How to Nail the Taper

Every taper is unique (and it should be). You are a different age, have trained slightly or dramatically differently than the year before, and may be competing in different events. Your coach knows how you respond to rest and will create the taper you need.

The idea behind taper is to reach the body’s peak performance level by diminishing training volume—enabling the body to recover from the physiological stress of months of heavy training. Literature suggests that the taper period should involve a reduction to 40-60% of one’s training volume to maximize performance gains1. The most effective taper model in one study achieved that reduction in training volume through a 37% decrease in low-intensity training, a 49% decrease in high-intensity training, and a 95% decrease in strength training1.  This means taper will likely include some speed work (a must for rehearsing parts of your race), a fair amount of easy swimming, and little to no weightlifting.

You have spent the year building up strength, power and speed in the weight room, but in order to let that hard work help you perform, the strength training must decrease. Studies suggest that muscle strength and power may be suppressed during heavy training, but recover and peak during the taper period. An increase in stretching, foam rolling and simple bodyweight exercises should replace the strength training for a dryland that focuses on keeping your patterns of movement fluid, your range of motion at its maximum, and your muscles loosened.

While your muscles need recovery, remember to work each day of taper the way it is designed for you. On a moderate volume day, stay aerobic with your practice. Save the starts, turns, and 50’s pace for your high intensity day, but don’t over-do it. On recovery days, simply enjoy the easy swimming! When dealing with multiple peak performance competitions, maintaining a slightly elevated training volume before the first meet helps keep endurance up for the next, and light strength training may persist closer to the first meet.

With so much focus dedicated to recovery, swimmers can over-analyze how their bodies feel. It’s okay to feel stiff—remember that how you feel doesn’t necessarily correlate with how fast you swim. Execute your taper with focus and integrity, but enjoy it fully!

References:

1. J Sports Sci Med. 2013 Dec 1;12(4):668-78. eCollection 2013. Identifying Optimal Overload and Taper in Elite Swimmers over Time. Hellard PAvalos MHausswirth C1Pyne D2Toussaint JF3Mujika I4.

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BridgeAthletic Logo 3BridgeAthletic works with elite professional, collegiate, and club swimming programs to provide a turnkey solution for dryland training.  Led by Nick Folker, the top swimming strength and conditioning coach in the world, our team builds stroke-specific, custom-optimized dryland programs for each of our clients. The individualized workouts are delivered directly to athletes via our state of the art technology platform and mobile applications. Check Nick and BridgeAthletic out as recently featured in SwimSwam.

About Nick Folker 

Nick Folker, BridgeAthleticNick Folker is the Co-Founder and Director of Elite Performance at BridgeAthletic. Nick’s athletes have won 22 Olympic Medals, 7 team NCAA Championships and over 170 individual and relay NCAA championships. Megan Fischer-Colbrie works as the Sports Science Editor at BridgeAthletic.  Megan was a four-year varsity swimmer at Stanford, where she recently graduated with a degree in Human Biology.

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KMCK13

Hi, I was wondering what the current research says on taper and strength training, specifically weight training. This article references a 95% decrease in strength training, but the study itself only defined strength training as dryland and general conditioning. Thanks!

One thing that was not mentioned above is that Nic was an international medal winning swimmer on the South African senior team and has personal experience in the cauldron of high level International competition – This Experience you cannot buy or acuire by accademic persuit and places him in a special position in the sports science realm!

Mikeh

“Your coach knows how you respond to rest and will create the taper you need.”

I enjoy this discussion, but as a part-time coach i have to disagree with the above statement. Most coaches are making educated guesses during taper

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