Preseason training typically involves an intensive 1-2 month period in which athletes are exposed to high training volumes, intensities and frequencies. The stress from training is exacerbated by hot and humid conditions typical of preseason periods for several sports. This may put athletes at risk of excess fatigue and performance decrements. While the intensified training period serves as a potent stimulus to improve physical fitness and performance qualities, improvements are generally not realized until sufficient recovery is attained. Therefore, tapering the training load toward the end of the preseason period before the first competition may allow for adequate recovery and performance supercompensation. However, the majority of research on tapering strategies largely pertains to individuals sports like swimming and running. How team sport athletes respond to tapering is not well studied.
A new study published ahead of print in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance monitored performance changes in Olympic level rugby players throughout a 3-week taper to determine if and at what point performance supercompensation was observed. Ten rugby 7’s players from the French National team performed a 4-week preseason training camp followed by a 3-week taper preceding the 2016 Olympic Summer games in Rio. Before and immediately after the 4-week preseason camp and again at the end of each week during the 3-week taper, fitness and performance variables were assessed. These included: maximal lower body strength derived from an isometric mid-thigh pull, 30 m dash acceleration speed and repeated sprint ability. The taper involved a ~30% reduction in total distance during sessions, ~20% reduction in training frequency, and ~50% reduction in resistance training volume.
The results showed that immediately following the 4-week preseason training camp, no meaningful changes in performance were observed. However, performance markers tended to peak within the first 2 weeks of tapering. The authors reported at which time-point that each individual achieved peak performance for each performance variable. For 30 m sprinting speed, 3 subjects peaked after 1-week of tapering, 5 subjects peaked after 2-weeks of tapering and 2 subjects peaked after 3-weeks of tapering. For peak lower body strength, 1 subject peaked after 1-week of tapering, 7 subjects peaked after 2-weeks of tapering and 2 subjects peaked after 3-weeks of tapering. For repeated sprint ability performance, 1 subject peaked at immediately post, 4 subjects peaked after 1-week of tapering, 3 subjects peaked after 2-weeks of tapering and 2 subjects peaked after 3-weeks of tapering. Therefore, the majority of athletes experienced performance supercompensation within the first 2 weeks of tapering. Coaches should consider using a 1-2 week taper following intensive preseason training periods to facilitate adequate recovery and performance improvements in team-sport athletes.
Marrier, B., Robineau, J., Piscione, J., Lacome, M., Peeters, A., Hausswirth, C., … & Meur, Y. L. (2017). Supercompensation Kinetics of Physical Qualities During a Taper in Team Sport Athletes. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 1-24.