Traditional peaking philosophy tells us that our true physical peak only comes once in a blue moon. That means arriving at a race in top mental and physical condition, with the ability to produce your best performance of the year. Peaking can be tricky, but with a combination of well-timed rest and a structured training plan, you can hit that physical peak more than once. Here’s how.
Hitting a Traditional Peak
A traditional peak consists of a few different components: base phase, build phase, peak phase, and taper. I’ll spare the intensive details of each phase in this article, but you can read more in The Art of Peaking for a Cycling Event by Mike Schultz, CSCS.
After 4-8 weeks of aerobic training (base phase) followed by 4-6 weeks of FTP-targeted training (build phase), you’re ready to peak. In this phase — usually lasting 3-4 weeks — you’ll begin focusing on intervals specific to your goal event. Peaking for a century, therefore, is very different than peaking for a time trial or a criterium.
The last and often trickiest part of a peak is the taper. While everyone is different, there is a well-supported taper protocol that works for most cyclists. About 7-10 days out from your goal event, you should:
- Reduce training volume by 50-90%
- Maintain training frequency at 80% or more
- Maintain training intensity at 100%
You may feel over-rested during your taper, but that’s the feeling you want. After months of training, racing, and stress, a well-timed taper will put your body in peak performance condition for your goal event. This is especially true when successfully achieving a double peak.
Timing Your Second Peak
When planning out your racing season, you should never have two A races within 12 weeks of each other. There just isn’t enough time to properly peak for the first event, adequately rest afterward, and build up to a second peak in less than three months. If your top-priority races are only a couple of weeks apart, you can certainly hold near-peak form for a couple of weeks using a well-structured plan, a topic that I covered in Prioritizing Cycling Races for Peak Performance.
Once you have your calendar set, you can begin planning out your second peak. Let’s say your second A race is 12 weeks after your first A race. Here’s how you would structure your calendar:
- Week 0: first A race
- Weeks 1-2: rest (at least five days without training, followed by low-intensity, unstructured training sessions)
- Weeks 3-4: base
- Weeks 5-9: build
- Weeks 9-11: peak (race-specific interval training)
- Weeks 11-12: taper
- Week 12: second A race
Notice how short this base phase is. Following your first A race, you will have plenty of training and racing in your legs, so you’ll need very little base training at this point. Instead, weeks 3-4 are really designed to get you back into training before adding in high-intensity intervals.
Focus on Race-Specific Training
Endurance training can be as tough mentally as it is physically, and sometimes even more. When you start building towards your second peak, you want to minimize this mental stress as much as possible. Translated: avoid junk miles by focusing on quality over quantity, and pay special attention to your race-specific intervals.
If you’re building up to the National Time Trial Championships in September, for example, there’s no need for you to be doing sprints or group rides in the lead-up to the event (unless you love these workouts and they keep you motivated). But if you’re a time-crunched cyclist four months into racing season, then stick to the intervals that count and nothing more. Overdoing it could lead to physical or mental burnout, with little time to recover before your second peak.
You can find a good example of race-specific training in my 12wk Time Trial Race Preparation Plan w/Peak, in which I structure each week around a TT-specific interval session (or two) on the TT bike in preparation for the Nationals TT at the end of the block.
Don’t Overdo It
There are limits to everything we do, and peaking is no exception. It is impossible to peak more than two or three times in a season. If you’re peaking more often than that, you’re not actually “peaking,” you’re just getting fitter — which isn’t a bad thing!
Traditional cycling calendars have their biggest events — like State, National, and World Championships — about two-thirds of the way through the year. That gives you plenty of time to build your fitness and time your peak to perfection. By using the principles laid out above, you can comfortably target an A race a few months out from your biggest event of the year. This will give you plenty of time to build your base over the winter, use early-season events to hone your racing form, and then hit your first peak in the spring. Remember, stay disciplined, take rest seriously, and be patient in building up to your second peak of the year.
Mujika, I. & Padilla, S. (2003). Scientific Bases for Precompetition Tapering Strategies. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.631.8083&rep=rep1&type=pdf