A Simple Hack for Peaking
You are deep in the preparation for a massive competition. You have been hitting HUGE squats of 1-2 reps, big singles left and right. One week out from the competition, you are DRILLING lift after lift. You feel like a freight train. Your platform lift volume has been cut dramatically and your strength volume has been cut out for three weeks. You are grooving it and feel a big meet coming on.
The meet day arrives, you feel a little groggy but technique is lined up and nothing beats the feeling of the competition stage. You walk out for introductions, the butterflies are all over your gut and you know you are prepared to go big. The last two weeks have been incredible in training and you can’t wait to show off the work you have put in. Stepping down off the platform you are ready to roll, you mix up your pre-workout and start rolling out and mobilize every joint that you can find, even joints that aren’t your own.
You take a couple of lifts, feel decent but the technique is slightly off. You take a couple of extra reps on the way up in snatches to try to find a rhythm. You aren’t as stimulated in the warm-up hall as you were back home in training, maybe your coach needs to know the 5 Key Secrets to a Sound Strength Program?? The butterflies quickly turn to frustration, frustration sets in and it makes your technique erratic. Now you are hit with the double whammy. You aren’t as wired, you are frustrated and the technique isn’t precise. You go 1 for 3 in the snatch. Clearly, you need a technical analysis to improve your snatch movement!
Ok, it’s one lift. You can recoup a big meet with a 3/3 performance in clean and jerk. You take a leak and a little bit of extra pre-workout. You crush your sour patch kids, add in some applesauce and now you are fueled for the second portion of the competition. As you warm-up, you are still frustrated by how you feel. The legs just aren’t super fresh, the technique isn’t money and your headspace is all over the place. You go out and smoke your first clean and jerk. You start to regroup and feel better mentally but you notice some simple fatigue is setting in on your legs. The second attempt is a weight you have hit 9 times in the last three weeks. You are ready to drop the hammer and crush it. The clean is tight, the catch is decent but the legs just aren’t there. It’s a freaking grind to the vertical position, you feel like you are blacking out, you pull the ole drive and pray and somehow hit your second clean and jerk. Your legs feel AWFUL. You pulled that lift out of your ass. You head out for the third clean and jerk but Clark the lift. This is a weight you have hit multiple times over the last few weeks but it feels like a TON. Your legs fatigued, there was no real stimulus feeling and your head was all over the place. What went wrong?!?! Maybe you need to get on a Garage Strength Squat Program.
The solution? More squats. I know, it sounds absurd and ridiculous but it makes sense. If we can think of squats in two different modalities regarding Olympic weightlifting, they can be used to enhance coordination with very high-intensity reps, singles, and doubles, or they can be used to spark a metabolic adaptation through simple mechanical loading.
A mechanical load is a form of adaptation that coaches consistently forget about and really don’t understand. Think of the old “farm strength” term for athletes that were from backcountry towns. Dudes would come from deep woods towns and still be incredibly strong in the weight room with minimal amounts of resistance training. How did they get so strong? They grew up on a farm, doing manual labor, under mechanical loads for long periods of time. This imprinted strength, the farm boys weren’t throwing hay bales to failure or carrying feedbags to failure, they were just carrying them and under stress and load. As weightlifting coaches, we need to keep this in mind with our athletes.
What’s the trick? Squat management.
For two weeks prior to a meet, I think it is commonplace to cut volume. This isn’t always recommended but most people do well having at least one of their last two weeks be a large deload. The problem lies within the squats. Everyone drops their squat reps down to 1-2 reps, which is fine BUT the metabolic management diminishes and the mechanical load diminishes. Many coaches believe this will not be a problem if it is only for 2-3 weeks, however, I have found the contrary.
Anna McElderry is one of our up and coming beasts at Garage Strength. She is a 76k lifter that is 17 and has snatched 90k and clean and jerked 111k. She will be excellent. She has had 3 straight meets going 5 for 6. During a recent competition, we were running A/B tests on her training. We backed off significantly from her squat volume. She freshened up RAPIDLY and started smashing weights within a 4-6 day adaptation period. This continued on for nearly 10 days. However, as we got to the meet, she started to lose her pop and felt weak. During the competition, she complained about feeling dead legged, we cut out the volume on her legs and by the time she was done warming up for clean and jerks, she felt gassed.
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Fortunately for us, Anna is a beast and still smashed everything. Fast forward to Pan Ams in Ecuador and Anna was lifting in hot weather, on foreign soil for the first time and also with squat volume. We significantly cut her platform volume and managed her accessory volume very well. On the squats, we focused on 2-3 sets of 1-2 reps at 90%, then two sets of 5 at 80% two weeks out and then the week of competition she had 1 set of five at 77% of her best. This doesn’t sound like much but this had a serious impact on her performance. Anna went on to crush her weights with more precision and strength and felt like a million bucks in her legs.
The key is to stimulate the legs enough that they still can transport a metabolic adaptation but don’t wear them down too much to the point of delayed soreness, which can negatively impact technique. The strength has been developed, the metabolic impact is very important during the fifth and sixth lift of competition because there might be misses, long periods of waiting and more warm-ups may be needed to maintain tension throughout the body. It is important to remember the various scenarios that a lifter can be dealt with during the competition. The tempo and pace of a meet can drag on like an opera over 2.5 hours or the pace can be rapid and athletes need to recruit strength multiple times over a shorter period of time. Keep all of this in the back of your mind as you prepare to conquer your goals!
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If you have had this experience or want to contribute to this dialogue, post comments below and we will address them in a future post.