Peaking – AKA how to hit PRs in meets

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How many times have you heard someone say something like: “Well, I squatted 500 in the gym a few weeks ago, but 450 felt heavy at the meet, and I missed 475.”

That’s because they peaked wrong.  I’m even convinced that if you ONLY hit your gym PRs in meets, you peaked poorly.  If you’re good at programming, meets should be PR city.  And, if you’re unfamiliar with this website, let me assure you I’m not just a pencil-necked nerd who reads research but hasn’t ever applied these principles in practice.  Here is a breakdown of my last two meets:

August 2012

Gym PRs (under the same circumstances)* – 625 squat, 415 bench, 625 deadlift

Meet – 650 squat, 419 bench, 645 deadlift


May 2013

Gym PRs (under the same circumstances) – 725 squat, 420 bench, 675 deadlift

Meet – 750 squat, 425 bench, 710 deadlift


*I had hit a couple of bigger benches in the gym before my meets. Also, before my 2013 meet, I had pulled more with straps.  However, I’m a low bar squatter and squatting low bar before benching makes a little biceps tendonitis flare up, so I listed my gym PRs after low bar squatting to mimic meet conditions, and I listed my strapless DL PRs.

I don’t intend for my own example to be perceived as bragging.  This is essentially what meet numbers SHOULD look like compared to gym numbers.  When you walk into a meet, you should be set for PRs across the board or at minimum match your gym PRs.  Any other outcome, barring something beyond your control (getting sick on meet day, sustaining some random injury at work, no AC at the meet venue, etc.), either indicates that your training lifts didn’t mimic meet lifts (high squats, bounced benches, hitched DLs, etc), or your programming was bad.  You may want to chalk it up to some trite excuse like, “It was just a bad day.”  Well, why was it a bad day?  Because you failed to peak properly.  Simple as that.

Matthias Steiner hit a 12kg (26.5 pound) clean and jerk PR to win Olympic gold in 2008.

So, now let’s examine the factors that influence how well your peak goes:

1.  Training volume leading up to the meet

This is an important factor.  I’ve written about this subject before here.  Peaking 101 – you’re training hard, you taper volume, your body supercompensates, and you’re stronger on meet day.  Well, if you’re not training hard in the first place, there’s really no peaking that can occur.  There’s no overreaching from which you can supercompensate.  And when I say “training hard,” I’m not talking about hitting a vein-popping 1rm or 3rm.  I’m talking about putting in volume.  High-intensity stimuli (heavy freaking weight) tend to cause primarily neural adaptations, which tend to occur fairly quickly.  Increasing volume, on the other hand, will have cumulative effects that may take a few weeks to fully recover from once overreaching occurs.

If you train a lift only once per week, and in that session, you only hit 10 heavy working reps, and then you pack it up without hammering accessory work hard, you simply haven’t been doing enough work to warrant a taper. If you try, there’s no overreaching to warrant a supercompensatory response from your body.  Higher frequency helps fix this problem (because you can get in a lot more volume over two or three sessions without having to kill yourself in any given one of them). If you prefer lower frequency, make sure you focus on constantly increasing your training volume leading up to a meet, so when you DO pull back, you actually benefit from the taper.

2.  How long you take to taper

This is another common mistake.  People either tend to overdo or underdo tapering.

Overdoing: Some people read old Westside articles about the “delayed transformation” method and try to taper volume over 3 or 4 weeks, only to peak a week or two before the meet. (Keep in mind, you only peak for a short period of time, and then optimal performance quickly becomes detraining).  When you’re aiming to squat 1,100 and you’re cranking out 12 training sessions a week, you may need that long to taper.  When you’re the other 99% of lifters (especially raw lifters), one week of lowered volume followed be one week of deload is usually plenty.

That approach works well for me.  I may take one more week to not push quite as close to failure (same general training plan, but shave a rep or two off of everything), but I only purposefully taper for one week before my deload.  In my experience, very few people are strong enough to warrant a taper longer than two weeks before meet week.  During this period, maximize your schedule for sleep.  Shoot for 10 hours a night, or at least an extra hour compared to your norm.

Undergoing: On the other hand, some people think “peaking” means just taking a session or two off before a meet.  They may hit their openers Monday, skip training the rest of the week, and compete Saturday.  That’s simply not enough time off.  (Warning, it’s about to get bro-sciency, but this is a reflection of my experience and conversations with a LOT of lifters.)  It’s enough time for your body to get shifted into recovery mode and for you to lose your “edge,” but not long enough for you to start really getting the itch to tear into some weights.  Your physical strength and your psychological aggression simply don’t have enough time to manifest themselves.  It’s like preparing for battle the next day, but then being caught off-guard by your enemy during the night.  Be willing to take some time off.  If you trained for several months to get ready for a meet, one easy week and one off week aren’t going to make you weak.  You think strength that took that long to build is going to leave you so quickly?  Trust the work you put in, and give your body a chance to reward you for your efforts.

