Training Tips - Tapering - October 2007

Recently I attended a seminar on tapering which is very timely for us with Nationals coming upon us. Tapering is a planned reduction in training. The sporting bodies have scientists working on this to get the most out of athletes. What tapers do is reduce fatigue and prepare you for a major competition by improving performance.

Although they have the generalities of this down to a science only you can figure out exactly what works best for you. Everyone is different so there will be many variations of the same workout. The best way to figure out what works for you is to try something and see how it works. If you don’t get the desired results then adjust your taper next time. The younger and better shape you are in the less taper you need. As you get older or if you have not been in the sport very long the more taper you’ll need.

One of the biggest problems that you will face while doing your taper is the mental aspect. You will be changing your workout drastically and mentally you may feel that you are not getting anything out of this workout. When you start doubting this” whole taper thing” keep these stats in mind.

Three test groups of athletes were used with 3 different scenarios.
Group 1 had complete rest for the test period - no training.
Group 2 did a low intensity workout.
Group 3 was put on a taper routine.
The results were quite startling:

Group 1 had a drop in performance of 3%.
Group 2 had a gain of 6%.
Group 3 had a gain of 22%.

This is very significant. So run these numbers through your head when you don’t feel that tapering is working. Actually the first week of tapering you will see a decline in your performance. This will level off then the gains will start.

Now how do you do a taper and how long do you do it? First I’ll start with how long you do a taper. A taper for a sport like arm wrestling that uses fast twitch muscles needs 3-4 weeks to taper. Sports such as long distance running that rely on slow twitch muscles need only 7-14 days for a taper

To do a taper you will increase your intensity and decrease your volume. What does that mean? You’re going to run your reps up to 90% of your 1 rep max. However you’re also going to substantially decrease your reps and sets (60% of what you usually do). For example if your 1 rep max is 100lbs then you wil do sets of 90lbs.

Next is drop the total volume of your workout. Say you do 3 sets of 8 , which is 24 reps in total. Your taper routine will consist of 12-14 reps in total instead of the 24. You can break this down either as 2 sets of 6-7 of 3 sets of 4-5. Do this the first 2 weeks and then cut the reps down again the last 2 weeks. You can also cut the volume by cutting the total number of workouts per week. If you’re doing 4 exercises for 3 sets, 3 days a week (36 total) sets you can go to 2 days a week and only do 18-20 sets in total.

In summary tapers reduce fatigue and improve performance. You have to decrease the amount you lift per week but increase the amount per rep. Most important of all is to document everything that you do. That way if the taper worked correctly then you can go back to it in subsequent years. If you feel that you need to tweak it somewhat then you have all your documents to know where to start. You can do up to 2 major tapers a year. However you can do several small tapers throughout the year.

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