The Deload Week and Why YOU Should Use It

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Today’s guest post comes from Jeff Barnett, and it’s on the importance of deload weeks which is something I feel is relevant to EVERY person reading this post who trains on a consistent basis.

For more info on Jeff, check out his sites HERE and HERE.

Recently at my facility, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from my athletes regarding deload weeks.  Specifically, what is a deload week and how they can incorporate it into their training?

A deload week is simply a week spent recovering from exercise. Rest is not just a break from going to the gym. It’s an absolutely essential part of training! We are all familiar with rest days. Why not extend the concept further to a rest week? After all, your body has no respect for how long you think it should take to recover.

Only reality matters: how long does your body actually need for recovery? Consistent training eventually builds a deficit that cannot be repaid in a single rest day. A deload week is a chance for your body to recover from that deficit. The deload week allows your body to catch up – to repair connective tissue and restore testosterone/cortisol ratios. Muscle can recover more quickly than connective tissue. A deload week keeps tendons and ligaments healthy. If you chronically develop tendonitis, then scheduled deload weeks are definitely part of the solution.

Here’s the disconnect: You don’t get stronger by exercising!

You get stronger by recovering from exercise. This simple concept forms the basis of exercise physiology. Hans Selye first described it in 1936. Countless professionals like Zatsiorsky, Rippetoe, and Kilgore have expanded it further. The basic theory goes like this:

1. Provide a stimulus to an organism (exercise)

2. Remove the stimulus (rest)

3. The organism adapts to better handle the stimulus (Next time you can deadlift 375 lbs instead of 370 lbs). This is called supercompensation.

We all recognize the importance of Step #1. We all recognize the fun of Step #3. But Step #2 often goes neglected, even though it’s equally critical.

What happens when you neglect Step #2 and you never remove the stimulus (you continue to exercise constantly)? Seyle actually studied that too. The organism dies. Now everyone will stop exercising before they die, but the point is that a never-ending stimulus (unceasing exercise) doesn’t make you better. It makes you worse. It digs your body into a hole that keeps getting deeper. This is overtraining.

I first read about deload weeks from Jim Wendler in his short and violent book, 5/3/1. His program advocates training at precise percentages in four-week cycles. The first three weeks of each cycle are heavy and the last week is a deload week.

Note from TG:  We use a similar approach at Cressey Performance as well, albeit we modify training stress a bit differently.

Week 1 – High Volume
Week 2 – Medium Volume
Week 3 – VERY High Volume
Week 4 – Deload/eat lots of dead animal flesh

The deload week uses three sets of five reps for each exercise at 40-60% of 1RM – very few reps and very light loads. The intent is to preserve the neuromuscular pathways of lifting without actually breaking down muscle (the usual intent of strength training).

Top CrossFit competitor Blair Morrison also uses deload weeks. Morrison trains 1-on/1-off for 3 weeks and then takes a week of recovery. His training days include up to three workouts. Morrison says, “I can go really hard in all those workouts because I know I have the next day as a rest day.”

How can you incorporate a deload week into your training? Simple. Every few weeks of training, take a week off. I have adopted the 3/1 ratio that Wendler and Morrison prescribe, and I recommend it. You still take your normal rest days during your training weeks, but when your training weeks are over, take a full week of dedicated recovery.

Schedule your deload week in advance, and stick to it. And when it arrives, remember that allowing your body to recover is more important than the fun of jumping into another workout. You are not wussing out—you are making yourself stronger!

Now, some caveats.

First, I don’t suggest complete rest for the whole week. I suggest a couple active recovery workouts, a couple thorough mobility sessions, and yes, some straight-up rest. Active recovery means you are working, but not at an intensity that is breaking down muscle or challenging you metabolically. One of my favorite recovery WODs is rowing 2000 meters on the Concept 2.

Rowing is low impact and involves almost your entire body. I can also precisely monitor my pace to ensure I keep the intensity low. Jim Wendler’s prescription is also excellent. Three sets of five reps of back squat and shoulder press at 50% 1RM with 2-3 minutes rest between sets is also a great recovery workout.

You could also use Yoga (at low intensity), lacrosse ball and foam roller work, joint mobility work, and deep tissue massage as recovery tools during your deload week. Of a seven day week, you want 3-4 complete rest days and 3-4 recovery and mobility sessions. Have a plan for your deload week, but listen to your body. That’s what the deload week is all about.

Note from TG:  HERE is a post I did a while back on active recovery that may provide some ideas of what to do.