3. Nutritional factors

For people cutting water weight:  Get the weight off as fast as possible, and put it back on as fast as possible.  Don’t spend hours jogging in a trash bag the day before a meet.  Get in a hot tub or run a hot bath.  Water has a much higher thermal conductivity constant than air, which means more heat is imparted into your body, so you sweat WAY more.  Get that weight off fast, then have a couple of gallons of 1/2 gatorade 1/2 water waiting for you.  Then hit a buffet.  You should be heavier than you were prior to the water cut within an hour or two of stepping off the scales.  Don’t let a botched weight cut ruin your meet.

If you attempt to water cut for a meet with a 2 hour weigh-in, don’t try to lose more than 1-3% of your total body weight via water.  Any more than than will affect the resting membrane potential of the your muscles and motor neuron excitability.  Even if you rehydrate effectively and replace the sodium and potassium you lose during the cut, it takes longer than two hours for the electrochemical gradients in your cells to re-normalize.  For a 24 hour weigh-in, losing 5-7% is pretty doable, with some people pulling off weight cuts as large as 10%.  Even with a 24 hour weigh-in, going above 3% can be dangerous, I’m not recommending it, I’m not a doctor, insert standard disclaimer here, etc.  However, if you ARE going to do it, those are the numbers that people regularly pull off.  5% really isn’t too hard.  10% is absolutely brutal.  Try to get as much weight off as possible simply by losing fat.  Huge water cuts should be your last resort.  Remember, though, the more weight you have to cut in water before the meet, the more stressful the cut will be (both physically and psychologically) which can affect you on the platform.

If you have a 24 hour weigh in, after you make weight, eat as much salt and as many starchy foods as possible, and drink as much water as possible the day before and the entire day of the meet.  You want a huge bloat.  Mass moves mass.

I recommend cutting out caffeine a few weeks before the meet.  You’ll be re-sensitized by meet day, and you can use that to your advantage.  High doses of caffeine have been shown to reliably increase power output, but only in people who are caffeine-sensitive.  I’ll usually have a coffee and a Monster in my system before my first squat attempt, and drink 4-5 more highly caffeinated beverages throughout the course of a day.  It makes weights feel much lighter and move much faster.


So, there you go.  I’m sure I glossed over some details, but contained in this post are the basics of consistently PRing in meets.  Get your volume in during your pre-meet training cycle; take a week or two to taper volume and a week of deloading, make your water cut as fast as possible (if you cut); consume massive amounts of carbs, salt, and water; and use caffeine to your advantage.  If you don’t feel comfortable setting up your training plan, hire a competent coach or take the time to study training logs of lifters who consistently do well in meets.

On meet day, you shouldn’t be wondering IF you’ll PR, the only question should be, “HOW BIG will those PRs be?”


If this is a subject you’d like to dig into more, these are two more great articles on the topic (Article 1, Article 2)


17 thoughts on “Peaking – AKA how to hit PRs in meets”

  1. Hey Greg,
    did you ever wrote about how hard/heavy(or light) your openers should be with regard to your training weights ? Is there any scientifc research on that ? Not sure if you still anwser to this article but I would appreciate it 🙂

    1. The rules of thumb I usually use:
      Opener – heaviest weight you’re 100% sure you’ll hit with no questions in your mind about it. Usually a 3rm for someone more experienced, or a 5rm for someone less experienced.
      2nd – based on how your opener felt, the heaviest weight you’re 99% sure you can hit. You should always go at least 6/9. Typically this will be a small PR if the peak went well.
      3rd – entirely based off your second. If you have a total number in mind, this should be whatever weight you need to hit to set up your total. If not, then go with what you’re at least 75% sure you can get.

