Deloads are one of the most important tools that you can use to maximize your progress in the gym. A deload is a planned period of rest and recovery where you decrease the volume, intensity or frequency of your workouts.
Deloads are designed to help your body recover from the past several weeks of heavy training so that you can supercompensate and come back bigger and stronger. If you are really pushing yourself in the gym then sooner or later a deload will be necessary.
Here are some of the most common signs that you need to perform a deload:
- You are getting very, very sore from your workouts
- Your strength is starting to plateau or go down
- You are less motivated to go to the gym and train
- Your knees, shoulders and elbows are starting to hurt
- You are having a hard time sleeping at night
Don’t worry, these signs are all very normal and temporary for the serious bodybuilder or powerlifter. If you always feel 100% then you probably aren’t pushing yourself hard enough in the gym in the first place.
There are many different ways to perform a deload. Most of the time a deload will use at least one of the following strategies:
- Decreasing the number of exercises per workout
- Decreasing the number of sets per exercise
- Decreasing the amount of weight lifted on each exercise
- Staying further away from failure on your sets
- Decreasing your overall training frequency
- Taking extra days off or weeks off from the gym
As you can see there are many different ways to deload. This can be very confusing for a new lifter. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.
In this comprehensive guide I’m going to teach you 7 of the most effective deloading strategies of all time. These deloading strategies are used by some of the world’s best powerlifting and bodybuilding coaches including Josh Bryant, Charles Poliquin and Eric Lilliebridge. Here is an outline for the rest of this article:
- Part 1: The Josh Bryant Deload
- Part 2: The Charles Poliquin Deload
- Part 3: The Mountain Dog Training Deload
- Part 4: The DC Training Deload
- Part 5: The Lilliebridge Deload
I am confident that one or more of these deloading strategies will work AWESOME for you!
Note: if you have trouble reading the training routines in this article then check out this guide on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: The Josh Bryant Deload
Josh Bryant believes that deload weeks are an essential part of your powerlifting program. Josh actually calls them “reload weeks” because they are done proactively to keep you progressing towards your goals. Here are Josh’s thoughts on the dangers of skipping these deload weeks:
“Going all-out all of the time is a quick way to get acquainted with the local orthopedic surgeon and minimally halt progress.”
Josh usually has his powerlifters deload once every 4 weeks. Josh has his powerlifters reduce their number of sets per workout AND the amount of weight they are lifting on each exercise by about 30%.
He also has his powerlifters drop any “speed sets” from their workouts. This reduction in volume and intensity allows his clients to recover from the previous 3 weeks of heavy training so they can continue making long-term progress.
Let’s take a look at some sample workouts. Here is one of James Strickland’s heavy bench press workouts:
James Strickland Heavy Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 3**, 1/1/X/0, 4 minutes rest
- B1: Speed bench press (competition grip), 5 x 3***, 1/1/X/1, 4 minutes rest
- C1: Reverse band bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3 x 2****, 1/0/X/1, 4 minutes rest
- D1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 x 6, 1/0/X/1, 2 minutes rest
- E1: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 x 10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: DB floor flys (neutral grip), 3 x 10, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- G1: Standing rope cable pushdown, 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
**Performed at 83% of his projected 1-rep max
***Performed at 70% of his projected 1-rep max
****Perform 3 sets of 2 ramping up to one top set with maximum weight. The top set should be hard but NOT an absolute grinder.
Here is the training video for this workout:
This is a very typical heavy bench press workout for James Strickland. He performs one heavy set on the bench press, several speed sets and then a few supplementary and accessory exercises. Here is what one of James’ deload workouts looks like:
James Strickland Deload Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press (competition grip), 3 x 3**, 1/1/X/0, 4 minutes rest
- B1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 x 6***, 1/0/X/1, 2 minutes rest
- C1: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 x 10***, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: DB floor flys (neutral grip), 3 x 10***, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- E1: Standing rope cable pushdown, 3 x 10***, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
**Performed at 65% of his projected 1-rep max
***Performed with 70% of weights used during weeks 1-3
Here is the training video for this workout:
As you can see James performs far fewer sets during his deload workout. He also cuts back on the amount of weight that he lifts on each exercise. This reduction in volume and frequency helps James recover from his last few weeks of heavy training and gets him fired up to go heavy on his next bench press workout.