Next, a deload week is not an excuse to derail your nutrition. On the contrary, sticking to your nutrition plan is even more important during your deload week. Keeping your normal gym schedule while just performing recovery and mobility workouts can help keep your routine intact. Routine helps most athletes stick to their nutrition plan. Your body is repairing itself. You need to provide it all the quality fuel it needs to complete the repairs, along with plenty of sleep every night. Recovery is not just the absence of training; it is a critical part of the training process!

Why should you consider working deload weeks into your training schedule? You will become stronger, faster. You’ll suffer fewer chronic injuries. You’ll be less prone to burning out.  You’ll be an overall better athlete. Try it.



“A Syndrome Produced by Diverse Nocuous Agents” – 1936 article by Hans Selye from The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences

Kraemer, William J.; Zatsiorsky, Vladimir M. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training, Second Edition.

Rippetoe, Mark (2009), Practical Programming for Strength Training

Wendler, Jim (19 August 2011), 5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System to Increase Raw Strength


Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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Comments for This Entry

  • daniel

    I am a little confused how you can write an article bashing corporate gym trainers and then have a crossfit owner come on to write a guest post. At this point I feel regardless of whether some people involved with the organization happen to know ass from elbow, it is still the duty of the educated, concerned trainer to let people know how bad of a workout plan Crossfit is.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:39 am | Reply to this comment

    • Sean Butler

      Seriously Daniel, not all of Crossfit or its trainers are bad. This guy seems to know what he is talking about and is probably one of the good trainers in Crossfit. It's getting pretty old that people just need to get on Crossfit's ass at any moment possible. Also, Tony has never been ardently against it and he has even complimented it at times. I'm not a full on Crossfitter (I do the odd workout now and then) but I respect what they aim to do. Get off your high horse and realize there are 1001 different ways to get fit. Great guest post Jeff!

      January 30, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Anonymous

    Daniel really/???? I mean, really? If you note, as it relates to CrossFit, I've ALWAYS said that there definitely plenty of affiliates out there who go about doing it the right way.........and I DO NOT put everyone under one umbrella. CrossFit, while I do have my reservations, does motivate people to train, and when done correctly (putting people through a proper assessment, using appropriate progressions, etc), can be beneficial. There are plenty of strength coaches out there who suck, too. Regardless, I found Jeff's article very informative and something that could benefit a lot of people reading, hence why I posted it. Pretty ignorant comment on your part I feel.

    January 30, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Reply to this comment

  • jb

    Jeff, assuming you're reading, what splits are your athletes pulling for their recovery 2k? 5 splits above their best 2k? 10? all out? I can't imagine you're having them go all out, and that qualifying as recovery.

    January 30, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Russ Demczak CSCS, HKC

    ..though I hope that pic is not one of those 'overhead swing' things so prevalent in Crossfit, I'm not sure what else it could be of though. One of those things that as a HKC instructor makes me want to stab my eyes out. If you want to swing overhead, learn how to snatch please - otherwise the weight is entirely too light.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Reply to this comment

  • BC

    I hear that, regardless of whether some people involved with the name happen to know ass from elbow, it is still the duty of the educated, concerned Obstetrician to let people know how bad of a name Daniel is. Do you see what I did there? Now apply it to what you said, Daniel. While there are certainly principles and components of Crossfit that are straight crap, there are also educated and well-informed people involved too. Jeff appears to be pretty well informed, at least so far as recovery and its importance go to optimal performance.

    January 30, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Reply to this comment

  • R Smith

    Tony, This is a great guest post. I enjoyed it. I'll certainly check out more of Jeff's stuff. The thing that really hooked me on CP was the fluctuating volume, which seems to flow perfectly. By the time my body gets to the very high volume week, I know the moves well and can crush the weights. But interestingly, during the de-load week, it's not uncommon for me to see my numbers fly up. And knowing that I CANNOT press the accelerator on volume excites me to enjoy the de-load week and crush training the following week, fresh. Again, thanks for the post. Good stuff, Jeff. RS

    January 30, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Anonymous

      It's something I feel a lot (meaning, EVERYBODY) tend to disregard. There IS a point of a deload week, and there are a million and one different ways to approach it. Glad you liked the post R-dubs.

      January 31, 2012 at 8:28 am | Reply to this comment

    • Jeff Barnett

      RS, awesome point! Sometimes it's tough to hold yourself back during deload weeks. Fighting back the urge to go hard is tough, because that normally drives our progress during the non-deload weeks. But if you're disciplined about it, as you described, the effect in following weeks is a great motivator.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Mike A.

