A common practice amongst elite performers and teams to best prepare for competition is a concept coined ‘tapering’ which aims to ensure an optimal state of physical readiness that aligns with their competition window.

The ‘tapering’ concept has filtered down to sub-elite and amateur sport and is often attempted by teams or individuals by reducing their perceived training intensity leading into competition.

Taper in Sport

Common sense might indicate that resting to recover and super-compensate (the body’s adaption to training stimulus) will result in a fatigue-less system that is primed for competition. However, without the direction of a periodised training plan developed by appropriate performance professionals the ‘taper’ phase is often slightly misguided and may hamper the overall physical output during competition rather than prime it.

Don’t Rest, Modify

Rather than cease training activity that may be deemed too intense, some easy modifications can be made to still prime the body for competition whilst ensuring a recuperation of physical facets that may be hampered during building phases of the season/year.

Some Ideas in The Gym:

Reduce Range of Motion of Key Lifts

To maintain intensity and desirable neural pathways for competition, consider reducing the total range of motion of key lifts throughout your sessions. An example includes moving from a back squat to a box squat, or even pin start squats.

Altering these to a lower total rep scheme or increased total velocity with reduced total load ensures a priming effect of desired musculature as opposed to a neurally fatiguing one associated with full range of motion heavy lifting.

Maintain Focus on Movement Quality/Preparation

Given that a lower total volume will trend throughout the ‘taper’ an opportunity exists to continue ‘niggle management’ and other movement quality type exercises. Themes for this may include, hip range of motion and control, shoulder stability, and tendon elasticity.

Some Ideas on The Field:

Energy System Development (ESD)

Consider reducing on-feet conditioning with off-feet conditioning, this will aid the reduction of total neural load whilst ensuring optimisation of conditioning up until the beginning of competition. Total running load during training gameplay will serve as the maintenance of tissue capacity given its difference to conditioning running as the metabolic demand remains quite high.

Moving too far away from training gameplay may serve to reduce tissue capacity slightly and this reduction is associated with increased injury risk.

Sprint and Sprint Fast

Before competition it is imperative that maximal speed exposure is not completely removed from the training schedule, not only from an injury risk perspective but from a speed development perspective as well. The total volume of sprinting may reduce but exposure to top speed and maximal acceleration will ensure the preparedness of an athlete’s speed capacity.

Want To Know More

This is an introduction to the concept tapering in sport.

If you would like to know more or work on specific session ideas for yourself, please contact our Strength Coaches including Dylan Bennett, who wrote this article.

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