So You Wanna Be A Powerlifter? The Peak and Taper

In our previous episode, we talked about the general outline of a program for a powerlifter. In this program, we’ll get a bit more into the nitty-gritty about what it means to ‘peak’ and to ‘taper’ which are terms that you’ll likely hear thrown around a fair bit in powerlifting conversations. Although the traditional idea of having a dedicated ‘peak and taper’ in programming is consistently being re-examined, it remains a widely used tool in a large portion of powerlifting programing.

The Peak

The ‘peak’ in a training program generally refers to the highest intensities and highest level of specificity that you will see in a powerlifting program. Mike Israetel defines peaking as “the process of maximizing preparedness at the desired time.” During the peaking phase, the goals of the athlete and the programming are to increase the specificity of the lifter in an attempt to turn all the stimulus of the training block into actualized lifts or personal bests in competition.

The ‘peak’ phase of a program is usually the heaviest, toughest lifting you’ll do through a program. We know that the most specific thing you can do is a 1-rep maximum on a squat, bench press, or deadlift, so often a peak will include singles or very low rep sets above 90% of your previous best, or using an RPE of 8 or 9. This phase is the final push for maximal adaptation from the athlete.

The Taper

The concept behind the taper is built around the idea of the ‘supercompensation model’ – basically stating that we see an acute dip in fitness or performance as a stimulus is introduced, and then the organism should adapt and ‘supercompensate’ to beyond previous levels of fitness or performance.  This model has been challenged and updated to include fatigue in the Fatigue-Fitness model. It’s important to note that in both cases, it is likely important to use some kind of taper.  

The taper itself is generally a reduction of training stress to allow the lifter’s fatigue to dissipate.  This will often come in the form of varying magnitudes of reduction in volume, and sometimes intensity – but usually to a lesser extent.  We want the athlete to recover mentally and physically from the strain of peaking, so extra rest days can be used to that extent.

If you’re following along or have a copy of my program, you’ll notice that I have athletes take their opening attempts during the taper week. In my experience this is enough intensity to both increase the specificity of the stimulus and provide the skills-practice an athlete needs, while also still allowing fatigue to be further alleviated.

In our next episode, we’ll talk about the important things to pack in your bag for a powerlifting meet.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.