Athletic peaking, when you are in top shape, results in your best performances of the season. At this time fitness is at the highest level, while fatigue is at the lowest. This is the one time of the season that fatigue should in no way mask fitness. Your peak occurs when you are ready to perform at your best physically (fitness, skills, reactions…) and psychologically (strategy, focus, intent…). Peaking for sport is no accident, but rather the culmination of training, competitions, tactics and regeneration that has been planned for.
A peaking period can be as long as several weeks or as short as several days, so defining your peaking period and planning accordingly is critical. No new stimuli of any significant intensity should be introduced at this time, and training methods (psychological, physical, and technical) must be specific to the demands of competition. Complete regeneration of all required physical capacities; such as speed, strength, and power; is paramount. These levels should all be at their highest during a peaking phase. While volume most often drops significantly and rest periods increase during a taper, some portion of training intensity MUST remain high to facilitate peak performances. To maintain an extended peak, appropriate intensity must remain in your training at some level throughout the peaking period.
- by John Coffman, FasterSwimming.com Contributing Writer
When training to compete we increase our fitness by recovering from our training. There are several models to describe training and it’s after effects, the most popular and recognized of which is the single-factor model. The single-factor model proposes that training is the stimulus for super-compensation, and that repeated bouts of gradually increasing intensity result in gradually increased fitness. Basically: train, recover to a higher level, train again, recover to yet a higher level, etc, etc. This model, however, does not take into full account the factor of fatigue.
The two-factor model of training takes fatigue into full account. The two-factor model proposes both a long-term fitness after-effect from training, leading to specific fitness (aerobic, anaerobic, etc.); and a short-term fatigue after-effect, leading to specific (aerobic, anaerobic, etc.) fatigue. Throughout much of our training, fatigue masks fitness. A high work load in training, especially in a concentrated block or multi-sport training, can cause a much more pronounced fatigued state. The athlete themselves may have an exceptional level of fitness, but performances can suffer or become stale if fatigue is not taken into account and managed. The ONE time of the year fatigue should not mask fitness is during a peaking phase (otherwise known as tapering).
There is a lot more to all of this – but the take-home message is to be aware that your training produces both fitness and fatigue, and that fatigue can mask your actual fitness level much of the time. So how much fatigue is too much? Your Resting Heart Rate (RHR) can tell you a lot. After a couple of off days from training, simply take your heart rate as soon as you wake up. Don’t go to the bathroom first or take your HR after breakfast – measure your HR as soon as you wake, while still in bed. This will give you a base-line measure. If during the training week your RHR differs upward from your base-line RHR more than 6-8 beats per minute, take it easy that day. You can still train in this state, but a recovery-type of training day may be in order. If your RHR differs upward more than 9-10 beats per minute, a day off is probably in order. Anything under 6 beats difference and you should be good to go. I say “should” and “may” because every athlete’s response to training and ability to recover is different.
These are some general guidelines for you to track your recovery and monitor your fatigue, and if you stay on top of your recovery, your true fitness level will be accessible when you need it!