How Often Should I Take A Deload For 5/3/1?
June 28th 2019
Jim Wendler first published 5/3/1 in 2011 and it was a breakthrough in the lifting community that no one could have predicted. 5/3/1 is not a cookie-cutter program that could be easily replicated by an untrained coach. Following 5/3/1, Jim Wendler also published many variations such as 5/3/1 for Powerlifting, Beyond 5/3/1, and his latest book, 5/3/1 Forever.
In his books, he gets straight to the point and offers many solutions to help you get to your goals. Whether you want to get faster, improve your conditioning, become a better powerlifter, improve general strength or even get better at your sport, Jim Wendler has you covered.
With that in mind, this article is not a review of any of his programs. Rather, you should do your research, get his latest book, 5/3/1 Forever and begin to execute a plan. The question we have for today is how often should a lifter take for a deload?
How often to take a deload for 5/3/1?
There are three different deloads lifters can opt to use based on Jim Wendler’s three books:
- Deload after every 3 week cycle, original 5/3/1
- Deload after 2 cycles, Beyond 5/3/1
- Deload twice, once follow the second leader set and the other following the 7th week protocol, Forever 5/3/1
In the original 5/3/1 protocol, you run a 3-week cycle, followed by a 4th-week deload. For many years, this was the accepted way to have a deload. However, many lifters complained about the frequency of the deload. One of the main complaints was that it was a waste of time. For an intermediate athlete, many lifters did not feel as though they needed a deload every 4 weeks.
While this may be true to some, it did stir up some heated debates on forums and blog posts. Compared to other intermediate level programs, the original 5/3/1 program had way too many deloads. As a result, many lifters felt there was a lack of overall volume in the entire program.
In Beyond 5/3/1, modifications were made so that lifters can accumulate some fatigue prior to taking a deload. When Beyond 5/3/1 was released, it was now recommended that 2 cycles of 5/3/1 should be done before taking a deload. This means that after doing a 3-week cycle, you will increase your training maxes appropriately and continue another 3 weeks before taking a deload.
Does this mean that I will not make as many gains with the original 5/3/1 than if I use Beyond 5/3/1? Not exactly.
But you are leaving a lot of potential on the table. The number one priority for all lifters is to stay healthy and injury-free. Only after that, we can focus on making our program efficient. If you are getting injured every 6 months with a “perfect” lifestyle that supports resistance training, then your first goal should be to train for a full year without sustaining an injury. And running the original 5/3/1 program may help you with that.
5/3/1 Forever deload
Jim Wendler published his most recent book, 5/3/1 Forever discussing how lifters can maintain their program forever. By following two leader sets, you will take a deload afterward. Then, you will run an anchor set. Then, you will do the 7th week protocol to make sure your training maxes are appropriate. Then, you will take a deload again. Rinse and repeat.
What is the point of a deload?
A deload is a period of training designed to help reduce fatigue by lowering the amount of volume and intensity done. When done strategically, deloads can help you surpass plateaus and help all lifter break their PRs.
It is ironic that before lifters stall out on their lifts or get injured, they have not considered their recovery and fatigue management. Deloads were something that they read online that they should avoid or take once in a blue moon.
Especially for beginner strength athletes, they will underestimate the importance of a deload and overlook how to program them into a strength routine. It will be too late for them to take a deload once their fatigue its threshold - either injuries and/or stalls will occur.
If you are considering 5/3/1, I am assuming you already have some sort of training experience. By now, you should have some reference experience about how to program for yourself and when are good times to take a deload.
Is deloading a waste of time?
You have probably read some articles stating that deloading is a “waste of time.” However, these articles are very clickbait and do not tell you the full story. The real issue is this, how can I program a deload into my program so that it is not a waste of my time?
First, if you are unfamiliar with deloading practices, you will need to follow a program that does administer deloads as part of their core programming. 5/3/1, in all of its variations, does exactly this.
Lifters should precisely follow their programming protocols for at least one year. Having doubts?
Listen, all programs work. It depends on the lifter in order to execute the program to its fullest potential. Do not make programming and strength training more complicated than it should be. You pick up heavy weights. You rest. You get stronger.
Should I rely on instinct for my deload?
If you are following a program, I would recommend against your instinct. Of course, there are some trainers that will hound me, saying what if you felt extremely good during a particular day but it is deload week. Should you go for a PR or follow your program?
Tough question… for the undisciplined. I could turn that question around and ask this, would you rather make a 10lbs PR today or a 60lbs 6 months from now. In the former option, you will be instantly rewarded for your efforts. In the latter option, you are practicing delayed gratification and are strategically holding back so that you can have a better and bigger PR on a future date, which is all programmed and written out prior to your training cycles.
But the number one question you must answer is this, are you getting closer to your goals? If you are training for a competition, not following your program will produce catastrophic results on competition day. On the other hand, if you have a more relaxed approach to your training (depending on your goals), you have more flexibility to have fun with your training.
Deloads are important and you should not overlook them. At the same time, you must understand how to use them effectively. Having deloads too frequently and too little are two opposite extremes that are not beneficial for lifters looking to break through their current potentials. But if you had to pick an option, erring on the side of having deloads too frequently is a good strategy for long term training and longevity in any sport.