Intense preseason training is an integral component to preparing physically and tactically for the upcoming competitive season. In team-sports like football and rugby, preseason training involves a 2-4 week period of intensified training, often times with 2 practices per day. This results in a heightened risk of injury, illness and excess fatigue. According to Dr. Bannister’s “Fitness-Fatigue Model”, performance is masked during periods of intensified training such as preseason camp as a result of accumulated fatigue. However, with an appropriate reduction in training load leading into competition (i.e., a taper), fatigue will dissipate and enhanced performance from the training will become realized at competition. Though ample research in this area exists for sports such as swimming and marathon running, comparatively little research exists that investigates effective tapering strategies for team sport athletes.
A new study presented at the European Congress of Sports Medicine evaluated the time-course for performance changes during a 3-week taper following intense preseason training in 10 international level Rugby 7’s players. Before and after an intense 4-week preseason training period and during each week of the 3-week taper, performance parameters were measured that included: maximal lower-body strength and explosiveness (via isometric mid-thigh pull and peak cycling power), 30-m sprint speed and repeated sprint ability. The researchers aimed at determining how long it took performance to peak to see what the ideal length of a taper should be.
The results showed that most of the performance variables meaningfully improved during the taper ranging from 3.1 – 9%. It was found that these parameters peaked between 9 and 16 days of tapering. Thus, the ideal taper duration for team sport athletes appears to be about 2 weeks. However, the authors note that there was considerable inter-individual variation in how the athletes responded to the taper. Some improved performance early while it took other longer to recover. Thus, they recommend that training loads should be individualized during the taper. In Football, 1-week tapers following preseason training are typical but may be insufficient according to this study.
Piscione, J. et al. (2016) Tapering in team sports: Physical performance response in rugby sevens players. European Congress of Sports Science. July 6-9. Vienna, Austria.