Supercompensation: An Athletes Perspective by Jacky Bigger, MS

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Supercompensation: An Athletes Perspective

by Jacky Bigger, MS

Jacky is one of the top Mash Mafia Weightlifters, and she is also a coach for Mash Mafia Online Team and the Eat What You Want Program. This article will help explain the process of training, so all of you can sleep a little better at night. Enjoy!

“The body is always seeking to maintain a state of homeostasis so it will constantly adapt to the stress from its environment. Training is simply the manipulation of the application of stress and the body’s subsequent adaptation to that stress to maintain homeostasis. The adaptation that occurs is fairly predictable. In training the desired adaptive response is called supercompensation.”

If you’re a strength athlete, like I am, or have ever been on any periodized training program, odds are you’ve experienced the frustrations and glories of supercompensation. Supercompensation is a process that is extremely important for all coaches, and their athletes to understand. Many athletes don’t know or understand this concept and are blindly following a program, unaware of the natural cycles that occur in their training, leaving them frustrated, and discouraged.

According to “Athletic Development” by Vernon Gambetta, supercompensation is a four-step process. The 1st step is the training load and your body’s response to that training load, which should be fatigue. Step 2 is the recovery process, which would be the deload week. Step 3 is supercompensation, and step 4 is the loss of that supercompensation or detraining. Now, I’m not going to go into any more detail or science of supercompensation, instead I’m going to walk you through what you could be expecting as an athlete experiencing supercompensation when following a program like we do here at Mash Elite. I’m hoping that by knowing what to expect, you’ll be able to simply trust the programming, and avoid much of the frustration and discouragement that comes along with Step 1 of supercompensation.

Here we go.

You’re starting a brand-new training cycle, motivation is high, your body is feeling awesome and you’re itching to get back into the gym because coach made you take a mandatory week off last week. You have 16 weeks to train for your next competition and cannot wait to get started. If your training is anything similar to what we do here at Mash Elite, you’d start off with a 4-week block designed to get you back in-shape, to give your joints a rest from all the heavy lifting, and to pack on a bit of muscle mass in the process. These first four weeks are known as the accumulation phase, because they are designed to get your body accustomed to training at higher volumes again. During this phase of training, odds are you’ll still be feeling pretty good. Your legs are fresh, the barbell is still moving quickly, and your work capacity is going back up. You’re psyched with how well things are going so early on in the cycle and are already planning all the massive PRs and numbers that you’re going to hit at your next competition.

Then comes the hypertrophy phase, weeks 5 to 8. This is where the supercompensation process really begins. Step one, the training stimulus, and your body’s response. The volume of this phase is very high. Maybe it’s 10’s in the squat, triples in the snatch and clean and jerk, crazy long complexes that are almost impossible to remember, and nothing below 5 reps in anything else. Which for us weightlifters and powerlifters feels like cardio. As the week goes on you start feeling a bit tired, Max Out Friday didn’t go quite as well this week as the week before and the barbell isn’t moving so quickly anymore. You’re always hungry, SO hungry. All the chicken, rice and broccoli in the world won’t satisfy the empty pit that is your stomach. Your body is expending way more energy than usual and it’s trying to recover and grow. So, you turn to good ole Ben and Jerry, maybe some Oreos and an entire jar of peanut butter to top it all off. (Now, if you’re still trying to fill out your weight class, this is a good thing, so eat your face off, allow your body to grow, pack on that muscle mass. However, if you’ve already got your weight class topped off, it’s a whole other story. Stick to your macros, and do your best to keep things under control and try to stay with-in 2-3 kilos. Now is not the time however, to be trying to cut weight.)

By the time week 7 hits, you’re tired, oh so tired. You’re sore, your body hurts, 85% is almost impossible some days and you’ve questioned your life choices and contemplated quitting the sport multiple times these past couple of weeks. Some days you absolutely hate the sport, and it takes every ounce of energy that you don’t have to force yourself to go to the gym each day. The barbell is HEAVY and no matter what reassurance your coach continues to give you, you feel like you’ve lost all your strength, aren’t making any progress and are going to be weak forever. (This sounds dramatic, but we’ve all been there. Am I right?) But you know it’s coming, you’re almost there. Week 8, the deload week.

You’re so beyond thankful for the deload week, because by the time it gets here everything hurts and you can barely move. You’re ready to take it easy and ready for your body to feel good again. The workouts are short, and you feel like you’re barley doing anything for your training, so you spend extra time on stretching and recovery. Yet, your body continues to hurt, and maybe even feels WORSE some days than it did before the deload started. You’re expecting to feel better and better as the week goes on, but in fact, the exact opposite thing is happening, you begin to feel worse and worse. You’re fatigued, discouraged and forever weak. That’s what you think anyways. Until week 9, this is where the magic happens. Step 3, the supercompensation begins.

You ate the world and slept all weekend, knowing that you’re programmed to go heavy on Monday. You’re praying to God that your body feels better and that the deload worked. You wake up feeling pretty good. You’re fresh and ready to go, but you don’t want to get your hopes up quite yet. You get to the gym and are feeling awesome! Your legs are strong, the bar is moving fast and things are feeling great. Your timing is a bit off, but the barbell is feeling LIGHT! Week’s 9-12 are filled with big lifts, you’re recovering better and are putting heavy weight on the bar almost every single day. Odds are you’ll be hitting some PR’s during this time as well. You’re loving training again and can’t wait to get to the gym every day. You’re stronger than ever before and believe that your weightlifting future is bright.

Weeks 12 to 16 are all about getting ready for competition. You choose your openers, and dial in on your warm-up attempts. Your technique is sharper and sharper. Your coordination is back 100%, and you may even hit another PR or two. You’re ready to compete, itching to get out on the platform. However, the volume is so low, the workouts are short and you can’t wait to get back to “training hard again”. You crush it at your competition, and promise your coach that you’ll never question the programming again, even though deep down you know that’s a big fat lie. Because after your mandatory week off post competition, the supercompensation process begins all over again.

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