The last week before a bodybuilding contest is known as peak-week. For virtually all bodybuilders this is the most important 7 days of the entire contest preparation period. Possibly more time, money, thought and suffering is involved in the last 7 days than the entire 3-12 months prior. Some people wind up hospitalised. Some literally die! And the vast, vast majority wind up looking worse than they did 7 days earlier. What are the true secrets to peak-week? Read on…
The Goal of Peaking
The goal of ‘peaking’ is to have muscles that are ‘full’ and skin that is ‘thin’ and ‘dry’. When regular contest preparation diet and training has gone well, bodybuilders will already have full muscles with skin that is thin and dry anyway! Most good bodybuilders are looking absolutely incredible in the gym 7-21 days before the show. If they aren’t looking incredible, then its too late and nothing they do in the last week can fix it.
Regardless of whether a bodybuilder looks good or bad, everybody wants to be 1-2% better. So they usually gamble months worth of contest preparation diet and training in the hope of achieving an elusive, very specific, temporary electrolyte imbalance that makes the muscles fractionally fuller and the skin fractionally drier.
The fact that, since the dawn of bodybuilding, the vast majority of people have looked worse from trying to ‘peak’ does not discourage everyone from trying it. In fact, its an obsessive, essential part of prep for most competitors. So much so that most peaking advice these days does not seem to even pretend to achieve anyhing material or beneficial. Its a religious ritual. Its something competitors are compelled to do or they won’t feel like they’ve played the competition game properly. Just look at all the lemmings backstage at contests sucking on honey. Do they seriously think they are going to materially transform their physiques in 30 minutes by sucking on honey?
Tricks & Tools for Bodybuilding Contest Peaking
Water. Sodium. Diuretics. Carbs. Potassium. Plasma expanders. Androgens. Anti-estrogens. Insulin. Glycerol. Alcohol. Junk. Fat. Sugar. Saunas. Solariums. Blood (yes, stored and reinjected blood). These are just some of the tools I’ve discussed (not advised) with people wanting to peak for bodybuilding contests by forcing this imbalance.
Whether its water, sodium, carbs, potassium or something else, some people will swear on massive excess while others tout total elimination. Others will recommend moderation. Still others tout depleting something then loading; or vice versa; total or partial; in combination, or never in combination. No matter what potential fluid manipulation tool you care to think of, somewhere in the world are 2 coaches at polar opposites on how they must be used.
The unfortunate reality with imbalances in the human body is that they automatically try to rebalance themselves. So peak week advice is based on the mistaken belief that an electrolyte and fluid imbalance can be timed and controlled, without any knowledge or measurement of whats actually happening, while the body reacts unpredictably and inconsistently. And this is all in the hope of looking imperceptibly better than the fantastic condition the body was in when it was in balance.
the most consistent outcome from… peak-week techniques is that competitors look worse than they did in the gym the week before they started their imbecilic peaking-protocol
Partial Truths & Cliches
The very fact that the goal is to create an imbalance between elements that inherently want to rebalance means that there is one or more excellent counterarguments to every sound recommendation. Nobody can be ‘right’. Its always a crapshoot!
So virtually all of the theories on ‘peaking’ are based on incomplete information and tragic cliches. For example:
“You need to get the water out”. Really? The body is about 70% water. Your muscles are about 70% water. Your blood is water. You’d be very dead long before you got a significant percentage of it ‘out’! Not to mention your muscles would wither away to nothing. A 100kg bodybuilder who ‘got the water out’ would be about 30kg of dust. Getting the water out is a moronic goal!
“You need to get the sodium out because it holds water under the skin”. Yes, but its the ‘sodium pump’ that pushes water and other electrolytes into the tissues. It’s what makes muscles look ‘full’. Like the water, if you succeeded in “getting the sodium out”, you would literally shrivel up and die!
“You need some Anavar to harden your muscles for your bikini competition”. Yes, even semi-soft girls with no muscle in a competition with no criteria are told to use performance-enhancing-drugs to ‘peak’ for a category that penalises any sign of performance.
There are so many more examples I could write all day. There really is no limit to how ridiculous, inappropriate and plain wrong the peaking advice gets. Do not underestimate it! At every contest some competitors are literally hospitalised for their peak week stupidity.
If the athlete’s hamstrings and glutes aren’t separated and striated [by the last week], its probably because they are still fat. Fat is not water soluble and sodium does not hold fat in the cells! Nothing done with water or sodium is going to change that a person is just too fat!
Peak Week Reality
Almost without exception, the most consistent outcome from the application of any and all of the various peak-week techniques is that competitors look worse than they did in the gym the week before they started their imbecilic peaking-protocol!
