Deload to Reload

By: Josh Bryant

Rob Hall and Steve Johnson both have benefited from reloads.

The hardest hits in football are on the first day of practice in pads  and alumni games!


Because the players are fresh, both physically and neurologically, it leads to enthusiasm, which results in collisions that border on felonious assaults! 

Going all-out all of the time is a quick way to get acquainted with the local orthopedic surgeon and minimally halt progress .  

The most weight ever lifted in the bench press is 738 pounds. Hypothetically, let’s say you bench press 250 pounds and have a modest goal of adding five pounds a week; if you keep this up for a year, you will be bench pressing 510 pounds and in two years you will be bench pressing 770 pounds! Eventually, the buck will stop; it is impossible to only add.

I was first introduced to the  “deload” concept by my friend and former training partner, Paul Leonard.  Since then, I have renamed it to a reload period simply because reload is more proactive and this is not a blow off week, it gets you reloaded and ready to lift some serious pig iron! 

A reload week means a period of lower volume and intensity.  The reload week is basically an active recovery and chance for you to recover, rebuild and grow from all your hard work.

If week in and week out all you do is train with high volume and hit maximal weights, your central nervous system fatigues and your muscles will break down, all the while wreaking havoc on your joints and your morning stiffy will quickly turn into morning stiffness. Don’t learn the hard way!

The key is to follow periods of high intensity and volume with periods of lower intensity and volume.  A reload does not need to be a week but that is a good starting point.

On average, I recommend reloading every 3–6 weeks, depending on how hard you train, past injuries and, of course, ability to recover. A good starting point is every fourth week and as you advance and learn your body, this can be customized to your own needs. 

Reloads should generally be about 70% of total volume and intensity of a heavier session. An easy way to do this is to cut all your working sets down for each exercise by one and multiply all your working weights by 7. Voila–there’s your reload. 

In addition to preventing injuries, after a reload, you will gain the strength you’ve put in the hours for. This is, in essence, world-renowned sports scientist Zatsiorsky’s “Fitness Fatigue Model”.  

Gaining world-class strength is a long, difficult process; the loss of strength is slower. Some hard-training powerlifters successfully begin tapering periods as far as a month out from a contest! 

In Vladimir Zatsiorsky’s Science and Practice of Strength Training,he stated that in a workout of average intensity, the fitness effect endures roughly three times longer than the fatigue effect. If the fatigue aspect from a training session dissipates after two days, fitness gains will persist for six.

Because “light” weights are being used, this is a chance to build your technique which is highly unlikely with weights above 90 percent of your max.  A reload week could also be called a technical reinforcement week.  

Some lifters may feel reloads are not for them. Should the skinny guy just trying to increase his bench press reload? Of course! Without adequate recovery, you will not become stronger.

Is recovery important to the gal looking to drop a weight class? Of course! The icing on the cake is when you are dieting, your body is in a catabolic state. That means while it is reducing, so is muscle. The objective is to save as much muscle as possible, so adequate recovery is a non-negotiable.

Admittedly, some successful strength athletes do not reload. But, keep in mind, these same athletes train off an intuitive feel so when they feel beat up mentally and physically, they take a couple days off or go lighter and do fewer sets/reps (volume). In other words, an impromptu reload is taking place. 

By planning reloads, there will be fewer “off days”; periods of reduced volume and intensity will be cycled into your training, so you won’t have to abruptly stop when your body feels broken.

Powerlifting/Strongman Reload Take-Home Points

·       Volume (sets x reps x weight) 60–70% of total workload
·       Perform reps in a compensatory acceleration training (CAT) style
·       Work on perfecting movement technique
·       Reload every three to six weeks (a guideline, not the rule)

Final Thoughts

Reload to be the strongest, healthiest version of yourself! 

I want to congratulate my client, Julius Maddox, for bench pressing 723 lbs, the most ever by an American and the most ever on American soil, regardless of any federation. Here is a video of Julius in action at the Southern Powerlifting Federation meet in Corpus Christi, Tx.

Check out this video where I discuss the strategies that helped shape this powerlifting history-changing moment! 

 Get certified by Josh’s ISSA Bodybuilding Specialist Course 

You will learn the following:

·      Understand how the principles of muscle anatomy, kinesiology, and biomechanics apply to program design
·      Identify resistance training strategies and modalities that can be used to optimize muscle hypertrophy and strength
·      Analyze the pros and cons of various aerobic strategies as they relate to an individual hypertrophy and strength goals
·      Identify the factors that contribute to muscle hypertrophy
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·      Learn the whys and how of periodization (including dozens of sample routines)