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Reach the Peak! Stimulus Management to Perform At Your Best

Updated: Feb 11, 2020

Written By: Phil Sabatini

President and Associate Head Coach of East Coast Gold

As we prepare for competition, several things are generally accepted to occur.  Some athletes and coaches have been groomed through consistent peaking programs and have adopted those specific ways without fully understanding what exactly the purpose is behind how programs are drawn up.

Peaking is based on 2 main concepts ;  General Adaptation Syndrome and the Fitness/Fatigue Paradigm.

The General Adaptation Syndrome has been adopted to define many things in one’s general life.  As athletes, we use the General Adaptation Syndrome to define our training through periodization.

We train to create a “stimulus”, which causes stress.  This creates a shock or alarm stress that we try to offset through a number of different physiological mechanisms.  Once we are able to adapt to that stress, as that stress decreases those physiological mechanisms that were working so hard are now over-working, leaving us in a heightened state.  Simply put, we suppress our performance on purpose to make it more dynamic when we rid ourselves of the suppression.

One basic example of this is boiling water.  When you boil water without a lid, the steam slowly and consistently rises out of the pot in a lackluster manner.  Put a lid on the pot to “suppress” it for a few seconds, when you remove the lid, a whole cloud of steam rushes from the pot.  The steam symbolizes performance- slow, level, and steady if it’s not challenging enough vs. suppression allowing for accumulation of the steam, which results in one big release when the lid is lifted.

To make the General Adaptation Syndrome specific to weightlifting:  Every time we grind through a bout of high volume squats (stimulus), we create a shock (alarm) that suppresses our performance.  If we consistently grind through high volume squats, that suppression accumulates into even more. When we decrease the volume and intensity, the suppression has been removed, allowing for recovery to create a state of heightened performance.  

The longer and larger the performance suppression, the longer or more frequent recovery is necessary, but the longer and larger we could potentially be in a heightened state of performance.  

Having an understanding of the timing and the accumulation of the workload is essential in managing the stimulus and response.

The other component to peaking is a basic theory called the Fitness vs. Fatigue Paradigm.  Why it’s a paradigm is because creating new levels of fitness involves hard work. That hard work also creates fatigue. (Stimulus/Alarm=Performance Supression –See?!)

So how do we actually get stronger if we are also getting fatigued at the same time?

Luckily, fatigue dissipates faster than fitness does.  Meaning, a decrease in workload doesn’t mean immediate loss of strength or power that we worked so hard to build.  Long-term decreases in workload would mean detraining, but in the short term, we are able to see a greater benefit to putting ourselves through that high volume and intensity workload to get stronger.

Tapering is using the fitness vs. fatigue model to our advantage.  It is essential that we gain fitness through decreasing fatigue, because the 3-4 weeks prior to competition is not the time to be focused on improving strength through heavy loads and high volumes.  We are focused on attaining both short term and long term supercompensation while decreasing fatigue.

The decreased workload is challenging for the ego, as it is relatively small compared to the earlier preparations, leaving the athlete feeling insufficiently prepared.  This is why the timing of the taper is essential. What I have found to be most effective is to micro-manage the stimulus of each individual workout.

Below is an example of how ECG National squad is preparing for the National Championships.  The week below is 3 weeks out from competition.

The same way we use periodization for long term development, we use this in the short term when we prepare for competition.  Instead of using months or weeks as lengths of performance suppression, like in our preparatory training cycles, we use days:  National weightlifting competitions are over the weekend, so we attempt to manipulate our nervous system to attain a heightened state of performance at the end of the week.  How we do this is through Stimulus control – Above you see:

Short term performance suppression (2-3 days), recovery (1-2 days), followed by supercompensation (1-2 days).  The supercompensation effect at the end of the week allows for us to take advantage of the heightened state of performance we hope to attain over the competition period, giving us the most competition specific training experiences neurologically available (Day 5).  Throughout this, the as the workload is relatively less in inter-set volume, we are slowly attaining fitness as fatigue dissipates.

Using the General Adaptation Syndrome as a model to plan for Supercompensation along with the understanding of the Fitness vs. Fatigue Paradigm for Tapering, you can manage the stimulus properly AND time it right to get the most out of performance.  


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