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The Benefits of Adding a ‘Deload Week’ to Your Workout Plan

Easing up on your routine can help your body recover and get stronger

Person walking on home treadmill

Sometimes, the trick to getting stronger is doing less.


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A “deload week” may be what you need if you work out regularly but somehow feel physically or mentally weaker instead of stronger. When you deload, you back off — just slightly — from your intense workouts.

Exercise specialist Ben Kuharik explains how taking a step back may be the way to move forward.

What is a deload week?

A deload week isn’t the same as a rest week, which may happen when you stop exercising due to vacation, illness or injury. When you deload, you don’t stop being active. Instead, you change your workout by reducing your regular training intensity or volume.

This isn’t just to help your muscles, by the way. It’s a way to refresh your nervous system.

“Most people think of fatigue as the muscular soreness you get after lifting heavy weights or training for an athletic competition,” says Kuharik. “But strenuous exercise also causes overall fatigue, which strains your nervous system.”

Deloading allows your nervous system to recover, putting you in a position to get stronger and achieve your performance goals.

How do you deload?

If you’re training at a high intensity, Kuharik recommends deloading every six to eight weeks. There are various ways to incorporate a deload week into your fitness routine.

You can:

  • Decrease how much you lift — weight, repetitions and sets — by up to 50%.
  • Ease up on how hard you exercise. (If you’re a runner, for example, slow your pace or log fewer miles.)
  • Try a lighter activity, such as hiking.
  • Work out fewer days.

What are the benefits of deloading?

It may seem counterintuitive, but backing off from your usual workout may be the key to making progress. “Some people achieve personal bests when they return to their regular training after deloading,” says Kuharik. “That’s because they’re rested, recovered and focused.”

In one study, participants who took planned breaks from high-intensity resistance training every six weeks gained as much muscle and strength as their counterparts who didn’t deload. And they achieved the same results with 25% fewer training sessions.

A deload week gives your body time to bounce back from:

Are there any risks to deloading?

You’ve worked hard to make fitness gains, so it’s natural to worry that you’ll lose ground by cutting back on exercise for a week. The good news is that you shouldn’t regress in a week.

“It takes two to four weeks of skipped workouts before muscle loss occurs,” clarifies Kuharik.

Research backs this up. One study found that including a deload week midway through a nine-week resistance training program didn’t negatively affect participants’ endurance or power.


The mental aspect of a deload week

Taking a deload week can be as much of a mental challenge as a physical one for some people.

“This is especially true if it took you a long time to get into the habit of exercising,” notes Kuharik. “I tell people to view a deload week as a chance to challenge your body and mind in new ways. You definitely should stay active — just bring it down a notch.”

He recommends using the deload week to strive for different fitness goals. Focus more on your form, for instance, or look to improve your flexibility through stretching, yoga or Pilates.

Who needs a deload week?

Most recreational athletes don’t need to deload because they aren’t pushing their bodies to the limit. Of course, you can and should deload (or take a rest week) if you’re ill, injured or simply feel like you need to recharge.

Deload weeks are most beneficial for competitive athletes, like those who:

5 signs you need a deload week

You may benefit from a deload week if you:

  1. Don’t see strength or performance improvements despite consistently working out.
  2. Feel physically or mentally fatigued.
  3. Often get injured or sick.
  4. Notice a drop in motivation or enthusiasm about working out.
  5. Sleep poorly or have insomnia.

What happens after a deload week?

Even though you’re active while deloading, it’s important to gradually ease back into your regular training routine. Don’t just jump back in where you left off. Give your body a chance to readjust.

“Returning immediately to heavier weights or long distances can stress your body and undo the progress you made while deloading,” warns Kuharik.

To safely transition, steadily increase the intensity or volume of your workouts after your deload week. It may take a week or two to comfortably work your way back to your pre-deload starting point.

After that, you may surprise yourself and find that you can lift heavier, move faster or go farther than before. If so, you’ll know your body needed that time to deload.

“You should feel physically and mentally refreshed after a deload week,” encourages Kuharik. “Hopefully, you sleep and eat better during that time, too, and come back feeling more motivated, energized and ready to achieve new fitness goals.”


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