Peaking for Powerlifting is an art and science.
Today, I share with you 10 things you MUST avoid doing when peaking for powerlifting. Some are based on science, while others are based on art, but all are very important if you want to lift your best.
The science lays the foundation and then you use the art to paint the picture and lay out the path to success. However, you can really screw up peaking if you don’t have a clear understanding of what’s required.
1. Avoid grinding out reps
Don’t get carried away when you’re peaking for your powerlifting meet. Avoid failing at all costs.
Failure is very rarely something I recommend anyone to do. And when you’re using heavy loads and performing compound lifts that require a decent amount of skill, it’s a big no no.
- High injury risk: due to the points above, the chance of injury is much greater when you train to fail. How awful would you feel if you missed competing in your meet because of injury? Really f*cking bad. Now how bad would you feel if instead of getting a triple you got a double? Short term, yeah it might suck a bit, but you’ll forget about that when you crack out personal bests on the platform.
- Kills morale: we all know this. When you miss a lift it really dents your confidence. When you’re in close proximity to your competition you don’t want anything that makes you doubt your ability. Your training should only build confidence.
- Fatigue: failing or even just grinding out reps is HIGHLY fatiguing physically, but even more so mentally. The rest of your session will feel like crap and your recovery and future training will be negatively impacted. Your reps should be tough, but not ball-busting.
I know, I know “gotta outwork brotha”, but that attitude doesn’t fly here, so use auto-regulation, which is basically just a fancy way of saying ‘go by feel’. If you’re programmed for a triple at 90% but don’t have it in you, either lower the weight or perform doubles. It’s better than breaking yourself in two.
2. Train with excessively high volumes
High-volume training and high intensities do not mix; they’re inversely related.
When one comes up, the other comes down.
When it comes to peaking your strength, the volume is not a very important component. More important is that the intensity is high so it can prime you for the competition. By training with excessively high volume, you will raise fatigue significantly so you cannot show off your strength. This is a big no no during a peaking cycle when performance is numero uno.
3. Disregard exercise specificity
It should go without saying that you should be doing the big three:
If the vast majority of your time spent in the gym isn’t spent performing these lifts, then you’re asking for trouble. At least 80% of your time in the gym should be used to perform these lifts. If you were doing a bunch of accessory work, now is the time to scale it down.
Towards the end of your peaking cycle, you might not do anything but the three main lifts. This is the time to get ultra-specific.
4. Disregard intensity specificity
Those should be the bread and butter of your peaking programming. If you’re doing anything much over 5 reps on the competition lifts, you’re doing yourself an injustice. Just as I said before, volume is not king for your goals right now; intensity is. And you want that intensity to be the most specific to your goal.
Sure triples, doubles, and singles won’t bring much hypertrophy, or even build much general strength, but that isn’t why you’re doing them; you’re doing them to PEAK your strength, to prime your body to perform the best single on the platform.
F*ck me if you’re doing sets of 10 on squats a few weeks out from your meet. You’ve got a screw loose.
5. Try & change form
Right, this might seem a bit counterintuitive.
I mean the points addressed above should all be quite intuitive. Even if you didn’t think of them before, they all make inherent sense. However, telling you to not try to perfect your form during your peaking block sounds pretty bonkers, right?
You do not want to try and address technique flaws during peaking:
- There isn’t sufficient time
- You’ll only be weaker
- The intensities are too high to work on technique change
Focus on lifting the most weight with the best technique you currently have.
6. Be ignorant to meet calls
Did you know when you squat there are two calls to listen out for?
If you answered no, then you really need to look up the competition rules before you go to your meet. Not only do you need to have an awareness, but you want to practice lifting in competition conditions. That means in your singlet, straps, belt etc., and to the competition calls, without your music.
Again, this is very much like the need for specificity. The more specific practice you can get this close to the meet, the better your performance will be on the day. I personally failed at this point on my first powerlifting meet. I didn’t know the calls well enough and missed out on some good lifts. So don’t follow in my footsteps.
7. Attempt to cut body fat
The prime time to cut body fat is not when you’re peaking.
In fact, I cannot think of a worse time.
Volume is at an all-time low, and we know that stimulating volumes are the key for driving anabolic signals to create muscle growth. The best way to prevent muscle loss is through training that promotes muscle growth, thus not high-intensity, low-volume training.
You’ll lose muscle.
Your performance will go down.
You’ll be at a greater risk of injury.
Do not diet during your peaking block. If you do, then you’ve messed up your previous training and nutrition. Body composition changes are best made when you’re lifting with high volumes. You lose the weight, and then come into your peaking block and maintain it.
A little water manipulation is OK.
Looking to drop several KGs via hypocaloric dieting is not.
8. Disregard sleep/recovery
Do you like going out on a Friday night with the lads?
Staying up late watching Netflix?
Now is not the time for that; now is the time for prioritizing your recovery. That means getting sufficient sleep (~8 hours) and making that sleep high quality:
- Stop arousing activities and exposure to bright lights 1 hour before bed (exercising, watching TV and video games)
- Reduce any inconsistent noise. A ticking clock is ok. Beeping traffic is not
- Sleep in a pitch black room
- Get up, and go to bed around the same time every day. Try to stay within a 30-minute window either way.
- Avoid consuming caffeine 5 hours before bed
- Get comfortable. That means laying vertical in a non-cramped bed and in a room that’s not too hot or too cold.
- Make a 5 to 10 minute ‘winding-down’ ritual. Write down your to do list or read in dim light for instance.
Also, your nutrition should be dialed in, and minimally processed foods that hit your macronutrient targets should be a priority. Now is not the time to try intermittent fasting or see how much junk you can get away from your diet. Fuel your body with high-quality nutrition and you’ll get better results.
Watching Netflix is good because it will put you in a parasympathetic state, which is your ‘rest & digest’ state in which you will grow and recover. But missing sleep is not OK.
Chill out, relax, eat well and see great things.
9. Use stimulants excessively
Performing lots of sets in, and around 90% of your one rep max is hard. I get it.
You might feel like you need two scoops of SUPERPUMP or a triple shot of espresso before every gym session. But don’t do it; it’ll only cost you later. Reserve this sort of stimulant abuse for the meet. When you use stimulants you pay for them later. Sure, you get a kick ass workout today, but it’ll make the workouts later in the week tougher.
The same goes for ramping yourself up before every lift or using smelling salts. These ‘stimulants’ will drain you like nothing else. They are great, but only when used properly. Abuse them at your own peril.
10. Go into your meet without a plan
Finally, don’t go into your competition blind.
You know what they say, ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’? Well, yeah, that could never be truer with a Powerlifting meet. The day is stressful enough without you having to think about how to warm up, what attempts to select or whether you’ve got the right kit.
Do yourself a favor and create a plan:
- Have a kit list with a tick off sheet
- Write your warm up weights beforehand
- Know all of your first attempts for the day and have at least an idea of your second & third.
- Read the related blog post: “Planning Your First Powerlifting Meet to Perfection”
Protip: You can get a downloadable and printable kit list when you grab a copy of the Powerlifting Playbook
Personally, I try to cover every single base for my clients, so they feel completely prepared and can just go do what they need to and lift. This allows them to stay completely focused on the task at hand and not worry that they don’t have the right spec of knee sleeves, or don’t know what their first attempt should be.
Plan for 9/9 and you’ll be in a MUCH better place to do so.
There you have it, 10 things to avoid when peaking for powerlifting.