    It's unfortunate that people can't read an article that even remotely mentions CF in any capacity without getting their panties in a twist and calling it out as a poor program. Almost any program, when applied correctly and performed with appropriate intensity, will yield positive results. Is CF a poor program decision for some people? Probably. Is GVT a poor program decision for some people? Sure is. What's worse: Someone going to a CF affiliate and learning the compound lifts and performing metabolic conditioning or someone going to Planet Fitness and hamster-ing away on a treadmill for 45 minutes before doing 3x10 bicep curls? There are some things about CF I don't love, but I'd by no means dismiss the entire concept as a "poor workout plan", that'd be ignorant and small-minded.

    January 30, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Silverdan7

    I disagree, I am sure that some quality trainers have been featured on The Biggest Loser at some point or another. That does not mean that the show is worth promotiong or defending. Crossfit is a brand which promotes, no programming, machismo and ego before restraint and maturity, improper use of form and a variety of other things regularly chastised by you on that site. It is so much bigger than those rare individuals. Mike Boyle recently made a good post which is that as time goes on more and more intelligent individuals will distance themselves from the brand of Crossfit. How can you defend a brand that has drawn so many negligence lawsuits that they had to form their own insurance agency. You may occasionally encounter truly great customer service at a WalMart, but that will always be the exception to the rule, and that person will not remain there for long because of said quality.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Anonymous

      I'm NOT defending the brand dude. LIke I said, there are components of it that I wholeheartedly disagree with. Besides, as much I respect Mike Boyle, his word is not the golden rule on everything. I still use back squats with my athletes. OMG!!!!!!!!!! What I AM defending, is the obvious GREAT content that Jeff contributed to which you chastised because he's affiliated with CrossFit. I don't know, I don't see everything as so black and white. Take your Biggest Loser example. I think the show is an abomination. BUT, I also see that it's given people hope and motivated them to train. It's not always "this sucks" or "this is great." There's always a middle ground. Your entitled to your opinion, and I certainly respect it. I guess we just have to agree to disagree.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Reply to this comment

      • Anonymous

        Also, just to throw it out there, the fact that Jeff wrote about freaking deload weeks and how it's ridiculous to think that non-stop exercise is the way to make progress proves that he DOES write programs for his athletes. According to you, CrossFit doesn't promote what the hell is a deload week? Seems to me Jeff is promoting that athletes use more restraint in their programming. So, your argument really has no merit.

        January 31, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Reply to this comment

  • jb

    Cardio isn't bad, unless you don't need cardio. squats are great, unless you can't squat. And there are hundreds of people using conditioning circuits and complexes perfectly well (and have for 50+ years) and others who are doing a terrible job (using them or something else) some of both groups wear crossfit on their shield. Judge the man by the content and not the marketing banner. Jeff, and by extension Tony posted some great content, and I'm disappointed that people's response is "Crossfit? Grab your torches and pitchforks!" “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” ― Bruce Lee Even if he's a terrible trainer (maybe he is I've never seen him work). I steal from everyone.. no matter how wrong I think they are on some other things. If you can't see the benefits, or the specific situations where a type of training would be beneficial you aren't looking closely enough.

    January 31, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Brandon LaVack

    A great read for sure, but definitely has ruffled up some people's feathers. There are definitely some very knowledgeable coaches in Crossfit, Jeff Barnett seeming to be a very good example, as I know more CF Coaches have never heard of the term "Deload". There are other really good coaches out there, such as Kelly Starrett who owns San Fransisco Crossfit. To say that all CF coaches don't know what they are doing is completely out of control, as Kelly knows more than a vast majority of the Strength & Conditioning Coaches COMBINED. Just because Crossfit has gotten a bad name for itself doesn't mean that everything about is bad. I personally have never done a Crossfit workout, but understand that a lot have very little knowledge, but not ALL. Back on topic: Jeff, very good post and keep doing what you are doing!!

