Why do we deload? To build, grow, adapt, recover and prepare.
In all traditional strength programs, skill acquisitions, sport specific training or any fitness venture for that matter, exists what is commonly referred to as a Deload. This is a short period of time in which an athlete intentionally lowers volume, intensity or loading in their program with the intention of increasing strength and progress in the long term. The absolute truth of exercise is that we do not get fitter or stronger from working out. It's the recovery from that exercise that fuels growth and fitness. Every day in the gym we put our body and mind through a specific stress. In the time following that stress, the recovery period, our body makes the necessary adaptations to handle that specific stress better if and when it comes again and consequently we get fitter or stronger. If we consistently push our body to its limit and don't have the necessary recovery time, we will eventually stop seeing progress, possibly work backwards away from our goals and will likely start to see injuries popping up.
CrossFit is a sport right? We should treat it like one.
Compare what you do in CrossFit to powerlifting or endurance running. A powerlifter moves near maximal loads almost every day in the bench, squat or deadlift with added volume in accessory movements. An endurance runner has a program filled with miles and miles of running throughout a week. Imagine these athletes continuing to stress their bodies to the max, day after day, week after week. At some point something is going to give. They are at risk for burning out, over training, or acute injury. What these athletes do to combat these risks is insert deload weeks into their programs. They can deload and return to their sport fully recovered and refreshed and able to continue training healthy and at maximal efforts. CrossFit is no different! We need the recovery! Do you ever find yourself nursing minor injuries? Do you ever feel like you just don't want to go to the gym? These are signs that you are in need of a deload.
Supercompensation. The path to PR's.
Why do you think a powerlifter or olympic lifter enters a taper week prior to their event? They insert a period of time with lower volumes and intensities before their meet to allow for maximal recovery before entering into what is called the supercompensation phase of training. During the training phase, their fitness and/or strength can slightly decline due to the constant stresses they put on their bodies. The taper period allows for the recovery process to happen which in turn allows for higher fitness and strength than what they had before the training phase. A deload is for this exact purpose. Many times you will return to the gym after a deload period and do things in training that you previously couldn't do.
Cortisol, catabolism and systemic fatigue.
Now for some science describing what your body is doing on the inside. If you are training hard enough to stress your body enough for adaptations, you will unlikely be able to keep up with restoring your glycogen in your muscles every week. Week after week of hard training will lead to lowered glycogen levels which will start to affect your performance and muscle growth. Also with hard training, your nervous system and hormonal systems will start to take a hit. Testosterone production can start to fall and cortisol production can start to rise. Cortisol promotes catabolism which is the breaking down of tissues. We're going for anabolism which is the growth and repair of your tissues. Your nervous system can also start to show poor function and recovery. Hard training also promotes microtraumas in your muscles and connective tissues which aren't a problem in the short term but can lead to problems in the long term if not addressed with proper recovery. The summation of each of these problems with hard training over a long period of time contributes to systemic fatigue. You start to acquire all of these effects and may not feel each one individually, but your systemic fatigue does start to increase without your knowledge until you reach the point of no return. Systemic fatigue will lower your force production and explosiveness and can make you weaker. When this happens, your technique can start to break down which is another path towards injuries.
Why do we train so hard then?
All that being said...why do we still train hard and accumulate that systemic fatigue? If we're trying to keep from reaching our breaking point, why do we still go hard in training? It's inevitable that we're going to increase our systemic fatigue and that's not always a bad thing. Ultimately we train to stress our body so it will adapt and be stronger and more prepared in the following training session.
If you are able, take a step back and look at your long term goals. Your progress is not determined solely by today's or tomorrow's workout. It is determined by how hard you are able to push that stress on your body and mind for the long haul. If your body or mind isn't primed to put in full effort, you aren't taking steps in the right direction. Always taking steps in the right direction is the key to progress. Spending adequate time on recovery will help guarantee that you don't take steps in the wrong direction.
307 Programming is built to give you days that have lower intensity, lower volumes or lower loading on purpose throughout each week. These days are important to the overall loading for each particular week. They allow for mini bouts of recovery sprinkled into our weekly programming. Looking at the bigger picture, every 7th week in our programming is a "deload" week. This is an entire week of slightly lowered intensities, volumes or loading to let your body recover fully before entering a new block of programming.
Deloading is important on so many levels. Treat your deload periods as a time to work on some different aspects of your training. Working on form and technique at lower loads and intensities sometimes is neglected during your super hard training periods. Enjoy your deload time knowing that you put in the work to earn it, and you'll need everything you've got to put into the hard training weeks to come. You're not weak if you deload, you're actually going to be stronger because of it.