Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The 9 Keys to Effective Peaking for an Olympic Games

Peaking and tapering - the two most nebulous terms in sport.  Yet everyone has their ideas on how best to go about implementing them.  So, with the Big Show just a few weeks away, I thought I’d give you an outline of mine.  This is my fifth Olympic Games as a coach - and, quite uniquely I think - my third home Olympics.  I don’t profess to have ALL the answers, but this is what I know so far:
1. Work backwards from the event. 
I always work backwards from the exact time of the race.  If it is an evening race, then we will do something in the morning.  If it is a morning race, then any preparatory or potentiation work will be done the day before.  Understanding the exact nature of the adaptation from a potentiation session is imperative, as this is a very individual thing.  In my experience, though, all must do SOMETHING - whether it’s just a warm-up, some stretching and therapy, or a more dynamic session.  My starting point for potentiation work is 3-5 block starts, and possible some Olympic lifts.  The day before the preparation/potentiation session is a light therapy day - an opportunity for the athlete, coach, and therapist to check tissue quality and firing patterns, and to ensure that any mechanical dysfunction is minimized.  The remainder of the week prior looks like this:

warm-up and treatment
blocks & last intense weight session
alactic speed - low volume & light weights
light treatment
pre-race prep/potentiation
I’m pretty specific with my day-of-the-meet timing, and will have have a minute-by-minute schedule prepared days beforehand that I will discuss with the athlete.  It’s important that there are no surprises on race day, and I find that if we talk about the day earlier in the week, it serves to reduce the anxiety.
2. The three ‘C’s’
Keeping the athlete within his or her ‘comfort zone’ is crucial.   Obviously by now, we should be well clear of any appreciable amount of time spent on improving the athletes’ weaker areas - and instead, are focussing on what makes them elite in the first place; what they are most comfortable with - their strengths.  Continuity in the types of training that the athletes are confident in then feeds the unique psyche that is needed.
3. No new stimuli.
New training stimulus leads to new adaptations - adaptations that will manifest in a manner in which you cannot accurately predict.  Stick to the work that has got you to this point.  I have way too often seen athletes and coaches panic at this stage, thinking that they have missed something; that they’re not quite ready; that if only they had just did more...BLANK.  Well - guess what?  It’s too late.  Finish the season - debrief - and if you STILL think you missed something, plan it into the next season’s training.  
4. Respect the SCIENCE. Be guided by the ART.  
Trust your instincts. Base your decisions on all the things you usually base them on - including ‘science’ - but don’t be bound by it, if your gut is telling you otherwise.  The uniqueness of the situation, the time, and the environment dictate unique responses.  The more experienced you are, the more you can fly by instinct.  If you’re not as experienced, effective communication with the athlete, and reading his or her instincts is key.  Only the athlete really understands what is going on right now - allow the pendulum of influence to swing further in their direction.  
5. Don’t script too tightly.
Although we pretty much know what type of work we will be doing on a daily basis, exact details won’t be scripted.  We can’t very accurately predict athlete adaptations at this point, so we continually monitor it throughout. External responsibilities, quality of sleep, regeneration, and health will be key in the exact determination of micro-planning.
6. Rest and regeneration are more crucial than ever.
If your athlete is sick - or injured - chances are they’re not going to compete real well.  Keep them healthy.  Don’t do anything stupid, and take health precautions.  The added stress of a participation in an Olympic Games (and for British athletes, the added pressure of participation in a home Olympic Games) can often manifest into general health deterioration, mechanical dysfunction and, critically, increased incidence of injury and sickness.  Appropriate pre-hab, aggressive regenerative measures, effective nutritional  and supplement strategies is paramount.  Sleep is more important than ever.    Remember that the body does not distinguish between emotional stress and physical stress.  Stress is stress is stress.  When planning for physical stress (which - by definition - training is), ensure you understand emotional-psychological stress.
7. Sweat the small stuff.
So often, we can put together great programming methods, and taper the athletes perfectly, only for optimal realization to be jeopardized by poor control of peripheral factors uniquely present at an Olympic Games.  External challenges involving housing, transportation, training equipment and location, additional family and friends, increased athlete/group integration, media, public scrutiny, etc. can lead to obvious deleterious outcomes.  Preliminary planning - involving the athletes - in addressing these possible distractions can go a long way in reducing any potential negative influence they may have. 

8. Get out of the way
It’s the Olympics.  It’s a big deal.  You’ve been given a bunch of fancy Olympic gear.  You’ve got to do something to EARN it, right?  Um, No.  You’ve done that already - you’re here only because your athlete(s) is here - so you’ve done your job - well done!  Now get out of the way, and let the athlete COMPETE.  Appreciate that if we have executed our plan properly, we simply need to allow the athlete to realize it.  We don’t stop coaching - the process just becomes less intrusive. More organic.  Over-coaching can be the instinct, but we must refrain and trust process - if the work has not been done, it is too late now anyway!

And that’s it.  If you are lucky enough to have an athlete or two at the games - GREAT job.  Good luck with your peaking/tapering strategies, and if you figure out what that means....please let me know.

I know this blog is titled ‘The 9 Keys to Effective Peaking for an Olympic Games’, and I know I have a ninth in here somewhere.  I know it....but it’s late.  I’m tired.  And it’s just not coming to me.  Let me get back to you.  But for now - it’s only ‘8 Keys...’.  Sorry.


  1. Would you recommend reading anatoli bondarchuk's periodization of training in sports book to get a deeper understanding of how to construct programs for people?

  2. I would recommend reading as much as you can of any and everything. Bondarchuk's work is often a little lost in translation, but is definitely worth the efforts.