I mentioned earlier that Josh Bryant likes for most of his powerlifting clients to deload once every 4 weeks. Here is how Josh usually designs a 12-week powerlifting training cycle leading up to a powerlifting competition. Check it out:
Training Block #1
- Week 1: Heavy Triples
- Week 2: Heavy Triples
- Week 3: Heavy Triples
- Week 4: Deload
Training Block #2
- Week 5: Heavy Doubles
- Week 6: Heavy Doubles
- Week 7: Heavy Doubles
- Week 8: Deload
Training Block #3
- Week 9: Heavy Singles
- Week 10: Heavy Singles
- Week 11: Heavy Singles
- Week 12: Deload
- Week 13: Competition Day!
As you can see Josh uses deload weeks every 4th week to make sure that your strength keeps going up as you get closer to your meet. If you want to learn more about how Josh Bryant organizes his powerlifting training cycles then check out my article on the Josh Bryant powerlifting program.
Part 2: The Charles Poliquin Deload
Charles Poliquin was one of the best strength coaches in the world. He worked with thousands of professional athletes and trained Olympic athletes in 24 different sports.
Charles was a big believer in using planned deloads to maximize gains in size and strength. One of his favorite deloading strategies was to reduce your overall training volume while keeping everything else the same. In other words he would reduce the number of sets you perform per exercise but keep the intensity of your sets very high.
One of Charles’ favorite volume-reduction strategies was to dramatically reduce the training volume every third workout. For example:
Charles Poliquin Deload Strategy #1
- Workout #1: 100% Volume
- Workout #2: 80% Volume
- Workout #3: 20% Volume
This is an incredibly simple but effective training strategy. You just reduce the total number of sets that you perform over three separate workouts. When you reduce the number of sets on the third workout you give your body a chance to recover and even supercompensate from the previous 2 workouts.
Let’s say that you are using Charles Poliquin’s 6/12/25 training program to increase the size of your arms. Here is what your workouts might look like:
6/12/25 Arm Workout
- A1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Lying ez-bar extension (to forehead), 4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Rope cable overhead extension (high pulley), 4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Seated DB hammer curl, 4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: 90 degree preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B3: Standing cable curl (supinated grip), 4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
6/12/25 Arm Workout #2
- A1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Lying ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Rope cable overhead extension (high pulley), 3 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Seated DB hammer curl, 3 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: 90 degree preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B3: Standing cable curl (supinated grip), 3 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
6/12/25 Arm Workout #3
- A1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 1 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Lying ez-bar extension (to forehead), 1 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Rope cable overhead extension (high pulley), 1 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Seated DB hammer curl, 1 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: 90 degree preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 1 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B3: Standing cable curl (supinated grip), 1 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
Here are the training videos for these workouts: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise B3.
As you can see your goal is to perform 4 sets per exercise on workout #1, 3 sets per exercise on workout #2 and 1 set per exercise on workout #3. Charles Poliquin believes that this deloading strategy works AWESOME for many trainees.
The third workout helps you to recover and supercompensate from the first 2 higher volume workouts. Helen Maroulis used this exact deloading strategy while working with Charles Poliquin to win the 2016 Olympic gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling.
Another one of Charles’ favorite deloading strategies is to alternate 2 different workouts for each body part. These workouts should be similar to each other but use slightly different exercises.
Instead of deloading every 3rd workout you would deload every 5th and 6th workout. For example:
Charles Poliquin Deload Strategy #2
- Arm Workout A: 100% Volume
- Arm Workout B: 100% Volume
- Arm Workout A: 100% Volume
- Arm Workout B: 100% Volume
- Arm Workout A: 40-60% Volume
- Arm Workout B: 40-60% Volume
As you can see the first 4 workouts are performed with 100% volume and the 5th / 6th workouts are performed with 40-60% volume. Charles Poliquin believes this is a great strategy to use with more advanced athletes who need to cycle their workouts to avoid plateaus.
