It essentially refers to the final week before the big day, and is commonly thought of as a time to ‘rescue’ a look and make significant improvements to a lagging physique. Or, to provide the finishing touches to an already great physique to try add an extra 1-5%.
If you’re in the first camp, you’re wasting your time.
The rule number one of ‘peak week’ (which could be the week leading up to a photoshoot, beach holiday, a wedding, a birthday, a physique-based competition, etc) is to be in shape.
Now it’s important to define what ‘in shape’ means as this will also dictate how you approach the final week prior to the big day. Below you will find examples of different people chasing a certain look where some are going for the ‘extremely shredded’ look, the ‘beach body’ look or the ‘lifestyle’ look.
Even though they are different, they still follow the same fundamental rule which is:
“You absolutely must be in condition, or nothing else will matter or work”
If you’re in the latter camp, and you’re looking for that extra 1-5%, then there are a few things you can do to bring your absolute best on the big day.
The key however is to keep it very simple. It doesn’t need to be complicated at all. All you really need for a successful ‘peak’ is letting the body recover and filling out a little. There’s no magic tricks or secret formula!
What You Should Avoid
1. Cutting out sodium
When we manipulate sodium, water and other electrolytes, the goal is to get as much fluid into our muscles while simultaneously removing as much fluid from the subcutaneous layer (the space between the deepest part of our skin and muscle). This is to increase muscularity and definition for a short period of time through temporary shifts in hormones such as aldosterone and vasopressin.
What’s often forgotten though is that the body loves homeostasis (balance), meaning these hormones will do all they can to keep the ratio of water and electrolytes the same in an effort to compensate, which leads to very underwhelming results.
This is proven in the literature too, where one study showed that over a 6 day period of sodium restriction, aldosterone levels tripled. Aldosterone plays a key role in maintaining fluid balance by assisting in the re-absorption/retention of both water and sodium.
Not only does it make little sense from a water manipulation standpoint (which is the whole point of doing so), it’s also illogical for three other reasons:
- Sodium is required for certain glucose transporters to work well, and help nutrients into the cell.
- Sodium is a vital part of muscle contraction.
- Sodium is critical for blood volume, and achieving a great pump.
2. Prescription-Based & Over-The-Counter Diuretics
These are very difficult to get right, and in 99% of cases, it usually creates some unwanted outcomes such as flattening out, cramping and struggling to get a pump. In some really bad cases, they can be lethal.
This is caused by the flushing out of your mineral balance, in particular sodium. Which can lead to many of the problems discussed in point one.
Also, even over the counter compounds that are not prescription based but have been touted to flush out excess water such as dandelion, have not been shown to have any positive impact due to the same reasons mentioned above. You cannot control where the water comes from meaning in extreme cases, you just end up looking WORSE as all of the water inside your muscles has been excreted.
Instead of using diuretics to get rid of water, spend your time getting rid of extra fat!
3. Completely changing training
A big mistake many people make is introducing a whole new training stimulus in the final week of a plan; ranging from super high reps, circuits to even complete layoffs.
Let’s first tackle the issue of changing your style of training. For example, going from focusing on the 6-10 rep range to suddenly jumping up to 15-20 reps a set.
It’s not that it’s wrong to train in a higher rep range. It’s more a question of the soreness and recovery demands that typically arise from starting a new training program, or introducing a new stimulus.
When you’re sore, your body often responds by pooling fluid (inflammation) to the area to aid in recovery while also inhibiting the muscles ability to uptake glucose which is exactly the opposite of what we want during a peak week.
Here is what the authors of this study had to say:
“Muscle damage does not just occur during exercise, but can continue after exercise for many hours. This occurs as a result of a protracted exercise hormonal milieu, an increase in free radicals and acute inflammation. Not only will such tissue damage limit performance due to delayed onset muscle soreness, but it will also compromise the replenishment of muscle glycogen and limit muscle training adaptations.”
If we start a new training plan that also incorporates heavy eccentric contractions, it can definitely impact how your physique looks by the end of the week. We’re usually too fat to see this. But in that final week, it will be noticeable! Provided you’re lean enough, of course.
In the other case, trainees take complete time off to let their body recover. This is a mistake because you immediately change your energy balance. Your body has gotten used to expending X amount of calories per week on your weights sessions, so you’re going to create a skew in energy balance when you couple this with a carb/calorie load too (which we’ll discuss later). Even though we don’t expend that much energy during typical resistance training sessions, at this stage we want to keep as many variables as consistent as possible. Also, most people we have worked with feel better “mentally” knowing they have continued to train during this final week.
The other issue is related to ‘glut-4 translocation’, or the body’s ability to shuttle glucose into muscle cells after contraction. By continuing to train during carb loading, we’re providing our body a reason to store and hold onto glycogen into the muscle, thus remaining full.
Instead, the best advice is to keep training the same and make two changes. Firstly, you want to stop sets 1-2 reps shy of failure while minimising the eccentric component (to prevent inflammatory / recovery response), and to shift legs slightly earlier in the week.
