Thursday, May 29, 2008

I wrote this a while ago...more of a conversation than an article...but thought it might stir things up a bit!

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 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 is much worse 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 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 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 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 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 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.


Kira said...

The most thought-provoking post on training I've read all year.


Will Heffernan said...

You've obviously only been reading my blog and nothing else I can only really need to read more than just what's posted here.

Anonymous said...

Hi Will,

What is the difference between peaking and deloading? I know very little about either to be honest but my basic understanding was that a peak is just a prolonged deload. I presume you would deload an athelete ahead of a big game. I'm thinking team sports here. If there was a series of big games would you not have to leave the athletes deloaded for a while hence a "peak"?

Anonymous said...

Reading this blog does make better use of my time than reading my world of warcraft for dummies book.Congrats.
U talk about PB's and SB's.isnt it true that justin gatlin only achieved his PB with the use of banned substances.kinda helps back up your point that peaks mightnt be able to be reached. (without the use of steroids which prob all of those 100 mtre sprinters take which means that they also took the drugs wrong if they didnt achieve PB's or SB's)

mimo said...

Interesting.However, peaking DOES happen and there's a ton of research on that.
If it will be taken advantage of,in competition, no one can tell, because there are just too many factors involved,besides periodization. Factors pertaining the athlete,the environment,etc.

I agree that peaking a whole team for whatever sport is just stupid, because, even if they are able to do it, the athletes will crash badly. I didn't think that this was used,anymore.
A couple of years ago, soccer coaches would want their teams to peak in,say, December and March/April or May, and would accept as normal/inevitable/acceptable that the team would then crash after each of these peaks. Stupid.

Kira said...

Don't like compliments, even when they're honest, do you?


What I should've said is—this post dealt directly with an issue I've been thinking a shit-load about. And it's helped me sort out a few things that've been bothering me for ages. (Hence the thought-provoking compliment).

And as far as you suggesting I'm some kind of Will Heffernan groupie who limits his fitness reading solely to your blog . . .

You are a condescending wanker with a serious God-complex (ie a coach).


And I still think it's the best post I've read all year!


Tingle said...

Using the 100m example would need to take into account the fact that most of the lesser lights will have been breaking their balls all season (and more than likely early season) to merly get a qualification time. When it comes to the majors they are drained both mentally and physically. An explanation for this is that they may have peaked too early and gone chasing times and hoping to run as fast as possible in May/June, not August. In that case your example of 100m may turn your point on its head in that the reasons most guys don't PB or SB is because to actually get to the major they had to peak earlier in the season to get standards by the cut-off dates or qualification trials. The top guns in May/June will not have this problem and know that they can focus on August and peak there.

Also, weather conditions play a massive part in 100m times. The difference of a legal tail wind of 2.0 m/s can reduce a 100m time by 0.1 secs, eg, Bolts 9.76 this year with a 1.9 tailwind equates to a 9.84 without wind. But thats getting nerdy. Many athletes will have got PB's in perfect conditions, wind, slight altitude, warm, mondo track, no pressure.

Pressure is another issue. At the top level say Powell vs Gay, mental side is the key factor as opposed to peaking or not. Powell is a better physical animal and faster than Gay but Gay can translate what he has when it matters while Powell crumlbes.

I think you can peak and tweak but much of it will be down to intuition of the coach and once you are in very good shape on the day it will be the mental side that wins out and who executes the best. Michael Johnson and Clyde Hart said they never consciously attempted to peak and strived for consistency throughout the season.

Obviously, team sports is a different kettle of fish.

Anonymous said...

What are your thoughts on tapering?

Anonymous said...

The swimmers seem big on peaking and all seem to do PBs and SBs at the big meets.

Ian Mellis MSc CSCS said...

Endurance sports are easier to directly manipulate training volume and intensity in relation to peaking and the literature on tapering is pretty extensive.

Team sports due to the demands can't effectively peak as they are always in competition so in theory always have to be peaking or in a maintainance phase with emphasis upon recovery and regeneration to maintain performance in season (both in the gym and on the pitch).

In the 100m at the top level the difference in these guys is 0.01 or less of a second which is almost down to error or if you an optimist doing everything on the day perfectly. The best guys are the most consistantly good guys!

However you build your cycle of training you are always going to cycle volume and intensity to get progression, therefore if training is organised individuals will constantly peak and fall depending upon the training emphasis. Simply any physical capability will plateau unless intensity and volume are manipulated.

Anonymous said...

You left out the most important part dude!

X has a race on June 12, 2009. The biggest race of his life. Taking the above post into account, what do you (as his coach) do?

Specifically, you seem to denigrate the idea of being ready to lift at SB or PB level all the time (the powerlifter example) but then deny peaking and advocate "consistency". How do those things not contradict each other?

-Benny One Six

Matt said...

i think middle distance and above is a better guage for peaking effectiveness than the 100m, or even 200m as the slightest error on start can ruin a whole race. in the longer distances there may still be time to compensate for being a fraction slow off the blocks.

Tingle said...

Peaking or getting a PB at middle distance and above is very much dependent at having a hare to dictate early pace. Very few PB or SB's will be got got at worlds or Olympics as some guy wont sacrifice and hare through a first lap in 800 at 48 for example (unless you are Moroccan and your buddy is El G). At world/olympics its all about tactics and race execution. Probaly 400m is the best example of peaking efficiency as opposed to 100/200 as wind etc is less a factor and early pace dictation at 800/1500 is less a factor. We won't see a WR at middle distance at World/Olympics unless these recent amazing Kenyan 800 birds continue to rip it up.

Me dicating some resemblance of coherence after 6 pints and copious Jemmies after a dry period of two months and some decent training is in itself a pretty resepectable feat.