The bottom line is Charles Poliquin is a huge fan of reducing the volume of your workouts (but not the intensity!) as a deloading strategy. I highly recommend you give this strategy a shot if you are already using Charles Poliquin style workouts.
Part 3: The DC Training Deload
DC Training is a low-volume / high-intensity bodybuilding training program invented by the bodybuilding coach Dante Trudel. DC Training was designed to help advanced bodybuilders build muscle mass as quickly as humanly possible.
Most people don’t know this but DC Training uses a very simple but effective deloading strategy. DC Training uses a very simple but effective deloading strategy called “blasting and cruising.”
You are going to alternate between two different phases of training:
- The Blast Phase
- The Cruise Phase
Dante has all of his clients train all-out for 6-12 weeks at a time. This is called the “blast phase.” During the blast phase you are training to failure and trying to beat the logbook every single workout.
After 6-12 weeks you will hit a wall where you can’t make progress anymore. This is when you switch to the cruise phase. The cruise phase is a period of 1-2 weeks where you either don’t go to the gym or you do very light workouts just to keep the blood flowing.
Here are some sample blasting and cruising phases from some of Dante’s DC Training clients:
- Blast 7 weeks, cruise 7-10 days
- Blast 12 weeks, cruise 14 weeks
- Blast 10 weeks, cruise 10 days
- Blast 12 weeks, cruise 7 days
Dante says that the cruise phase is absolutely critical. It helps you to recharge both physically and mentally. This is how Dante has his clients train heavy year-round without hitting a plateau and without injuring themselves.
Many other bodybuilding programs including Dr. Scott Stevenson’s Fortitude Training program use a similar deloading strategy. Even if you are not using the DC Training program I highly recommend you experiment with using “blasting and cruising” phases in your own program.
However, that is not the only way that you can deload with DC Training. If you are feeling beat up during your blasting phase then Dante has you skip one of your three weekly workouts.
For example if you normally train Monday / Wednesday / Friday then you would skip your Friday workout for that week. This means you now have Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday off from the gym to help you recover.
By the time you hit the gym on Monday you are going to feel like a million bucks and ready to train heavy again. Here is how an experienced DC Trainee might schedule these mini-deloads throughout their blasting phase:
Training Block #1
- Week 1: 3 Workouts
- Week 2: 3 Workouts
- Week 3: 3 Workouts
- Week 4: 2 Workouts (Deload)
Training Block #2
- Week 5: 3 Workouts
- Week 6: 3 Workouts
- Week 7: 2 Workouts (Deload)
Training Block #3
- Week 8: 3 Workouts
- Week 9: 3 Workouts
- Week 10: 0 Workouts (Cruise Week)
Keep in mind that this is just one example of how to deload with DC Training. These mini-deloads AND the cruising phase are never planned in advance. You have to “listen to your body” and figure out when to deload based on the feedback your body is giving you.
Part 4: The Mountain Dog Training Deload
If you are not an absolute beginner then I am sure you have heard of John Meadows and his Mountain Dog Training program. Mountain Dog Training is a high-volume bodybuilding program designed to help you build muscle mass while keeping you injury free.
John knows that most people need to deload every once in a while if they are really training hard and pushing themselves to their limits. John says there are 2 steps to performing a deload week on his Mountain Dog Training program:
- Step #1: Reduce your training volume by about 20%
- Step #2: Don’t take any of your sets to failure
Here is a great video of John Meadows discussing his deloading strategy:
John believes that deloading is a very instinctual thing if you are a bodybuilder. He says that you shouldn’t plan your deloading phase too far in advance. Instead you should wait until you have some of the signs of overtraining:
- You aren’t getting a good pump in the gym
- Your strength starts to go down
- You don’t feel as motivated to train
At that point you switch into a deload phase for about 2 weeks where you drop your volume by 20% and stop taking your sets to failure. After this 2 week break you are going to feel good as new and ready to attack the weights.