“You should have seen me the day [before/after]” is probably the greatest cliche in bodybuilding. Its generally hyperbolic nonsense. But its also very true that the day before or after a contest most competitors will look better than they did on the day. The only other time they looked as good was the entire week before peak-week!
Back to the Start… Hopefully?
Generally peak-week tends to be a roller coaster of suffering to worsen the physique before fixing the mess to get back close to where they started.
For example, the classic carb depletion followed by a carb load causes the athlete to shrink away and then swell back up. The shrinking from the depletion is absolutely pointless and ineffectual, except to make the athlete look relatively better when they fill back up again. In reality, at best, they go back to about the same size and condition as before the depletion; though usually not that good. Incidentally, the carb deplete and load protocol is based on a 1950’s study on endurance athletes that was superseded in the ’60’s by a study that found the depletion was irrelevant! Its tragically out-of-date.
Unfortunately, instead of winding up as good as before peak-week, most athletes wind up worse. The worst – which is common – is to come in with saggy, depleted muscles and a layer of water obscuring their definition. Or they come in dry but very scrawny looking. Or their muscles are very full and round but the skin is very watery, obscuring all definition. It is so, so rare for an athlete to come in dramatically fuller and dryer and more defined that it is even celebrated when a pro bodybuilder flukes it!
The reality is that, at best, most competitors look about as good as they did in the gym, the week before they started messing with everything. Even the day before or after when they claim to look “amaaaaaaazing”, nobody, ever, looks like an all around vastly superior physique to the week before. It is still the same athlete. They are still the same shape, proportion, size and leanness as they were. They have the separations and striations that their leanness and genetics gave them. For all of the tricky manipulation they can do they will only ever look fractionally different. If they are marginally better in some aspects then it is at the expense of others. Or they are just worse all round. But they really have to botch their entire prep to look as bad as possible the week before the show in order to look dramatically better on contest day. And if they botched their entire prep to look that bad a week out, then they still won’t be presenting their very best physique on contest day anyway! Most competitors are at their best the week before the contest and then they botch it up in the hope of looking indiscernibly better. Its madness!
Peak-week advice is only rivalled in badness by first-date advice. If you choose to drastically change the behaviour that got you to the ‘big day’ then you deserve all of the pain, suffering and embarrassment you are likely to get!
The whole concept of peaking for a bodybuilding contest, by favourably upsetting the balance of the body in the final week, is flawed. By the week (or two) before the contest the athlete should have reached their peak. If the athlete’s hamstrings and glutes aren’t separated and striated then, its probably because they are still fat. Fat is not water soluble and sodium does not hold fat in the cells! Nothing done with water or sodium is going to change that a person is just too fat! And if an athlete(?) is competing in a category where extreme conditioning is arbitrarily penalised (e.g. every women’s category below figure), then ‘peaking’ is, by definition, an absolute irrelevance anyway.
Yes, a physique can look noticeably better or worse, harder or softer, flatter or fuller; if the athlete is in condition. A practiced eye can see the subtle changes day by day and even hour by hour; if the athlete is in condition. But a judge who never saw how an athlete looked before will never, ever know whether that physique is 1% better than last week or not! Neither will the audience. They will know if they are in condition or not. Thats all. And that was decided by the week before the contest.
Every athlete is being judged against the other people who turned up onstage that day; not against how they looked against themselves 7 days ago. There are barely a couple of physiques on the entire planet that are so perfect in every way that the last 1% of dryness and fullness separates them. And those physiques usually wind up being decided on who messed up their peak week (e.g. Phil Heath vs Kai Greene)! Why would anyone want to gamble their entire prep on 99% odds of looking 10-50% worse for a 1% chance of an indiscernible 1% improvement?
Peak-week advice is only rivalled in badness by first-date advice. And like first-date advice, if you choose to drastically change the behaviour that got you to the ‘big day’ then you deserve all of the pain, suffering and embarrassment you are likely to get! Whether its first-date or peak-week advice, the chance of things going better is about 1%. The chance of it going hopelessly, tragically wrong is about 99%. If it does go better, its dumb luck and its probably only about 1% better. Really, at best, with first-date or peak-week advice, the ultimate success is getting away with it without totally ruining your performance. You really have to ask why anyone would be so stupid to bother?
Just like a first date, the primary ingredient on contest day, from your perspective, is you! What you have the week before the ‘big day’ is all you can bring. Dressing it up right (i.e. getting your tan, oil, costume and presentation right for contest) to present yourself in your best light is going to make much, much more of a difference than anything else you can do in the last week.
Just like a first date, your greatest challenge in bodybuilding is simply not to screw it up!!! Turn up. Be yourself. Don’t do anything different. Your greatest competitive advantage is to leave the screwing up for your competitors. Leave the first-date and peak-week advice for everyone else to make a total fool of themselves and you have a much greater chance of coming home with the trophy!