The peak is the final phase of training before a taper kicks in and you compete. Proper physical and mental preparation is always important for weightlifters, but it becomes even more imperative during this training block. Having the right approach and setting yourself up for success is absolutely key to not only surviving, but excelling. Having a good peak will allow you to feel confident heading into the end of your training cycle or your meet of you are competing. We are going to look at three different keys to help you crush a peak: Focusing on quality movement instead of chasing numbers, managing external factors, and adding to a positive training environment.
The Numbers Game
The first key is to stop thinking about the number of the weight on the bar. Every athlete has fallen into this way of thinking at some point in their career. They look at the numbers that are programmed for the day and imprint them into their brain. If the program calls for 93%, then anything less than 93% is failure, right? WRONG. The process in which you get to 93% is even more important than the top set. If you come in and simply don’t have it that day, nothing you do will change that. You can take 20 shots at that top set and maybe hit one or two but that doesn’t make the day a success.
An athlete must know when to push and when to pull back. Instead of focusing so much on the top set, focus on every single rep leading up to it. If 75% looks like crap, then you can bet that 90%+ will look like crap. Don’t just do your warm ups to get to your top sets. Use your warm ups as the time to refine your technique and to gauge where you are at that day. If there is a threshold where technical efficiency begins to break down and you are unable to execute the lifts properly, then why are we going to go past it?
Set high standards for yourself, but be flexible to adjust what those standards are. High standards don’t have to be “hitting the number” but instead can be a perfect warm-up and consistent technique. Force yourself to perform every lift the way it is intended to be. If training seems off, talk to your coach and to listen to what they have to say. Coaches value technical mastery over strength 100% of the time. It does no good to be able to hit a monster number one out of one hundred attempts. It will serve you 1000 times better to get incredibly consistent with the lifts and to move up when your body is ready. Success is not only determined by WHAT weight is on the bar, but also by HOW you move the weight.
Managing External Factors
The second thing to look at are the external factors away from the gym. These include: rest and recovery, nutrition, stress levels, etc. What you do outside of the gym will impact what goes on when it is time to train. Your preparation will set you up for success or failure.
The first and most important thing is SLEEP. Getting the proper amount of sleep consistently will do more for you in training than anything else we list. You can do everything else correctly but if you do not sleep enough, you will run into a wall during the peak. When you sleep you allow your body to recover to the fullest extent. Studies have shown a strong link between lack of sleep and lower testosterone levels as well as higher cortisol levels. Both of these can lead to a lack of energy and motivation, and a limited ability to concentrate. When you approach lifts over 85%, a new level of attention to detail and mental fortitude is required. Coming to training while exhausted or even tired will automatically compromise your ability to perform at the required intensity. Being able to take each and every attempt with complete focus and confidence will increase the likelihood of success exponentially. The final thing to point out about sleep is the drastic effect it has on keeping your immune system intact. When the intensity of training rises, your central nervous system (CNS) beings to fatigue. Multiple blows to the CNS without proper rest and recovery can leave your immune system vulnerable and can compromise your health. The last thing any athlete wants is to get sick and have to miss training, especially when leading up to a meet or the final max out at the end of the training cycle. It is imperative that you get consistent and quality sleep when you are in the thick of the peak. For more information on sleep and its effects on recovery, check out this article by Dresdin Archibald HERE.
Nutrition is another point of focus that cannot be overlooked. Fueling yourself with good food before and after your session and even during training can improve your performance dramatically. While getting the proper amount of all macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fats) is important to training, you need to focus specifically on carbohydrate intake during the peak. When the intensity is high and the volume is still relatively high before a taper then you must be able to not only recover between training sessions, but during them as well. Having proper glycogen and blood glucose levels will facilitate the explosive power required to hit heavy singles and doubles for multiple sets. If your carbohydrate intake is insufficient, your performance will suffer. You may be able to get away with one or two training sessions, but as the weeks roll on and the intensity continues to increase, your body will have a much more difficult time recovering in between sessions, and may struggle to recover during a single session. Having carbohydrates before training and after training are key, but be sure to bring something simple like Gatorade (or have you seen the Sour Patch and Skittles around?) in to have during your training as well.
