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.
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.
Figure I. Recovery phase during the “alarm” stage in GAS (Adapted from Zatsiorsky and Kraemer, 2006).
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.
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.”
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).
Figure II. General Adaptation Syndrome (Estremera et al., 2017).
The General Adaptation Syndrome is closely connected to the Supercompensation Principle.
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
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.
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:
- Linear: Reducing the exercise progressively until reaching a pre-competition minimum.
- 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.
- 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?
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.
|Days||Km per session||Sessions per week||Average intensity per session||Km per week|
|0 (before starting)||100||6/6 – 1st Week||65% MAX. RATE||600|
|1||90||1/6 – 1st Week||65% MAX. RATE||445|
|2||85||2/6 – 1st Week||65% MAX. RATE|
|3||80||3/6 – 1st Week||70% MAX. RATE|
|4||70||4/6 – 1st Week||65% MAX. RATE|
|5||65||5/6 – 1st Week||72% MAX. RATE|
|6||55||6/6 – 1st Week||80% MAX. RATE|
|8||48||1/4 – 2nd Week||65% MAX. RATE||173|
|9||45||2/4 – 2nd Week||80% MAX. RATE|
|11||40||3/4 – 2nd Week||90% MAX. RATE|
|12||40||4/4 – 2nd Week||50% MAX. RATE|
And this is the progression during a taper:
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.
|Days||Daily bench press sessions||Sessions per movement per week||%1RM||Total series per week|
|0 (before starting)||10||3/3 – 0 Week||90||30|
|1||9||1/3 – 1st Week||90||24|
|3||8||2/3 – 1st Week||95|
|5||7||3/3 – 1st Week||90|
|9||8||1/2 – 2nd Week||95|
|11||7||2/2 – 2nd Week||102|
And this is the progression during a taper:
- 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.
- Hughes, D. C., Ellefsen, S., & Baar, K. (2018). Adaptations to endurance and strength training. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, 8(6).
- 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).
- Jensen, U. (2016). Design Considerations and Application Examples for Embedded Classification Systems.
- Zatsiorsky, V., & Kraemer, W. (1995). Science and practice of strength training. In Choice Reviews Online (Vol. 33).
- 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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