Athletes and coaches have been pushing the limits of human adaptation and training loads (Mujika, 2009) for generations with the goal of peaking performance. The formations of training loads are concentrated on achieving optimal performance via specific loading structures through periodization strategies (Javaloyes, Sarabia, Lamberts, Plews, & Moya-Ramon, 2019). Training periodization is known to consist of an entire seasonal program but spreads portions of the training into smaller periods that may hold a particular adaptable focus (Issurin, 2008).
Mujika (2009) defines a taper as a time of progressively reduced training load. Mainly training volume leading up to a competition that is highly dependent on the athlete’s profile of adaptation. Additionally, Winwood et al. (2018) define a taper as the final period of an athlete’s training before a major competition with the focus to improve performance and the outcome of the competition. Overall, tapering is intended to reduce physiological and psychological fatigue to enhance training adaptations and optimal performance (Mujika, 2009).
It still remains difficult for athletes and coaches to integrate a strategy to manage fatigue and stress while maximizing physical fitness (Bosquet, Montpetit, Arvisais, & Mujika, 2007). In order to obtain a performance adaptation from training responses, optimal planning needs to be organized to induce a peak in performance. When an athlete is training for a competition, their program needs to be modified leading up to the final event. This process will help eliminate unwanted fatigue that is triggered by the physiological stressors in training, but additionally, by psychological stressors as well (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019).
Tapering has been widely practiced in a variety of sports with differing biomechanical and physiological demands to gain a performance edge over the competition (Bosquet et al., 2007). Additionally, biological changes have been documented from a simple taper by means of hormones, hematology, and biochemicals (Mujika, 2009). Therefore, it is important to understand these differences so training loads can be regulated to produce optimal adaptations. These differences in sympathetic demands can help provide the foundations of planning, thus making the primary focus on the athlete’s success on and off the field.
Focus of Tapering
The primary focus of a taper is to reduce the negative physiological and psychological influences of training which can be detrimental towards positive influences during super-compensation. Through the basics of the super-compensation model, when a taper is occurring, the levels of fatigue are lowered which increases physiological values above the preexisting training assessments (Krespi, Sporiš, & Trajkovic, 2018). Winwood et al. (2018) examined strongman by having participants complete a self-reported survey on tapering practices. In the survey, participants noted that tapering was integrated into programming to achieve recovery, rest, and peak performance (Winwood et al., 2018). Peaking athletic performance is a critical focus during a taper, however, effective tapering is structured to help the athlete recover and regenerate following a systematic sequence of training.
The taper will modulate the training load progressively or non-progressively to reduce physiological and psychological recovery from the collected fatigue and stress (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019; Winwood et al., 2018). As with any performance-based training plan, the goal is to optimize and peak in performance while maximizing physiological adaptations (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019; Mujika, 2010). The training prior to a planned taper can significantly impact the athlete's level of fatigue and overall adaptations (Mujika, 2010). High levels of central and peripheral fatigue have been associated with high-intensity training (O'Leary, Collett, Howells, & Morris, 2017). Although a variety of studies have supported the claims of outstanding performance adaptations with strength training, endurance training, high-intensity training, and more, the adaptations that develop are triggered by the “recovery” afterward (Mujika, 2010).
Tapering can promote recovery and feeling of energy before a major event by the recovery of physiological capacities that were impaired by previous training.
Training Variables that Impact a Taper
In order to peak, a complex system is needed by modifying training variables such as intensity, volume, and frequency (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019). Below, this article will provide a unique set of variables that can be modified in programs to help promote peaks in performance. The recommended values below are based on research and our coaching expertise at Linked Fit.
Minor Intensity Taper
10 to 40% Decrease
Moderate Intensity Taper
41 to 60% Decrease
Major Intensity Taper
60 to 90% Decrease
The training intensity (aka load) can be distinctly decreased during a taper to help moderate the accumulated fatigue but should not strike a concern that is detrimental to training-induced adaptations (Mujika, 2009). If the training intensity is not appropriately and efficiently programmed, an individual can face the interruptions of partial or incomplete performance adaptation ramifications. Thus, leaving training intensity a valued component of tapering to consider in programming so reversibility is not overlooked. When reducing the intensity during a taper, it can incorporate a less demanding training session which provides a systematic approach to regulating programmed intensities (Mujika, 2010).
