I see lots of people following programs with built-in deloads or taking them because our favorite athlete does and I mean, if the pros do it, so must the Joes, right?

Well, maybe. If you are a long-time follower of the show, you’ll know that it’s super nuanced. By nuanced, I mean individual.

Why take time off from training?

So why do people deload anyway? Well, to recover. At some point, relative intensity becomes so high that recovery becomes difficult or impossible. Training day in and day out puts a big tax on muscles, joints, and the nervous system. When this happens, you can end up on the wrong end of overtraining.

Overtraining creeps up on you because the early warning signs are similar to those we see after any hard training session: muscle soreness, fatigue, and elevated heart rate.

But when those things become longer lasting than 1 to 2 days and may also be accompanied by things like lower immune function, depression, and irritability, we may be looking at overtraining syndrome.

In this situation, rest is essential. But at this point, a rest week is a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. We want to avoid overtraining and so planned deloads are a useful way of managing fatigue and recovery.

The hard part with managing this is that most people enjoy the gym or training in whatever manner they have chosen—like a sporting endeavor or a recreational exercise club. The dopamine and endorphins released during exercise can be highly addictive, resulting in an inability to stop training for any period of time.

I recently had a client who couldn’t stop training: running 10km on their rest day, feeling the “need” to do 100 push-ups to justify dinner, and cutting calories all week to have drinks on the weekend. Needless to say, we don’t work together anymore because that’s very unhealthy, but also a reminder to me, as a coach, that exercise addiction is real and deloads, even if planned, may be met by non-compliance!

When should you take time off from working out?

So how will you know when it’s time to deload and what might that look like?

Well, with my own clients, I monitor a few things: firstly, are they still improving? Here on the show, I have discussed the concept of minimum effective dose and maximum recoverable dose a few times. If I have a client who, let’s say, can bench press 135 for 8 this week but next week can’t do 140 for 3, I would say that the client hasn’t recovered. Generally, I don’t look at training first, I look at lifestyle and see if they have been following the BLGs (Basic Lifestyle Guidelines) which I have given them. These are:

  1. Sleep at least 8 hours each night
  2. Implement a circadian rhythm with regular sleep-wake cycles
  3. Drink half your body weight (in lbs) as ounces each day
  4. Move your body every day
  5. Sit down, chew, and enjoy food with NO DEVICES

Generally speaking, when I look at what a client has been eating or when I speak with them and find out they haven’t been sleeping because of stress, I find the answer lies there rather than the fact the program has suddenly become too much for them to recover from. If, however, they sleep like a baby, chew their food, never look at a device after 5 p.m., are well hydrated, and have a regular daily schedule, then I will look at the training. It’s generally more likely that health issues are caused by poor lifestyle in the 23 hours in the day that they aren’t training than by the one hour during which they are.

If your lifestyle is too stressful, you won’t be able to push yourself in your training. Listen to Coach Kevin Don talk more about that on episode 609 of the Get-Fit Guy podcast. 

If you are continuing to improve each week—runs get faster, weights get heavier, or reps get higher—then I don’t think you really need a deload and that taking one will only rob you of a week of progress. My diagnosis is that you must be under the maximum recoverable dose or your progress would already have stalled!

So, do you need to deload?

So, the big message here is: if you are training appropriately and have recognized that your health is about lifestyle more than training, you won’t need to deload at all and that a deload itself is a symptom of overtraining.

If you have any questions about deloads or if you are wondering about the other recovery protocols out there like cryotherapy, cupping, foam rolling and inflatable compression pants then stay tuned because I’ll be doing an episode on that very soon to help you maximize your recovery and bodyswerve snake oil.



All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.