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Tapering Practices of Strongman Athletes

Winwood, Paul, W.1,2; Dudson, Mike, K.1,2; Wilson, Daniel1,2; Mclaren-Harrison, Justice, K.H.1,2; Redjkins, Vladislav3,4; Pritchard, Hayden, J.1,5; Keogh, Justin, W.L.6,1,7

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: May 2018 - Volume 32 - Issue 5 - p 1181–1196
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002453
Original Research

Winwood, PW, Dudson, MK, Wilson, D, Mclaren-Harrison, JKH, Redjkins, V, Pritchard, HJ, and Keogh, JWL. Tapering practices of strongman athletes. J Strength Cond Res 32(5): 1181–1196, 2018—This study provides the first empirical evidence of how strongman athletes taper for strongman competitions. Strongman athletes (n = 454) (mean ± SD: 33.2 ± 8.0 years, 178.1 ± 10.6 cm, 108.6 ± 27.9 kg, 12.6 ± 8.9 years general resistance training, 5.3 ± 5.0 years strongman implement training) completed a self-reported 4-page internet survey on tapering practices. Analysis by sex (male and female), age (≤30 and >30 years), body mass (≤105 and >105 kg), and competitive standard (local/regional amateur, national amateur and professional) was conducted. Eighty-seven percent (n = 396) of strongman athletes reported that they used a taper. Athletes stated that their typical taper length was 8.6 ± 5.0 days, with the step taper the most commonly performed taper (52%). Training volume decreased during the taper by 45.5 ± 12.9%, and all training ceased 3.9 ± 1.8 days out from competition. Typically, athletes reported that training frequency and training duration stayed the same or decreased and training intensity decreased to around 50% in the last week. Athletes generally stated that tapering was performed to achieve recovery, rest, and peak performance; the deadlift, yoke walk, and stone lifts/work took longer to recover from than other lifts; assistance exercises were reduced or removed in the taper; massage, foam rolling, nutritional changes, and static stretching were strategies used in the taper; and, poor tapering occurred when athletes trained too heavy/hard or had too short a taper. These data will assist strongman athletes and coaches in the optimization of tapering variables leading to more peak performances. Future research could investigate the priming and preactivation strategies strongman athletes use on competition day.

1Sport Performance Research in New Zealand (SPRINZ), AUT Millennium Institute, AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand;

2Department of Sport and Recreation, Faculty of Community Health and Wellness, Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology, Tauranga, New Zealand;

3Department of Hospitality, Tourism and Sport Industry, Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, Moscow, Russia;

4World Strongman Federation, Belorussian Information Center, Riga, Latvia;

5Department of Exercise and Sport Science, Faculty of Health & Science, University College of Learning, Palmerston North, New Zealand;

6Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia; and

7Cluster for Health Improvement, Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

Address correspondence to Dr. Paul W. Winwood, paul.winwood@toiohomai.ac.nz.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal's Web site (http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr).

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Introduction

Strongman is a sport that is similar to weightlifting and powerlifting, in which training is primarily focused on the improvement of maximal strength and power to improve competition performance (31,32,42). Some strongman events such as the axle deadlift or log press are similar to those in weightlifting and powerlifting competitions in which the athlete attempts to lift the heaviest load possible for 1 repetition. Other events such as the farmer's walk and yoke walk are timed with the winner being the fastest athlete to complete the required distance under a specified load. Unlike the sports of weightlifting and powerlifting, substantial between competition differences can be observed in the types of events, loading parameters (i.e., 1 repetition maximum [1RM] events vs. maximal repetitions with a given load and time frame) and required distances for carrying events. These differences in the competitive demands of strongman compared with weightlifting and powerlifting suggest that there may be some differences in the manner strongman athletes should taper for competitions compared with these other sports.

The taper is the final period of an athlete's training before a major competition and is of paramount importance to performance and therefore potentially the outcome of the event (22,25,33,36). During the taper, the training load is progressively reduced to allow for physiological and psychological recovery from accumulated stress, with the aim of optimizing competition performance (24,26). However, the taper is a complex procedure because training load can be reduced through the manipulation of numerous variables, such as training intensity, volume, duration, and frequency (24,29,40). Complete cessation of training for a period can lead to detraining, which is a partial or complete loss of training-induced anatomical, physiological, and performance adaptations (23), and conversely, inadequate rest can lead to fatigue, performance decrements, and burn out (11). Therefore, achieving the appropriate balance between training stress and recovery during the taper is important in maximizing performance (19). Bosquet et al. (5) suggested that a taper duration of 8–14 days seems to represent the borderline between the positive influences of fatigue disappearance and the negative influence of detraining on performance in endurance athletes. However, determining the most suitable duration of taper can be challenging as the optimum taper duration may be influenced by the demands of the sport and the athletes' previous training intensity and volume (18).

