Coach Tip Tuesday: Peak Weeks are Tough; You are Tougher
Last week, we talked about considering the specifics of the event you are training for when you are planning your training workouts. This week, I want to build a bit on that idea and discuss Peak Weeks.
What is Peak Phase?
Right now, a significant percentage of the athletes who I coach are in what we call the “Peak” phase of training. This means that they are in the final time period where they will be doing key, specific, and important workout sessions to “top off” their training and preparation for their selected goal events. After this training phase, it’s time to taper down (reduce training load) to prepare to be fresh and ready to race on race day.
When I say “ready to race on race day”, I mean it literally - exactly and precisely on race day. Not the day before, and not the day after. My job as a coach is to write training that has athletes ready to perform their best on the exact day of their goal event.
Peak Phase is an important part of ensuring that this happens. In Peak Phase, training volume is at its highest point in the entire training plan to the goal event. Intensity is also usually quite high as well.
The Hardest Phase
To put it concisely (as well as bluntly): Peak Weeks are hard. The workouts are long, they take a lot of energy, and they are challenging. They are meant to prepare you for race day by testing your physical and mental capabilities (and often, limits). Doing this in training helps build your “Athlete’s Toolbox” of tools you can have at your disposal on race day. If you can manage the stress of a Peak Week, you will be that much more prepared for the specifics of race day, including any adversity that may be thrown your way.
As a result of this, other things in your life may need to be put on the back burner during this important phase of training. The lawn might be mowed a day or two late. Due to the need for extra sleep (which both helps you recover from these hard efforts and prepare you for the next ones), you might not have the same social calendar that you had in Base or Build Phase. You might feel more tired than you did in earlier phases of training. If this happens, know that it means that you are just in the throes of a “normal” Peak Phase.
Talking about Peak Phase and what it is is really important, as this phase also tends to bring about mood changes in athletes. Being aware that this phase will impose a lot of additional fatigue and will test you in multiple ways can help you become aware that you might be a bit feister, grumpier, or more anxious during this phase. If you are aware of this heading into it and can give your family and friends a head’s up to ask for their patience and understanding during this time, it usually works out much better for all parties involved.
The Hay is (Mostly) in the Barn
Since this is the final big phase of training, it is also often a time when athletes tend to start overthinking any/all elements of their goal events. This is simply due to the time pressure that is involved here; athletes are increasingly aware that race day is quite close and they are running out of time to be ready for their race. As a result, a bit of anxiety and/or panic mode sometimes sets in.
My advice during this time is this: Only tweak/change things that MUST be changed. By this point in your training, all major elements (nutrition, hydration, gear, etc.) should have been thoroughly tested in the Base, Build, and Competition Phases of training. Truly, you should (and probably do) know what works by this phase. This phase of training is the time to fine-tune any minor changes, but ultimately, you’re meant to be executing the training workouts with all of the supporting elements (gear, nutrition, hydration) that have been tested and proven for you.
Nothing needs to change now unless there is a MASSIVE problem with one of those elements. Don’t look to make unnecessary changes just for the sake of making a change. Sticking with what works is ultimately the path that will lead you to the most success on race day, as doing what you know works is what you will be comfortable with and most confident in.
The Bottom Line
Yes, Peak Weeks are tough. You, however, are tougher. Your consistency and dedication to your training plan over the long haul has prepared you to handle the load and intensity of this phase, and you can handle it.
However, it is important to prepare yourself mentally for this phase of your training; accept and embrace the idea that it is going to be tough and that it is going to ask a lot of you. Don’t try to deny it. By embracing the truth that this phase of training is challenging, you will be able to manage your expectations - both in your training workouts and in your “normal” life - so you come out on the other side of Peak Phase feeling ready to rock and roll at your goal event.
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.