Tapering and Peaking

by Developing Endurance: pp. 51-52
Kinetic Select March 2019


This excerpt from Developing Endurance goes over tapering and peaking in aerobic training for competition.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book Developing Endurance, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

Competitive athletes perform countless hours of training with the goal of being at the optimal level of performance for the important competitions. As mentioned previously, from a physiological standpoint, an athlete can achieve two or three main peaks in a season. For some athletes, a peak can be maintained for 1 or 2 weeks. This means that they may be able to perform back-to-back races in a peak state. However, the challenge often lies in planning the taper so that the athlete peaks at the right time. Many athletes will miss their peak as a result of an inappropriately timed taper.

A taper can be defined in various ways, but generally speaking, a taper is a progressive reduction in training load. This reduction in the training load is meant to reduce the physical and psychological stressors incurred on a daily basis in order to enhance the body’s adaptation to training—and thus optimize performance. Many physical and psychological factors are improved with a properly implemented taper. Two main training variables are usually adjusted for a taper: volume and intensity. Both must be carefully balanced to reap the positive effects.

When a taper is implemented properly, athletes can expect to see a 0.5 to 6.0 percent increase in performance. The most important variable in a taper is intensity. This is often overlooked by athletes and coaches, but intensity needs to be maintained in order to avoid a detraining effect. The frequency of training should be maintained at 80 percent or greater compared to normal; volume should be reduced by 60 to 90 percent over the duration of the taper in order to induce the positive physiological and psychological responses. The duration of the taper requires a bit more planning because the specific requirements will vary by sport and discipline. Research has shown that an optimal taper lasts 4 to 28 days. The specific length of the taper is based on a variety of factors, including athlete experience, length of the event being trained for, and the importance of the competition. Novice athletes or coaches may want to discuss these factors with a more experienced mentor or friend. There is often no rhyme or reason in an athlete’s decision on the duration of the taper; however, athletes who compete over shorter distances usually use a shorter taper, and athletes who compete over longer distances usually use a longer taper. Additionally, the type or pattern of the taper will affect whether the athlete can successfully peak and rest. The three patterns of tapers include linear, step, and progressive.

In a linear taper, the volume of training is gradually decreased day by day throughout the duration of the taper (think of walking down stairs). In contrast, a step taper employs a significant reduction (greater than 50 percent) in training volume immediately and then maintains this reduction without fluctuations (think of falling to a lower step all at once and then remaining on that step). The last type, progressive, has been shown to be the most beneficial. In a progressive taper, training is decreased by about 10 to 15 percent immediately, and then gradual decreases are made with a lower-percentage reduction each day (this is a combination of the previous two taper patterns). This pattern allows the necessary reduction in volume to be implemented while maintaining intensity and frequency. Tapering for a race distance can be successful after implementing small “practice” tapers during training. However, tapering becomes more difficult if an athlete competes at different race distances throughout the same year. In this case, the athlete should use a previous successful taper and adjust the taper into smaller increments rather than reinvent the wheel and try something completely different.

Planning an athlete’s endurance training program takes knowledge of the various components that make up the program; however, the many variables in the athlete’s life and training are also important when fine-tuning the program to meet the athlete’s needs. Once the planning stage is complete, the athlete’s progress should be continually monitored to assess positive physiological adaptations. Remember, a training program that is effective in bringing about positive physiological adaptations will not necessarily result in optimal adaptations year after year. For the athlete to achieve optimal performance year after year, different goals and strategies must be implemented.

The popularity of endurance sports continues to grow worldwide. Now, from the National Strength and Conditioning Association comes the definitive resource for developing the endurance training programs that maximize performance and minimize injuries.

The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

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