Three different types of taper have been described in the literature, including the step taper, the linear taper, and an exponential taper with a fast or slow decay (24). The step taper involves a complete and immediate decrease in training load, which is maintained for the duration of the taper, whereas the linear taper involves a gradual decrease in training load in a progressive linear fashion. The exponential taper is a progressive taper and can occur with a fast or slow time constant decay, with the training load remaining higher during the slow decay taper. The literature on the optimal taper format for strength sports has been limited and recommendations have relied on the general work of Banister et al. (2) and Bosquet et al. (5) obtained from studies involving endurance athletes. These 2 endurance studies reported greater performance improvements after a progressive taper than a step taper and that a fast decay (with lower training volume) was more beneficial to cycling and running performance than a slow decay of the training load (2,5). For detail on the physiological changes associated with the taper, readers are referred to the review article by Mujika et al. (26).

Recently, researchers (12,28) have investigated the tapering practices of Croatian (n = 10) and New Zealand (n = 11) open-class powerlifters (respectively), which are to the authors' knowledge, the first studies to offer some insight into tapering for maximal strength sports. The studies found that the average taper length was generally 2.5 weeks in which athletes dropped their training volume by 51–59%. Training intensity was highest between 1 and 2 weeks out from competition, and the last training session was performed 3–4 days out from competition. Only the study of Grgic and Mikulic (12) investigated taper types, and they found that 60% of the Croatian powerlifters performed the exponential taper with a fast decay and 40% used the step taper. Although these studies have their limitations with small participant numbers, they are the first studies to document the tapering practices of powerlifting athletes, which provide important data that other lifters can extrapolate to plan their powerlifting taper.

Currently, no such data exist in the scientific literature for the sport of strongman. Winwood et al. (42) found that 80% of strongman athletes incorporated some form of periodization into their training, which suggests that most strongman competitors design their training to emphasize particular adaptations with the goal of increasing physical performance. Given that the taper is the final phase of an athlete's training before a major competition, it is important to ascertain how strongman athletes taper for strongman competitions. Because strongman athletes may be at greater risk for injury during competition than training (15,41), a successful taper that allows strongman athletes to recover from their recent training stressors may also reduce their risk of in-competition injury. The purposes of this study were to (a) investigate the tapering practices and types of tapering used by strongman athletes and (b) collect athletes typical weekly training characteristics. The researchers believed that it was important to present data on strongman athletes' typical training characteristics to give insight into strongman athletes' pretaper approaches to place the tapering data in context.

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Methods

Experimental Approach to the Problem

A comprehensive strongman tapering practices survey was administered online and aimed at identifying how strongman athletes taper for strongman competitions. The research hypothesis was that most strongman athletes responding to the online survey would perform some form of taper in their strength and conditioning programs. The Tapering Practices of Strongman Athletes survey created for this study was based on 9 interview questions used with powerlifters (12,28). A test-retest reliability study performed with 64 strongman athletes on this survey provided stable and reliable answers for most of the demographic, training, and tapering practice questions (43).

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Subjects

Six hundred ninety participants accessed the online survey, which included those who observed the survey, partially completed the survey, and the 454 who completed the survey. Participant inclusion criteria were male and female strongman athletes who were between 18 and 65 years old and had competed in at least 1 strongman competition. The criterion for a completed survey was that the participants completed the first 3 sections of the questionnaire on personal details, training practices, and tapering.

Strongmen athletes were recruited through professional networks and multimedia methods similar to previously described procedures (41,42). The networking site “Facebook” and strongman competition results posted on the Internet were the primary method used to identify eligible strongman athletes. Identified strongman athletes were sent a letter through “Facebook Messenger.” The letter contained an invitation to participate in the research and the link to the online survey. Presidents of the “World Strongman Federation” and “Strongman Corporation” e-mailed the survey link to their club members. Strongman clubs in New Zealand, Australia, Europe, the United States, and the United Kingdom were also contacted and asked to e-mail the survey link to their club members. The survey was available in English and Russian language options. An information sheet outlining the objectives and purpose of the study was situated on the first page of the online survey. Participants were asked to indicate their consent by participating in the survey, and so participants provided informed and signed consent. Software used allowed participants to exit the survey at any time and complete at a later date, allowing participants to provide their data at the time most suitable to them. To minimize the effect of recall bias, strongman athletes who were not currently tapering or actively involved in competition were asked to refer to their training diaries when answering the survey. Surveygizmo.com was used to launch the electronic survey on the Internet. The methods and procedures used in this study were approved by the Institutional Review Board Committee of Toiohomai Institute of Technology (R17/05).

