Peaking with Emerging Strategies

IPF Classic Worlds 2018 is underway in Calgary.  We have 16 lifters competing this year -- a point of pride among RTS coaches and athletes.  As such, this seems like an ideal time to write in a bit more detail about how we taper for competition.

As I begin, it's important to note that the dominant training paradigm from our point of view is Emerging Strategies.  I can think of no other technique that addresses important epistemic questions about individualizing training.  There are limitations to be sure, but the main limitations are common to all planning methods.  The key difference is that Emerging Strategies at least attempts to address the problems while other planning techniques seem to pretend the problems don't exist.  It has become our default way of programming training.  We will use more conventional planning methods when we have to, but our preference is for Emerging Strategies style programming.  So if you're unfamiliar with the basic concepts of ES, then you should check that out before proceeding.

 One thing that becomes abundantly clear during the Emerging Strategies training process is the athlete response to training.  This is not just how long they will continue to improve from a relatively consistent training stimulus (known as their Time To Peak or TTP), but also the patterns that happen on the way to that peak.

 Before you arrive at final peaking cycles using Emerging Strategies techniques, you will have established the athlete's TTP.  This can range from 3 weeks to 10 or even 11 weeks.  It could conceivably go longer than that!  It varies from athlete to athlete, so care must be used to establish this timing far away from major competitions.  Then, this is the timing that is used when planning the final training blocks.

 For example, if you have a lifter who takes 6 exposures to peak, then you begin the final training block so it puts the competition on that 6th exposure.  That is when the athlete is in peak condition.  From there, peaking can be a very simple affair.  You would train normally until you are 2-3 days from competing.  Then you rest a little bit and compete.  This technique produces a very reliable peak performance since it can be so well established in the time before competition.  One drawback is that the lifter may not feel as rested, but this is not as important as a peak performance.  They can rest after competing!

 As a coach gets to know an athlete, he may learn that his lifter actually performs better after a brief recovery period.  This will sound very obvious to most powerlifters because this is the dominant training paradigm.  It's important to not take it for granted though.  Many lifters get worse rapidly when training is reduced.  It seems that emotional lifters, very strong lifters, and very heavy lifters tend to improve performance with a more pronounced taper.  In a case where a lifter performs better with a taper, we will have them taper.  Why would you ignore something that you could reliably establish produces better results?  Of course you wouldn't.

 The "traditional taper" is something that many powerlifters are familiar with; testing openers 5-6 days out and performing warm ups 2-3 days out.  This additional recovery is beneficial to some lifters (but again -- not all).  You may want to increase the loading a bit for the bench press or your more volume-sensitive athletes, but this is the basic framework.

 Okay... so we've established that in the framework of ES, you will taper or not taper depending on what gets you the best response.  It's also important to note that high-stress competitions or high volatility in a lifter's outside life can disrupt otherwise reliable TTPs.  A savvy coach will be on the lookout for these things and be prepared to adjust the training to preserve the peak into competition.  To do this, you need to be familiar with the athlete's typical response to peaking.

 This concept is perhaps best taught with a scenario.  Let's say that your athlete is 2 weeks out from competing and they have a very bad session.  Should you modify the training or stay the course?

Of course it depends.  In this case, it depends largely on what is typical for that athlete.  If this performance degrade comes during exposure #4 and I can see that exposure #4 is typically a poor performance, then I will stay the course and let the lifter's peak develop.  If I have no reason to expect a reduced performance, then it's worth digging deeper and probably shifting something in the program.

 This is the basic framework for how we help lifters peak on time for major competitions.  It requires the coach to be switched on and paying attention, but if you don't know that peaking is a process that can't really be automated at this time, then you have no business coaching.  It's also worth mentioning that, with 16 lifters competing at the world championship, we have significant and visible skin in the game on this.  If we're wrong, then we'll be the first ones hurt by it.  But after having used these techniques over the last several years, I can tell you we aren't wrong.

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About the Author Mike Tuchscherer is the owner and head coach at RTS. He has been powerlifting since 2001 and since has traveled all over the world for competitions. In 2009, he was the first man from USA powerlifting to win a gold medal at the World Games – the highest possible achievement in powerlifting. He has coached over a dozen competitors at the world championships, a score of national champions, and multiple world record holders.