An Athltetes guide to Tapering for peak performance
Training is 100% the best way to get better.
As it gets closer and closer to competition time dialling back your training in order to freshen up and unlock your fitness improvements requires you to dial back the training and dial up the rest.
Fatigue masks fitness, when we achieve peak performance we aren't actually at peak fitness but peak freshness.
With all tapering, the goal is to allow an athlete more recovery time and space in their week to freshen up and recover for competition because fatigue masks fitness so while it is admirable to want to train and train and train, rest is still a vital part of the equation.
You can’t drop to zero training though and become fused with the couch, so what is the best method for staying fit and strong while still allowing some rest and regeneration to occur?
The 100:90:50 peaking protocol
Frequency is how often you are training, and come deload time (for most athletes) keeping frequency at 100% of normal is the best way to keep you in rhythm both physically and mentally. Changing up your routine as you get ready for a finals campaign or major event is not a great idea. Keep your routine familiar.
90% (or higher) intensity
Studies are continually showing that tapers, where the intensity of training stays high, are significantly better than when intensity is dialled back.
- Maintainenance of peak strength and power. Fatigue of any type is ultimately due to the inability to maintain power. Given power is force x velocity it makes zero sense to cut out the strength training.
- Hold onto your enzymes. You can read more about sport specific fitness here but the summary is that true sport specific fitness is all about anaerobic capacity and repeat sprint ability. The anaerobic systems key limiting factor is not in the making of energy but in removing all the waste products that build up (hydrogen ions and inorganic phosphate for example). Removing these and keeping the muscles internal environment happy and non-acidic is one of the keys to maintaining that high power output late in the game/race and it’s primarily the job of enzymes to deal with these by-products. The sad reality is these enzymes are incredibly disloyal and start to waste away within only 48 hours. Keep them high by keeping the high-intensity fitness work in the schedule
This is the secret sauce to an effective taper.
Cut your reps/sets/time/distance in (roughly) half.
Do the same warm up, cool down, keep the rest periods the same just do half the actual work
4x6 @100kg can become one of the following:
- 4x3 @100kg
- 2x6 @100kg
4x6 @100m @90% can become:
- 4x3 @100m @90%
- 2x6 @100m @90%
- 4x6 @50m @90%
4x3 minutes @ 85% can become:
- 2x 3 minutes @85%
- 4x 1.5 minutes @85%
It’s a little trickier for team sports and skill training but cutting high-intensity drills and scrimmages shorter, incorporating more frequent drink breaks, shorter total session length or adding more stationary drills can all be ways of reducing volume.
Whats really important is that you
KEEP REST PERIODS THE SAME,
KEEP INTENSITY AS CLOSE TO NORMAL
You should finish the session feeling a little frustrated like it was a bit too easy and almost a waste of time.
It wasn't a waste, cool down, go home and rest up. Mission accomplished.