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Procedures

Research Instrument

Strongman athletes completed a self-reported 4-page, 38-item, retrospective Tapering Practices of Strongman Athletes survey (see Appendix 1, Supplemental Digital Content 1, http://links.lww.com/JSCR/A71) created for this study based on 9 interview questions used with powerlifters (12,28). The original strongman tapering practices survey was pilot tested with research associates from various universities and 3 strongman athletes to ensure its ease of use with this population. As a result of the pilot testing, the survey was modified by adding additional questions, as well as improving the wording of a small number of questions before it was made available for the main study.

The strongman tapering practices survey consisted of 4 main areas of inquiry; (a) demographics and background information; (b) training practices; (c) tapering; and (d) tapering practices. Background information included questions on age, sex, height, body mass, resistance training experience, strongman training experience, competitive level, and coaching. The training practices section included questions pertaining to the number of training sessions per week, types of training, and duration. Types of training were categorized as cardiovascular training (aerobic and anaerobic), traditional training, and strongman implement training. Strongman implement training was defined as: “exercises using any nontraditional training implements” (e.g., atlas stones, farmer's bars, etc.). Traditional exercises were standard exercises performed in the gym by regular weight trainers and strength athletes (e.g., deadlift, squat, rows, etc.). Participants were asked to detail their common/typical values for each question. For the tapering section, athletes were asked to indicate whether they used a taper and their reasons why they used a taper or not. The tapering practices section included questions on the length of taper and taper type, if they always tapered, strategies used and how training altered during the taper (i.e., volume, frequency, intensity and duration, type of training performed, and when last performed before competition) and when training ceased in the taper. Tapering was defined as “a reduction in training volume over a period of time prior to a strongman event or strongman events.” Classifications of tapering (i.e., step taper, linear taper, and exponential taper with a slow or fast decay) were defined according to the taper types described and applied previously (24). Closed questions were used for sections 1 and 2, with open and closed questions used for section 3.

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Statistical Analyses

Mean and SDs were calculated for the participant characteristics, training practices, and taper training characteristics. Frequencies of responses were collated for questions related to the tapering practices of strongman athletes. Categorical and ordinal data were reported as both absolute numbers and percentage of responses. Scores for ranked questions were determined by weighted calculation in SurveyGizmo; items that were ranked first scored higher than the following ranks, so that the total score was the sum of all weighted ranks. Weighted calculations were based on the number of options represented.

Answers to open-ended questions on tapering practices were content-analyzed by investigators who were experienced with qualitative methods of sports science research and content analysis. During data analysis, investigators generated raw data and higher-order themes through independent, inductive content analysis and compared independently generated themes until consensus was reached at each level of analysis. At the point of development of higher-order themes, deductive analysis was used to confirm that all raw data themes were represented. In some cases, the participants provided greater depth of information that represented more than one concept and hence responses contributed to more than one higher-order theme.

Demographics and training practices were calculated for all participants, as well as the various subgroups of sex, age (≤30 and >30 years), body mass (lightweight <105 kg and heavyweight ≥105 kg), and competitive standard (local/regional amateur, national amateur, professional). Masters' classes such as those seen in powerlifting are not generally seen in the sport of strongman; therefore, the age groups were chosen post hoc to allow for a similar sample size for group comparisons. A body mass of 105 kg was used to separate the athletes as the 2 most common bodyweight classes in strongman competition are ≤105 and 105 kg (open competition category).

