Prior to competition, it is common for training loads to be reduced to facilitate recovery, allow fatigue to dissipate and for performance potential to be realized. This reduction in training is commonly referred to as the “taper”. After an extensive training period (e.g., 12-16 weeks), the last two weeks preceding competition will involve lower training volume and/or intensity. Alternatively, for weekly competitions, it would be common to see higher training loads earlier in the week followed by a reduction in the days before the competition. Unfortunately for strength and power athletes, much of the published data on tapering strategies pertains to endurance athletes. For strength and power athletes leading up to one major competition after months of preparation, many coaches will program tapers based on prior experience, or anecdotal reports. We are currently unaware of what the optimal strategies may be for these types of athletes.
Zaras et al. (2014) recently studied the effects of tapering with heavy loads (85% 1RM) or light loads (30% 1RM) on strength, power, rate of force development and performance in a group of collegiate throwing athletes (n = 13). The athletes had a major competition following the fall semester and following the spring semester. Preceding each competition, the athletes participated in months of strength and power training. The researchers split the athletes into two groups and had one group taper for two weeks with heavy loads in the winter and light loads in the spring. The other group did the opposite, tapering with light loads in the winter and heavy loads in the spring. At each time point, strength, power, rate of force development and performance markers were assessed with 1RM leg press, rate of force development (leg press), squat-jump, counter-movement jump and performance was analyzed with various throws.
The results showed that competition throwing performance improved significantly following both tapering protocols (between 4-6%) however, no significant differences were observed between groups. Tapering with heavy loads resulted in greater improvements in 1RM leg press, leg press rate of force development and squat jump power. Low intensity tapering resulted in less fatigue compared to high intensity tapering. Interestingly, the high intensity training group saw greater improvements in non-specific throwing (non-competition style throws) that require less technical skill, however, no difference was seen between groups in the competitive throws.
Though this study involved throwers, it would be interesting to see how these forms of tapering would affect sprinters, jumpers, powerlifters and weightlifters. A sport like powerlifting that uses general exercises as the competition event, it is conceivable that there would be a greater carry over of increased strength from high intensity tapering which was observed with the throwers. Though the powerlifts certainly require high technical skill, it would be hard to argue that these movements are as technical as some of the throws. There is certainly plenty more to research in this area, though this paper provides some good data that is practically applicable for coaches of strength/power athletes.
Zaras, N., Stasinaki, A., Krase, A., Methenitis, S., Karampatsos, G., Georgiadis, G., … & Terzis, G. (2014). EFFECTS OF TAPERING WITH LIGHT VS. HEAVY LOADS ON TRACK AND FIELD THROWING PERFORMANCE.The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. Ahead of print.