In this article, Coach Sue and Coach Alex discuss the week leading up to your bodybuilding or bikini show and its intricacies to make sure you nail it and look unbeatable on stage!
By Sue & Alex Bush
Peak week is the very last piece of your competition prep puzzle that can make or break your physique for your bodybuilding or bikini show. The last thing you want to do is throw your hard work down the drain with an improper approach to this.
Trust us – we’ve seen many peak week horror stories and we want to help you avoid them the next time you step foot on stage!
In this article, we’re going to break down what a peak week should look like overall – that includes what it should NOT look like, as well as training & cardio variants, water intake, potassium, how we peak our clients, and more!
What is Peak Week and Why Does it Matter?
For the sake of being thorough, let’s define what peak week is:
“Peak week” is the 7 days prior to a competition that ensures your best look can transpire on stage. To do so, we manipulate specific variables within your training, nutrition, water intake, etc.
What peak week is not:
- It is NOT a time to hit your “turning point” during your prep – you should already be as lean as you need to be for your show come the beginning of peak week. The scale might change, but you’re not going to lose any more fat at this point.
- It’s not a time to do HIIT or introduce anything new, food or training-wise.
- You’re not going to train harder or more intensely or start adding tempo to your lifts – this will increase inflammation and potentially lead to a watery or blurred look to your physique.
It’s all about taking what you’ve been working toward for 12, 16, or even 20 weeks or more and bring it all together in the best physique possible. No one ever looks in real life the way they look on show day because of the way we execute peak week!
So, if you’re planning to step on stage any time in the future, you HAVE to have a plan for these final seven days and know that it should look different than the rest of your prep.
How to Peak Properly
Yes, peak week will vary from person to person (think about it – a bikini athlete and a 260-pound bodybuilder are totally different). But as a whole, it needs to be about fine-tuning those small changes that might not be so obvious to most people, but to a trained judge’s eye, it’s the difference between first and second place.
Variance in Training
There are many different ways to “peak” an individual, so the way your training looks that week will depend on how nutrition is going (carbohydrates especially) and the notes you have prior to peak week.
For example, some of our clients look their best after a day of training, and others look their best after two days of rest. So, it’s important that your coach knows these details about you in order to dictate your training properly (and if you’re a coach and you’re reading this, take thorough notes of your observations around clients – the little things matter!)
At this point, the training is a tool for nutrient partitioning. We’re trying to get nutrients and muscle glycogen elevated to the tissue we need to be at its best within your physique. With bikini competitors, for example, this would be density in the hamstrings, glutes, and the delts.
You’ve likely heard that your last leg session should be seven days out from your show day, and this is not inherently true. Maybe your hardest session, but with our girls we have them do a bit of glute work a few days prior.
We’re not going to put on new muscle tissue. Overall, we want to taper volume down, utilize exercises you’ve done throughout prep (no new fancy exercises), and maintain a fluid tempo with those exercises, meaning no pauses or isometric holds. We don’t want to do anything too taxing to the body either. The goal is to lower inflammation, which is why we taper down cardio during peak week as well.
Water, Potassium, and Sodium
These are all components that you want to manipulate during your peak week, as sodium and potassium work together to control the water balance, and water balance can affect how you look on stage.
However, at Physique Development, we do not cut out water entirely for our clients during peak week. This is because we need electrolytes to aid in getting carbohydrates pushed to the muscle cells and achieve a fuller look.
We also have our competitors drink water on show day. The quantity for each individual varies, of course, and that’s something you need to pay attention to with your own body prior to peak week.
As we go through peak week, we also try to have clients train around the same time they’re scheduled to go on stage. This allows us to see what they look like with a certain amount of water, sodium, and potassium in their body at that time and make adjustments if we need to.
If it’s your first peak week, don’t be as cute, if you will, with these variables. Keep water, sodium, and potassium as “normal” as possible, meaning you don’t consume any more or less than you usually do. As you go through more and more shows and get to know your body better, you can play around with these things more.
Flat, Full, and Spill
These are terms you hear floating around a lot during a peak week – you’ve probably seen someone mention them on Instagram at some point! So let’s talk about what they mean because they all CAN happen.
Flat → Your muscles are not round or full because the muscle tissue is not pushing tightly against the skin. This is due to a lack of glycogen, or not eating enough carbs. Many people make the mistake of continuing to keep carbs extremely low during peak week.
Full → Your muscles have that big, round appearance that we want, typically pushing out tightly against the skin.
Spill → There is excess subcutaneous water (water present right under the skin), which blurs definition and reduces striations and separation between muscles.
It’s probably pretty obvious that we’re going for the “full” look here out of the three. The good news? It’s tough to spill if you are truly in shape. If you are, peak week will be much easier for you.
Many people are concerned when it comes to peak week and they see there’s more food and less cardio than they’ve been doing throughout their entire prep. Won’t this undo all the hard work?
Nope! We don’t want no carbs at all, but you also don’t need to carb load.
One of my (Sue) clients told me that she had expected to have a higher amount of food during her peak week. Like many newer competitors, she had seen people talking about “carb loading” on social media during the final countdown to a show and expected that, too.
The fact of the matter is, knowing what I knew about her specific circumstances, more food than I gave her would not have made her physique look the best.
A note for coaches: Sometimes it’s hard to have this kind of conversation with clients because they might have this view of what it should be based on what they’ve seen other competitors share on social media. This is why it’s super important to be as clear as possible, set expectations, and talk them through why they’re doing things a certain way so that they don’t think they’re doing things the “wrong” way.
Another important thing to note is `NOT to eat anything new that you haven’t eaten during yoru prep – eat foods you know you can digest well and agree with your body. Gut inflammation is not something we want to have to deal with during peak week!
Final Thoughts on Peaking for Competition
Let us repeat: Peak week is not the time to experiment or do something just because you saw another competitor do it.
Your best peak week is going to happen when you make decisions around water, food, training, cardio, the whole deal based on the data you’ve collected on yourself.
And this is why we highly recommend hiring an experienced coach who can help you do the hard work of putting together a peak week that works for YOU. Then, stick with them for the long run so you can fine-tune your peak week strategy for shows to come.
Interested in working with Team Physique Development for competition prep? Check out the details and apply here!