What Should Peak Week Really Be Like For Bikini Competitors?
Many people have misconceptions
about what Peak Week really is for the Bikini athlete. Some refer to it as a “dry out”, which means a ton of asparagus, low water levels, dandelion root and very low, if any carbs. Other coaches focus mainly on carbs with fats and protein playing a supporting role. Some of the coaches around venues offer suggestions like carbs with healthy fats combined, and some will tell you in the final hours protein really does not matter.
There are many solid coaches with very different approaches out there. All may be valid, but much depends on one thing, the athlete. There is no cookie cutter approach that works consistently for all, especially when it comes to Bikini due to different body types and the criteria involved. Athletes come in differently the week of their show. If an athlete does all their homework, they may not have to do anything extreme for peak week and simply make adjustments to their diet.
Peak Week is where the magic happens. There is artistry involved in some of the corrective work that peak week may involve when an athlete does not come in ready or is holding too much water on the surface layer of the muscle. A good coach has to be clever and this requires a repertoire of techniques. If you fail at guiding your client through peak week, they can come in too flat or hold too much water while trying to fill them out.
The most important thing again though is that the homework was done and that a coach is not trying to undo damage done through use of sodium, spilling water in the gut or legs from too much stress or overeating carbs, cheating and other issues that come up often in the end.
Many clients think “dehydration” when they hear about this phase. They think they are going to deplete water and sodium. In their mind they envision themselves like a refugee with a half empty water jug as if they are in HELL WEEK! There are basically three approaches I take as a coach with my clients depending on what I see in photos or in person approximately 7-10 days out from their show. Keep in mind Bikini athletes do not go in lean, vascular or as muscular as the other categories in the sport of Bodybuilding. They must be handled differently to ensure they come in looking full and tight since they are the softer division of the sport.
Here are the different situations and how I creatively approach them:
Case #1: Did not lose all their body fat as I desired so is holding water in the lower gut and legs. In this situation I do encourage the use of white fish, asparagus and for the first 3-4 days I cut out most of the carbs except with breakfast and maybe a light one in the afternoon as a pick me up.
I have them cut all powdered supplements and I do have them cut all additional salt. Naturally, salt is nearly in everything and they are not completely depleting it. I don’t have them use distilled water unless it’s an extreme case of excess water, which is unusual. I also have them use Emergen-C packets to ensure they protect their bodies and get B, C and electrolytes. These packets have light sodium in them as well. By the 4-6th day I usually begin to throw in and cycle more carbs, but carefully. I know they may again retain water.
Women are great at retaining water due to all the hormonal fluctuations we have naturally. I sometimes will suggest cutting water back and going into dehydration with Dandelion root or Expel. I weave this in for the final few days so they look toned by the time they hit the stage. If I have to cut their carbs I may throw in a couple of over-the-counter mood support supplements, as well.
Training suggested: As far as training goes, I will have them train moderately and really blast the cardio one last few times for 35-45 minutes. Sometimes the sauna can help as well or a hot yoga class.
Case #2: Came in way too lean and needs more fullness especially in the upper body, glutesand legs. In this case I quickly treat Bikini athletes with lots of carbs and sometimes a couple of cheat meals before their show. I like to test out what is going to happen if they eat one that is high in carbs and fats vs. one that is high in protein and sodium. I then know what I will have to do with them the rest of the week. I have them send me photos to share with me the outcomes and from there I usually cycle carbs in for every other meal, sometimes more.
It’s rare that someone will get too lean without my knowledge, since I am in touch with my athletes a lot, but sometimes photos are misleading and when you see them in person you can be surprised. Someone too lean is usually no big deal as long as the carb cycling begins 10 days out. I can usually fill them out and they will have a nice package to present on stage. They may use a little dandelion root to take the edge off a little water they may hold from the carbs or fruit I may give to soften them, as well.
Sometimes a little asparagus tossed in to a meal or two cleans it right up. I also do not always deplete their water. Sometimes I may throw in some low glycemic index fruits or melon to soften their look if they are lean and hard looking.
Training Suggested: I usually have them do total body workouts that include doing some plyos and high reps with low/moderate volume weight so that they can fill out a bit. However, I don’t want them burning a ton of calories so they lean out even more. I will stop all cardio unless they also have some water.
Case #3: Came in perfectly. Right amount of bodyfat, shape and just holding slight water on the subcutaneous layer of the muscle.Needs slight pop to the muscle bellies. I handle this with more of the traditional body building method, but keeping in mind Bikini athletes have fat that Bodybuilder and Figure girls may not carry at all.
You must cycle things carefully and watch the results. You don’t want to screw up a good thing. I usually cycle carbs with protein and healthy fats, begin to limit veggies since they can cause bloating and move on to things like yams with peanut butter, but small amounts. These sugars can cause the body to hold water if you don’t know how much to use. It’s all about timing. You have to see the changes in order to make executive decisions about next steps. Some of it is science; some of this is intuition and experience combined.
Training Suggested: In order to maintain, I usually have the athlete just stick to their normal routine and do maybe one less set and do high reps. They are simply brushing things up a bit and stimulating the muscles so they come in a bit fuller. I have them do final cardio usually 35 minutes and whether I use the dandelion root or not will depend on how things evolve day to day. Every other day I am looking to see where we are at. If I need more fullness, I know to delicately throw in the carbs and healthy fats or possibly protein with healthy fats.
Case #4: Masters Competitor has sagging glutes and wrinkling skin, upper body lean, lower body looks like a combination of full in the legs, but flat in the glutes. Many of the Masters that compete who don’t start well in advance, miss the benefit of heavy training in order to shape the muscles well ahead of their show. If they do, it makes a big difference during the final phase and there are likely to be less issues. The skin is also likely to come in tighter in time.
