet. You do not need breaks.


Q: When should one take a de-loading week? 

A: Most workouts would suggest a time frame on when to take de-load week. Don’t follow it blindly. All workouts are made with specific athlete in mind. The athlete is at certain level and may be training for a specific event or a competition. De-loading week for that athlete may not apply to you.
Another question I get asked most is, Workout Routine “A” recommend to take deloading week after 12 weeks where as Workout routine “B” recommend a de-loading week after 6 weeks. Both workout routines are similar. Which de-loading recommendation should I follow?
Answer is neither.
The best way to determine when YOU should take a de-load week is based on how you feel. Listen to your body and mind. Your body will give signals. Few signals to look for are:
  • Your performance is suffering or you will start hitting plateau.
  • Energy will be low and your workouts are suffering.
  • Mentally you can’t focus on workouts.
  • Injured or not fully recovering from intense workouts.


When you feel you can’t progress, its time to take a step back. De-load. It is critical to understand that de-load will vary from person to person. 


If you are using gyminutes app, you can analyze your workouts to see when you need an deload week. See figure below. This is from my 2nd round of madcow 5×5 routine. Each unit shows the volume lifted per session per week. I noticed that in week 7 – 8, I was struggling. But I fought and continued ahead. Week 9 was good but then week 10 was bad. I was mentally drained. I decided to take week 11 as deload week. I still worked but at low intensity. Week 12 onwards, I was back on track.


Q: How should a de-loading week looks like?

A: A de-load week is not a week off. It’s called a de-load week and not “no-load” week. You still have to lift. A good recommendation for de-load week is to 
  1. Reduce volume and keep weight constant. For example, if you are doing 225×8 for squat, perform 225×3-5 reps.
  2. Reduce weight but keep higher volume. For example, based on above example you will perform 155×15 for squat. Reducing weight by 20-40% on the lifts.
  3. Reduce weight and volume. But be really careful with this. Not done correctly, this will set you back mentally. You may need more focus on following week to get back to your pre-deload week.


Q: What should be main focus of de-load week?

A: Apart for reducing physical stress on your body, you should also focus on reducing mental stress. Mental recovery is as important as physical recovery. For mental recovery, try following:
  1. Focus workouts on speed and technique. Think when you lift. Focus on form.
  2. Meditate. Every pro-lifter does it. This will help you get into flow.
  3. Sleep and take rest.


Q: Do I need to lift in de-load week? Why can’t I skip it entirely?

A: As mentioned before, this is not a no-load week. Many people who skip lifting completely during the de-load week suffers from following issues when starting training again:
  1. Mentally absent. It takes more focus for mind to get into lifting mode.
  2. Will possibly trigger DOMS (Delayer Onset Muscle Soreness).
If you have any more questions, please leave them in comment below.