A 2-tailed unequal variance t-test was used to determine whether any statistical differences (p ≤ 0.01) existed in the demographics and training data of the strongman athletes as a function of sex, age, and body mass. A 1-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with Bonferroni post hoc tests was used to determine whether any statistical differences existed among competitive standard (i.e., local/regional amateur, National amateur, and professional) and between taper type lengths. For data that did not follow normal distribution, the Mann-Whitney and Kruskal-Wallis nonparametric tests were used (respectively). Differences among the subgroups regarding coaching, tapering, taper type, and categorized taper length (<7, 7–10, 11–14, and >14 days), were analyzed with a Chi-square test. Repeated-measures ANOVA with Bonferroni pairwise comparisons were used to determine whether any statistical differences existed among strongman events and among traditional exercises in regard to loads used (as a % 1RM) and days when the events/exercises were last performed during the taper. Significance was accepted at the p ≤ 0.01 level. All statistical analyses were performed using SPSS 22.0 for Windows (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA) and higher-order themes were generated using Microsoft Excel (version 9.0; Microsoft, Seattle, WA, USA).

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Results

Demographics and Training Characteristics

Four hundred fifty-four strongman athletes from 42 countries completed the survey. Demographics and training characteristics of the participants (n = 454) are presented in Table 1. The strongman athletes were (mean ± SD) 33.2 ± 8.0 years, 178.1 ± 10.6 cm, 108.6 ± 27.9 kg, and had 12.6 ± 8.9 years of general resistance training experience. The average strongman implement training experience and years competing in strongman among all lifters was 5.3 ± 5.0 and 4.6 ± 4.4 years, respectively. Participants reported that on average, they trained for 111 ± 37 minutes per session and spent 4.0 ± 1.3 hours per week resistance training and 2.2 ± 1.6 hours per week cardiovascular training. Subgroup analyses revealed that men had significantly greater resistance training experience (years) (14.0 ± 9.0 vs. 7.6 ± 6.4), strongman training experience (years) (6.0 ± 5.3 vs. 2.8 ± 2.8), and more years competing in the sport of strongman (5.2 ± 4.7 vs. 2.6 ± 2.6), than females. Such differences were also observed in participants who were older, heavier, and of a higher competitive standard. Participants who were older, lighter, and those of lower competitive standard had significantly lower average training lengths (minutes) compared with their counterparts.

Table 1

Table 1

Participants were asked to indicate what their usual resistance training looked like per week. A summary of their responses is presented in Figure 1. Sixty-five percent of strongman athletes reported that their resistance training week comprised mainly traditional training with 1 or 2 strongman implement training sessions.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Participants indicated what their usual cardiovascular training looked like per week. A summary of their responses is presented in Figure 2. A wide range of types of cardiovascular training was reported. Aerobic training with one anaerobic training session and combined aerobic and anaerobic training was reported by 40% of participants. Seventeen percent of strongman athletes reported that they did not perform any cardiovascular training.

Figure 2

Figure 2

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Coaching and Taper Characteristics

The coaching and taper characteristics of strongman athletes are presented in Table 2. Over half (53%) of the athletes were self-coached and 38% had a coach. Athletes who selected “other” (n = 39) specified that they received “some coaching” and “mentoring from coaches” and “other athletes.” Subgroup analyses revealed significant differences in coaching between males and females (χ2 = 68.62, degrees of freedom [df] = 2, p < 0.001) and between body mass class (χ2 = 27.59, df = 2, p < 0.001). Most female strongman athletes had a coach (74 vs. 29%) and heavier athletes were more self-coached (65 vs. 40%). Differences in coaching that approached significance were also observed between age groups (p = 0.031) and competitive standard (p = 0.015).

Table 2

Table 2

Eighty-seven percent (n = 396) of athletes indicated that they use a taper in preparation for strongman competitions (Table 2). Of the 250 athletes who completed the tapering practices section of the survey, 52% (n = 131) indicated that the step taper was the most common type of taper they used. Some strongman athletes made comments on why they used the step taper. The main themes generated were the only type of taper used, feels best for rest and recovery, what was advised, and easy to program.

Strongman athletes (n = 396) provided reasons or made specific comments of why they tapered. A summary of these responses is presented in Table 3. The 3 main reasons reported were recovery, peak performance, and rest. Of the 58 strongman athletes who reported that they did not taper for strongman competitions, 34 athletes provided reasons or made specific comments of why they chose not to taper. A summary of these responses is presented in Table 4. The 3 main themes emerging from the data were training cessation/reduction, habitual practice, and lack of knowledge.

Table 3

Table 3

Table 4

Table 4

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Taper Length and Taper Characteristics

Strongman athletes' (n = 250) taper length and taper training characteristics are presented in Table 5. Participants indicated that their normal taper length was 8.6 ± 5.0 days and that all training ceased 3.9 ± 1.8 days before competition. Subgroup analyses revealed no significant differences for taper length and taper training characteristics for sex, age, body mass, and competitive standard. A graphical representation of the athletes tapering timeline is presented in Figure 3.

