Always At Your Best? Impossible

I aint as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was – Toby Keith

I’m not certain exactly what he meant when he coined this phrase, but I felt like quoting Toby Keith was a good fit for today’s post. You may take something different away from this ‘wisdom’ but I hear the story of a man who is no longer at his prime. At one point in his life he was better than he is now, but time has made him into a man remembering his past. It’s like uncle Ricco who swore he could throw a football over that mountain over there. I know a lot of guys who promise me that they had dozens of colleges ask them to play ball, but it just never worked out. They were good once. According to some, they were the best.

I hear that a lot with weightlifters as well. When people ask about my powerlifting stats I just tell them what I hit at my last meet. It’s not always my best numbers but it’s an accurate statement of my strength. It never fails that a lot of guys – who I swear could barely tie their shoes in my gym –squatted 500 pounds and deadlifted 600 pounds back in high school football. I’m not here to judge, but I can tell when someone is blatantly lying to my face for the sake of kudos. But I digress. For some reason, the culture that we live in expects everyone to always be as good as they possibly can be. This holds true in many sports. Parents always want their kid to run a PR at a race. If the fastest time they ran last year was an 18 minute 3 mile, than this year they should run a 17:59 for their first race. This is regardless of how they ran all summer. There is this assumption that exponential improvement exists in sports performance. If that were true we would see world records broken at every Olympics by the same guy or gal who broke them last year. This is extremely obvious when a coach programs workouts for a peak, and parents are unhappy about their child’s current performance. In my case I have both the high school parent wanting a PR race, immediate start position on the field, most accurately-powerful serve, and the powerlifter wanting to add 100 pounds to their lift every month. I’m not saying that these things are impossible, or that they shouldn’t be goals. How amazing would it be to have that kind of domination? What I am saying is that having a peak in sports is more important than always being kinda good.

Both my highschool and college football coaches talked about peaking. Either peaking too early, or not peaking at all. If we all of the sudden got really good at football and kicked butt in the middle of the year, our playoff run was short lived. We peaked too early and we burnt out when it mattered. The goal was to always have that ‘aha’ moment right before playoffs so that we won when it mattered. The same thing applies to individual sports. It’s great to PR at every race you run, but it’s even better to have huge PRs towards the end of the season which can guarantee you a spot at state. For weightlifters, we always want to be able to hit those heavy weights. Is it worth being able to squat 500 pounds for 12 weeks straight, when you could squat 550 on competition day - when it actually matters?

It’s impossible to always perform at your best. Now, that’s different than always being good. Always being good means that you can constantly perform at a competitive level. This comes at a cost though. Your peak won’t be as drastic as it could be. For example, bob wants his bros to think he is good at bench press. So, he bench presses 315 every week. After 12 weeks Bob can definitely bench 315. Frank doesn’t care what people think. At week one Frank follows good programming and by week 6 Frank can bench 305 pounds. He continues following the programming which changes as he approaches a competition – all of the sudden frank can bench 335 – Frank beats bob. Who was the better weight lifter? Doesn’t matter, because Frank peaked and won the competition.

You may be thinking, "why is that how it works?" The answer is pretty simple. We are humans, not robots. We respond to things by adapting to the stress and stimuli. We can't be programmed to lift more or run faster. If we constantly stress the system with the same thing it will respond in two ways: It will try and adapt to that exact stress, and it will begin to wear down due to repetitive high stress. The muscles, nerves, and psyche of an athlete will adapt as they wear their bodies down. However, if they constantly work at a maximal level they will have a direct adaptation to that stress. Over time that high level of stress will wear the system down thus causing a decrease in performance. This is where things like variety (in the form of intensity, volume, and exercise specificity) will produce improvements without wearing the system down. We don't always adapt to the stresses we put on our bodies. If you only sleep for 3 hours every night eventually that stress will strain your system. You won't adapt to only needing 3 hours of sleep, you will coast by until you get the chance to sleep for as many hours as possible. The same concept applies to constantly pushing your body to the max the exact same way.

If this whole post felt like some boring blob in another language let me be your Rosetta stone really quick. If you are always “competition ready” then you are not going to be as good as you possibly could be. It’s not always the athletes fault, a coach/parent can make or break them, but we should always remember that it’s called a peak for a reason. No one is remember for getting pretty high up Mount Everest. They are remembered for REACHING THE PEAK. You can brag about being on the mountain all you want but if you don’t actually succeed, then you’re just like uncle Ricco making home videos near his camper about how he could have won state if coach had “put him in.” 

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About Me

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BS, MS - exercise Physiology
EPC - Board Certified Exercise Physiologist

Published Thesis
The impact of three different forms of warm up on performance

The Effects of Glucose Supplementation on Barbell Velocity and Fatiguability in Weightlifting - A pilot study"

The Accute Effects Of Different Squat Intensities on Vertical Jump Performances
The Accute Effects of Different Squat Intensities On Jump Performance

Graduate from Midwestern State University, founder of Endunamoo Barbell Club, and Endunamoo Strength and Conditioning. Working to help athletes physically reach their goals and achieve scholarships while spiritually pouring into as many people as possible on all platforms.