Strength Movements During a Peak

Strength Movements: squat, front squat, snatch pull, clean pull

Athletes and coaches alike are very tentative during a peak block. They start to quiver at the idea of too much volume, they shake when they think about multiple sets of strength work after an athlete has finished their Olympic lifts and technical movements for the day. Generally, this is how the situation plays out. A four-week block is written by a coach, the volume is cut early in the peak and within 5-8 days an athlete starts to feel like a machine. Around 10-14 days into the peak, the individual feels amazing and wants to push the weights a bit on the strength movements but the coach consistently tells them to stay calm and just stay focused on the competitive movements with a much smaller focus on the strength movements. Around day 20, the athlete starts to shit their pants, weights are feeling heavier than they expected, they communicate this issue to their coach, the coach then shits their pants and immediately adds some strength movements back into the training, forgetting that the athlete has to peak within 5-8 days. Finally, they hit those big strength lifts but the residual fatigue has a negative impact on their performance, they don’t compete to par and neither the coach nor the athlete truly knows what went wrong.

How often and at what percentage should weightlifters squat and pull during a peak?

What should coaches do with the strength movements during a peak? It all depends. We have to consider that each athlete has their unique defense mechanisms to stimuli. By studying their response, understanding their mental approach and constantly using semi-controlled experiments to understand their adaptations, the coach will be able to see what works best for the athlete and what does not.

Recognizing the three to four athlete types is key. When athletes are put into one of the 3 categories, it makes it much easier to understand the place of strength movements within a peak program. A few things that must be addressed first and foremost.
The main priority of a peak for weightlifters is to ensure that their snatch and clean and jerk are optimized for the absolute best performance.
Athlete adaptations must be understood prior to peaking or at the very least, the current peak is playing a long term role in finding the precise response the athlete makes to stimuli.
Strength movements CAN be used for some athletes to help them with their peak.
Strength movements CAN ruin some athletes peaks.

Case by Case

Take an individual that handles volume very, very well. Throughout a peak, a coach will traditionally decrease volume. If an athlete handles volume well, they will not respond well to that type of peak. This is where utilizing strength movements becomes important. It is important to recognize that a volume responder will like strength movements. The movements can be used to help maintain their volume, without beating them up. By using 1-2 top-end sets over 85% on the squats or 95-105% on the pulls and then having speed squats set up after the top end sets, the athlete will attain more volume AND still feel strong because the intensity will still be slightly lower.

Real Life: Volume responders can handle 4-6 sets of squats or 4-6 sets of pulls every other day in the ranges of 85-90% on the squats or 95-105% on the pulls...use 2-3 drop sets of speed work or Maurus tempo squats at 70-75% to help the athlete feel fast and strong.

Intensity responders are different than volume responders. The response to intensity is not on a daily basis. Athletes that respond well to intensity tend to undulate with their physical state on a 3-4 day cycle. For example, on Sunday (the day after a rest day) they will feel very good and go heavier. Then Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday they may feel like a wet bag of dog shit. Those days will be focused on technical precision and a minimal amount of strength movements. If strength movements are used, they will be in the ranges of 80-85% for squats and 90-95% for pulls with only 3-4 sets maximum. They will respond well by Thursday and be able to execute another heavy platform day before backing off Friday and heading into the weekend. Again, this needs to be documented and understood to enhance its peaking capability.

Real-life: Intensity responders are typically on fire two days out of the week and have 3-4 days of performance drop off. Keep their strength movements at a maximum of 3 sets. On their good days, push the squats to 90-95% and pulls to 105% but on their down days, keep the intensity at 80-85% and 90-95% respectively. It is preferred to alternate squat/pull/squat/pull in their peak program.

The third responder is a mixed bag. They respond over a longer period. If we enter the first week of a peak and the volume is slightly cut and intensity remains high, they will respond extremely well for 5-7 days. Following that first week, they will operate like peanut butter going down a drain...slow and stiff. They will look like garbage during the 8-15 day time frame. During this point, keep the competitive movements at a very low intensity and the strength movements at a lower intensity but move the volume higher than the first week. All of a sudden, the mixed baggers will look like they drank from the fountain of youth. Week three, the 15-21 day timeframe, they will start smashing weights. During this time, decrease the volume tremendously. Force them to get to their sets in as few working sets as possible but keep their strength movements at a higher intensity.

Base the mixed baggers on a week by week comprehension. Push intensity on strength lifts the first week, keep their volume a bit higher on the second week when they look like a dumpster fire and then the third week, push their intensity on the strength lifts. The end of the third week or the end of the first week is when they will perform their best.

Strength movements play a very important role in peaking athletes. Various athletes respond differently, their bodies learn differently, they respond differently and their mentality changes as well. It is important to understand each individual and their general response to the key components of peaking. Always remember, the goal is to get them to perform their best on the platform!

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