Deload weeks and weeks off are commonly used within strength programs to increase recovery and response to training.
But, what are the differences between a deload week and a week off? Deloads are a week of training with reduced intensity and/or volume whereas a week off is a complete rest week with no training. Deloads are used to manage fatigue and recovery to benefit future training. A week off has the same purpose but is also used in response to injuries or increased external demands.
While both have their place, in this article I’ll expand on the differences between them and how to decide which is best for you depending on your circumstance.
Deload vs Week Off: What Do They Mean?
Deload weeks and weeks off are two approaches to help manage fatigue and recovery across phases of training.
A deload week is a week of training with a planned reduction in volume; by dropping sets and/or reps, and/or intensity; by dropping load on the bar and overall session difficulty.
A week off is just that, an entire week off from training. You won’t step into the gym whatsoever. A week off is also called a “rest week”, which you might hear people say and it refers to the same thing.
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4 Difference Between a Deload Week & Week Off
The 4 differences between a deload week vs week off are:
- You Still Train During A Deload
- Deloads Maximize Performance, Weeks Off Maximize Recovery
- Deloads Are Used Often, Weeks Off Are Used Sparingly
- Advanced Lifters Use Both Deloads And Weeks Off, Novices Don’t
1. You Still Train During A Deload
The main difference between a deload week and week off is that you are still training during a deload week.
Within a deload week you will have a reduction in overall volume and/or intensity, this can be through manipulating set and repetition schemes, or even reducing how many sessions you do that week.
With a week off, you are not training at all.
2. Deloads Maximize Performance, Weeks Off Maximize Recovery
Deload weeks are used to maximize your performance within training and facilitate further progress in the following weeks or performance on a specific day.
The planned changes to volume and/or intensity are used to support the upcoming training.
This will be when fatigue has surpassed your ability to recover, or when you have reached peak performance without the ability to continue your progression.
Powerlifters or weightlifters may also use a deload week, in the form of a taper week, prior to a competition to maximize performance on the day they compete.
Weeks off are used more at the end of longer training phases or after a competition to prioritize overall recovery, provide a physical and mental break from training and account for lifestyle factors or when an injury occurs.
3. Deloads Are Used Often, Weeks Off Are Used Sparingly
Deload weeks will be used more frequently than entire weeks off.
These will be planned as part of your training to maximize progress to reduce fatigue and recover at the right times.
Commonly used to transition between phases of training to ensure adequate recovery and prepare you for the next planned phase.
This should be every 6-12 weeks, aligning with the why they are used above.
Weeks off can be planned within your training, such as at the end of a very high-intensity training phase or following a competition if you are a powerlifter or weightlifter.
However, they are also commonly used around lifestyle factors, holidays, family events, work or study commitments, or in response to an injury.
The frequency of weeks off training will largely be dictated by lifestyle factors and/or your competitive plans.
4. Advanced Lifters Use Both Deloads And Weeks Off, Novices Don’t
Whether you’re an advanced or novice lifter will affect which you use and when.
Advanced lifters will have to deload more frequently than beginner lifters due to the rate of progression being slower and the increased loading advanced lifters use will stimulate more fatigue.
Due to this reason, advanced lifters may see the benefit of a week off more frequently as well. Competitive athletes generally may also use a week off rather than a deload following competitions.
This will allow them to recover from the competition, and also give them a mental break from training.
Those with variable work demands may also see more benefit to a week off than deload weeks during particularly busy periods.
I know weeks off have been particularly helpful to me around deadlines as it’s saved me a lot of time in the gym that I can put towards work instead. The key is not always using the excuse of “I’m busy, I’m just not going to train today”.
Pros & Cons To A Deload Week & Week Off
Pros of a Deload Week
You Are Better Prepared for the Following Week of Training
As you are still training during a deload you will be better prepared for the following week of training.
Even though training will be reduced in intensity and/or volume you are still performing the lifts which will maintain a level of fitness.
The deload may even act as a way of introducing exercise changes in the following training plan and gives you the opportunity to do these.
If you’re curious on how to deload properly, check out my other article on: How Often Should Powerlifters Deload?
You Can Refine Technique
Due to the reduced intensity, you can work on your technique or implement technical changes.
The lighter loads enable you to maintain better positioning through the lift and also implement cues or changes you are trying to make far easier than with more challenging sessions.
