Powerlifting, Programme

What is peaking?

In this day in age when powerlifting is gaining much more popularity and isn’t just what those weird fat lads who hog the squat rack every night do technical words get banded about with much more frequency. One of the words that people throw about is the term “peaking”.

What people mean when they say peaking (or what I assume they mean if they have a rudimentary grasp of training science) is when you are looking to produce a performance above and beyond which you can produce in training.

In powerlifting training peaking is normally performed for an important competition where the lifter wants to put in a personal best performance. There are two ways of looking at peaking which are relevant to this discussion.

Time to Peak – Mike Tuecheners Concept explained in his emerging strategies concept.

Planned Peak – a period of planned overload, followed by a taper towards a distinct time frame usually where the competition falls.

Time to Peak

If you want to actually understand this concept you should probably take an hour out of your day to watch the above talk by Mike. Hey lays out the concept and how it is applied to lifters.

In overlay what emerging strategies basically strips down programing to one Microcycle (one week of training). They then follow this exact same loading pattern and track how the lifter reacts to the volume, intensity, frequency and exercise varaition.

The caveat however is that they are looking at one factor at a time, they are taking detailed records and notes. This allows them to spot positive trends and to see what positive trends work for which lifter.

Within this concept is a lifters “time to peak” meaning under exposure to the same workout or stress they will hit their peak performance after x amount of workouts.

So for example if you start a new workout routine you might find reliably you will adapt and hit a peak performance using the same stress load (exercise variation, intensity, volume) after 7 workouts. If you have a 1x per week exposure you will hit your peak workout in 7 weeks if you workout 2x per week then you will hit your peak in 3.5 weeks.

With this knowledge you can then adapt your training regimen so the competition lands on your peak workout. This approach is obviously massively successful with the RTS lifters however I think it will prove very difficult for a lot of coaches and especially lifters to replicate without a lot of knowledge in the system/structure that produced it.

Planned Peaking

Now this is not to say that those who use time to peak aren’t planning a peaking cycle they obviously are what they are doing is using their knowledge of their individual lifter. A planned peak (as I am terming it) takes a knowledge of physiology and puts together a planned loading cycle which will produce a reliable outcome with a lifter.

You can take time out of your day to discuss which approach is better and which works better. They both work and they both work well what I am trying to do is to help you understand them both.

A planned peak uses planned phases of overtraining to produce and over reach. Then once the over reach has been induced we then taper (pull back training volume typically) reducing fatigue. Then when we hit the point of recovery and super compensation we can produce a performance above and beyond which we could have produced before going through this process.

This process is what is typically understood as peaking.

What does a planned peaking program look like?

To illustrate this program lets take a program that is popular on the internet the russian squat routine. I am using the russian squat routine because in my experience it is probably the best cookie cutter template on the internet as it produces reliable and great results.

This program is split into three phases

  • Volume accumulation (Overload/Overreach)
  • Intensification (Taper)
  • Peak

Phase One – Overload/OverReach

280% 62
3 80% 64
4 80% 62
5 80% 65
6 80% 62
7 80% 66

This is a 3 week phase where the program takes time to build up to 6×6 @ 80% (INOL 1.8) in one workout. This is interspersed with 6×2 workout at 80% (INOL 0.6). There is little to no chance that if you were to ask a competent lifter to perform 6×6 @ 80% that they will be able to complete this workout.

The net result of all of this accumulation of reps at 80% of RM is that the lifters fatigue will be climbing week to week. If you were to continue to just add reps to this workout you will run into a state of over training. However by pulling back in a planned manner we stop short of over training and induce a state of overreach. This is termed as a function over reach (we are deliberately pushing the lifter towards there limit because we know when we pull back we are going to produce an increased performance.

Phase two – Taper/Intensification

3 80% 62
5 80% 62

The next 2-3 weeks involve the focus workout reducing the volume by 1 set and 1 rep per workout. This represents a marked decrease in the volume workout to workout, this reduction in volume helps to reduce the fatigue the lifter is under from week to week because it allows for better recovery.

This is what a taper does it reduces the workload the athete or lifter is under as to reduce the fatigue they are under. By reducing the fatigue we are increasing their ability to perform but at the sacrifice of their fitness.

Phase Three – Peak


At the end of the intensification and taper we then get three workouts. One where we produce another result before the over reach would have been imposibile i.e. 2×2@100% of RM. We then get a recovery workout interspersed by recovery days. We then do a max out session where we can typically see a +5% from baseline improvement on our previous best squat but it is not common for lifters to get even better results.

After the peak however we can expect a few weeks of suppressed performance. We have sacrificed training volume for 3-4 weeks to produce this outcome. These 3-4 weeks of reduced volume weren’t recovery. We linearly ramped up intensity to produce the outcome we wanted – Namely a Peak.

The athlete or lifter will be both undertrained relative to their normal training regime and also there joints and muscles (not to mention after a competition there emotions/mental state) will all be under a lot of stress.

Therefore after a training cycle like this it is essential to allow a period of detraining (week off or so) and then a reintroduction to a more normal training period for at least 1-2 microcycles (weeks) of training.

What peaking looks like

Functional Over reach

The above chart shows a simplifed version of what a peak or a “functional overreach” looks like. Where we suppress immediate performance with training stress and volume only in the longer term to pull back with a taper and to produce an increase in performance well above baseline (the peak).

Non Functional Overreach

A non-functional over reach does not allow for sufficient recovery and thus not only leads to reduced performance but on a long enough time frame almost guarantees both overtraining and injury.

What comes up

As we spoke about above inducing a true peak leads to a suppression in performance for at least a few weeks post peaking event. We need to plan for this in our training or else we will be almost guaranteeing continued underperformance or even injury.

  • We must allow for recovery through the year and detraining of the qualities we just stressed post peaking event is essential.
  • True peaking involves 2-3 months of stressful training therefore we can only really peak for 2-3 events in a training year. Save it for the important ones.
  • Peaking isn’t really a process we should be worried about with novice athletes.

Hopefully this article has given you a better understanding of peaking both as a concept and a process.


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