Let’s Talk About Peaking

For those of you who have kids, you’ve probably realized by now that everyone matures at their own pace.  Some seem to rocket out of the gates and then spin their wheels for a while, others are on a constant slow climb, and others seem to be woefully behind their peers.  While this is all normal, it can be incredibly frustrating for the kids and hard for their parents to watch.

Well, the punchline of this introduction to how teens develop is that its how all of us develop athletically, even as adults. And the common theme for all of this is how do we take advantage of the relative pace of improvement to optimize our development, performance, and long-term success?

The first thing we need to talk about is the concept of “peak”.  Peaking is the culmination of training performance in a single year, over several years, or over a lifetime.  The factors that affect this are physical maturation, progression of training, susceptibility to injury, and the most important factor:  Time. 

When I coached track and field, the concept that we had to get across to our teen athletes was that they weren’t going to peak at the beginning of the season, or even in the middle.  Our first developmental meets began in April and if we did it right, they wouldn’t start to hit their peak until the state or regional meets that usually happened in June.  If we were lucky, our top athletes would continue to peak into July and hit their best performances at Nationals.  If you peak too soon by pushing too hard (and not recovering enough), you won’t make it to the end of the season when everything actually counts. 

That example is strictly about seasonal training, but we can apply the same concept to a lifetime of development. 

The biggest issue I see people having with regard to peaking is pushing too hard too fast, giving up too soon, or simply accepting their current state as their permanent ability.  I’ve seen beginner powerlifters thinking they were going to reach lifetime PRS within their first year of training, high school track and field athletes ready to give up when their times have stagnated for a season, and athletes of all kinds thinking they reached their peak performance after only competing in their sport for only a year or two.    While their inability to improve past a certain point can be attributed to the factors listed above, the common theme for all of these is simply a lack of patience.  A lot of folks tend to push too hard too soon, aren’t willing to put in the time and practice when improvements aren’t continual and obvious, and not give proper attention to recovery and injury prevention. 

With children and adolescents, kids and parents alike seem to forget or just not know that puberty can be the great equalizer.  A good work ethic that includes general fitness, specific skill development, and the all important time-off-to-just-play can pay off big when those hormones finally come in to do their job.

So, how do we keep from peaking too early? 

Build and maintain a general fitness base:  You need to drink from the well occasionally.  Strength, cardio, endurance, and flexibility benefit everyone.  Depending on your sport or fitness level, these will take different forms. 

Develop a good work ethic:  Practice regularly, work on your weaknesses, work on your strengths, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and always be willing to accept you can learn more.

Accept that there will be plateaus and learn to be patient:  Just as sure as you will see big improvements when first trying a new thing, recognize that there will be some settling time where nothing seems to move at all.  Trust that change, even on a seemingly invisible level, is going on and will be realized if you are patient.   

The two most powerful warriors are Patience and Time. -Leo Tolstoy

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