Why a Deload in CrossFit Can Make You Stronger?

Why a Deload In CrossFit Can Make You Stronger?

First let’s define what it means to deload? To oversimplify it, a deload is a short planned period of recovery. You lift slightly lighter, maybe workout a little less, and generally just take it easy. A typical deload will last a week because it just fits well in a macro cycle throughout the year.

To an outsider, deloads seem like a waste of time, or an excuse to sit on your butt for a week.  

What if a deload week is just what your body needs to heal and break through some of those plateaus? What if deloads could actually be just what your workouts need? The secret ingredient to take your training from good to awesome. If you’re feeling banged up, unmotivated, or stuck in a training plateau? Adding a deload week every once in awhile will do you a world of good and propel you on to greater physical gains and adaptations to stress.

I’m not saying you have to avoid the box all week.  Actually the opposite, after a tough hero workout like Murph on Monday, you can gain some mobility and improve your technique through the programming this week.

Let’s talk about how to deload….You have several options and I will cover a few of the popular ones that have been tried and true to provide a proper deload.  The deload concept typically applies to strength based work but in CrossFit it applies to intensity and duration of your workouts as well.  For ease of comparison in examples we are going to focus on strength numbers in the following options.

Option 1: Weight Deload

The most common method of deloading is just to reduce how much you lift that week. As a guide, all your sets should be performed at around 40-60% of your 1RM. This doesn’t mean you go crazy and just do more reps either. The loads are light and the reps and sets are low. That’s the whole idea of a deload – you just gotta chill and take it easy.

Option 2: Volume Deload

A less popular option is to keep your weights more or less the same, but greatly reduce your volume. Say for instance your regular training program includes power and strength sets of 5 x 5 at 75-85% of your 1 rep max. Under an option 1 deload, you’d probably do your five sets of five at 5-60%. With a volume deload, you could stay at your percentages and hit a couple of singles or doubles, or just go for one set of five reps.

This approach does work better for some people. Particularly competitive strength athletes who think performance suffers when they don’t have a heavy load on their back or in their hands week in and week out. I do stress the word THINK because it’s a change in mindset to properly deload for a week.

Option 3: Total Lift Deload

A more obscure, though equally effective way to deload is to change your exercise selection. This is harder to regulate, but definitely has its advantages. As an example, you just went through a strength cycle so to deload you perform no barbell exercises whatsoever. This might sound a little extreme, but it can be particularly beneficial to do this after a long period of intense training and heavy poundages, or after a competition, just to give your body a break.

Option 4: Individual Lift Deload

Finally, individual lift deloads work when one lift is suffering, but the others are still progressing. Say for example you just can’t get past a plateau on your squat, but all your other main and accessory lifts are increasing and you’re feeling great. Taking a week off of everything would be counterproductive, so just drop the weight on your troublesome lift, hit a few easy sets a couple of times and work on nailing your form and technique.

When to Deload:

The first rule, if you’re following a pre-designed program, you deload when you’re told to. Yes, that includes the general programming at the box but it also goes for any personal programming you are following. There’s no point following the weights, sets, reps and exercise guidelines laid out for you if you’re ignoring all the advice on deloading.

Ultimately you are responsible for knowing yourself so here are a few key signs to look out for as an indication of when you should implement a deload:

You’re Getting Weaker – When your lifts are suffering, particularly on your low rep work, it could indicate you’re starting to get overtrained. Your central nervous system (CNS) can only adapt to so much stress. How much is the question but the solution is to deload.

Sore Joints – You’re going to have aches and pains when you push yourself at the box but having ongoing symptoms requires something more. An evaluation by a professional would be a good start and at the least stretching and a massage, but combine this with a deload and your body will thank you.

After a competition – This is a majorly overlooked time, but if you’ve just competed in a CrossFit competition or a weightlifting meet, it’s definitely time to deload.  People seriously underestimate how much mental and physical stress you put your body through in competition, so play it smart and take a deload.

One last point I want to make is not to skip the deload week. Only the most experienced athletes know themselves well enough to modify their program and avoid deloading on a regular basis.  Trust me, I am just like you, It is more painful to rest, sit still, and not convince myself that just an easy 15 minute metcon then a little 10 down to 1 squat and pull up ladder will be good for me.  If a lifetime of fitness is our goal, than deloading is without a doubt the smart thing to do so you can come back stronger.

Move Well, Live Well

-Brant