Table 5

Table 5

Figure 3

Figure 3

When the taper lengths were categorized, differences that approached significance were observed between body mass classes, with lighter athletes tending to have a higher proportion of shorter taper lengths compared with heavier athletes. Additional analysis revealed that the “step taper” was significantly shorter than the “exponential taper” (with a fast and slow decay) (7.9 ± 3.4 vs. 11.3 ± 7.4 days; p = 0.002) (respectively). No differences were observed for the “linear taper” (9.2 ± 6.3 days) and “other” (8.3 ± 5.2 days) taper. Strongman athletes reported that their final heavy training session (>85% 1RM) was 9.1 ± 3.3 days out from competition and the final resistance training session (at any weight) was 4.7 ± 2.0 days.

The average loading intensity used in the final heavy training session preceding a competitive event was 91%. Completion of the final heavy session generally was located at the end of the final peaking phase of training before implementation of the athlete's respective tapering method leading to competition. The rationale for the final heavy session was commonly associated with building confidence through training lifts at intensities close to what will be encountered in competition, followed by recovery and priming during the tapering phase. The average loading intensity used in the final training session was 68%. Priming was the main theme that emerged from the final training session followed by movement and mobility work. Recovery and psychological readiness were also related themes for the athlete's last training session.

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Types of Training Performed During the Taper

Strongman athletes reported what type of training they do during their taper. A summary of these responses is presented in Figure 4. Muscular strength and muscular power were the most common types of training performed followed by aerobic conditioning. “Other” types of training included practicing events and fine-tuning technique, specific event conditioning, speed work, and improving flexibility, mobility, and recovery.

Figure 4

Figure 4

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Strongman Events and Traditional Exercises Performed During the Taper

Strongman athletes reported what loads were typically used and when the main strongman events and traditional exercises were last performed during the taper (Table 6). Of the strongman events, the log lift and farmer's walk were performed significantly (p < 0.001) closer to competition than the yoke walk and stone lifts/work. Of the traditional resistance training exercises, the overhead press and bench press were performed significantly (p < 0.001) closer to competition than the deadlift. A significant difference (p = 0.008) was also observed between the squat and overhead presses with the squat being performed further out from competition than overhead presses. No statistical differences were observed between loads used (% 1RM) among strongman events and among traditional exercises.

Table 6

Table 6

Strongman athletes also reported what loads were typically used for other strongman events and traditional exercises and when they were last performed during the taper. Loads used and days out from taper (respectively) were reported for the axle lift/press (75.7 ± 16.6% 1RM; 5.5 ± 1.8 days, n = 79), sled/truck pull (76.7 ± 18.2% 1RM; 6.7 ± 1.8 days, n = 51), tire flip (81.0 ± 13.0% 1RM; 6.1 ± 1.5 days, n = 42), traditional assistance exercises (65.9 ± 13.6% 1RM; 4.9 ± 1.8 days, n = 46), and Olympic lifts (65.5 ± 13.2% 1RM; 5.1 ± 1.5 days, n = 34).

Strongman athletes were asked whether any other changes were made in terms of exercises being removed or added to their training programs. Fifty percent of athletes indicated that they reduced or removed assistance exercises and concentrated mainly on the core lifts. Twelve percent of athletes reported that they reduced or dropped the main exercises and used assistance exercises to help promote blood flow and aid recovery. Ten percent of athletes incorporated more stretching and mobility exercises in their taper.

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Changes in Intensity, Frequency, and Duration During the Taper

Strongman athletes (n = 246) reported how their training intensity, frequency, and duration change during the taper. A summary of their responses is presented in Figure 5. Most strongman athletes reported that their training intensity decreases (55%), training frequency stays the same (57%) or decreases (40%) and training duration decreases (59%) or stays the same (37%).

Figure 5

Figure 5

Strongman athletes elaborated on how their training intensity, frequency, and duration changed during their taper. The athletes who decreased their training intensity during the taper stated that volume was reduced and intensity dropped to around 50% in the last week. A reduction in volume was also indicated by the athletes who increased their training intensity during the taper. Of the athletes who did not change intensity during the taper, the majority of this subgroup reported that they lifted lighter weights.

