In most coaching circles one of the most highly debated topics is how to properly peak an athlete. There’s several schools of thought on this, ranging from “mini-peaking” athletes throughout the season to “mega-peaking” them for championship games only. Most of this is based on periodisation and cyclic training based on that.
Then there’s my school of thought: Don’t bother peaking or periodising at all because it is crap right from the start.
I’ve only got 17 years of coaching experience but at least I started at the top destroying some of the best athletes in the world right from the get go…there’s no better learning experience.
Over the last 10 years I can say my ‘crash & burn’ frequency is down in the less than 1% category and I have checkpoints in place to catch those mistakes early…early enough to ensure that no one else notices but me. Well…I suppose the 1% of athletes that I broke notice, but when your success rate is 99% you can just blame messing up on the 1% of the athletes that you broke. Now remember, I’m talking about athletes here, and not bodybuilders…that’s a different kettle of fish. I only really worked with two bodybuilders, they both took first in the particular contest and went pro, and I retired from physique coaching….to keep my undefeated record intact.
Now, lets get back to peaking and see what the deal is…
Think about it, how many athletes competed in the 100 metre sprint in the last Olympics? OK, now how many of them set personal bests, much less set a new world record? It’s not like it’s a surprise, they know the damn Olympics comes along every four years, you’d think they could peak for it, but they don’t. Periodisation just doesn’t work. If the best athletes in the world, with arguably the worlds best coaches can’t peak once every four years, then what the hell are all these coaches thinking when they try to peak an entire team at once, every season?
Here are the facts:
Men’s 100m – Final
1. Justin Gatlin (USA) 9.85s Personal Best (PB)
3. Maurice Greene (USA) 9.87s Season Best (SB)
6. Kim Collins (Skn) 10.00s Season Best (SB)
So 1 guy manages a PB and wins and 2 guys manage a SB.
Lets look at all the other 80 guys who qualified for the 100m at the Olympics.
Men’s 100m – Semifinal summary
Out of the 16 guys in Semi 1 & Semi 2…1 guy managed a seasons best.
Men’s 100m – Round 2 summary
Out of the 40 guys in the 5 heats…1 guy got a PB, 1 equalled his and 2 ran seasons best times.
Men’s 100m – Round 1 summary
Out of the 80 guys in the 8 heats…5 guys ran PB’s (4 of those ran a PB which brought them home in last position in their respective heats…proving my theory that losers are the best at peaking) and 8 ran seasons bests.
So, what’s my point…well just looking at all those results first….out of the 80 guys that started in the first round 12 of them managed their best time of the season and 7 out of 80 managed a personal best time…including the 4 of them that ran personal best for dead last place in the first round. Helluva peak, huh?
The point I am making is in relation to team sport where just about everyday I see some coach talking about peaking their team for this or that event….I say like hell you are.
How the hell do you peak a whole team for a game when whole teams of coaches, managers, doctors, pharmacists, physiotherapists, nutritionists and sport psychologists can’t get even a quarter of the individual athletes at the Olympics to peak for (an event that most of them have been working towards for over 4 years)? Have a look at some of the other events and the seasons best and personal bests from them…I picked the 100m as my example as it is actually a good percentage…it is much worse elsewhere…so what does this tell you about the planning and periodization of the best coaches on the planet…other than they all totally blow?
So where does that leave us?
I don’t really make much of a point about the Personal Bests as they are lifetime achievements…I think the Seasons Bests that are more telling…especially when it comes down to running a seasons best to make it to the final or semi final or even the second round. My point being the following: the Olympics are every 4 years and 80% of the athletes there can’t even produce their best time of the season? Just the best time of the season…not lifetime best…just the best of the season…I’m pretty sure that most of them realize when the season kicks off that the Olympics are somewhere within it and it might be a good time to be in the best shape possible? You think? Just maybe?
I won’t even address the people who say they are in peak shape all year round. When is the last time that was useful? So you are a marathon runner, and you can run your best time all year round? Just buy a car. You’re a powerlifter who can lift their best at any time? Why? When is the last time a powerlifting meet broke out when you were walking around doing your shopping?
I think about this a lot….and I mean ‘a lot’…I want to make a few generalisations and leaps in logic here, which will basically outline my full thoughts on the topic:
1. I don’t believe athletes really peak…ever…I mean they don’t really peak for an event on this day of this month of this year…it just doesn’t happen.
2. I have seen more records broken in training than I have in competition…the reason I make this point is that the myth is that people are brought to a high by an event or competition…yes, this does happen…but it is in the minority not majority of occasions.
3. Athletes should stay with 10% of their best at all times.
4. The 12/80 thing…it is actually way better than in other events and previous years…most of the time it is much worse.
The point I am getting at is that people constantly ‘talk’ about peaking and it just doesn’t happen…at least not in the manner in which people describe it. There are thousands of text books and articles about peaking and it is all a total pile of crap.
What are the odds that at any World Championships, National Championships or Local Championships in any team sport will be a blow out? I mean surely all the teams in any of these events will be planning to bring their athletes to a razors edge? Will there be point between them? What happened to all the other teams…did they not peak…were mistakes made…are all of the coaches incompetent? Are these questions annoying or just rhetorical?
Like I said…forget the personal bests…I’d settle for seasons bests…but you don’t even get that…take your Gold down to 4th place in the weightlifting at the Olympics for example and how little there is between them…having been involved with weightlifting I’d hazard a guess that those 4 guys have all lifted more in individual lifts as well as totals in training than they did at the Olympics…there is also a guy down in 7th place talking to himself on the flight home next to his team mate who won the Gold medal saying ‘That should have been mine’.
I’ve been it, seen it and done it…as an athlete and as a coach and as I said to one of my athletes the other day…’You should be thankful for all the athletes who I destroyed on my way to coaching you…including myself…because it is all those mistakes and broken bodies that got me where I am today’.
Still want to talk about peaking your athlete (or even worse, your team)?
I say, aim for consistency…it wins more often. Peaks lead down into valleys, and you can’t always control either of them…just be consistent. Leave peaking for what you do as you walk by the women’s changing room.