Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Training Points To Ponder: The Taper

The "taper" is a peaking phase of an athlete's season characterized by a marked reduction in training volume scheduled in the days and weeks prior to an important competition. As the name suggests, the "taper" is, generally, a gradual lessening of training workload, designed to boost performance.

An effective taper is, for many coaches and athletes, an elusive hit-or-miss practice, shrouded in mystery. Many coaches and athletes choose to avoid the process of tapering, instead opting to treat competition as just a training session - this, I believe is a mistake. Used effectively, a good taper can dramatically boost an athlete's performance. When mistimed or poorly executed, it can leave an athlete feeling flat and drained.

The duration of a taper can vary greatly, but is often two to three weeks; sometimes lasting as long as a month, and can be extended even longer if post-championship competitions are scheduled. Shorter tapers, sometimes referred to as "mini-tapers" (or just "rest" by normal people), are usually 3 days to a week in length.

Assuming a good base of appropriate training volume and intensity has been established then, in this writer's opinion, most sports (explosive and cyclic) can benefit from a longer period of rest than the one week or less commonly taken by many athletes.

The taper is a practice that requires sensitivity to the needs of given sport and the individual athlete(s). The following are general tips to consider for taper implementation:

* Tapers generally consist of gradual lessening of training volume
* Intensity will often continue or even increase during a taper until the final week immediately prior to a competition or test
* Volume can be added as needed if peaking too early is a concern
* Many coaches note that larger athletes (with more lean body mass) require longer tapers
* Many coaches note that female athletes do not tolerate prolonged/extended/repeated tapers as well as male athletes
* The competition warm up routine should be used in training for weeks prior to a competition. By the time of competition, it should be automatic

Things to avoid during a taper:
*trying to "work in" some more conditioning or strength work - if a solid base has not been established, the taper is not the time to try to make up lost ground
*new warm-up routines and rituals
*adding new recovery methods (such as massage, electro-stim, etc.) too close to competition
*sudden and significant dietary changes

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