If there’s a competitive bodybuilder in your nearest ‘n dearest inner circle, chances are you’ve heard them talk about “peak week”. What the hell is that? If you’re not sure, you probably haven’t dared ask. Because your bodybuilder is probably lethargic to the point of zombified, over-emotional, hyper-sensitive, or asleep (or all four) during peak week.
Peak week is the jargon used to describe the final 5-7 days leading up to an actual bodybuilding competition. It can be “where the magic happens” or it can be where things all go to shit, depending on… well, on quite a lot really. A great deal can change during that final week, sometimes good (the bodybuilder will “come in” just right) and sometimes bad.
Here’s what your favourite bodybuilder may be doing, experiencing and feeling during peak week. See, now you don’t have to ask!
Some – by no means all – competitive bodybuilders will manipulate water during the final few days before a comp. There are many roads to Rome, but a common approach (not to Rome, to water manipulation) is to load with water at the start of peak week and then taper off (or even cut water completely) 24 hours or so before stage time. The theory is that the body gets used to the extra water, and therefore readily excretes more (the body loves homeostasis, after all). Then, when you taper/cut water, the body continues to excrete water, not realising that less is coming in. The result (we hope) is that we look drier on stage.
What this means: your bodybuilder might be glugging down anything up to 10 litres of water every day. They’ll be feeling cold, gross and probably a bit sick to be honest.
Another common thing during peak week is depletion of carbohydrates for a few days (usually 3-4). Exactly what this means will depend on your bodybuilder (are they a big one, or a little one? Have they dieted on low carbs or not? Are they going to carb up? How lean are they to start with?) Some competitive bodybuilders will cut carbs for a few days to the point of essentially taking none in at all. Carbs will come from maybe some leafy greens and that’s it. We’re talking less than 20g carbohydrate every day for a few days.
What this means: they’ll be staggering around in an exhilarating combination of brain dead, foggy haze, and mild euphoria. Sorry, I can’t tell you which of the three states you’ll find them in at any one time.
Bony, small, childlike and flat
You might think your favourite bodybuilder looks good during this peak week. They probably won’t. They’ll feel flat, small, little in their clothes, nothing like their big strong selves. Just at the point when they need to feel good, they’ll be feeling poop. They’ll be bundled up in long trousers and hoodies, partly because they’re chilly and partly cos they can’t bear to look at their pale small selves. If they’re lean enough, it might be painful for them to have a bath (that moment when they sit up to turn the tap up – ouch), to sit in one position for too long, to lie in one position in bed.
What this means: ignore, or make sympathetic noises. Try hugs. It won’t be long til they’re full of simple sugars and off-season again.
Final cardio sessions
If your bodybuilder has been employing cardio during their competition prep, they will be counting down the amount of cardio sessions they have left to do. They might be doing cardio a couple of days before, or they might do their final cardio session early in peak week. This day is usually one to celebrate.
What this means: ask the question “when’s your final cardio session?” delicately. Be prepared for either joyous whoops or dark looks and mutterings of “I’ve got 4 left”. Even if the show is only 3 days away.
Along with carb depletion come depletion workouts – these are final weights sessions in the gym, aimed at depleting the body of glycogen (so it “fills up” again once carbs are reintroduced). These sessions tend to be exhausting and frustrating. Your bodybuilder will typically stagger through them, tearful, staring into space, and not wanting to talk to anyone.
What this means: leave them to it. And let them nap afterwards.
Most bodybuilders will introduce more carbohydrates towards the end of peak week, either after a period of depletion, or just as a continuation of their prep diet. Bodybuilders need to be lean, but big and full on stage. It’s the holy grail, and a fine balance, but the only way to get there is to be lean enough in the first place and then to fill out with enough carbohydrate that they can get “the pump” and avoid looking flat, tired and stringy.
What this means: there will come a point in peak week where your bodybuilder is suddenly eating vast bowls of rice, oats, potatoes (usually oven baked beyond recognition). They will be over the moon, at first, until they realise that eating huge amounts of dry, plain carbs isn’t much more fun than eating none at all.
I’ve said it before, but it makes me laugh (and this is my blog) so I’ll say it again: you haven’t lived until you’ve shaved your own rear delts. Man, woman, hairy or smooth, all bodybuilders need to remove bodyhair a day or two before their first layer of tan goes on. Some will Veet it (dicey!) and some will shave down.
What this means: if you live with a bodybuilder, you might get roped in to the full-body shave process. And your bodybuilder will feel very, very small and cold after they’ve shaved their entire body. Have a hoodie and dressing gown ready.
Hopefully, your bodybuilder will have already done plenty of posing practice. But, during peak week, they’ll do more. Probably daily, at least once, for 15 or more minutes. Not only does posing at this point help calm and focus their mind, but it actually helps tighten up the physique and can even help the drying out process.
What this means: expect your bodybuilder to demand an audience for endless rounds of quarter turns at any time of the day or night, and don’t be surprised to see your bodybuilder in the gym, trousers rolled up (or dropped, to reveal pants of course) flexing and squeezing. You may also be asked to take photos. Just go with it.
Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.