Tapering Part 2: Simple but Significantly Sexy Super-compensation Supersedes Success
Now that we have played the game of fitting as many S’s into a title as humanly possible and are all sufficiently tongue tied, we may as well do some reading and what better to get stuck into than a cheeky bit of Saturday Science. Hehe.
The why and how of tapering have been covered in Part One Now we outline how to implement effective tapering strategies to match your competitive schedule and eventually your periodised year!
In one sentence, how I can taper effectively?
If you want those maximal gains… a tapering intervention of 2 weeks in duration, where the training volume is exponentially decreased by 41-60%, without any modification of either training intensity or frequency is found to be optimal.
How can I do this?
The best way to implement a taper is to analyse your training volume, intensity and frequency, before then deciding on the duration of your taper. Once you have decided on these 3 factors, then we can look at how to manipulate these variables in order to achieve maximal super-compensation, and performance!
Total load is characterised by the volume, intensity and frequency of your training, and can be decreased by manipulation of any of these confounding factors (Wenger & Bell, 1986). When reducing your overall stimulus, you allow your body the opportunity to super-compensate from the continuous stress caused by training, which then allows for positive physiological adaptations â€“ As previously outline in Part One, these adaptations are transient & can decrease rapidly, meaning we need to maintain a stimulus while also compensating. Research has documented that performance enhancement is associated with a reduction in training volume (Mujika & Padilla, 2003; Houmard & Jones, 1994), while maintaining the intensity and frequency of your training. Maintaining frequency at least at 80% of pre-taper values (Mujika et al, 2002; Mujika & Padilla, 2003) and intensity (Houmard & Johns, 1994; Kubukeli et al, 2002; Mujika, 1998; Neufer, 1989; Mujika & Padilla, 2003), allows for continued stimuli eliciting the maintenance of training-induced adaptation (Mujika et al, 2004), while also decreasing the physiological stress placed on the body.
Maximum #GAINS are documented with reductions in volume of 41-60% of pre-taper training values (Bosquet et al, 2007), with the emphasis placed on decreasing session duration opposed to frequency of training. To contextualise this, in strength and conditioning settings, the coach will have calculated (If there decent) a total volume load and intensity: which you can then decrease at the percentage dictated by the stage of your taper (more on this later). During pre-competition stages of periodisation training volume is generally low (2 sets of 2-4 reps across several exercises) e.g. for a 50% fast decay taper you will lift 1 set of 1-2 reps, but the intensity and frequency of sessions will be maintained.
The duration of the taper is less set in stone and often associated with a dose-response relationship (Bosquet et al, 2007), with length of continuous exercise stimulus dictating the duration of taper e.g. two weeks of intense training does NOT warrant a ten day taper; but that’s just common sense… you’d think! Duration of between 8 to 14 days has been outlined as representing the parameters between the positive influence of fatigue disappearance and the negative influence of detraining on performance (Bosquet et al, 2007), however inter-individual variability has long been documented in taper duration (Mujika et al, 1996; 1996; Thomas & Busso, 2005). Such variability outlines the need to individualise tapers wherever possible, with differing physiological and even psychological responses to training often accountable for athlete specific responses to tapering strategies (Mujika et al, 1996; 1996; 2002).
Tapering Strategy: Pattern of the Taper
There are several types of taper patterns: linear, exponential (with fast or slow decay of training load) & step tapers (Mujika & Padilla, 2003).
Check out the info-graphic here, which outlines the different types of taper. Essentially, different taper patterns involve different decays of training load – fast or slow, linear or exponential. Linear and exponential tapers are often grouped and characterised as progressive tapers (Bosquet et al, 2007) and are associated with higher increments in performance than step tapers (Bannister et al, 1999). A fast decay of training load (Early larger reductions in training volume) is also documented as more beneficial than slow decay strategies (Bannister et al, 1999). Although the exact percentage reductions in training will be coach dependent, a fast exponential decay is an effective method to start with.
Keep in mind that your taper will not change the world; lack of results does not necessarily mean your taper was suboptimal. Tapering is just one of many important factors in eliciting maximal performance!
With the information overload complete, these 11 simple and actionable steps can be followed for maximal tapering effectiveness:
- Ensure precise planning and monitoring
- Maintain or increase training intensity to greater than or equal to competition intensity
- Reduce training volume by 60-90% (reduce duration)
- Reduce training frequency by no more than 20-30%
- Employ exponential taper designs between 4 and 28 days
- Progressive fast decay design appears best
- Increase recovery between sets and/or reps
- Ensure training is race/event specific
- Optimise nutritional, psychological and technical aspects
- Individualise taper programmes whenever possible
- Perform post-competition evaluation/assessments so as to inform future tapering strategies.
How Do I Taper My Athletes?
While this will always be highly individualised and sport specificâ€¦here is my favoured general approach:
8 – 21 dayÂ period
40-60% reduction in training volume
Progressive non-linear format
Maintain training intensity
Modest (~20%) reduction in training frequency
I hope this has provided you with the information needed to design an AWESOME taper and dominate your competitive schedule! The issue with prescribing effective tapers–in my opinion–is the prior quantification of training load; this is exactly where professional coaches come in!
To quantify your training accurately, design a taper for specific events, or share your experience of tapering â€“ Get in touch and say hello at email@example.com, @W_T_Wellness or at on Facebook at WellTraveledWellness.
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