During my senior season of high school wrestling, I “peaked” at precisely the right time. I was conference champion, sectional champion, and district champion. By winning the district tournament, I qualified for the state tournament. I was beaten in the first round 5-2 and never had the opportunity for a wrestle-back. Nonetheless, I had improved over the previous seasons. During my sophomore year, I placed 4th in the conference and placed 3rd at sectionals. During my junior year, I placed 2nd in the conference and placed 3rd at districts. I always ran out of steam and motivation toward the end of the season and never qualified for the state tournament. What was the change during my senior season?
First, I had much better control of my diet during my senior season. I counted calories and lost weight slowly. I never went a day without eating. I was never starved or dehydrated. I didn't feel weak toward the end of the season. I just kept getting stronger. Therefore, my attitude was different as well. I was confident and I had a true desire to qualify for the state tournament. The two prior seasons I was feeling weak and just didn't want it badly enough.
How can a wrestler peak for the end of the season? Let's examine things a bit.
Periodization simply involves planning your training for the season or even the entire year. The season is broken down into different phases. Tudor Bompa states, “Normally, a peak performance is planned to be reached during the competitive phase and cannot be maintained forever.” Similarly, Mark Ginther states, “Peak condition is impossible to retain for more than a couple of weeks at the longest.” Of course, you want to win every match. In addition, you want to be in excellent condition. However, you cannot be in top condition all season. Therefore, your coach probably will have you doing a higher volume of work early in the season. Toward the end of the season, you'll probably do a lower volume of work but at a higher intensity. Your ultimate goal is to peak for the post-season tournaments like sectionals, districts, and state.
As I mentioned, your volume of work should go down when you want to peak toward the end of the season. However, your workouts may be more intense. Intensity and brevity is the key. Toward the end of the season, you may begin to think more about match strategy. You may begin to practice “situations” that could arise in a match. What will you do if you're ahead by one point in the bottom position with only ten seconds left in the match? You should do a stand up most likely. You obviously don't want to do a granby roll and try to pin your opponent. You need to be smart and hold on to that one point lead.
Drilling is important to peaking. If you drill your moves religiously during the season, they will become second nature. Winning those post-season competitions will be easier if your technique is flawless and comes naturally.
Recovery encompasses many things. Make sure to get enough rest. Ideally, you should be getting eight to ten hours of sleep each night. Some wrestlers find that contrast showers (alternating hot and cold water) are helpful after practice. A hot bath before bed can be soothing and may help you sleep better. In addition, don't forget about nutrition.
Intense wrestling and conditioning depletes muscle glycogen and breaks down muscle tissue. Therefore, after practice be sure to consume some protein and carbohydrates. A shake made of whey protein and a fast digesting carbohydrate source can be beneficial after wrestling practice in regards to recovery.
Are you excited and motivated or burned out from the long season? I hope that you are excited and motivated to win. How badly do you want to qualify for the state tournament? Those wrestlers with an extreme desire to win will most likely wrestle at their best. Winning or losing isn't the end of the world. However, if you don't care if you win or don't have faith in your abilities then you will be at a disadvantage.
Anyone can be beaten. Dan Gable was beaten in his final college match. Rulon Gardner defeated Alexander Karelin who had gone unbeaten for thirteen years in international competition. A University of Iowa wrestler named Matt Egeland was seeded eighth in the 1985 NCAA Wrestling Tournament, but placed 2nd. He defeated the number one seeded wrestler along the way. I had a teammate in high school that was seeded last in the district tournament, but beat the first seed and qualified for the state tournament. Anything can happen in post-season tournaments. Be confident.
Tapering involves cutting back on your total volume of training. This gives your body extra rest. You can still have brief intense workouts. You can still drill and focus on your skills and strategy. But, the total amount of wrestling and conditioning should be lowered preceding that big post-season tournament.
Dan Gable and the University of Iowa
In Mike Chapman's book Wrestling Tough, he discusses Dan Gable and the University of Iowa wrestling program. Coach Gable would sometimes have his wrestlers practicing twice a day leading up to the NCAA championships. This seems to go against the idea of tapering, although I don't know how long these practices lasted and how intense they were. Coach Gable even had Ed Banach do a third workout at 5 a.m. Ed Banach won the NCAA tournament that year largely because of that extra practice in which he drilled his takedown technique. Would you be willing to pay that price to reach the pinnacle of success? Do you remember what I wrote about drilling earlier? Drilling pays off.
The movie Hoosiers is very inspiring. Before the state finals, the coach tells his team, “Forget about the crowds, the size of their school, their fancy uniforms and remember what got us here. Focus on the fundamentals that we've gone over time and time again, and most important, don't get caught up thinking about winning or losing this game. If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don't care what the scoreboard says at the end of this game, in my book, we're gonna be winners!”
Earlier in the movie, the coach says, “There's a condition in tournament play; do not talk about the next step until you've climbed the one in front of you.”
I think that is sound advice. Focus on your fundamentals in the post-season championship series. Take one match at a time and be determined to wrestle to your potential.
In conclusion, peaking can be complicated. Make sure you get enough rest. Drill your skills relentlessly. Do your higher volume workouts earlier in the season and shorter more intense workouts as the season nears its finish. Make sure that you are mentally focused and confident in your abilities.
With proper peaking, you will be fresh, rested, and ready to wrestle your best!