  2. Hey Greg, thank you for sharing this knowledge! I’ve got a question:

    I’m five weeks out of competition. This fifth week will look like this

    1. Squats working up to a second attempt with a set of 5 and 3 before (not nearly to failure!)
    2. Benchpress same as squats
    3. Speedpulls 5×1-2x circa65% (meetgoal)

    1. Speedsquats 3-5x3x65%
    2. Deadlifts same as Squats in A)
    3. Benchpress 3x5x80%

    But i am unsure how to continue the last four weeks and thought about something like that…

    4WO Getting used to singles
    5-6 Singles with opener weight on Squat and Bench
    5 Speedpuls at 65%

    3×3 on Squat and Bench at 65%
    5 Singles with opener (or 95% of opener) on Deadlifts

    3- 5 Singles with opener (+2,5% or so) weight on Squat and Bench
    5 Speedpuls at 65%

    3×3 on Squat and Bench at 65%
    3-5 Singles with opener on Deadlifts

    2WO Intensity is high but volume low
    Working up to a second attempt on Squat and Bench
    Speedpulls 5x1x65%

    3×3 on Squat and Bench at 65%
    Working up to a Second attempt on Deadlifts

    1WO Intensity and Volume low
    Meet on saturday

    Best regards

  3. I am73 and compete in bench only due to arthritis but I held several USPF National Records. I would like advice on how to train with 5 weeks before meet. I am lifting Raw now and 242 class. I hold my State Bench record but would like to go for the National and World Bench Record. I have been doing the 5×5 routine and need advice where to go from here. Can you help?

  4. Hi Greg,

    I’m currently on a DUP/Block periodization and I have a planned mock meet this December. I have a meso cycle (3-week up, 1-week deload) left on my volume block (65-75%), then proceed to my strength block (75-85%) and then intensity/peaking block. I’m still quite confused on how I should manipulate my volume. The last week of my volume block will be the highest total volume.

    Based on my previous cycles (recovery-wise) I’m planning on reducing 20% of the total volume, then another 20% on the peaking block but intensity will then be very high at around 85-100% twice a week for singles/doubles/triples, with 65% days at around 6-RPE sets in-between to maintain as much volume as possible. I’m still going to be increasing the volume per week (mainly through load), and attempt to overreach on the 3rd week then taper 1 week and test.

    Is this a wise idea? I mean, from the last week of the volume block to the last week of the peak, that’s >30% less total volume in 8 weeks. I guess my real question is, will I be able to maintain much of the strength I gained in that timeframe?

  5. Hi Greg,

    Weird, my first comment isn’t posted. Anyway, thank you for replying swiftly. My reply to your question,

    “Have you ever successfully peaked before?”

    I would say I had a good peak late last year. Tried to replicate the same protocol last June but it wasn’t as successful. I did hit PRs on all 3 lifts (definitely RPE 10s) but I felt I should’ve done more based on how the weights moved weeks before. I felt run down on the third week, my joints were aching and I just took the taper week completely off. I felt completely recovered on test day though but the strength wasn’t quite there. Maybe I detrained a little bit?

    From my peak last year it could have been also from the whole program itself, as it was the first time I switched to a DUP programming. Also the volume of the first peak was just around 20% less than the highest volume of the program, with sets of mostly singles/doubles/triples at 85-100%, and a few backdown sets of 80%. Second peak had about 30% less volume, with slightly higher sets of 90-100%. Anyway the difference between those two peaking protocols compared to what I have planned for this December is that I have slightly more total volume, with slightly less sets of 90-100% and slightly more sets of 65%. Reason is that so I can recover a little better from all the higher intensity days while keeping as much volume as I can.

    1. I don’t think you necessarily need to worry about maintaining volume. Having some lighter work can be beneficial just for keeping the grooves fresh, but you can easily cut volume by 50% without really needing to worry about losing strength. If you get worn down from really heavy singles, though, cutting back on 90-100% work would probably be good, though.

      1. I see. I’ll keep that in mind. This would be my last mock meet as I’ll be competing around September/October of next year. I’ll be doing a long macro cycle to prepare for that meet. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this peaking/overreaching/supercompensation thing, hence the mock meets.

        Anyways I really appreciate the response! I’ve learned so much just by reading the articles here. I also follow you on youtube, but you haven’t been active there as of late.

        Thanks Greg!

        1. Ultimately, there is some science to peaking, but it’s still more art than science. In general, lowering volume (1/3-2/3) seems to be a good idea, but the length of the taper, the amount of heavy work you do before deloading, and how far out from the meet you drop the heavy work is highly individual. I think it’s just something you need to experiment with.

          1. Yes noted. I’ll see how I’ll respond with the peak I planned for this December and adjust accordingly for next year.

            Thanks again!

  6. Hey Greg

    I’m a female, 5’4″, 150. I’ve been following a program for about 7 months now – it’s an 8 week program to up my maxes. once I finish week 8, how long should I rest/what should I be doing between the end of the program and the day(s) I go for my maxes?

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