    February 1, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Jeff Barnett

      Brandon, thanks so much! In my time in the Marine Corps I learned something interesting: The Marine Corps selects from American society. American society contains bozos. Therefore, some bozos will inevitably end up in the Marine Corps. It's not the norm, but it happens. No group or organization is safe. Not CrossFit, not strength and conditioning, nothing! I judge each person on his/her merits. You're not automatically an idiot because you grew up in rural Alabama. You're not automatically a genius because you graduated from Stanford. Similarly, I appreciate the consideration that you, Tony, and others have provided me by not assuming I'm a horrible trainer because I'm a CrossFit affiliate owner. I also place high expectations on my other trainers. I created a list of required reading that includes Jim Wendler, Mark Rippetoe, Lon Kilgore, Pavel Tsatsouline, Robb Wolf, Barry Sears, Zatsiorsky, human anatomy, and we keep adding to it every 6 weeks. We also don't just read, we have review sessions where we discuss the material and how to apply it. know what, I could go on for hours telling you how much we care and try to do things right at CrossFit Impulse, but I'll stop there. In short, thanks! I'm gonna keep training athletes. :)

      February 2, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Matt C

    Wow people how about some comments that actually RELATE to the content in this post. Last time I checked, we all are just trying to help people accomplish their goals. Lets stop wasting time arguing about who sucks more and get to work! ANYWAY I really enjoyed this one. I have been using the deload week as more of a dynamic effort week of sorts. I will decrease the volume and work on moving the weight explosively. For example, yesterday I did speed deadlifts at 50% of 1RM for 6x2. What do you think of this approach?

    February 3, 2012 at 11:01 am | Reply to this comment

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  • Johnny Wayne

    Can you do sprints everyday during DELOAD week. . I'm not lifting for a whole week hurdles that mean I can run too????? Sprints vs 3x3 on the squat

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  • jtporter

    Tony and Jeff. I am very glad to have found this article. I've been doing crossfit for about a year and half. I have reached the point were I need to start training harder and recovering better to achieve more gains so I am creating a workout plan using the schedule Jeff outlines. I hope after a year you are both still collaborating as it yields the best results for all fitness programs when those things that work for one program are cross-pollinated with others. As far as the benefits of CF, I've overcome hip and heal injuries I sustained playing soccer after about 2 months in CF. I have also been able to get completely off my blood pressure medication. Ironically, I was diagnosed with High Blood pressure during a half marathon pre-race medical exam indicated I had high blood pressure. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and 5 years of high blood pressure medication was ended just 6-8 months into CF. Thank you so much for all your informative posts.

    July 18, 2013 at 10:17 am | Reply to this comment

  • Michael_LongBeachNY

    Good Morning. Your article on cycling pre-WO's was very good. I have a further inquiry regarding this. I just started a 7-10 day recovery period. I have a bunch of nagging injuries as well as a strained sartorius muscle. I took a fat burner this morning by accident (Lipo-6 Black), but I plan on stopping use for the remainder of my recovery period. I did light cardio today for blood flow and some band work for circulation to the muscles. Do you recommend me not taking any pre or post supplements during this period? I plan on surely removing caffeine and the Lipo6 during this period but I wasnt sure about the other supps I take (Beta-Alanince, Cit Mal, BCAA, Glutamine, Taurine). I also take numerous herbs and vitamins such as betaine hcl, tyrosine, tribulus, carnitine, coleus forskoliin, and the traditional vitamins like D, C, Omegas, Zinc, ect. I really need to heal my body over this recovery period, my body is shot. Im also coming back to training with a 5 day split. I used to go 6 days which I admit was overtraining; I trained like this for about 8 years. I'm 30 now and starting to breakdown. Also, I started taking a muscle relaxer yesterday to help the healing of my sartorius. Will prevent and sudden contractions which may hinder recovery or re-tear the fibers. Your advice would appreciated greatly. Thank You! Michael A. Perlman

    July 29, 2013 at 7:00 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      I'm hit or miss on that one Michael. It seems a lot of the supplements you listed were ones for performance - especially Beta Alanine). So, point blank, I'd probably note that it's not pertinent that you take those supps if you're not training intensely for a period of time.

      July 30, 2013 at 5:57 am | Reply to this comment

      • Michael_LongBeachNY

        Thanks very much for responding. Same goes for BCAA and vitamins and herbs?

        July 30, 2013 at 7:48 am | Reply to this comment

        • TonyGentilcore

          I think the vitamins and herbs can stay in for their health benefits alone. With BCAAs, I'm up in the air. I think that if you're getting ample protein in your diet they're kind of a waste of money. But that's just me. I know some people swear by them. The only time I feel they have a lot of merit is when one is HYPOcaloric for a long period of time.

          July 31, 2013 at 7:49 pm | Reply to this comment

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