Should Crossfit Competition Programming Have Deload Weeks?
The topic of scheduled deload weeks in competitive CrossFit programming has always been a fascinating conundrum to me. To give a peek behind the curtain, we found back in 2012, when pageviews were king and the blog was still 100% free, that if we called a week of programming a “deload,” a lot of our audience disappeared. I’ll spare you most details on how we’ve navigated the topic since. Still, that first realization feels like a good starting point for this conversation about whether competitive Crossfit programs should have deload weeks, if you should adhere to them, and ultimately our newest solution for this off-season.
Should Competition Programming Have Deload Weeks?
The short answer is undoubtedly yes. Any thoughtful program will rely heavily on the strategic implementation of progressive overload. That strategy often goes awry for two main reasons:
- The timing of adaptations and recovery vary highly from individual to individual.
- Simply put, the goal is to get you very close to that cliff without booting you off it and causing more harm than good.
If we use the nine-week Misfit Athletics off-season Phases as an example, the week in which your body is getting dangerously close to the said cliff will typically fall between week three and week seven, making a pre-planned mass deload week less impactful than a personalized one. A mistake so many athletes make when they see the volume and intensity of their peers in the vacuum of a day or a week is assuming that it never stops. Peak volume and intensity represent overreaching, which must be followed up with a reduction of both to sink in. Coaches and athletes alike can easily wrap their minds around why the kind of human capable of executing on overreaching might need more than just a nudge to back off before facing the next mountain.
Should I Deload?
Maybe. Let’s outline the three main scenarios that result in a yes, no, and a grey area:
- Yes – Anyone following a moderate to high-volume program effectively will eventually see diminishing returns in their ability to recover, which should signal the timing for a deload.
- No – You might follow a program that is either entirely appropriate to manage week to week for long stretches or one that you modify for any number of reasons that becomes appropriate. In those instances, we’re after consistency over a longer time horizon as a strategy to improve, and life will probably take care of deloading.
- Grey Area – Athletes on both sides of the fence throughout the year. A handful of three-day or two-day deload blocks throughout the year that replace typical training could do the trick.
How do I deload?
If you follow our programming at Misfit Athletics, you will be presented with two options:
- By week three of each off-season Phase, you will start to see a fully built-out deloading template for you to introduce between then and week seven.
- The other option, which is available in this article for anyone to download for free, is a template to build your own week.
We find that many athletes want to download that fully built-out week as digging into the template adds a level of stress they are specifically trying to avoid at the time their body and mind signals for them to dial it back, while others want some say in the movements they’re going to be doing while they prioritize recovery.
If you’re new to adding these types of weeks into your training, there will be some guess and check work as you progress from Phase I to Phase III. If you deload during week four, you’re using the idea of ramping up to three weeks of high intensity and volume, with the goal of pushing for the following four to five. Conversely, waiting until week six or seven can push you to a place where picking it back up for one to two more weeks sounds incredibly doable in comparison.
Once you’ve decided, go ahead and download the deload template for either MFT or Hatchet based on which program you’ve been following, and make it a real point to take excellent care of yourself, above and beyond your normal routines.
Download the Deload Template
How to use the Deload Template
If you’re new to the site and want to take the template for a spin or just like building your vacation from the grind, here are the instructions for using our free deload template:
Choose three weightlifting sessions from your program that you have recently completed. Drop the percentage anywhere from 10 to 20% on each set, ensuring you do not exceed 70% on any reps. Ideally, you will have chosen three different lifts that encompass differing ranges of motion. These will be put directly into the templates in the lift box on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Choose a machine or rotation of machines of your choice; make sure you’ve got a way to track your heart rate and build from your resting heart rate to around 130 bpm over the course of fifteen minutes. Ideally, you make this climb even and gradual. These will go into your template on M/T/W/F/Sa into the warm-up boxes. Similarly, on those days you will have a cool down after each conditioning session that does the same thing in reverse. Head back to your machine or rotation of machines of your choice and slowly lower your heart rate from where it was in the workout to around 120 bp, following it up with a nice 5:00-15:00 walk to finish off your cool down and day.
Create three “Not for time” workouts. You can snag a previous workout you’ve done, change it to your liking, or kick it old school and choose one machine, one weighted movement, and one gymnastics movement. The key is to stretch this session from what would probably take you around ten or twelve minutes to over twenty. I also like to write them for athletes in a way that forces them to break things up. Here’s an example:
For quality – not reps:
3 x 7:00 Windows
15 Calorie Machine
2×2 Wall Walks
5×1 Power Snatch @ 70%
Slow and steady. Move very well, transition slowly, and keep heart rate in your comfort zone.
Don’t overthink this, it’s just nine total movements that hopefully bring in different ranges of motion, muscle groups, and a little variety. These three not-for-time workouts will go into the conditioning boxes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Choose five skill OR accessory movements you want to do during the week. If it’s a skill movement, choose a number of reps you can repeat comfortably and technically for over ten rounds, then choose a machine and distance you’d like to pair with it as a rest/flush station that takes you between two and three minutes to complete at a nice easy pace. Set a target for seven to ten rounds of this couplet, and always stop or back off if that number isn’t the right choice. For the accessory movement, we like a good old-fashioned 4 to 6 sets of 10 reps followed by a three-minute walk as rest after each set. Moderate the difficulty by choosing a weight that is nice and smooth. These five sessions will go into the Skill or Accessory box on M/T/W/F/Sa.
Choose between a Zone 2 machine session or a swimming workout for two total sessions that will be completed on Tuesday and Saturday. If you’re unfamiliar with how we do our MF2 sessions, you can find out instructions here:
If you mix any running into your Zone 2 session, keep the total volume under twenty minutes by mixing in a second modality.
For Thursday, find an active rest day activity that puts you in a positive head space. Try to accumulate 60-90 minutes of slow movement, preferably outdoors. Ideas:
- Ruck or Vest Walk
- Low-intensity “sports”
- Low-intensity swimming/time in the water
Also, give yourself a solid hour to work into static stretching slowly, isometric holds, flossing, rolling, etc. Some people can relax in silence, some with music or a podcast/book, but the setting is very important. Take the time to create a space where you can do a meaningful head-to-toe mobility routine.
Lastly, Deloading isn’t just about rest but also about paying attention to the things that can help you hit the ground running in the following weeks. Know the recovery protocols that move the needle for you and double down today. Hot, cold, sleep, flushing on machines, etc.
Last but not least is that little box on Sunday that says “NEM,” which stands for non-exercise movement. For at least this final day, but hopefully, a few more, accumulate 15,000+ steps throughout the day. In between, we’re looking for the same mobility and recovery protocols in step 6.
Download the Deload Template
Don’t Skip it.
There will be times throughout the year when you go on vacation or completely stay out of the gym after a big competition, which is great, but that’s not what this article is about. Maintaining the rhythms of the lifestyle, movement patterns, and routine while taking care of your mind and body mid-training phase is an invaluable tool that can make you fitter by the end of the Phase vs. blasting through and starting another.
As always, it’s an honor to meet you halfway in your pursuit of growth. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to slide into those DMs or join us on our free discord.