8-time IPF World Champion, Jen Thompson, shares how she structures a deload week.    

Jen started competing in powerlifting in 1999, and has risen to be one of the most dominant bench pressers in the World today.  She is now 44 years old, stands at 5′ 5″, and competes in the 63kg (138 lbs) weight class.  Her best bench press is 142.5kg (314.2lbs), and for over a decade she has ranked #1 in the world for bench press based on Wilks.

Summary of Jen’s Training Methodology

In a previous article, we highlighted Jen’s bench press methodology and showed you a sample week of her training.

In short, Jen follows a linear periodization model with undulating ‘heavy’ and ‘speed’ weeks.  Essentially, one week is focused on ‘something heavy’, and the alternating weeks are focused on ‘something fast’. The ‘something heavy’ workouts are focused on certain core lifts, which are repeated throughout the training cycle.  When you get to the heavy workouts every other week, the goal is to push your peak weights higher than what was achieved previously — this is the ‘linear’ part of the ‘linear periodization’ model.

Planning Your Progressions

When you plan your progressions, Jen believes that you should start with your end goal in mind.

For example, if you have a competition or planned test day in 12-weeks, then you’ll want to set some targets for what you’d like to achieve at the end of the training cycle.  If you’re following Jen’s undulating pattern of ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ weeks, then over the course of a 12-week training cycle, you’ll have 6 weeks where your heavy work will take place.

Jen’s heavy weeks always include 3 sets of 1 rep.  Knowing that you’ll have six opportunities to build the weight for your singles, you can work your way back from your end goal in order to establish targets for what to do each week.  It’s important to know that these targets don’t have to be a fixed number either — you can select a range in which you believe your progressions might fall within.

Let’s take a look at an example:
Let’s assume that your best bench press is 300lbs and you have a goal to lift 315lbs at the end of the training cycle.  As you work your way back from that goal, you might plan the following progressions:
Week 1: 275lb – 285lb (10lbs range)
Week 2: 285lb – 295lb (10lb range)
Week 3:  295lb – 305lb (10lb range)
Week 4: 305lb – 310lb (5lb range)
Week 6: 310lb – 315lb (5lb range)
Jen’s heavy workouts will include 3 sets of 1 rep.  She recommends that on week 1 of your training program that your three sets progress as follows:
Set 1: 85% (give or take) of your planned top single for the day.

Set 2: 95% (give or take) of your planned top single for the day.

Set 3: 100% (give or take) of your planned top single for the day.

Using the top end of the range for week 1 above (285lbs), the weight for the 3 sets would be as follows:

Set 1:  242lbs * 1

Set 2:  270lbs * 1

Set 3:  285lbs * 1

As you do your first two sets, you should be evaluating how you’re performing and asking yourself whether you’re on track for your target for the day.  While the weights each week should be challenging, you don’t want to blindly put on a weight that will make you fail.  Therefore, the idea is to use your first couple singles as feedback for what the top set should be.

The key takeaways are: 

  • Set a realistic goal for the end of the training cycle.  If it’s too lofty, then your training progressions might not be possible to scale each week.
  • Work your progressions back over your training cycle from the end goal.  Give yourself a range to work within.
  • The percentages for each set of singles (85%, 95%, 100%) are based off your planned top single for the day.

What Happens When You Miss Your Planned Progression?

Jen recognizes that at some point you’re simply not going to be able to progress linearly week after week.  You can’t add 10lbs to your top set forever.

So, what does that mean?

It means that in the real world, strength does not follow a linear pattern. There are periods throughout your training cycle where you will experience different rates of progress, sometimes attaining strength at faster rates (usually earlier in the training cycle) and sometimes at slower rates (usually later in the training cycle).  In addition, plateaus are normal and should be expected.  This is the idea that on one week you do a certain weight for X number of reps, and then the following week, you lack the ability to add weight to the bar for the same number of reps.  There are also periods of normal regress — where you actually go backwards in your weight.  This is attributable to a number of factors, including life events, injury, hormonal changes, psychological factors, and motivation.  Therefore, programs need to mold and adapt to your current training context, which means the rates at which you’re progressing, and your fatigue / recovery levels.

Planning Your Deload

Jen suggests that at the point in which you hit a strength plateau, or there’s a regression, you would plan a deload week.

Planning your deload week in this manner is contrary to how deloads are typically structured.  Usually, a deload is planned well in advance after a bout of over-reaching style training.  For example, a coach might plan 3 weeks of ‘hard’ training and then have a 4th week that acts as a deload — typically lighter in volume, intensity, or both.

What Jen is suggesting is that you only take a deload week when you’ve stalled on your planned progressions.  This is usually characterized by having two weeks in a row where you’ve missed either your target reps or weight.  As you can see, these deload weeks aren’t planned in advance, but in reaction to how your body is adapting to the training stimulus.  Some athletes might be able to have longer periods of training before needing to deload, while others might need to deload a couple times over the course of a 12-week training cycle.  The key is that you’re continuing to push your progressions so long as your body is able to continue adapting.

Jen’s deload weeks only require a minor reduction in load, and still include the same amount of volume as originally prescribed.  Typically, Jen would reduce between 10-15lbs (slightly more if required) from her original progressions.  While this temporarily changes the original progressions that were programmed, you allow yourself to re-calibrate your weekly progressions, and within 1-3 weeks you should be moving beyond the point in which you plateaued.

The key takeaways are: 

  • Only take a deload when you’ve hit a plateau or regression.  If you continue progressing as originally planned, then you would simply finish the training cycle with no deload.
  • Don’t worry if you need to plan a deload — don’t be frustrated that you weren’t able to hit your numbers.  It’s a normal part of the process.
  • The deload week is a way for you to re-calibrate your training progressions mid training cycle.  At that point, you would shift the following 1-3 weeks of training numbers, but by doing so, you should be breaking through your plateau.

Getting Started

Jen has released two training cycles on MyStrengthBook.  To access Jen’s programs, you’ll need a premium membership on MyStrengthBook.

Most athletes pay over $150-200 for online coaching, but Jen’s training cycles are available on MyStrengthBook for only $29/month. You’ll also get the benefit of being able to track her programs using the MyStrengthBook analytics platform to better understand what you do in the gym.

To get started sign-up for a FREE TRIAL, go to the Program Library, and add Jen’s training cycle you’re your calendar.


Looking for more indepth training advice or have questions about any of the training programs available fill out our program questeionnaire HERE and one our coaches will be in touch within 24 hours!

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