The Who/What/When/Why of Deload Week

I’ve been working with CrossFit athletes for years, and one thing we all have in common is we LOVE to train and we HATE taking time off. When our lifts start to plateau, we automatically think we have to train more / train harder to get them to go up again. But, a lot of time, the exact opposite is true. If you’re the type of person who is doing 4-5 WODs a week, and really pushing yourself to high intensity, this message is for you: The quality of your rest and recovery is just as important as the quality of your training.

Last week you may have noticed that John didn’t complete a single workout from Sunday 1/22 until Saturday 1/28. That’s because on Saturday 1/21 he was warming up a deadlift when he tweaked his back – on a weight that should have been very light for him! He completed the WOD, but at a weight almost 4x less than what the WOD called for. Then, on Monday, he was warming up a front squat when he felt a sharp pain in his knee. He bailed out of the WOD completely.

That night John decided it was time for a deload week. His body was sending him a message – loud and clear – that it was tired and needed time for a deep, thorough recovery. John took a solid week away from CrossFit WODs. He did some light assistance work, lots of stretching, and suppressed the temptation to work out, even when some of his favorite lifts came up in the programming. John came back strong on Saturday 1/28, hitting a new PR of 285# on his Clean (and narrowly missing 295#)!

This week, it’s my turn for a deload week. Unlike John, I didn’t have any back or knee pain… my body sent me a much more subtle message. Have you ever had a day when you pick up a 95# barbell, and it feels like 115#? Or you do a 400m run and your feet like they’re inside concrete shoes? If it happens just once, maybe you were just having an “off” day. But if it happens a few days in a row, your body may be trying to tell you something. That it’s tired, and it needs some time off to rest and recover. That’s what happened to me.

If you’re the type of person who is doing 4-5 WODs a week, and really pushing yourself to high intensity, this message is for you: The quality of your rest and recovery is just as important as the quality of your training. Help your body recover by practicing good nutrition every day, and taking in a recovery meal or drink immediately after your workout.  Then, about once every 6-8 weeks, take a week COMPLETELY off. Here are some signs you may be overtraining:

  • You tweak a muscle doing a light or routine lift.
  • A barbell, kettlebell, or wall ball that you frequently lift feels heavy and unmanageable.
  • You have trouble hitting high intensity in a WOD because your mind and/or body are holding you back.
  • You have trouble sleeping
  • You notice a change in your appetite.
  • You can’t seem to kick a cold.
  • You’re less “lean” than normal, even though you’re working out more.
  • You are constantly sore and tight.

 If any of these sound like you, please talk to John, Nikki, or one of our coaching interns… and consider the benefits of a deload week!


This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Lindsey

    This is a very helpful post! I think this was happening to me last week! I dont know about anyone else but I am always kind of scared to take a week off because I am worried about losing my muscle,mental focus, stamina or anything else. I am going to be more aware of my body and give in to it if it needs rest! Thanks for this info!

  2. Barb

    Cragle? Is that you?

  3. Joe

    Why do I feel like I just got a lecture?

    JK, this is a great post. I would love to see more content like this.

  4. John

    Lindsey, I had a lot of those fears for a very long time when I started CrossFit and I refused to rest. Nikki pointed out tonight that you don’t get stronger from hitting a max dead lift, you get stronger from recovering from a max dead lift. Taking a weak off often allows you to come back stronger than before. Its tough to swallow at first but definitely helps in the long run.

  5. Phil

    i agree with joe, this was a good read and would like to see more of this as well!

    and although my body doesn’t feel like it needs a week mentally i think it would good to take one.

    i also don’t want to miss a good wod (next week is all running right?)

  6. Nikki

    Lindsey and Phil – even if you’re not ready to take a full week off, consider a solid 4 days? It’s amazing what that can do to recharge your body and mind and get you ready to come back strong. Like John said, we don’t make muscle while doing a 1RM deadlift. We actually make muscle / get stronger in the days AFTER the lift, as our body recovers and repairs the muscle tissue we broke down during the lift. Every so often, when you’ve done enough damage to your body, taking 4-7 days off will allow all that damaged muscle to heal up completely. So, Lindsey, you definitely won’t LOSE strength during your week off… you may actually gain some!

    I’m glad you guys liked the post; we’d love to have more posts like this. If there’s a particular topic you’re interested in let us know…. otherwise we’ll post on CrossFit related topics as we are inspired!

  7. Cragle

    No, Barb. Other people have the same views about resting as I do. Now, I may have learned from at least half of the people responsible for this post. Due to situations in my life and the arrival of my baby girl, I can’t workout as frequently as I did the last few years. It’s something that has to be my norm for right now. However, I am stronger and feel like my intensity level is higher (even though my conditioning isn’t optimal if that makes sense) with more rest days a week. Some people also believe it might be detrimental to one’s health to work out everyday for a month (just saying)..

  8. Lindsey

    Thanks for your help/knowledge Nikki and John!

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