Being rested and primed to optimize your training through a thoughtful tapering process can offer you the edge over your competitors or mean the difference between a good meet and a great meet!
When implemented correctly, a taper prior to competition can increase strength output by roughly 7-10% (dependent on the individual), through a series of adaptations in the athlete’s body. This does not take into account the psychological benefits from having a clear plan of attack for what your training will consist of in the final weeks before competition and the peace of mind given to an athlete who feels confident that they have done all they can to perform when it counts the most.
There are 3 areas in which adaptation occurs within the body during a taper:
When tapering for a meet, the body experiences a change in its biochemistry. The most well known marker of recovery from training stress and muscle damage is a reduction in Creatine Kinase level in the lifters bloodstream. Realistically, most lifters will not have access to regular blood work during a taper but a simple test of your resting heart rate prior to beginning your taper compared with tests during and after the taper can serve as an indicator of recovery. It is important to keep outside stressors low during this time to avoid counterproductive biochemical responses.
During a taper your endocrine system switches your hormones into overdrive with increases in Testosterone, Cortisol, and Insulin. Specifically, there is an increase in T-Serum (Testosterone) and a slight decrease in resting Cortisol levels typically indicate a correct taper.
Increases in strength and power are commonly observed following a taper, as well as a general increase in neuromuscular function. Snatch, being the more technical of the Olympic movements, requires more neuromuscular adaptation and will be trained at a lower intensity during the taper when compared to the Clean & Jerk. Compared with the Clean & Jerk, which can be trained at a higher intensity during the taper without draining neuromuscular function.
The three taper TYPES:
Linear - The most common type, defined as a consistent decrease in volume and intensity over the taper period eventually approaching zero in the training days leading up to the competition.
Exponential - A sharp drop in volume and intensity at the beginning of the taper, followed by a long period of decreased load over the majority of the taper period.
Stepped - An initial drop off in workload, followed by a step back up to a little less than usual working intensity, then a sharp drop off leading into the meet.
California Strength has found the stepped taper to be the most effective, which is why we prescribe it to all of our athletes in preparation for a competition. For an especially important event, a full 2 week taper is going to yield the greatest results. However, for local or small meets we have developed a mini-taper which allows you to continue training using your current programming and plug in a pre-prescribed peak. We have outlined how to program this taper below. Implement this taper within your own training, and find the confidence to perform at your absolute best when it matters the most!
Below is an example of a Micro-Taper that we use for small, local competitions. To program a full Step-Taper, you would add an additional week of workouts and increase the first weeks percentages by roughly 5%.
5 Days Out: Snatch Complex - 3 rounds of 1 high pull, 1 hang snatch at 70% of 1RM Snatch. Power Clean up to 80% of 1RM CJ. Front Squat - 3x1 at 85% of 1RM Front Squat
4 Days Out: Snatch - Work up to Opener, CJ - Work up to last Warm Up attempt
3 Days Out: Power Snatch: 4x1 at 80% of 1RM Snatch, Power Clean & Jerk: 3x1 at 75% of 1RM CJ. Back Squat 3x2 at 80% of 1RM Back Squat
2 Days Out: Snatch - Work up to last warm up attempt or at least 85% of 1RM, CJ - Work to 80% then drop 10-15kg down for 2 singles
1 Day Out: Warm Up: Snatch - 3 singles at 60% CJ - 3 singles at 55%, Front Squat - 3x1 at 75% of 1RM Front Squat
General Advice for Tapering
Minimise day-to-day physiological & mental stressors. The week leading up to your meet is not the time to schedule that survivorman style camping trip. Nor is it the time to take on extra overtime at work, if you can avoid it.
Consistent quality rest. Ensure you’re able to get enough sleep at night. It is not just about getting sleep, but getting quality sleep that makes the difference. Take a nap during the day if you can manage it!
Eat enough. Make sure you’re eating enough protein and calories in general to ensure a healthy hormonal balance and maintain energy levels. If you must cut weight, a safe water load is the best way to go about this.
Feeling bad is normal. It’s generally accepted that an athlete is going to feel sluggish, sometimes even with flu like symptoms. These are normal and are indicators of positive adaptations within your endocrine system.
After you’ve successfully completely your taper, it’s time go out and kill that comp!