What You Should Be Doing
For most entering the final week of their grind, they are definitely still in a large energy deficit while also consuming a relatively low amount of carbohydrates. This means for weeks on end, liver and muscle glycogen stores have been running low making them very responsive to carbohydrates which is why a very large amount can be consumed in a short window of time, without any of it being converted to body fat. This is important to note as many can feel hesitant to increase their carbohydrates by a large margin, especially when “eating less” has been the goal for months.
In general, we recommend carbohydrate loading 3-4 days prior to your event as this will give you enough time to either hold the desired look or make any adjustments. If it was a little too much, simply going back to your normal diet will be enough to get you where you want to be by Saturday
If you are extremely lean with a good amount of muscle mass, then you could bump carbohydrates up to 6-10g/KG/BW on Tuesday/Wednesday and then see how you look on Thursday to make any adjustments if needed.
If you are moderate to very lean with not as much muscle mass, then you could bump carbohydrates up to 4-6g/KG/BW on Tuesday/Wednesday and then see how you look on Thursday to make any adjustments if needed.
If you are moderately lean and carry small amounts of muscle mass, then there is no need for any large loading during the final week as you may be able to achieve a little more fat loss and bring a tighter look for the big day.
A small increase towards the end of the week may be implemented to aid in sleep, stress management and overall inflammation.
The general recommendation here would be to select foods that you were eating throughout your Process Phase that you know for sure agree with you. In saying that, if all of your sources have been coming from potatoes, oats, beans, legumes and fruits then you may find yourself in a very “uncomfortable” place which is the last thing we want.
These are all fantastic foods but due to their very high fibre and FODMAP content, they can cause excessive distention, bloating and gas if consumed in high amounts. Remember, this will be the first time in a while where you have consumed a lot of carbohydrates in a relatively short amount of time meaning the sources do matter.
To be on the safer side, the following foods and alternatives can be of great use.
- White rice
- Cream Of Rice/ Cream Of Wheat
- Sweet/White potato (Skin peeled off)
- Dried fruits
- Ripe bananas (yellow with brown spots on skin)
- Breakfast cereals
- Liquids such as gatorade or powerade.
Protein & Fats:
This could mean increasing your regular fat intake by 1.5-2x from Sunday to Tuesday, while selecting more monounsaturated/polyunsaturated sources such as olive oil, nuts, avocado and fatty fish.
Protein can stay exactly the same throughout but as mentioned, don’t start throwing in sources you are not familiar with. Stick with what works!
On The Day:
The only change we would recommend is reducing your vegetable intake substantially in the meals prior to your event to temporarily tighten the waist a little more. The less “bulk” we have in our intestines, the tighter we are going to feel.
Structure the day so you have a decent sized meal 2-2.5 hours before including a good amount of carbs, fats and sodium to help with fullness, pump and energy (e.g. eggs on toast with salt / ketchup, sushi, or even just chicken and rice with olive oil and extra salt / soy sauce).
2. Cardiovascular Work & Steps:
This is also why we advocate training legs very early in the week as we want them to be as recovered as possible prior to the big day.
The leaner you are, the bigger the impact you will have when you reduce these activities, especially when combined with the carbohydrate loading. This is why the activity reductions are far more aggressive when very lean while much more modest when going for the lifestyle type of photoshoot.
We recommend your cardiovascular work comes from low impact modalities that don’t eccentrically load your muscles such as cycling, swimming, the elliptical, the stepper or the rower. It’s more than likely that you have been using at least one of these throughout your transformation so just stick with what you know.
Let’s use the same scenarios as above to demonstrate how activity should be tapered.
3. Other Considerations:
Routine can be a very powerful tool when it comes to minimising stress. Knowing you have done your cardio for the day can allow you to head into your shoot in a much more relaxed state which is only going to be a benefit, especially if you’re a little nervous!
Putting It Altogether:
When Shyam went from a chubby city worker to photoshoot lean, we implemented all of the above strategies during his final week to bring out his best condition.
Game Day (Friday):
- Be in shape
- Don’t get fancy with sodium
- Avoid diuretics
- Continue training as normal
- Be in shape
- Keep water exactly the same as you’ve been drinking during your dieting phase.
- Keep sodium levels the same.
- Don’t introduce any new foods or condiments,
- Train as normal, but 1-2 reps shy of failure (you may want to move legs to earlier in the week) while minimizing the eccentric portion of each exercise.
- Drop HIIT at 7-10 days out (if applicable).
- Taper LISS throughout the week (if applicable).
- Drop Yohimbine HCL at 7 days out (if applicable).
- Keep caffeine intake as per normal habitual amount.
- Keep taking creatine monohydrate.
- Implement the carbohydrate protocol best suited to your avatar.
- On the big day, depending on time of when to peak, have a decent sized meal 2-2.5 hours before including a good amount of carbs, fats and sodium to help with fullness, pump and energy (e.g. eggs on toast with salt / ketchup, sushi, or even just chicken and rice with olive oil and extra salt / soy sauce).
Remember, the first rule of peak week is to be in shape.
The second rule of peak is to keep it simple.
The third and final rule is to relax, let your body recover and know that if you’re in shape, the hard work is already done. Now it’s time to show it off, enjoy a meal with your loved ones and learn how to consolidate all of your hard work WITHOUT the rebound by checking out our Ultimate Guide To Reverse Dieting.