How, When, Why Do I Need to Take a Deload Week?

How, When, Why Do I Need to Take a Deload Week?

Do I really need to take deload weeks? How often should I take one?

What exactly does it mean to deload anyway? Is it a full rest week? Or does it just mean decreasing the volume and intensity a little bit?

The answer, like most things health and fitness as per usual: IT DEPENDS!

It depends on the level of training you’re doing, your competition schedule if you have one, and it depends on what your unique body needs to stay both healthy and moving forward with your fitness.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Even when we consider one high-level CrossFit athlete to another, deload frequency can vary considerably.

For example, according to coach Justin Cotler, seven-time CrossFit Games athlete Kari Pearce rarely took a deload week during her career and she was largely injury-free, competing in seven consecutive CrossFit Games and finishing on the podium in her second to last year. 

Meanwhile, another one of his Games athletes, Bethany Shadburne, who has been notoriously injured throughout her career, takes a deload week every fourth week—where she spends about 30 percent less time in the gym than normal—because her body simply can’t handle four weeks of heavy training in a row. 

But what is a Deload Week Anyway?

A deload week doesn’t mean you sit around doing nothing. It’s generally more like an active recovery week, or at the very least, a week where your regular training volume and intensity is significantly decreased. 

Why are they important?

Think of it this way: You don’t get stronger from lifting weights, per se. You get stronger through recovering from the act of lifting weights. Thus, if you’re not recovering, you’re not going to get stronger.

But won’t my muscles start to atrophy?

The long and the short of it is no. Science shows it takes three weeks of inactivity for the first signs of muscle atrophy to kick in and remember deload doesn’t mean sitting around. It just means training less hard than normal.

Further, there’s even science that shows that deload weeks not only help your body recover but can even help you improve your fitness once you return to your regular training volume the following week. 

Maybe you have even experienced this? Remember that time you were on vacation and the only fitness you did for five days was walk along the beach, and then you hit the gym and PR'ed a lift?

Competitor Versus General Population

It’s important to note that when we talk about deload weeks we’re generally talking about a competitive athlete. 

Sure, it’s important for the general population fitness enthusiast to recover, but generally speaking, organized deload weeks might not be necessary for them for two reasons:

  1.  Often life itself throws a deload at them via a family vacation or a kid who is home with the flu for a few days.
  2. The general population client’s training should be designed in a way that they can workout with consistency, and also in a way that doesn’t push their body beyond capabilities like a CrossFit athlete gearing up for Semifinals or a powerlifter preparing for a meet, meaning they simply don’t need the same kind of downtime.

Instead of a deload per se, the general population client can be given a transition phase. This might mean it’s a more technical week, where, for example, you’re introducing some new movements or skills that are going to come up in their next accumulation phase of training. 

 

A Competitor’s Deload Week in Practice

Below is an example of a fairly aggressive deload week that might be programmed for the high-level CrossFit athlete a week after a competition.

Monday

Rest Day

Tuesday

One-hour training session that includes:

  • Two 10-minute, controlled, low intensity every minute on the minute gymnastics skill pieces that fall well under their fitness abilities
  • 10-minute accessory work/strength piece for quality
  • 10 minutes of biking, rowing, or running at a low aerobic pace
  • 10 minutes of mobility

Wednesday

One-hour training session that includes:

  • 30 minutes of continuous work that combines some gymnastics skill work with some monostructural work (such as biking or rowing) at a low to moderate intensity
  • 20-30 minutes of technical, for quality weightlifting
  • 10-15 minutes of mobility

Thursday

Rest Day

Friday

  • A 15-minute every minute on the minute of light Olympic weightlifting (for example 1 clean + 1 hang clean + 1 jerk
  • 20 minutes of moderately heavy lifting combined with accessory work
  • 10-minute light to medium conditioning piece
  • 10-minute cooldown 

Saturday

  • 30 minutes of moderate aerobic work (for example, run for 30 minutes and do 20 push-ups every five minutes)

Sunday

  • Long conditioning piece designed to get the heart rate up but without making the muscles sore. 

For example:

For time at a sustained pace:

5 km bike

50 double unders

3 km row

100 double unders

100 walking lunge steps

200 double unders

 

A Gen Pop Deload/Transition Week in Practice

Below is an example of a deload week that could be programmed for a general population client who needs to reduce volume and intensity of training. 

Monday

7 sets @ MAP 10 pace

1 minute Assault Bike

1 minute Wall Sit

1 minute Ski

1 minute Single Unders

1 minute Plank Hold

1 minute Row

Tuesday

A1. Goblet Squat @31X1, 8 reps x 3 sets; rest 45 seconds

A2. Push-Up @21X1, 8 reps x 3 sets; rest 45 seconds

A3. Single-Leg Dumbbell Glute Bridge @20X2, 8 reps x 3 sets; rest 45 seconds

A4. Ring Row @21X1, 8 reps x 3 sets; rest 45 seconds

(Pick a weight/angle you could do 12-15 reps at)

B. 5-10 minute Easy Cooldown

Wednesday

Rest day

Thursday

A. 60 minutes @ MAP 10 pace

1200m Assault Bike

800m Row

400m Ski

20m Crawl

Friday

A1. Single Leg Romanian Deadlift to a Target @30X0, 8 reps x 3 sets; rest 45 seconds

A2. Single Arm Kettlebell Z-Press @20X1, 8 reps x 3 sets, rest 45 seconds

A3. Walking Lunges @20X0, 16 reps x 3 sets, rest 45 seconds

A4. Banded Lat Pulldown @30X2, 8 reps x 3 sets; rest 45 seconds

(Pick a weight/resistance you could do 12-15 reps at)

B. 5-10 minute Easy Cooldown

Saturday

Enjoy movement outdoors

Sunday

Enjoy movement outdoors

 

PLANNING A DELOAD WITH PERIODIZATION

At the end of the day, what goes into a deload week depends on what the regular training program consists of and how close to potential the individual is pushing. One client’s deload week could look like a regular training week for another client.

Deloads fit inside a longer-term training program that is organized by principles of periodization. However, before you get to planning training phases, there are key steps that need to be followed. 

First, you must know who you are designing workouts for. Assessing your clients’ movement quality and work capacity, along with consulting on their goals and training history, will ensure that your program design fits their function—whether that’s sport or health.

Next, you must follow the three Ps. OPEX Coaches follow the 3 Ps system of Prioritizing, Planning, and Periodizing to increase their efficiency and remove the guesswork when transitioning from assessment to program design.

Are you ready to write personalized functional fitness programs with confidence and accuracy? Start by taking our Free Coaching Course and learn how professional fitness coaches design long-term programs from start to finish.

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