Developing an Effective Taper

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An elite Track & Field athlete may only have a few major competitions in the season. Those few competitions are all the more important for your athlete to perform well. As a coach, you always want to limit the possibility for your athlete to have an “off” performance. These bad performances are probably inevitable and may be out of your control. What is in your control is being able to take an athlete and make them as physically ready as possible for their competition.

The taper can be one of the most effective tools in a coach’s proverbial belt to help limit these unwarranted performances and have your athlete in the best possible condition to compete. The planning of the taper is arguably more critical than the months of training that come before. A poor taper (or no taper) can leave your athlete feeling weak, sluggish and even possibly in a state of overreaching or overtraining when competition season hits.

An effective taper can give a trained athlete a mean improvement of 2-3%, and in the range of 0-6% depending on the sport. In top-ranked athletes that percentage of improvement is lessened further from 0.5-3.0% with sprinters at the beginning range and endurance athletes at the end range [1]. That improvement can very well be the difference between first place and missing the podium or from making the finals to not making the finals.

There are some important elements of taper to take into consideration:

  • Magnitude of reduction in training volume
  • Training intensity
  • Duration of taper
  • Design of taper
  • Interaction with the preceding phase of training

Individual athlete’s responses to tapering will be different, but here are the few key guidelines outlined by Inigo Mujika and Christophe Hausswirth [2]. The taper period should last two to three weeks leading up to the competition. While there should be no change in intensity, a reduction in training volume of 40-60% is considered optimal. Frequency of training should also go unchanged unless additional recovery is needed. If a reduction in training frequency is needed, no more than a 20% reduction should be implemented. It is important to mention that the work load placed upon the athlete should be built up over time so that when there is a need to reduce volume there is something to reduce from.

Preparation and recovery play a major role in performance. Not just in individual sports, but team sports as well. Having the knowledge and ability to be able to compliment an athlete’s rigorous training schedule by implementing a carefully planned taper or short recovery period that allows them to rise out of the training deficit even stronger and more powerful than before can instill trust in the coach and most importantly have them at their peak condition to compete.

References:

David B. Pyne; Intildeigo Mujika; Thomas Reilly. Peaking for optimal performance: Research limitations and future directions. Journal of Sports Sciences. (2009). 27.3. pp 195-202

Hausswirth, C., Mujika, I. (2013). Recovery for Performance in Sport. Champagne, IL: Human Kinetics

John Grace

John Grace

Sport Performance Coach at Athletic Lab
John is a Sport Performance Coach at Athletic Lab. He earned his Master's degree from Ohio University in Coaching & Sport Science. John holds his CSCS, USAW-L1, and USATF-L1. He is the former Assistant Fitness Coach of the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
John Grace

@john_r_grace

Orlando City SC | S&C | Sport Sci | I tweet about all things sport science, coaching, training, and athlete development.
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