JOHN McMAHON: Tapering and peaking

The Why & How……

IT’S that time of the year in the club players calendar the league is well over halfway through and the championship count down has begun. Depending on your teams’ priorities? Are you pushing for league promotion or battling relegation? These scenarios will determine your focus. However, some coaches and players at this time of year will start looking ahead at championship preparations.

Can you prepare to peak for your championship?

Absolutely yes. From a physical perspective peaking is so important and can be achieved with forward planning. To arrive at championship time physically fit and robust is key for you to maximise your individual & team potential.

Firstly, peaking and tapering in Gaelic games is extremely difficult with the fixtures calendar. However, with clever planning you can ‘peak’ for your championship run… You just need to plan and periodise your training schedule correctly. Tapering is that vital final part for you to arrive at championship time fresh, fit and ready to go!!

Tapering is a strategy used by people who engage in sports and training. They reduce training volume leading up to an event or competition. The rationale behind this strategy is that a decreased training volume will help you adapt to your intense training phase just completed and as a result have an improvement in performance (Peaking).

There are four main types of tapering: progressive, step, slow decay, and fast decay. The two we see most are the step-taper or linear taper. A linear taper is generally a progressive decline in training load for a set time. Linear tapering can be crucial for those competing in powerlifting or other strength competitions. In field-based sports (gaelic football, hurling and camogie etc…) a one-step taper works very well. A step-taper is a set reduction in training usually done by percentage. For example, a one step-taper could use a 50 per cent decrease in volume for one week after the overreaching phase of a program. (**Overreaching is the principle of applying a training stress and load greater than your normal training stimulus)

A periodized training program generally includes a taper. However, those who don’t compete may consider this more of a deload than peaking. The main purpose of a taper is to decrease training volume to improve performance.

Maintaining training intensity is the key factor to retain performance during a taper. In fact, a high intensity tapers increase force production, muscle glycogen content, and mitochondrial activity compared to a reduced intensity taper in endurance athletes (Shepley 1992). Furthermore, if intensity is maintained, volume and frequency can be reduced.

The obvious limitation with tapering is that it can lead to detraining. This doesn’t mean you magically lose all your hard-fought gains. It just means you could see a slight decrease in performance. In fact, strength performance is readily retained for several weeks of reduced training, but sport-specific adaptations suffer more quickly. So make sure during your taper to keep training intensity high while you reduce the volume.

Practical Applications

These recommendations are currently derived from the most recent sports science data:

1. By the time you start a taper, you should need it. A taper would typically follow an 8–16-week intense training cycle.

2. During a step-taper, reduce training volume 30-60 per cent.

3. However, maintain or slightly increase training intensity during this taper phase.

4. Suggested taper length is 8-14 days.

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