Tapering – Get ready to compete!

Tapering – Get ready to compete!

Today, we are going to talk about a concept that may sound familiar if you are endurance athletes: Tapering.

Physical exercise is a stressor or external stimulus that subjects our organism to a series of functional and structural alterations due to the exercise itself (Hughes, Ellefsen and Baar, 2017).

Have you ever wondered why endurance athletes adapt and improve their capacity and strength athletes improve their nervous efficiency?

The tissues from the organism are plastic and they will adapt to a specific work volume.

But, are adaptations linear? If we adapt to the workout and improve our performance, do we have to exercise even on the same day of the competition?

Keep reading because I am going to explain what you should do to get ready for a competition!

What is tapering?

It consists of reaching a peak form by reducing the exercise for a variable period of time. Consequently, we will decrease the daily physiological and psychological stress and improve our sport performance.

Supercompensation positive accumulated

Figure I. Recovery phase during the “alarm” stage in GAS (Adapted from Zatsiorsky and Kraemer, 2006).

But before we continue, let’s review a series of concepts that will help us understand this phenomenon better.

Going through basic training methodology

What is the Homeostasis?

It is the physiological balance that our body tries to maintain. Everything is perfectly under control so that nothing is out of what is supposed to be normal.

Endurance athlete

The adaptation processes are nothing else than necessary steps that our body needs to carry out to maintain this homeostasis.

Le Chântelier’s Principle

To put it briefly:

“Before any disturbance caused by an external factor, our body will adapt to that factor in order to recover its equilibrium.”

Physical exercise is an external factor that is sequentially repeated for a period of time. Therefore, our body can make the decision to produce structural and functional changes in its systems to adapt to this constant stimulus.

General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)

It reflects how the ability of our baseline organism (normal resistance level) drops due to an stressor (physical exercise) in the “alarm stage”. Consequently, our body produces a series of counter adaptations in order to be ready to face an stimulus of the same profile (a level over the baseline).

General Adaptation Syndrome

Figure II. General Adaptation Syndrome (Estremera et al., 2017).

This level remains for a specific period of time in the “resistance stage”. Then, if there are no more alarms, the body will start to undo the adaptations during the “exhaustion stage”, since it no longer needs said them.

Supercompensation Principle

The General Adaptation Syndrome is closely connected to the Supercompensation Principle.

Supercompensation

Figure III. Supercompensation Principle (Jensen, 2016).

It is a breakdown of the “alarm stage”.

This is important because we can find 3 types of adaptation depending on the workout volume:

  • Positive: Adaptive
  • Null: Ineffective
  • Negative: Disadaptive

Types of supercompensation

Figure IV. Supercompensation profiles depending on the magnitude and frequency of the workouts (Zatsiorsky and Kraemer, 2006).

Effects of Tapering

On Endurance Sports

Tapering is a process that has been deeply studied in endurance sports. In fact, there are a lot of studies that partly explain the physiological adaptations to this process:

A good tapering (because it can be harmful if it is not done properly) will have the following effects:

  • Stimulating the glycogen synthase activity (more liver-muscle glycogen content increasing the energy deposits).
  • Stimulating the activity of the citrate synthase, one of the TCA isoenzymes (more efficacy oxidizing nutrients to obtain energy).
  • Increasing the blood volume and erythropoiesis (more oxygen transport to the active muscle tissue). Shepley et al., 1992.
All this will improve the performance of athletes: higher oxygen consumption, higher maximal voluntary contraction, less respiratory quotient… Consequently, it will delay the fatigue and increase the speed.

On Strength Sports

The effects on strength are not that clear. In fact, most of them are hypotheses or we will probably find mixed evidence.

The main principles related to this phenomenon are:

  • An increase of the neuromuscular efficiency.
  • An increase of the physiological cross-sectional area.
  • Alterations in the ratio of types of muscle fibers.
  • Batter psychological indexes (motivation, stress, mood…).

