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Tapering



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.



Intensity

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).


Volume

Minor Volume Taper

10 to 40% Decrease

Moderate Volume Taper

41 to 59% Decrease

Major Volume Taper