When you lose weight the skin takes a bit to bounce back when you are not in the 35+ category. As we age, this process may take even longer and we say our prayers that the day of the show our skin will come in! We know muscle takes time to mature and that’s why off-season training is so important to yourin-season outcome. Use the 12 weeks to fine-tune and diet down for your show.
In this case, I have a lot of judgment calls to make. I usually have to try a few things including start off by carb loading and then cleaning up the water. I have to be very mindful of using diuretics since that can make wrinkling of the skin even worse, which happens with aging. Collagen and Elasticity can be a problem and there are no miracle cures for this, but there are ways to downplay it. Rather than over dry out this athlete, the better road I often find is to play with the carbs and fats to fill out the intracellular part of the muscle so it holds water and not the extracellular layer. This will help bring the skin closer to the muscle and it minimizes loose skin which can sometimes be mistaken for cellulite. If girl has cellulite, I have to dry her out a bit or tell her simply she is not ready.
Training Suggested: Heavy Training on the upper body and circuit training for the lower, moderate cardio 35-45 minutes and all stops on Wednesday. I allow my Masters to recover longer because their hormonal system is different and they need more recovery time for ant-inflammatory and cortisol reasons.
In conclusion, Peak Week can be tricky business even for Bikini. Maybe it’s even more involved than the other divisions in some respects. On the national levels the girls do go in even tighter and fuller, but the same principles apply. On the pro level you really want to enhance those nice lines and the shape of your body, not just through a Peak Week Program, but through the creativity of your posing and presentation, as well!
Posing becomes very competitive on this level. You can bring your body in perfectly, but if you can’t present it well you may get overlooked. You have to know how to move that body on stage. You can change the shape of a muscle through weight training, but once you are stage ready, the shape of your muscles can’t be changed during Peak Week. The idea is to come into your show and peak right at that time so that when you get to this phase you are not doing anything extreme, but just polishing things up a bit! The play of food, water and sodium are very powerful. Learning how to use them to manipulate the body goes a long way in the end.
Some of the unconventional Bikini ways I have heard about are things like loading salt, then drying the body out. At the end of the week carbs are thrown in and 2 hours before show time a big cheat! That just doesn’t sound healthy long term to me and it is extreme for Bikini. It is not a usual approach that I have heard about with these athletes nor have I have used it.
Whether you decide on whether to “Dry Out”, to “Carb Load”, or simply enhance an already great package will be determined 7 days out. The average client will begin on a Monday; the program evolves every couple of days. If the show is on Saturday, then I request photos every few hours. On Saturday they are eating every two hours and notifying me if things get “jiggly”. I am a perfectionist about this process and have a high success rate with the positive outcome of my Peak Week programs. I can guarantee what I do works, but you must follow directions and not wing it or get side-tracked.
The one meal a client misses or if they over-ate carbs or sodium can cost them. Coaches will tell you to try to let your cortisol levels come down and keep your legs up. We can’t control you, but scheduling photo shoots the day of your show may not be wise.
You need to be put your legs up to ensure they are not flooded with water and there is no excess spilling into your gut from stress. Your body is under stress when in this state if you did have to do a more intensive peak week especially! I can assure you the other divisions have this much harder, but you still have to respect the details in order to reap the benefits!
Bikini has a variety of body types, some with more ab fat and others more lower body heavy. This has to be considered. You must be a true visionary and understand a woman’s endocrine system and hormonal fluctuations, as well. The line between Figure and Bikini now is gray and crossing over that line can also cost a girl her show. You have to be mindful of not bringing them in with a six-pack or too many abs muscles showing. There should be no signs of vascularity. If they are too full they can borderline looking fat and water logged in the legs. This is why there is no such thing as effective COOKIE CUTTER PEAK WEEK PROGRAMS when it comes this. I call mine “Final Shape and Show”. This is an evolutionary process.
I leave you with these final words. When you get your program, make sure you understand the information. Ask questions, don’t assume anything! Use common sense. This week is the most critical and yet the most often misdirected, misunderstood and argued about amongst coaches. If you are prone to cramps or bloating don’t assume low potassium. This is sometimes instead a sign you may need a little sodium. Rather than table salt, try some light Himalayan salt under your tongue or an Emergen-C packet. There are a few tricks to keeping your water levels in check during this phase. Some believe in high potassium foods such as spinach. It is not good to take too much potassium in tablet form because it can be dangerous. Taking 1 potassium tablet during this phase is probably all you need if you do take it as a supplement.
There are many high level coaches that are solid out there. Bikini is a newer sport and even many coaches are new to coaching girls in it. Some coaches feel Bikini does not warrant a dry out or any form of a peak week program. I completely disagree and always treat this final week with the utmost respect for what the athlete and myself want.
In the end, if it is used with precision it can give the girl a nice finishing look that the judges will love. It’s like putting the glaze on your spray tan at the end in my books. Coaches in their mind are artists! In the end if the competitor got the result they were hoping for or at least a respectable placement and the judges agree then it worked!
Judges will always say something “too full”, “too lean”, “too dry”. Even great Programs do not guarantee wins. You can come in just right and get overlooked for other things like presentation. Keep an open mind to different approaches and what may be required from show to show for your body. Each time you do a Peak Week it may look entirely different if I am your coach, based on where you are at. There are many great coaches and approaches! If the method works then it’s a winner!
Michelle Johnson, IFBB Bikini Pro, is an ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer & Specialist in Performance Nutrition. She is also coach and founder of Team-Knockouts.com and Michellefitness.com. She can be found at http://www.team-knockouts.com or http://www.michellefitness.com