What Is a ‘Deload’ Week, and Why Do You Need One?

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An Army reservist conducts a stretching exercise before going out onto an obstacle course.
Army Reserve Soldier Pfc. Akjla Webb, information technology specialist, 335th Signal Command (Theater) conducts a stretching exercise before going out onto an obstacle course on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Aug. 9, 2017. (Spc. Matthew E. Drawdy/U.S. Army Reserve photo)

A deload week is something you do only if you are training regularly and actually need a break from your normal routine. It's a week to avoid overtraining and to recover from a period of performance plateaus, decreased energy levels and a combination of overworking, poor sleep and nutrition.

The deload week is designed to help you relax, unwind, catch up on sleep, avoid stress and come back stronger the following week. These weeks work best when you need it, but just before you need it is even more ideal.

Don't know if that's you? Some of the symptoms that will prompt you to consider a deload week include:

  • Reduced performance in strength, endurance, muscle stamina, flexibility and grip.
  • Lower energy levels (recent poor nutrition and sleep)
  • Starting to peak on your performance and have a challenging physical test or selection in a week.
  • Completing a cycle of high volume, high mileage or heavy weights (every 6-12 weeks)

In our tactical fitness training group, our cycles are typically 12-13 weeks long, with a weekly mobility day and a day off each week. That's typically enough recovery time, but if you work a manual labor job or work the night shift, you may need a deload week more often than normal as sleep interruption is a major cause of poor physical performance.

A deload week is not taking a week off from any physical activity period, as you will see below. It is simply a reduction of training and shifts of focus to using full recovery options (rest, sleep, nutrition).

Here is how you can turn the Classic Military PT Week into a deload week.

You can turn every day into a 50% workout by doing the workout as written for five minutes, but then the following five minutes, you stop and walk, bike easy, or stretch and foam roll.

You can replace every other day with a mobility day. Or you can turn every day into a mobility day where you do easy cardio followed by stretching or using a foam roller or massage tools for five-minute sets each for 30-60 minutes.

You can try the 50%/Mobility combo on Days 1/2, Days 3/4 and Days 5/6.

If you work out early, try sleeping in and doing half of the workout you normally plan later in the day.

How do you deload your training?

  • Reduce time training
  • Reduce mileage or replace running or rucking with non-impact cardio options
  • Reduce volume in calisthenics (especially testing events)
  • Reduce intensity of overall workout -- longer rest periods, decreased speed, etc.
  • Reduce weight and repetitions
  • Change your routine and do something different (from lifting to walking or yoga, for instance).
  • Reduce 50% Training Day. Instead of training 5-6 days a week, train every other day with walking, biking or stretching on the day in between.

In combination with an easier training week, focus your nutrition by eating enough calories per day (full of the needed water, electrolytes, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and macronutrients) not only for fuel but to recover fully. Adding eight hours of sleep each night to this recovery week is the final component to removing plateaus, increasing energy levels and even possibly avoiding injury.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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