If you believe that “less is more,” you can understand the basic premise behind a deload week: a one-week timespan where you halt or lessen your efforts in hopes of making further progress afterward.
What kind of progress? When following a specific workout regimen, a deload week typically entails a week off from the gym (or significantly cutting down on reps). If you’re a powerlifter, a deload week might mean using extremely light weights, allowing your muscles to recover.
The purpose of a deload week is to allow your body to reset and recover. But it has to be done carefully and with intention. Remember: This practice should be confined to seven days — not halt your progress indefinitely.
Below, you’ll learn the basics of a deload week and how to complement deloading with a ketogenic diet. While there’s no right or wrong approach, remember it’s about recovery and rebuilding. It isn’t your excuse to go sit on the couch.
Deload Week 101
Simply put, a deload week is seven days — one full week — where you take it easy.
Within any training program, you should manipulate your training to increase strength gains. By altering your regular training with periods of lower (or higher volume), frequency and intensity, you can maximize your results while reducing your chances of overtraining[*]. This concept of training manipulation (sometimes referred to as periodization), prevents what many athletes call the “plateau.”
Deloading, on the other hand, takes the idea one step further. Rather than simply tweaking the number of reps you hit at the gym or swapping out a heavy weight for a lighter one, deloading means taking a deliberate recovery week away from your normal workout.
Why is deloading important? Science shows that time off from your regular routine can:
- Help build muscle (however counterintuitive that may seem)
- Improve athletic performance
- Reduce your long-term risk of injury and overtraining
It’s important to reiterate: Deloading will not reverse your training progress, nor is it a waste of time. In fact, it can be a very beneficial component within any workout routine.
One week off will not set you back — typically, it takes three complete rest weeks to lose muscle or power[*]. That said, in one study, athletes took three weeks off strength training and saw no signs of muscle loss[*].
How to Implement a Deload Week
While there are several methods to deloading, there is a lack of scientific data to show which approach is most effective[*]. Here are some basic guidelines to follow:
- Implement deload week every fourth week into your training cycle
- Reduce physical stress by cutting back on weight or sets
- Practice active recovery
When deciding on an approach, take into account your goals, training volume, and how you combat injury prevention.
Choose a Different Exercise
For this approach, switch up your routine and take a break from your chosen form of exercise. Twelve-time Ironman athlete Ben Greenfield uses his deload week to focus on mobility work, foam rolling and injury prevention.
If you’re a fan of heavy lifting, perhaps try plyometric drills for some extra cardio[*]. If you’re into CrossFit or high intensity interval training, complement your training with a yoga session or bodyweight movements.
Grab Lighter Weights
Want to know the simplest (and most common) approach to deloading? If you’re a weight lifter, put less weight on the barbell in your deadlifts, squats, bench press, or other heavy lifts.
Former endurance athlete Mark Sisson recommends reducing your three-by-five squat routine at 80% of your 1RM (one rep max) to two sets of five at 50% of your 1RM. The weight will feel incredibly light, and it will allow your muscles to breath and recover for one week.
Decrease Your Training Volume
One final approach to a deload week is to lift fewer sets, also known as a volume deload.
In one study, weightlifters took a deload week halfway through a six-week training cycle. Rather than lift four-to-five sets of six-to-eight reps, the athletes lifted only three sets of four-to-five reps during deload week[*].
In this approach, weightlifters typically stick to heavy resistance training, focusing on 70% of their 1RM or higher.
Important Points to Keep in Mind
When you do a deload week, you’ll continue to go to the gym on a regular basis. While you certainly can implement a few rest days, your goal is to strictly reduce intensity (in weight) or volume (the number of sets).
Here are a few key points to keep in mind throughout your deloading period.
Following the Same Routine Is the Easiest Way to Plateau
Science shows that altering your training is a more efficient way to gain muscle than repeatedly doing the same workout. In one study done on college athletes, those who intentionally varied their workouts week over week saw better results than those who followed a linear progression in training[*].
Taking a one-week break from your consistent training will not hinder your progress — it will further it.
Recovery Time Is an Essential Component of All Training Programs
Each time you lift, you are breaking down tiny muscle fibers in your body. Any trainee needs to give their body time to repair those fibers and to prevent inflammation and delayed soreness[*]. No matter what you may think, deloading will not cause muscle loss — overtraining will.
Implementing a Deload Week on the Keto Diet
A deload week is no excuse to derail your nutrition. The purpose of a deload week is to allow your body to rest and repair — which you can’t achieve while binging on cupcakes, cookies, and seed oils.
There are three primary approaches to the keto diet. Each method varies in the amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat you consume. The approach that complements your training best will depend on your chosen form of exercise, combined with the intensity and volume of your workouts.
- Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD): eating 20-50 grams of net carbs or less per day
- Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): eating about 25-50 grams of net carbs or less about 30-60 minutes before a workout
- Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): eating low-carb for several days and then following it with a couple days of eating higher carb
While your individual results may vary, athletes typically find the TKD and CKD methods work well when training. Some find they can actually consume more than 50 grams of carbs per day while staying in ketosis.
Muscle growth can only occur if muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown[*]. Remember discussing the breakdown of muscle fibers during exercise? Your body needs protein in order to repair them.
In the absence of food intake, your muscles cannot rebuild. This is essential following the 24-48 hours following a workout[*]. During your deload week, zeroing in on your nutrition is vital, just as food is a vital component of recovery.
If Your Body Gets Kicked Out of Ketosis During Deload Week
If your carb intake is high during deload week, it will kick you out of ketosis (burning fat for energy) and your body will switch back to using glucose for fuel.
To prevent the uncomfortable ketosis side effects associated with switching from glucose energy to ketone energy and vice versa, try supplementing with MCT oil.
MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) are your body’s preferred type of energy, especially when in ketosis. Just a scoop of MCT oil powder in your favorite beverage or smoothie can help support you getting back into ketosis after a carb-laden meal. Similarly, supplementing with Perfect Keto Base on an empty stomach can help transition your body to using ketones for fuel.
A Deload Will Help, Not Hinder, Your Progress
Getting used to deload weeks will be an adjustment. Allow yourself to enjoy this temporary break before jumping back into the grind.
Once you return to your regular training schedule, continue to tweak the volume and intensity of your workouts for a four-to-six week duration. Following that cycle, it will be time to implement yet another deload week.
Staying consistent with your rest time is just as important as staying consistent with your workouts. It’s your down time — not just your “on” time — that allows you to progress. Implement a consistent cycle of workouts and recovery, and you’ll see the gains you crave without burnout.