The first and most important consideration in “peaking” is understanding that the athlete needs “a lot of water under the bridge” to peak. And, I mean, the athlete needs a lot of water here. Nothing drives me more crazy than someone telling me that they are peaking for some low level crap lift or event. Before we can even begin discussing this “peaking” thing, the athlete has to be up the pyramid a little bit. In other words, you don’t peak for a 200 pound bench press: you simply bench press for a while, then ask someone to spot you and you make it. Now, a 1000 pound bench press, which is something I can barely imagine much less comment on, is going to demand some peaking.
The greatest resource for peaking is simply answering this question: “how did you do it before?” I literally “mine” my journals like a prospector seeking clues to unusual performances. Then, I follow the directions from other successful ventures and apply them to my next goal. I know there is nothing shocking here, but so few people do it. So, if there is a rule number one for peaking it would be this: compete. Then, sit down with your journal and a piece of paper and write down what did or didn’t work.
Everyone ignores this advice, so mentally, I watching people skip this section to find the “real truth.” Go ahead, I am sure you will all be back. Okay, let’s pick up again: every great lesson I have from peaking comes from my athletes or my experience and the discipline to spend some time noting what worked. Here is a million dollar hint: make a list of things to bring to a competition. Listen, I don’t follow my own advice here! Years ago, I went to a National weightlifting meet and brought my wife’s lifting card. I didn’t double check before I left and I was naked on a scale in Louisiana when the issue was discovered. One of my athletes, Paul Northway, laminated his check list to his training bag and would pull out everything once before a meet and then recheck and restock everything days before the meet.
I discovered years ago that packing three to seven days before a meet actually insured more success than a bunch of percents on a computer program. I think it puts one in a championship mode early and this little practice allows the athlete to begin to move into “meet mind” versus what most people have on game day, “monkey mind.”
So, Peaking 101 involves two basic principles: first, learn from your own experience. Mine is different. I react to this or that and need to do this and that to be ready. You need to figure this out for yourself. I found, for example, reading Chess books before lifting to really help me out on the platform. The depth of analysis seems to allow me to relax physically and put my mind miles away. When it is time to hit it, I seem clearer. It might not work for you. The second principle of peaking is to prepare your gear, your travel issues, your nutritional needs and your details well before the morning of the competition. Notice, I didn’t once mention reps and sets. I probably won’t.
The key to peaking is and always will be mental. There is a phrase in throwing: Long warm ups are poison!” In other words, tossing a good throw in the warm ups before competition is a good way to strangle yourself during competition. So, I plan my warm ups to insure I won’t throw well. I have taught my athletes the same thing: do drills and throws that get you warm, prepare you mentally, and feed your ego some other way besides trying to win the warm ups. For the record, I believe that most people give away more championships than they win. Stop doing that.
The mental side of peaking involves lots of little steps. For example, I know at the state track meet, the athletes will be huddled into chairs, not allowed any music or coaching, then marched out on the track. So, why wait until the morning of state to let the athlete know that? I talk about it every day and every week and even come up with strategies to “poke fun” at the all too important officials. When, they march the athletes out, for example, one of my throwers decided to march like a member of band. A few minutes later, she broke her old personal record as other competitors seemed to forget where they were today.
My issue with peaking actually might be better phrased with the idea of parenting. If I am really tired one evening and my daughter pukes on me, I can’t simply say “sorry, I am dead tired, but I can bet I will be a helluva dad next Friday!” Honestly, today is a meet or competition, show up and compete.
Now, the longer you play the game, the more you know about your peaking strategies. I discovered as I got into my forties that my last two weeks of going into something important was crucial. Now, it wasn’t crucial in terms of load or volume, but crucial in terms of “Not RUINING everything!” In other words, I found that really light weights and really gentle technical work, including an honest assessment of last minute weaknesses that I could address, was all I needed. I learned this, of course, by studying my journals, but the lesson is clear: don’t blow it in the last few days of something important by tossing away all the hard work with some bad decisions. Like a Bachelor Party the night before a wedding, don’t ruin yourself because of bad timing.