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You Still Get to Train
Training is enjoyable and becomes a part of your routine, lifestyle, and maybe even your social life.
During a deload, you still get to go to the gym and enjoy that element of your life.
Cons of a Deload Week
It Can Be Boring
With the reduced volume and especially reduced loads, some people can find deload training boring.
Because of this, many athletes treat their deloads workouts as pretty lazy and they ‘half-ass’ the effort.
However, if the loads are lighter during a deload week, it means that you need to move them more explosively. So it’s important that you still move the bar with maximum force production and not be lazy about it.
It’s Not Always Enough
At certain times you may need more than a deload.
Following particularly hard periods of training, competitions or stressful life periods, you may want or need actual time off from the gym.
Pros to a Week Off
You Get a Full Break from Training
This is great both physically and mentally, especially if you’re in a state of mind where you’re dreading going to the gym.
A week off after periods of hard training can allow you to recover fully and reset ready to go again.
Mentally these can be great too, reducing the likelihood of burnout.
You Gain Time
A big part of a week off is that you gain time.
For those with busy work or study commitments, this can be huge.
That 5-10+ hours you spend commuting to the gym and training can be redirected elsewhere. I coach many student-athletes who need weeks off during their final exams.
Or maybe you’re using your week off as a chance to spend time with the family or even a holiday so you don’t have to stress finding a suitable gym. The obvious time for this is Christmas, birthdays, or anniversaries.
Cons to a Week Off
You Can End up Feeling De-trained
Certain lifts can definitely feel subpar when coming back to the gym after a week off.
Particularly if you spend the week being more inactive than usual.
It will usually take a few workouts for the weights to feel ‘like normal’. Just expect the weights to feel a bit heavier than usual when you step back foot in the gym.
A Week off Can Spiral
If you are taking a week off for any of the reasons outlined, then they can be really useful.
If you’re taking them off due to lack of motivation or more spontaneously, they can easily spiral into more time off and make it far harder to get back into a training routine.
How To Know Whether You Need A Deload Week Or Week Off?
Both deload weeks and weeks off can be useful and knowing which you need will get you the most out of both.
These 4 factors can help you decide which is best for you:
- Training Performance
- External Demands
- Competition Schedule
How you are performing is going to help indicate which you need.
If training performance has been improving steadily but you’re feeling like you aren’t going to be able to progress another week, a deload week will be the best option for you.
If you have had multiple weeks of poor performances and numbers are coming down week to week, and your warmups start feeling like working sets, I recommend a week off.
External demands have a huge impact on your performance in training and also help you to know whether you need a deload week or week off.
Perhaps you are a student with your final exams coming off or work deadlines are needing your attention, scheduling a week off will allow you to shift your focus and fully recover without dragging yourself through training that week too.
Family events or holidays can also be pretty demanding for training. The Christmas and New Year period is a prime example of where training can be pretty difficult with holiday plans and gym closures.
Planning your training in advance and building your training into a week off at these times can be useful.
Looking at your own external demands will help you decide between the two.
Periods of high external stressors or increased demands will often benefit from a week off.
Related Article: 10 Tips For Powerlifting With A Physical Job.
Injuries are a big signpost that you may need some reduction in training.
Aches and pains can often appear with hard training and taking deload weeks frequently certainly helps you stay healthy.
If you notice that these aches and pains are increasing, it can be a sign that you need a deload.
However, with more severe pains and acute injuries taking a week off can be beneficial.
If you are a powerlifter or weightlifter, taking a deload is going to be fairly common, but not so much a week off.
However, if you have just competed and have not got a quick turnaround for another competition, a week off can be great for you.
It allows you a physical and mental break following the difficult phase of training into the competition and the competition itself.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Often Should You Take A Deload?
Deload weeks should be taken every 6-12 weeks when fatigue has surpassed your ability to recover, or when you have reached peak performance without the ability to continue your progression.
How Often Should You Take A Week Off?
A week off should be taken following the end of particularly hard training cycles, or competitions for athletes. These can also be taken to align with lifestyle factors such as deadlines, holidays, and family events.
About The Author
Jacob Wymer is a powerlifting coach and PhD Candidate in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, researching the application of barbell velocity measurements to powerlifting. He is involved in powerlifting across the board, from athlete to meet director. Jacob runs his coaching services at EST Barbell. You can also connect with him on Instagram.