The Peak period follows Build 2b and is one of the shortest of the season. Now you’re down to just a couple of weeks until race day. Gaining fitness is out of the question. There isn’t enough time to have a significant effect and, besides, the cost of recovery is now becoming too great. Your mindset must change in order to accomplish the two objectives of this period:
Peak Objective #1: Shed fatigue. Over the past several weeks of the Base and Build periods the stress of training was at times quite high with key workouts every second or third day focused on aerobic capacity, strength, aerobic and muscular endurance and race-like training. Your training volume may have also been high. Despite frequent R&R microcycles there was undoubtedly some deep fatigue accumulating. You’ve become so accustomed to it that you may not even realize just how tired you are. Now, in the Peak period, by gradually getting rid of that fatigue and becoming fresher you will come into “form.”
Peak Objective #2: Maintain fitness. When you reduce the training load by cutting back on training duration, which is only one of the three workout variables you can modify (the others are intensity and frequency), fitness is gradually lost. You can’t gain fitness by training less. If you could then sitting on the sofa and watching TV would be a key workout in the Base and Build periods. But it’s understandable that athletes would think they are gaining fitness by tapering their training. If only a little fitness is lost but a lot of fatigue is shed over the course of several days, you will certainly feel fitter. And, if everything goes right, you’ll also race faster (Mujika). This is called “strong form.”
The tricky part is to shed most all of the fatigue while losing very little fitness. The way to do that is to make big cuts in workout duration (Banister, Kubukeli) over what you’ve been doing in the Build period while doing a challenging race-like intensity workout every third day (Neary) - the red days above. The race-simulation sessions should also gradually get shorter. This will bring you to a peak of race readiness.
As you did in the Base period, include some aerobic capacity fartlek in one of these sessions in the Peak microcycle. It won’t take much to maintain your seasonal gains. A total of 3 to 5 minutes of zone 5 (power, pace or effort – heart rate is not an effective way to gauge intensity for such brief intervals) in one session should do it. This could be done during or following a race-like simulation workout. Also including one Strength Maintenance (SM) gym session (see details for cycling or triathlon) early in this microcycle should also be adequate to maintain your strength gains.
For the senior athlete I’d suggest using a Peak period shorter than that explained in my Training Bible books. There the standard Peak mesocycle duration was described as 14 days. But since the senior athlete is likely to lose fitness at a more rapid rate when tapering in Peak (my opinion as there is no research on this), I’ve shortened this period to 9 days regardless of whether the athlete has been using a 9- or 7-day microcycle pattern previously. That means 5 fewer days of tapering than I recommend for younger athletes.
Note that each of the following examples starts with the day where the previous examples left off in the Base period post. (If you’ve been closely following this daily progression you’ll notice I’ve made a two-day adjustment here in the 9-day Peak microcycle as I found a previous error.)
Former 9-day microcyles (9 days total for Peak)
Peak Mesocycle – 9 days (S, S, M, T, W, T, F, S, S)
Former 7-day microcyles (9 days total for Peak)
Peak Mesocycle – 9 days (S, S, M, T, W, T, F, S, S)
The red days highlighted above (Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday) are the days I’d suggest doing the key Peak workouts. These are the race-simulation sessions with one of them including a few minutes of aerobic capacity fartlek for maintenance. Sunday or Tuesday in the example are the best days for this. And one red day would also be a day when the SM strength session is done. The gym workout is best done after the sport-specific session or several hours before.
The two days following each red day are for recovery. They should both be short - for you - and low intensity (zones 1-2). As with the red days, these recovery sessions get shorter as the Peak period progresses.
By following such a routine you should feel quite rested at the end of the 9 days. If you’ve never tapered like this before you may also feel quite apprehensive. It’s not emotionally easy to reduce training so much right before a big race. But it’s critical that you do as it’s likely that fatigue will reduce your performance potential. You must be rested to race near your potential.
As the Peak period comes to a close you should be ready to move on to the last few days leading up to your race. In the next post I’ll take a look at the Race period relative to the senior athlete's unique needs.
Banister EW, Carter JB, Zarkadas PC. 1999. Training theory and taper: Validation in triathlon athletes. Eur J Appl Physiol 79(2):182-91.
Kubukeli ZV, Noakes TD, Denis SC. 2w002. Training techniques to improve endurance exercise performances. Sports Med 32(8):489-509.
Mujika I, Goya A, Padilla S, et al. 2000. Physiological responses to a 6-d taper in middle-distance runners: influence of training intensity and volume. Med Sci Sports Exerc 32(2):511-7.
Neary JP, Martin TP, Quinney HA. 2003. Effects of taper on endurance cycling capacity and single muscle fiber properties. Med Sci Sports Exerc 35(11):1875-81.