The Fallacy of Supercompensation and Understanding Peaking Strategies

Written by: Kevin Cann


As Raw Nationals 2018 approaches, I think this topic is extremely relevant.  My IG feed is filled with coaches explaining the concept of supercompensation as they are peaking themselves or athletes for a meet.


The basic definition of supercompensation comes from Hans Selye’s stress model and is used to describe the increase in performance following an overload event and a recovery period.  Basically we train with enough volume and intensity, taper or deload, and see increases in performance.


The average increase in performance in the literature is about 2.6%.  Any PPS lifters reading this might have a light bulb going off right about now.  At each test I look for a 2.5% increase in performance.


If an athlete hits more than 2.5%, I tend to chalk it up to increases in technique, bodyweight changes, confidence, and maybe just beginner gains.  This I feel helps me analyze my programs for my athletes better. Progress is not always linear, and this is a topic of another conversation.


Supercompensation has not always been a term used to describe this increase in performance. It made its debut in physiology literature in the 50s describing how cells uptake glucose after high intensity exercise.  Cells would uptake more glucose than it initially had.  This was “super” in the researchers eyes.  Apparently, supercompensation began as a term used in psychology literature over 100 years ago, but I am not familiar with this.


Let us get back to strength training.  I am going to tell you that there is nothing special, or “super” about what occurs after a training event and followed by a period of recovery.  You are just adapting, that is it.


The other problem with this theory lies in its actually foundation.  Hans Selye’s stress research was done between the time of 1936 and 1955. There has been quite a bit that we have learned since this research was published.


We can say with certainty at this point that mechanical stress is not the only stress that can positively or negatively affect physiological processes.  Your emotions, beliefs, and other life stressors affect these processes.  In fact, your emotions and beliefs are actually a part of your strength gain, not just influencers.


Understanding how the mechanical stress interacts with a person’s emotions and beliefs is critical in developing a peaking cycle that works best for them.  We also know that tissue recovery takes about 7 to 10 days. You tweak something and 7-10 days later the pain tends to be completely gone as long as you don’t piss it off during that time.


I like making sure that we are just doing some very light training 7-10 days out.  Beyond that, it gets a little different.  We tend to test 17-22 days out.  Some people don’t because of the anxiety test day brings. Here we just take some heavy singles and come up with a game plan.


After the test, there is a lot of differences in tapering strategies for my lifters.  Some take singles at their last warmups the following week, while others may take a single at something around a second attempt and everything in between.


I have a talk with them and see where their head is at and what will give them the most confidence going into the competition.  Volume is very low at this point and there is just enough intensity to maintain strength.


Maintaining strength is pretty easy for 2 weeks and volume is so low that recovery shouldn’t be an issue. Put the right weight on the bar for the lifter to feel good at this point.  Within 7 days it is non-negotiable.  We are taking some very light reps here just to keep technique sharp.


I think this was a Simmons quote, but not entirely sure, “You aren’t getting stronger in this time period, but you can get hurt.”  We shouldn’t be taking any unnecessary risks at this point.  It is what it is.  Use weights to maintain strength and keep confidence high, volume should be low, and the lifter should be recovering and visualizing success on the platform.


There is no supercompensating occurring.  You are just adapted a to the training because there was enough overload and enough recovery.  If it was a real thing, we would see a predictable increase in performance every time.  As many of you know, that is not the case.


Predicting performance is an educated guess at best.  The unpredictable nature of it is what makes the sport exciting.  It is an extremely complex process that we have very little understanding of.  We know that more goes into it than just the mechanical stress model.


I will be presenting with Mike Amato on the topics of load management and what science tells us about these periodization models in both the rehab and strength fields on October 28that RX.  Cost is only $50.

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