What does tapering mean? What does the science say? How should I do it? And what is lost if it's not done right? We answer these questions in this blog post.
Tapering describes the phase of reduced training load in direct competition preparation with the aim of maximum reduction of the fatigue level and an increase in form. (1)
In order to be able to schedule the peak of performance (form) exactly on the day of the competition, a few points must be taken into account:
- The basic premise is that the athlete has been able to build up a good training base before the first competition.
Once this foundation is not in place, the athlete's ability to perform at peak levels will be reduced and performance improvement is unlikely to occur because the athlete has not built the necessary physiological adaptations (2). To achieve the physiological adaptations, the quality as well as the quantity of training prior to the taper phase is crucial.
- The athlete's form and fatigue are interdependent and provide a good indication of the athlete's preparedness for competition.
From the "form-fatigue dependency" it can be deduced that the higher the training workload at the beginning of the taper phase, the longer the athlete needs to reduce his/her fatigue and increase form accordingly. In contrast, the taper phase can be shorter if the training workload at the beginning of the taper phase is relatively low. It must be taken into account that a lower workload results in a smaller form adaptation than a high initial workload.
- During the taper phase, the variables of training volume, frequency and intensity are adjusted to approach the goal of performance improvement. The intention is to reduce the workload (3). beabsichtigt (3).
Bosquet et al. (2002) showed that reducing the training volume in each training session was more effective than reducing the training frequency. Based on the literature, a volume reduction of 50-90% is possible.
However, the meta-analysis by Bosquet et al. (2002) showed that a reduction in training volume of 41 - 60% can be expected to result in the highest increase in an athlete's performance in endurance sports (5).
Furthermore, the initial situation of each individual athlete must always be considered. There may be situations where the training workload at the beginning of the taper phase is so low or high that a reduction of 50% or 90% respectively is necessary.
It is recommended to maintain frequency a high training frequency during the taper phase. The study by Mujika et al. (2002) has shown that high-frequency training during the taper phase leads to a higher adjustment probability of performance than a moderate training frequency (5, 7). It is assumed that well-trained athletes need a high training frequency to perform well on competition day (3). Consequently, the training frequency should not be reduced by more than 20% during taper training (3, 5).
Studies have shown that a reduction intensity in training intensity (90% of VO2max) promises higher adjustment probability of performance (10).
- In addition, attention must be paid to the taper duration. If the taper time is too short, the athlete may still be too tired at this point and may not have reached his/her peak performance (form). If the taper time is too long, the athlete will experience a decline in performance. The athlete enters a state of detraining (6).
A taper phase can last between one and four weeks, with the optimal taper period being between 8 and 14 days (5).
- There are also three different types of taper:
- Linear taper
- Exponential taper
- Stepped taper
In general, a distinction can be made between non-progressive (linear and exponential taper) and progressive (stepped taper) tapering styles.
The best taper strategy must be found for each athlete individually, with which the athlete feels most comfortable and can call up his or her maximum performance on competition day. It does not matter how old or what gender the athlete is, but the taper plan must be adapted to their individual needs based on the pre-taper phase.
Once the individual taper strategy has been found, a performance increase of 0.5-6% (〜3%) can be expected (3).
- Pyne, D B., Mujika, I. & Reilly, T. (2009). Peaking for optimal performance: Research limitations and future directions. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27(3): 195-202.
- Mujika, I. (2010). Intense training: The key to optimal performance before and during the taper. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 20(2): 24-31.
- Mujika, I. & Padilla, A. (2003). Scientific bases for precompetition tapering strategies. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 35(7): 1182-1187.
- Haff, G. G. (2012). Peaking for Competition in Individual Sports. In: High Performance training for sports: 291-300.
- Bosquet, L., Leger, L. & Legros (2002). Methods to determine aerobic endurance. Sports Medicine, 32(11): 675-700.
- Thomas, L. & Busso, T. (2005). A theoretical study of taper characteristics to optimize performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 37(9): 1615 – 1621.
- Mujika, I., Goya, A., Ruiz, A., Grijalba, A., Santisteban, A. & Padilla, S. (2002). Physiological and performance responses to a 6 day taper in middle-distance runners: Influence of training frequency. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 23(5): 367-373.
- Houmard, J., Kirwan, J., Flynn, M., Mitchell, J. (1998). Effects of reduced training on submaximal and maximal running responses. International Journal of Sportsmedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 10(1): 30-33.
- McConell. G. K., Costill, D. L. Widrick, J., Hickey, H., Tanaka, H. & Gastin, P. B. (1993). Reduced training volume and intensity maintain aerobic capacity but not performance in distance runners. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 14(1): 33-37.
- Shepley, B., MacDougall, J.D., Ciprino, N., Sutton, J.R.. Tarnopolsky, M.A & Coates, G. (1992). Physiological effects of tapering in highly trained athletes. Journal of Applied Physiology, 72(2): 706-711.