'Tapering for track sprinters can be defined as reducing the athletes training load in various ways to optimise performance for a major competition or competitions during a season.
The days leading up to competition should be managed with the utmost care. Poorly implemented tapering periods can potentially lead to the previous weeks, months or even years of training being wasted.'
Tapering is a well established training method implemented so that athletes are able to reach optimal performance at certain points during the season (usually for major competitions).
It’s important to recognise that not all tapering is equal.
Tapering for a long distance runner will look very different from tapering for track sprinters.
The differences don't end there, as even athletes running the same event are unlikely to have identical tapered training.
Different coaches have different methods, and I would say it’s impossible to determine which method is more effective as there are always varying factors.
The most important thing is that coaches focus on the individual needs of the athlete.
There are however guidelines you can follow to help create your tapering period and then tweak as necessary.
The more experience you have, be it as a coach or as an athlete, the more able you will be to determine what works and which methods lead to peak performance.
The purpose of this article is to provide you with the information you need to implement your tapering period into your training to help you best prepare for your major competitions and achieve peak performance.
I think it's incredibly important to monitor and assess/change your training needs in the build up to competition.
However, carrying out an effective tapering period can be extremely difficult.
Athletes and coaches should take care not to stress over this, or make large changes to training without having viable reasons for doing so.
Tapering is not a magic fix, but should accompany months of hard training and planning.
It’s necessary to realise that if you have not put in the work beforehand, no amount of tapering or strategy will help you produce personal bests or win races.
Implementing a tapered program can be difficult because there are so many factors to consider that your planning may constantly change or need updating throughout the season, which will ultimately affect your competition preparation.
The needs of an athlete may change throughout the season with unexpected injuries, varying levels of fatigue, competition schedule, and the effects of travelling to competition, being just a few things that need to be considered!
To tackle these issues, I suggest doing an 'Athlete Needs Analysis. '
An athlete's needs is basically just an umbrella term for all the things that will have an effect on how you train and what strategies you implement to enhance performance.
Doing a needs analysis at various stages throughout the season will provide you with valuable information to help combat any issues that arise, and will heavily influence your tapering program.
I will provide some guidelines in this article but your questions should answer themselves as the season progresses and you evaluate where you’re at as an athlete, or where your athlete is, if you're a coach.
For non-professional athletes it can be even harder to taper effectively.
This is especially true for younger athletes.
You may have club commitments, your own major competition goals, work life and other factors outside of athletics that you are committed to and value. All of which can make training difficult under any circumstances.
Also, it's often the case that event schedules are very crowded, with athletes competing on a weekly basis.
Let me give you an example...
One of my 200m athletes has a very crowded competition schedule with events 3-4 weeks in a row (one week she has 2 competitions).
One of these competitions is for her club, which she needs to compete in, but it's only a week out from the National Championships so the schedule is less than ideal.
So what do we do (other than throw a sickie or pick up an "injury")?
Well, we need to implement a training strategy so that she can perform at her best without enduring large levels of fatigue.
Keep reading to see how you can go about doing this effectively.
As mentioned above in my examaple, your competition schedule will largely determine your tapering period.
Most athletes will be looking to peak for 1-2 competitions during the season (your 1-2 most important meets) and therefore will carry out 1-2 tapering periods.
To give you an example, the majority of my athletes will be looking to peak at regionals and then again at Nationals.
Here I will discuss what actual changes you need to make to your training to carry out a successful taper.
One issue that athletes and coaches have is that they are unsure of the length of time that they should taper for.
This is a difficult question as the answer will be different for every athlete. You have to consider multiple factors such as physical fitness levels, training age and of course competition schedule. This is why a needs analysis is so vital.
In general I would suggest starting your tapering period around 8-14 days prior to your major competition.
Using my athlete as an example, as mentioned above, she has a busy schedule. So overall training workload will naturally be reduced.
This means our tapering period does not need to be that long (we're starting from 10 days out of the Nationals).
However, if you have a long period without competition, where training workload remains high (as it should) you may need to consider starting your tapering period sooner.
This will allow you enough time to decrease your workload so that you have more time to get into optimal form for your competition.
When it comes to training volume, you want to gradually reduce your workload by around 40-60% during your taper period.
This will allow for the body to react to your hard training and make adaptations for optimal performance.
It’s important to note that you are decreasing your workload, not the intensity of the work being performed!
In most cases your training intensity will remain high, maybe even a little bit higher than usual to create an overload.
This means that you don't necessarily need to decrease the number of sessions you have each week during your tapering period.
In fact, many athletes keep this the same right up until their competition.
Personally, I reduce the amount of training for my athletes in both duration and frequency. We focus on quality, race specific work, or work that has direct race transfer.
In terms of speed training, I would suggest focusing on race specifics that mimic your event as closely as possible.
For example, perform sprints at 95% or full out focusing on minimum foot contact time.
The same goes for your strength training.
Focus on minimum foot contact time exercises such as bounding and sled sprints. Use explosive exercises such as the power clean and snatch.
Usually you will want to avoid any maximum strength training sessions during this period as they can be particularly fatiguing and you don't want to cause any unnecessary stress to the body.
Often athletes perform priming sessions before or on the day of competition. The idea behind this is to promote an increase in testosterone to help enhance performance for the upcoming race.
For example an athlete may perform 2 x 2 heavy back squats before they go out to compete.
Although I wouldn't recommend this for most athletes that are not at an elite level.
However, if you are looking to try this out but don't have access to a squat rack and barbell, try performing a couple of explosive standing long jumps (this decreases the risk and is much easier to accommodate).
It is also a good idea to perform dynamic stretches and a light warm up the day before your competition and even on the day too before you go to your venue (depending on your race times) just to activate the muscles so that they are prepared.
I hope you now have a better understanding of how to implement an effective tapering strategy, good luck in your future competitions!