Minor Volume Taper
10 to 40% Decrease
Moderate Volume Taper
41 to 59% Decrease
Major Volume Taper
60 to 90% Decrease
By modifying the training volume in a session, this can shorten the duration of the total session (Mujika, 2010). In many cases, individuals can benefit from a reduced volume and still appreciate the effects of training. A moderate volume taper is classified by a 41 to 60% decrease in total volume. In a meta-analysis by Bosquet et al. (2007), it explains that competitive athletes maximize performance when they decrease their training volume by 41 to 60% over a period of 14-days. Additionally, the meta-analysis explained that the 14-day taper was not accompanied by modifications to the intensity or frequency (Bosquet et al., 2007). Krespi et al. (2018) were able to express substantial results via an exponential taper by only regulating the volume while keeping intensity and frequency the same. When the volume was reduced through sets and repetitions, the participants still produced convincing progress toward speed, power, and endurance abilities (Krespi et al., 2018). Therefore, modifying the programming through volume considerations can still produce substantial transformations in performance.
Minor Frequency Reduction
1 to 2 days/week
Moderate Frequency Reduction
3 to 4 days/week
Major Frequency Reduction
5 to 6 days/week
In tapering, reducing the training frequency by diminishing the number of training sessions throughout the week can help reduce the training load (Mujika, 2010). Bazyler et al. (2018) examined the use of a frequency taper during a women’s volleyball season and the findings reveal that frequency reductions by 1-day/week (2 days of training to 1 day of training) can help preserve power performance (jump) but muscle thickness may be negatively impacted. Therefore, the research provides support that recovery principles are promoted in a frequency reduction but muscular physiology may slightly reduce during the time.
Minor Duration Total
1 to 5 Days
Moderate Duration Total
6 to 14 Days
Major Duration Total
15 to 30 Days
The duration length of a taper is highly dependent on the previous training exposures and future objectives. Additionally, the length of the taper is highly dependable on the pre-taper training arrangements by the goals organized between the athlete and coach. A moderate tapering duration is classified as 6 to 14 days. According to Bosquet et al. (2007), competitive athletes were able to maximize performance with a 14-day tapering period. As with any individual, sleep is essential for sufficient recovery to maintain training quality and readiness to perform (Walsh, Sanders, Hamilton, & Walshe, 2019). Sufficient sleep can help reduce the risk of transitioning into states of excessive fatigue, which in return can help the prevention of overuse injuries (Walsh et al., 2019). The research by Walsh et al. (2019) provided confirmation that 14 days of tapering may help improve the quality of sleep among elite-level swimmers. These levels of sleep quality were compared to rest, training, and competition periods during the season.
A simple load reduction can be achieved by decreasing the intensity, volume, and frequency of the training session but this can result in detraining (Mujika, 2010). Detraining is the result of decreasing performance parameters by the principle of reversibility. The use of excessive reduction in training load can be detrimental to training-induced adaptations by eliciting a partial or complete diminish of anatomical, physiological, and performance adaptations (Mujika, 2010). Although taking time off can be viewed as a form of potential detraining, it may lead to appropriate performance improvements. Pritchard, Barnes, Stewart, Keogh, and McGuigan (2018) examined the performance outcomes by taking 3.5 or 5.5 days off after a four-week strength training program. Following the study, Pritchard et al. (2018) were able to provide evidence that power (vertical jump) and peak force (isometric bench press) significantly improved for each group following the four-week training program. Therefore, this helps provide a further explanation that days of rest following a particular training program may be beneficial and not be detrimental towards performance parameters.
It is important to avoid detraining at all costs! Although this can be greatly impacted by the athlete’s current status within the training program, current athletes and coaches should be considering that all training is not created equal. Therefore, recovery and adaptions are what sets individuals apart upon improvements in performance. With that said, more training DOES NOT improve the qualities of an athlete... its how the athlete can recover from the training to produce a positive adaptation that will carry over towards their primary goal. In the end, our main focus of this article was to improve the understanding of the variables that can be manipulated in programs to enhance performance going into a competition or event. These same practices can be utilized in standard training programs in terms of "de-loads". If an individual is looking to regulate the indications of stress and promote improvements of physical parameters, apply the use of intensity, volume, frequency, and duration in programs by "de-loading" to advance the current practices.
Bazyler, C. D., Mizuguchi, S., Sole, C. J., Suchomel, T. J., Sato, K., Kavanaugh, A. A., . . . Stone, M. H. (2018). Jumping Performance is Preserved but Not Muscle Thickness in Collegiate Volleyball Players After a Taper. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 32(4), 1020-1028. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000001912
Bompa, T. O., & Buzzichelli, C. A. (2019). Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training (6 ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
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Javaloyes, A., Sarabia, J. M., Lamberts, R. P., Plews, D., & Moya-Ramon, M. (2019). Training Prescription Guided by Heart Rate Variability Vs. Block Periodization in Well-Trained Cyclists. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, Publish Ahead of Print. Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/publishahead/Training_Prescription_Guided_by_Heart_Rate.94680.aspx
Krespi, M., Sporiš, G., & Trajkovic, N. (2018). Effects of Two Different Tapering Protocols on Fitness and Physical Match Performance in Elite Junior Soccer Players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, Publish Ahead of Print. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000002861
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