In the first 18 months of training, PRs come quickly and readily. There seems no reason to slow down, but you should. When I first started CrossFit, I was so enthralled by it that I trained six days a week at full intensity every day. A few months in, I felt like I was in a constant state of grogginess that I just couldn’t shake. It wasn’t that I was overtraining- It was that I was under recovering. I needed to incorporate deload weeks into my training so that I could to function at work, and become a stronger, fitter athlete.
I’m in the middle of a deload week now, and I couldn’t help but think about how vital it is to discuss with all of you. Weightlifters who have their programming done by a coach will have a deload every fourth week or so, but CrossFitters following general programming (that is, programming created for the box rather than programming tailored specific to them), rarely do. Some gyms may program lighter weeks to serve as a deload, but with members coming to the gym on different schedules, this isn’t the easiest thing to do. Thus, creating a deload week is on you.
Deload basically means just what it sounds like. It’s a week for lighter weights and fewer reps to allow the body to recover. This recovery allows a lifter or CrossFitter to enter the next cycle of training mentally renewed and physically ready to make progress.
A deload isn’t a week off training all together. Though occasionally taking an entire week off is alright, it would be detrimental to progress to take a week off once a month. Thus, the deload week allows you to maintain your gains since you don’t actually stop training, but lightens the load to give your body time to prepare for the intensity of the upcoming weeks.
So how do you deload?
Every four weeks, you need to adjust the intensity of your training. During that fourth deload week, dial your intensity back so that you do no more than 80% effort. If you are a weightlifter or powerlifter, you should be able to easily figure out what 80% of your max lifts are. Stick to those numbers and use the break from heavy lifting to focus on form. Beyond 80%, most lifters are unable to make modifications to their form so using lighter weights in the 70-80% range allow you to work on improving form while still lifting relatively heavy weights.
If you are a CrossFitter, you can still use this 80% rule but you need to think of it as doing 80% effort for that WOD. So if a workout calls for three cleans at 80% for five rounds, you need to drop the weight even more. For simple mathematics, if you would have done that WOD with 80 pounds on a normal day (assuming your max clean is 100 pounds), drop the weight to 64 pounds. Do 80% effort for that individual workout. This works best for workouts that are task oriented (ie: A chipper).
Another way to modify is to drop the number of repetitions. An intermediate level weightlifter might make 75 lifts on a moderate to heavy day of regular training. Instead, during a deload week, that lifter would drop the number of lifts to 45 or 50 reps. For a CrossFitter, modifying the number of rounds would be a great way to adjust the number of repetitions. Instead of completing five rounds for time, complete three rounds for time. Or, if an AMRAP is 20 minutes long, cut it down to 15 minutes.
With weightlifting and powerlifting, it’s psychologically easy to take a deload week. You’ve worked hard and you really could use that break. Your programming is individualized, so it makes sense that it’s time for your body to take it easy and recoup.
For CrossFitters, taking a deload week can be psychologically difficult. You’re used to competing with everyone in class and completing a workout quickly or with heavy weight feels like you’ve earned a badge of honor. You literally announce your score at the end of class, so it can be hard to do less than what you are capable of. But if you want to continue to progress and become one of the better athletes at the box, you’ll have to deload from time to time.
Talk to your coach and let them know at the beginning of the week that you plan to use the week as a deload/recovery week. A good, knowledgeable coach will understand the intention of your deload week and they won’t push you to give 100% when you are incorporating active recovery into your training.