Types of tapering

There are 3 types of tapering:

  1. Linear: Reducing the exercise progressively until reaching a pre-competition minimum.
  2. Exponential: Reducing the exercise suddenly at the beginning and slowly towards the end. This type of tapering has two variants.
    • Slow Decay: A more controlled drop.
    • Fast Decay: A drastic drop.
  3. Step: Reducing the exercise drastically and maintaining this charge throughout the entire taper.

How to do tapering

A tapering is carried out by changing the workout variables: volume, intensity, frequency, duration…

In order to produce a supercompensation and improve the performance more than before the tapering itself.

But, how do I adapt the exercise variables to improve my performance?

The most realistic response is that these variables had to be individually determined for each athlete, according to the specific adaptation profile to the workout.

Let’s review two practical examples: one for endurance and another for strength athletes.

Tapering for cyclists

A cyclist starts at 0 and cycles 600km a week distributed in 6 sessions per week, at an average intensity of a 65% of their Maximum Heart Rate.

Cycling
DaysKm per sessionSessions per weekAverage intensity per session Km per week
0 (before starting)1006/6 – 1st Week65% MAX. RATE600
1901/6 – 1st Week65% MAX. RATE445
2852/6 – 1st Week65% MAX. RATE
3803/6 – 1st Week70% MAX. RATE
4704/6 – 1st Week65% MAX. RATE
5655/6 – 1st Week72% MAX. RATE
6556/6 – 1st Week80% MAX. RATE
7RESTRESTREST
8481/4 – 2nd Week65% MAX. RATE173
9452/4 – 2nd Week80% MAX. RATE
10RESTRESTREST
11403/4 – 2nd Week90% MAX. RATE
12404/4 – 2nd Week50% MAX. RATE
13RESTRESTREST

And this is the progression during a taper:Progression graphic cyclist

Blue: Volume, Orange: Rate, Gray: Intensity, Yellow: Weekly Volume.

Tapering for powerlifting

A powerlifter starts at 0 and does 30 weekly sets of bench press, distributed in 3 sessions per week, at an average intensity of 90% of the last 1RM test.

Powerlifting 
DaysDaily bench press sessionsSessions per movement per week%1RMTotal series per week
0 (before starting)103/3 – 0 Week9030
191/3 – 1st Week9024
20RESTREST
382/3 – 1st Week95
40RESTREST
573/3 – 1st Week90
60RESTREST
70RESTREST
80RESTREST15
981/2 – 2nd Week95
108RESTREST
1172/2 – 2nd Week102
126RESTREST
135RESTREST
145RESTREST

And this is the progression during a taper:

Progression graphic powerlifter

Conclusions

  • Tapering is a process that involves reducing the exercise progressively so that you will compete in a better shape.
  • The exponential taper patters (progressive) with a fast decay are superior to other taper models, although not for cycling.
  • Training volume is the main factor that we need to adjust during a taper, therefore, you have to reduce it in a 40-60%.
  • Do not alter the intensity, you still need to follow a quality training routine.
  • Changes in the frequency are irrelevant and they will be motivated by the weekly total training volume during the taper.
  • Ideally, a taper should last between 8 and 14 days, even though this will be determined by the workout and the mesocycle before the taper.
  • Not doing exercise for 3-5 days is also effective when it comes to improving the performance in strength sports.
  • However, not doing exercise for 3 weeks produces disadaptations to the training stimulus at a structural and neural level.
  • Not doing exercise is not recommended in endurance sports due to the quick disadaptations.
Have you ever done a taper? Let us know how it was!

Bibliography

  1. Hughes, D. C., Ellefsen, S., & Baar, K. (2018). Adaptations to endurance and strength training. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, 8(6).
  2. Estremera Rodrigo, A. (2017). Influencia de las variables socio-demográficas y laborales en los valores de estrés determinados con el modelo desequilibrio esfuerzo recompensa de Siegrist (Tesis Doctoral).
  3. Jensen, U. (2016). Design Considerations and Application Examples for Embedded Classification Systems.
  4. Zatsiorsky, V., & Kraemer, W. (1995). Science and practice of strength training. In Choice Reviews Online (Vol. 33).
  5. Shepley, B., MacDougall, J. D., Cipriano, 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.

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