Every athlete has the natural desire to “panic train” in the weeks leading up to the event. It’s completely natural to feel this way—wanting to utilize every ounce of energy possible to get into peak condition.
But in the final weeks of training, it’s the rest more than the work that will improve your fitness the most.
If you're preparing for any athletic endeavors, this will cover the preparation plan for peak performance known as the taper.
The Need to Dial Back
Killing yourself in the final weeks before an event isn’t going to make any significant improvements, but by neglecting recovery, you’re likely to blunt the physiological adaptations you’ve been working hard to achieve.
Hard training sessions also increase your risk of injury, and with little time before the big date, you’ve got little time for the body to adequately heal itself.
Don’t fear a performance drop-off with a few weeks of deload, either!
On the contrary, you’re more likely to boost performance by turning down the training plan. For example, track and field athletes significantly increase explosive ability and performance following a 3-week taper (ref). Additionally, tapering has been shown to benefit strength among weightlifters (ref), and improve performance for endurance athletes such as runners, swimmers, cyclists, rowers, and triathletes (ref).
Although, the taper is not as simple as taking time off! There is a correct taper formula for maximum benefit to maintain your gains or even improve them a bit.
Intensity, Load, and Volume
Assuming you’ve been busting your butt to this point, it’s time to start reducing your training load in the final 2 to 3 weeks prior.
The three big factors in the prescription for training load are intensity, volume, and frequency.
Intensity- The percent of your max capacity you’re working.
Volume- The total number of reps and sets (which is amplified with greater intensity).
Frequency- The number of training sessions.
The key to a successful taper is DON’T back off the intensity!
Endurance athletes still go at race pace, and strength and power athletes hit heavy lifts. The studies show that endurance and strength performance may improve slightly by training at high intensities leading up to the event (ref). These increases are likely due to the bump in intensity facilitated by the extra recovery, but there may even be a potentiation effect provided by heavy lifting in the days leading up to a competition.
So, without adjusting the intensity of your workouts, volume and frequency must be decreased to reduce the training load.
Starting with frequency, it’s not the time to start skipping workouts. Being in the gym and feeling the energy should keep you motivated for what’s coming next.
Laying back tends to spark laziness, and nutrition can go off the rails.
This leaves volume as the final variable in the formula. The amount of what you’re doing in the gym should decrease significantly. The research shows that dropping volume by 50% provides the best results (ref).
Calm Your Nerves
If you’re planning on an event and want to be the most competitive, with a few weeks to go cut back your training by winding down the volume.
As mentioned earlier, you should still spend time in the gym or on the road, doing a few mini workouts, which will leave you with some time to fill!
Not a problem….Fill the extra time with work to optimize your movement!
If there are specific skills you’re lacking, spend time working on performing those movements better.
Additionally, using your Crossover Symmetry Shoulder and Hip & Core System several times each day is a great way to “grease the groove” for better joint stability and mobility.