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Tapering Before A Competition

Tapering Before A Competition

Tapering Before A Competition

How to taper and why it benefits athletes

Tapering is a period of deliberate recovery to be able to compete at the best of your ability on competition day. This means you have recovered well and your body is in peak physical condition. An effective taper allows the body to super compensate from a hard training block leading up to your competition, optimising recovery of mechanical (muscle structures), metabolic (substrate availability) and nervous systems (signalling and neural fatigue) to maximise performance. Not all tapers are the same. Effective tapers are specific to the individual within their sport. In this article, we will talk about 3 golden rules for athletes tapering before a competition.

THE VIDEO: 3 Golden Rules For Athletes Tapering Before A Competition

3 Golden Rules For Athletes Tapering Before A Competition

  1. Don’t try anything new

Experimenting with and incorporating new exercises and movements requires the body to adapt, challenging the central nervous system and generating muscle damage. This is the exact opposite effect as to what we are trying to achieve. You want to keep exercise selection in line with your most recent training block with a slight variation where necessary. In the gym, you should already replicate the movements performed in your sport. There is no reason why this should change during a taper.

  1. If you miss a session, don’t play catch up, it will impact recovery from following sessions

The way around this is to plan effectively. You have likely put in the hard graft for a long period of time in build up for the competition. When planning, keep work with other commitments in mind to limit interference during this key preparation time. The bottom line is to stick to the plan. If you have planned a recovery day, make sure you use it. Generating fatigue in a delayed session can only impact your recovery through the rest of the taper. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

  1. Intensity, frequency and volume

Intensity, frequency and volume are key factors for training for sports performance. If you forget about these and drop off completely, you may find yourself detrained or in a sub-optimal condition for your event. Using a sprinter as an example, if you drop the intensity with your hamstring work, resilience may be reduced and may leave you susceptible to a strain when your next maximal effort is exerted. Keep the intensity both on the field and in the gym. Reduce training volume slowly over your taper period while maintaining training frequency.

Before the taper, you have likely worked with speed and power in mind. You shouldn’t be doing 1RM in the days leading up to competition but you should be still moving heavy loads quickly, achieving a strength and power stimulus. Just limit the volume and allow the body to super compensate.

If you drop off your training completely, you will likely detrain. There is evidence to support the use of a taper to improve performance compared with doing no training over the same period which, can lead to a negative impact on performance with reductions in strength, power and speed.

In the gym, an example session from a taper may look something like this:

Pre-Taper (Strength and Speed Focus)

Exercise Intensity Sets x Reps
Box Jumps Max 4×3
Back Squat 85% 4×5
RDL 85% 4×5
Bench Press 85% 3×5
Bent Over Row 50kg 3×5
DB Walking Lunge 2x15kg 3×5 e/s

During Taper (Strength and Speed Focus)

Exercise Intensity Sets x Reps
Box Jumps Max 4×1
Back Squat 85% 4×2
RDL 85% 4×3
Bench Press 85% 3×3
Block Pendlay Row 50kg 3×3
DB Split Squat 2x15kg 2×5 e/s

Note, some of the exercises are different between pre and during a taper. However, they all replicate a similar movement pattern to previous variations. Performing a Pendlay row from a block, for example, matches the movement pattern of the bent over row and allows a speed focus as well as putting less stress on the body to hold a bar in a ridged position. The dumbbell split squat has replaced a walking lunge which, reduces eccentric muscle damage elicited upon each impact. Small changes can be beneficial and the programme doesn’t need to be completely overhauled. Match movements with variations that elicit less muscle damage while matching intensity.

The Best Tapers

Variable Recommended Protocol
Training Volume Decrease by 40-60%
Intensity Maintain or slightly increase
Frequency of Training Same (While maintaining volume reduction)
Length of Taper 8-14 Days
Taper Type Linear Progressive. A step taper can also be beneficial

To warrant a taper, you need to have put in structured hard graft for a prolonged period. If the body hasn’t been stressed enough to elicit adaptation then, all tapering will do is further reduce preparedness. Make your tapering individual, keep exercise selection similar to your latest block and see performance benefits on competition day.

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