Peaking: It’s Not All That It is Cracked Up To Be
Fortunately for me, I was trained by a coach that researched and studied the peculiarities of peak condition. Dr. Anatoly Bondarchuk was writing his thesis in 1972 on why elite hammer throws threw their personal bests at different times of the season, even if they were on the same training programs. While training under Dr. B, this was something I consistently brought to his attention and I always wanted to know more and more and more about peaking and what it meant for strength coaches in general.
It doesn’t mean shit. As coaches, we have done a pathetic job to fully comprehend what it means to peak specific athletes. We love using terms like, “Individualized training,” “sport-specific,” and all the other techno-jargon that again...doesn’t mean shit.
What did Dr. B say? He was the first person that taught me about athlete typing. He was the first coach to tell me that when I start coaching, I MUST learn from my athletes and create a system based on my own experiments and lessons. That is how I have built my system and that is how I have built my programming!
From his teachings, I created what is known as an Athlete's Reactive Analysis. I have used this in most cases with tremendous success. In some cases, it still sucks but in a lot of cases, it is imperative to understanding specific athletes and analyzing their reaction to various stimuli.
What did I see at worlds? I saw a lot of freaking people going HEAVY AS FEK!I saw people hitting monster lifts, 3 days out, even 2 days out from the competition. I saw some athletes hitting 6-8 sets of squats or 6-8 sets of pulls and other athletes working to a max 2-3 days from their performance.
What I believe it comes down to, are a few key factors.
- Understand how that individual responds to heavyweights. Do they feel better when hitting big lifts the day before? Do they feel better hitting big lifts 2 days before? Do they feel better hitting big lifts 3 days out or 7 days out? As a coach, we should freaking know the answer to these questions.
- Understand how the individual responds to volume. Strength coaches LOVE to say that everyone needs to deload on volume. Charles Poliquin taught me this in 2008-2009 when I was at his center in Rhode Island...everyone needs a volume deload every 3-4 weeks. However, over the past decade, I have learned that this is not always the case. Some people actually handle volume quite well and as coaches, we need to know if the athlete responds well to volume or if they respond poorly to volume!
- Understand what strength lifts spark positive stimuli. Coaches might fight over this topic. Should we be doing more squats leading into a peak or more pulls? Some coaches might think that pulls will ruin their technique. Other coaches might say that squats will cause too much residual fatigue. I say, everyone is dumb and we can only know if a stimulus provides a positive or negative impact on a specific person. If that person responds well to squats, then you better believe that the athlete is getting squats!
- Accessories CAN be part of a peaking plan. I stood around the training hall watching the Chinese weightlifting team. I got into a pushing match with Lu Xiaojun (thanks Pyrros) and I almost fought their 109 (insert his name) at the dining commons with Spencer Arnold. One thing I noticed from their team...they are freaking YOKED! They hit certain accessories even during peaking. Maybe it’s because they’re on the gas, maybe it’s because they feel really strong when they get a little pump in their back or their bize...or maybe it’s because they are on the gas AND they like the pump. Either way, when I have athletes telling me they feel “flaccid,” I start to recognize that a little bit of accessory work won’t kill a peak. I don’t want my lifters feeling like a 75-year-old on Friday night as they head into their competition.
Peaking is difficult. Coaching is difficult. There are a lot of factors that go into an athlete's peak condition. There is a lot of stress that we as coaches need to manage and handle. The more we understand our athletes and their reactive analysis, the more successful we become and the more positive results we will see at major competitions!