Tapering for Competition – Whats’ the Latest?


Ah the art of tapering or peaking for an event! Those last few weeks or days before a major event where we hope that all those weeks, months or years of training, commitment and sacrifice come together to maximise our performance on the big day! Part science, part art, and part experience, a recent review published in a respected peer-reviewed journal has looked at all the studies conducted on tapering to give us the latest on what science says works when it comes to the taper.

One of the world’s leading sport scientists in the area of tapering and co-author of this paper is Inigo Mujika. He defines a taper as: a progressive, nonlinear reduction of the training load during a variable amount of time that is intended to reduce the physiological and psychological stress of daily training and optimise sport performance.

Training load is reduced by manipulating training intensity (how hard you train), training volume (eg k’s per week), training frequency (times per week), the pattern of the taper, the duration of the taper, and the training load leading into the taper. Here is what the research has found in relation to these variables:

  1. Intensity of training: Conclusively, intensity of training needs to be maintained throughout the taper for all sports and events. Intensityshould not be reduced or increased when dropping training load during the taper.
  2. Volume: In 2007, a major analysis of all tapering studies available at that time showed that the greatest improvements in sports performance took place when training volume (eg. k’s per week) was reduced by 41-60% (about 50%) of pretaper values. Moreover, the same research showed that this drop in training volume should be done by reducing each training sessions duration, not how often you train.
  3. Frequency of training: Decreasing training frequency has not been shown by research to improve performance. The research suggest that training frequency be maintained during the taper.
  4. Pattern of the taper: The figure to the right shows four of the common types of taper undertaken by coaches and athletes. The fast decay method with a large drop in training volume initially that tapers off closer to the event appears to be the most effective.
  5. Duration of taper: A taper of between 8 to 14 days is suggested by the research to be the range shown to be most effective for athletes. Any longer and the effects of a drop in training volume start to appear and any shorter the effects of fatigue may result. The taper duration may be influenced by the training load leading into the taper with the greater loads meaning longer tapers. Each athlete should input to what length of taper may work best for them.
  6. Pretaper tarining load: Some research has suggested that boosting training load by 20% in the 28 days leading into the taper improves performance over normal training loads leading into taper. Research we conducted in our own laboratory supports this. We found that 4 weeks of overloaded training followed by 2 weeks of taper lead to greater performance (improvemenst of 7% in 3k run time trial) in team players than those players who did the same taper after normal training loads.

Recent research has also identified a number of other factors that may enhance tapers. These include:

  • Light massage to reduce muscle fatigue, particularly when combined with wearing compression garments.
  • Compression garments following training and during long-haul flights or car travel.
  • Cold water immersion following training
  • Sleep in a dark, calming and cool environment preceded by a warm shower.
  • Short naps no longer than 20-30 minutes.
  • Maintaining hydration status during taper and particularly in the 48 hours before the major event.
  • Carbohydrate loading, particularly in the three days prior to the event.

Hope these tips help. For more on tapering and the specific of the recovery strategies above, see Chapters 10 (Periodisation and peaking for the masters athlete) and 15 (Recovery strategies for the masters athlete) of my book The Masters Athlete

Source: Le Meur, Y, Hausswirth, C., and Mujika, I. (2012). Tapering for competition: A review. Science and Sports, 27(2): 77-87.

Peaking for the best performance – what’s the latest research say?

The Introduction

peakingThe taper is a crucial element in preparing for a major event. The months or years of preparation can all be undone if we don’t get it right on the day. Part art, part experience and part science, it remains one of the unknown frontiers of athlete preparation and a very individual matter. A recent paper focused on tapering was written for a special issue of the Journal of Sports Sciences that focused on athlete preparation for Vancouver 2010 Winter and London 2012 Summer Olympic Games. The authors are highly experienced sport scientists from the UK, Australia and Spain. Their findings are crucial for any masters athlete wanting to improve.

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