19 Dec How To Deload (A Simple Guide To Deloading)

One question I’m asked a lot about is deloading. For me personally, deloading is one of the key contributing factors to my own training longevity.

What I’ll answer here are the key questions: what exactly is it, why you should use it, and how to keep it simple.


Let’s assume you’ve been training hard over the last several weeks. As a matter of fact, let’s say you’re just finishing a 6 week training cycle of a 5 x 5 program. What do you do after you complete the program? Well, the answer may depend on what’s next or what your goals are, but in most cases after completing a structured program like this, a period of reduced volume and intensity is a pretty smart idea. That leads to the “deload.”

A deload is simply a brief period of reducing volume and intensity.

Now, let’s be clear. If you’re NOT doing a structured training cycle or program, then you don’t need to deload. In other words, a deload is used as a “step down” after a specific, high intensity training cycle.

After each structured training cycle I do, I take a brief deloading microcyle so that I can continue to move forward and feel fresh in my training. The brief period can be as short as few days or up to a full week. I truly feel this strategy is what helps to keep me injury-free and also allow me to go down the road we call progress.


One of most important training principles to consider is the well-known General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS principle) by Hans Seyle. I’ll make this simple. This principle (or training law) states that there are 3 district phases of training: the alarm phase, resistance phase, and exhaustion phase. It’s easiest to visualize this below.


You can see that in the resistance phase, we begin to experience training gains, but eventually there will be a period of exhaustion if continued training is done at a high level. Make no mistake, this will eventually result in a decline in performance or injury if adjustments are not made. Remember, we cannot continue to train at high level for an extended period of time if we want to make progress – that’s where a strategic deload must comes into play.

The nervous system, immune system, and endocrine system will all benefit from periods of recovery. They need recovery from high stress. And high levels of training can negatively effect all of these human systems if training does not build in planned periods of fatigue management. If these systems are stressed for too long, the result will be a plateau, overreaching, overtraining or even injury. Tissues and body systems can and will break down with prolonged heavy training.

So, the solution is to simply “back off” for a short time period and use a deload.

A practical way to use this approach is to “wave the loads” like the illustration below. After you increase your training intensities, you take a brief period to “step down” from your training, then work to take it up once again.

It’s not complicated. Take a step back in order to go forward.

Interested in the specific training tools I use for strength and conditioning? I put together this free guide that has 5 of my favorites.

Deloading is the smart way to long term training success.


Is deloading really necessary? Yes, I believe it is for the reasons I have mentioned – *if you are training at a high level. Scientifically this makes sense and also from a “common sense” standpoint.

We will all respond differently from various deloading strategies. With that understanding, deloading  becomes an art and something we should all experiment with to see how we respond to for the best training results.


Here are some simple examples of how I use deloading, but it will depend (as I just mentioned).

For example, it will depend on:

  • the type of training program that was done
  • how long the program was
  • what is the next training cycle? or training goal?
  • how do I “feel” – there is some degree of “auto-regulation”

With these considerations, here’s what I typically do, along with some guidelines. Keep in mind, there are many ways to use deloading and there really is no right or wrong way (as long as a reduction in training is done – see below).

In the first example, let’s say you’re finishing a kettlebell program, here’s what I’ll do.

EXAMPLE #1 – stepping down from a kettebell program

  • Remember, the key rule is to reduce training intensity and volume
  • Typically train 3-4 days a week
  • The easiest way to do this is just stick to the fundamentals (Swings and Turkish get-ups)
  • For swings, reduce volume to around 100 swings (per session)
  • For the get-up, perform 3-5 reps at a moderate size bell and emphasize technique
  • This is also the time where I’ll do additional “variety” exercises keeping the loads light to moderate

So, the session could be something like this:

  • One-hand KB swings x 100 (really focus on technique)
  • 3 Turkish get ups, each side
  • KB press, 2-3 easy sets of 5
  • Racked KB front squat, 2-3 sets of 5
  • Pull-ups, 2 sets of 5

All done with my “most commonly used” kettlebell.

EXAMPE #2 – coming off a barbell program, let’s say a 5 x 5 program

  • Assuming you’re coming off a 6 week training cycle (it could be 4 weeks, it could be 8)
  • Reduce intensity in the range of 50-70% (from previous training 1 RM)
  • For simplicity, reduce all training volume to 3 x 5 and make sure that it feels “easy”
  • Intentionally reduce your “perceived” level of exertion for the week (or for a few days)
  • As above, training frequency is generally about 3-4 days per week
  • Do the basic lifts (that you just did in your program), maybe some assistance exercises

Basically, it’s sticking to basic exercises and reducing loads, overall volume, and possibly frequency.

Simple, right?


Age, sport-specific demands, training goals, “training age,” program used – these are all important training considerations.

When you’re finishing a hard strength training program or helping your clients or athletes finish a program, a deload is an essential part of smart program design. It will allow for sufficient recovery of the body systems and tissues and it will allow continued forward progress in terms of strength, skill development, muscle building, and other performance related training goals.

Back off to move forward. Moving forward in our training is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Once again, reduce training intensities to 50-70% of training 1 RM. Reduce training overall training volume. Reduce level of perceived exertion. Do this for up to one week, then move forward with the next phase or next training cycle.

Going too hard for too long is a problem.


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Scott Iardella, MPT, CSCS writes about strength training methods to optimize health and performance. If you enjoyed this, join a strong and growing community of passionate fitness enthusiasts and subscribe below to get a ton of cool, free stuff! Subscribe at RdellaTraining.com/join and get your FREE Report and Resource Guide.
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