Specific macronutrient functions, eating for fat loss or aesthetics, and looking at how athletes respond to different diets are topics for a whole other article that we will dive into in the future, but understand that we are talking about the nutrition required for the energy needed to weightlift at your highest level. For a comprehensive guide to carbohydrates and training please see Dr. Mike Israetel’s post HERE.
The sport of weightlifting is incredibly difficult. The amount of wear and tear that the body goes through during a training cycle is enormous. When entering into a peak phase, the physical stress put onto the body increases as the intensity continues to rise. That is why the final external factor that we want to look at is stress. All people experience stress and the effects that it has on motivation and energy levels. Whether or not they manage that stress is a different story. For many athletes, weightlifting is not their entire life. Family, friends, school and work are just a few things that can factor into stress outside of the gym, so it is important that we don’t make weightlifting one of those stressors as well. No matter what level an athlete is at, the root of why we compete in a sport is because it is fun. When it consumes your life and you allow it to become more than it is, weightlifting can be incredibly stressful on the mind. The stress of a looming meet, the possibility of failure when approaching big weights, and the repetitive beating your body goes through when executing multiple sets at those high intensities are just a few things that can begin weigh on the mind. Many athletes succumb to this mental stress and fall into a dark place which can be extremely difficult to get out of.
How do we combat this mental stress? By stepping back and SEPARATING from training. When you are not in the gym, you must learn to allow yourself to relax and do something else that you enjoy. Whether it be reading, watching a show, hanging out with friends or any of the hundreds of activities you can do, be sure to fill your time with things that help you relax. You can afford to mentally kick your feet up, even if it is only for a small amount of time. No matter what level you are at remember this, weightlifting is a PART of your life, but it is not your WHOLE life. The vast majority of athletes in the sport are not putting food on the table by weightlifting so when you find yourself stressing about training outside of the gym, just take a breath and remind yourself that you are doing this because it is fun. Even if you have a bad day, dwelling on it for too long will only add stress that will drag you down. The more headspace you have walking into the gym, the more prepared you will be to fend off the stress that training can bring.
If you are looking for a comprehensive look at the most effective methods of recovery, you can head over to Renaissance Periodization and check out their book Recovering From Training HERE.
Positive Training Environment
The final thing to look at during a peak is the training environment. If you train in a gym with other athletes, the training environment can make or break a session. Many days have been enhanced by positivity and unity, but they have also been derailed by one or two toxic attitudes. The training environment is momentum based and is often times very easily swayed. If you are paying attention to all of the things listed above, there is a good chance that you are also going to be one of the athletes that brings energy and support to the training session. On the flipside, if you are training with a bad mindset, neglecting rest and recovery, and are not managing your stress levels, it can be very difficult to rally around your teammates even when things aren’t going your way.
While a shift in attitude may not be tangible, it can certainly feel that way. You can almost see a shift occur in the gym right before your eyes, whether it be positive or negative. It is incredibly important to understand that both positivity and negativity are powerful and infectious. Athletes can benefit greatly from one another and feed off of each other when training gets tough. While the coaches must be sure to manage the training environment, the personal responsibility of the athlete cannot be overlooked. You must be willing to do everything possible to make sure that you are adding to the training environment, even if things do not go your way. Where there is division, there will surely be defeat, but where there is unity, victory and success are attainable.
Putting It All Together
Peaking for a meet or for the end of a training cycle can be one of the best or worst parts of the program depending on the preparation and approach to training. Weightlifting should push you physically, mentally and emotionally. Are you doing everything you can to succeed? If not, take a step back and make the necessary changes that will lead to you accomplishing the goals you have for yourself!