Is taking a full week off of lifting really the best way to prepare for a meet? In most cases, NO. A taper that is too aggressive can lead to getting on the platform detrained, diminishing performance. Likewise, a taper that is not aggressive enough can lead to competing fatigued, also detracting from the athlete’s meet day performance. Peaking and tapering correctly should allow the athlete to lift the most weight where it matters--the platform!
This blog series discusses the scientific principles that lead to a great performance, but ultimately there is still a lot of guess work and figuring out what works best on an individual basis. This is one reason why it can be beneficial to stay with the same coach through multiple competition preps. As the coach learns “you” they are able to better coach you in the future. One of the main points of a peaking cycle is to determine what does and doesn’t work for the individual in question. There is no such thing as a one size fits all peaking strategy!
Though there are multiple “right” ways to taper into a meet, there are also a lot of “wrong” ways to taper. Some guidelines to follow when planning a peak and taper are contained in this article. We'll start by discussing general concepts, and finish by providing examples of how to put it all together. I find it helpful to think of these concepts as a sliding scale that can be adjusted to fit each lifter on an individual basis.
Experience Level of the Lifter, Gender, & Weight Class
The experience level and training age of a lifter affects the type of peak and taper needed. A more conservative approach is usually perfect for new competitors. Novice lifters should focus more on efficient technique and legality of lifts according to the standards of the presiding federation--These lifters will still be experiencing "newbie gains," and do not need to overreach. In fact, even with a conservative peaking approach, many novice lifters will continue to hit "easy" PRs in training leading up to a meet. A final training block including work in the low rep ranges and practice lifting with commands should be enough to secure a good performance on meet day. Conservative attempt selection should also be standard practice--going 9 for 9 (or at least having an almost perfect day) builds a total and positive first meet memories, but also establishes confidence.
More advanced lifters can push the peaking process a bit further to take advantage of the neurological adaptations targeted in a peak. These neurological adaptations are the main source of additional strength "gained" through a peaking block and taper. Intermediate and advanced lifters can benefit from a block of higher intensity training leading up to a meet, assuming it is designed to induce low rep strength readiness. In this case, intensity refers to the % of 1 Rep Maximum at which a lifter is training. There are several ways to effectively implement increased intensity into a program (maxing out every day is not the answer), but we'll save that topic for a bit later. Due to the increased training demands, more advanced lifters may need a bit more aggressive taper strategy than a novice lifter. As a reminder, these concepts apply to the population as a whole, and each individual will respond to stimulus in their own unique way.