Here is how John sometimes organizes a 12-week training program for an advanced bodybuilder who needs to deload after 12 weeks of hard training:
Phase 1: Weeks 1-3
- 11-14 Total Sets
- Moderate Intensity
Phase 2: Weeks 4-9
- 16-20 Total Sets
- Moderate Intensity
Phase 3: Weeks 10-12
- 8-10 Total Sets
- High Intensity
Phase 4: Weeks 13-14 (Deload)
- 7-10 Total Sets
- Low Intensity (No Sets To Failure)
The first phase of the program uses a medium volume / medium intensity approach. In phase 2 John increases the volume by slowly increases the total number of sets. In phase 3 John drops the volume back down but really cranks up the intensity of his sets with various high-intensity training techniques.
Finally in phase 4 John has his clients deload with a lower volume / lower intensity approach. This is a great periodization strategy for an advanced bodybuilder who responds well to higher-volume workouts.
Part 5: The Lilliebridge Deload
The last deloading strategy that I want to discuss with you is called the Lilliebridge Method. The Lilliebridge Method was invented and popularized by Eric Lilliebridge, one of the strongest powerlifters in the world.
Eric tried many different training programs throughout his career. However, he found that he got his best results alternating a heavy week and lighter week for the squat, bench press and deadlift.
For example here is how Eric organizes his bench press workouts:
- Week 1: Heavy Bench Press
- Week 2: Light Bench Press
This is a very simple but effective deloading strategy for advanced strength athletes. You just alternate back and forth between a “heavy” week and a “light” week for your primary exercises. The heavy weeks and light weeks can be organized a number of different ways.
Here is how Eric plans his bench press workouts leading up to a powerlifting meet:
Eric Lilliebridge Bench Press Cycle
- Week 1: 87% x 1 rep
- Week 2: 70% x AMRAP**
- Week 3: 90% x 1 rep
- Week 4: 70% x AMRAP**
- Week 5: 93% x 1 rep
- Week 6: 70% x AMRAP**
- Week 7: 96% x 1 rep
- Week 8: 70% x AMRAP**
- Week 9: Work up to planned opener x 1
- Week 10: Competition day!
**AMRAP stands for “as many reps as possible.” Perform 1 set for as many reps as you can without reaching failure.
As you can see Eric Lilliebridge performs a heavy single somewhere around 90-100% of his 1-rep max for his heavy bench press day. Then for his light bench press day he performs an AMRAP set with 70% of his 1-rep max. This lighter week is critical because it gives his body a chance to recharge and get ready for another heavy week of bench pressing.
Many other strength athletes use a similar deloading strategy in their workouts. In fact the World’s Strongest Man Eddie Hall used this exact strategy when he trained for his record-breaking 1,100 pound deadlift! Eddie performed a heavy deadlift workout one week and a speed deadlift workout the other week. For example:
Eddie Hall Deadlift Program
- Week 1: Heavy Deadlift
- Week 2: Speed Deadlift
- Week 3: Heavy Deadlift
- Week 4: Speed Deadlift
This deadlift training strategy works ridiculously well for advanced powerlifters and strongmen competitors. The 4 x World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw is another big proponent of this “go heavy every other week” deloading strategy.
Deloading is a critical part of any training program. If you are training hard enough then sooner or later you will need a break from your normal heavy workouts. In this guide we covered 5 of the most effective deloading strategies that you can use to build size and strength.
Charles Poliquin likes his athletes to reduce their training volume every few workouts while keeping their intensity high.
Dante Trudel uses a simple “blasting and cruising” deloading strategy which works very well with his high-intensity bodybuilding program.
Finally Eric Lilliebridge uses a simple deloading strategy where he goes heavy every other week on his core lifts.
I am confident that one of these deloading strategies will work awesome for you. So what are you waiting for? Start using deloads in your training program and watch your progress shoot through the roof!
“Choose the positive. You have choice, you are master of your attitude, choose the positive, the constructive. Optimism is a faith that leads to success.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
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