Athletes who indicated that their training frequency stayed the same, generally implemented higher competition specificity and technical work on competition lifts, in addition to volume and intensity changes. A decrease in training frequency (by 40–60%, down to 2–3 sessions per week) was indicated by some athletes as a result of more recovery days and longer periods between training sessions. Declines in training frequency were generally associated with reduced training volume and loading intensities. Complete training cessation was apparent for some athletes during the 7–10 days preceding competition, which was accompanied by a higher integration of active recovery and stretching sessions.

Most athletes stated that training duration decreased (on average by 50%, down to 30–60 minutes of sessions) during their taper. The decrease was generally due to less volume of work (i.e., sets and reps) and exercises (i.e., less accessory work), longer rest periods associated with higher training loads, or lesser rest periods associated with lighter training loads. Training duration stayed the same for some athletes because of lower volume accompanied with increased rest between sets.

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Other Taper Strategies Used by Strongman Athletes

Strongman athletes were asked to specify what other types of strategies they used during their taper. A summary of their responses is presented in Figure 6. Most strongman athletes used massage, foam rolling, nutritional changes, and static stretching in their taper. Other strategies included chiropractic and osteopath care, physiotherapy (included cupping and dry needling), mobility and active release work, hot and cold therapy, flotation, breathing work, sleep and meditation, and visualization of events.

Figure 6

Figure 6

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When Tapering Did Not Work and Why?

Strongman athletes (n = 86) provided reasons or made specific comments of when tapering did not work and why. A summary of their responses is presented in Table 7. The 3 main reasons reported were injury and illness, training too heavy, or too hard and taking too short a taper.

Table 7

Table 7

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Discussion

The literature on the optimal taper format for strength sports has been limited. This study is the first to document the tapering practices used by strongman athletes. Strongman athletes reduced their training volume during the taper by 45.5 ± 12.9% with most athletes (55%) stating that their training intensity decreased to around 50% in the last week. Training frequency and training duration stayed the same or decreased during the taper, and most athletes (50%) indicated that they reduced or removed assistance exercises and concentrated mainly on the core lifts. Muscular strength and power were the main types of training performed during the taper followed by aerobic conditioning. The use of massage, foam rolling, nutritional changes, and static stretching strategies were also used in their taper. Strongman athletes stated that their typical taper length was 8.6 ± 5.0 days, and the step taper was the most common type of taper (52%) performed. The findings support the initial hypothesis that most strongman athletes responding to the online survey performed some form of taper in their strength and conditioning programs.

Eighty-seven percent (n = 396) of athletes reported that they used some form of taper in preparation for strongman competitions. The primary reasons reported for performing the taper were recovery, peak performance, rest, and psychological readiness. Previous researchers have stated that the aim of the taper is to facilitate regeneration and reduce fatigue, while maintaining or increasing fitness and technical/psychological readiness to promote maximal performance in competition (5,19,21,24,26). Interestingly, some strongman athletes (n = 13) who reported not using a taper, performed a peaking strategy in the form of a deload week or training cessation.

Strongman athletes indicated that their normal taper length was 8.6 ± 5.0 days, which is lower than what has been reported among powerlifters (18 ± 8 and 16.8 ± 6.3 days, respectively) (12,28) but within the guidelines (8–14 days) previously suggested for endurance athletes (5). Interestingly, in the study involving 10 Croatian powerlifters, Grgic and Mikulic (12) found that the HI group (Wilks coefficient > 350) had a much longer taper (18 ± 8 vs. 9 ± 1 days) than the LO group (Wilks coefficient < 350) who were coached and comprised mostly of women. It was surmised that the duration of taper may differ by the strength level or sex of the athlete. In contrast, no significant differences in taper duration and taper training characteristics were observed in this study between any subgroups (sex, age, body mass, and competitive standard).

The step taper was the most common type of taper (52%) performed by strongman athletes. Strongman athletes stated that the step taper felt best for rest and recovery and was easy to program. Previous studies (8,13) have reported that a 1-week step taper can improve strength measures in well-trained athletes. Grgic and Mikulic (12) found that Croatian powerlifters performed the step (40%) and exponential taper with a fast decay (60%). These tapers provide greater reductions in training load, compared with a linear and slow decay tapers, which give athletes more time for overcoming the fatigue accumulated during the last few weeks of intensive and extensive training before the taper (29). In this study, exponential tapers (i.e., fast and slow decay) were grouped (as previously reported in a reliability analysis (43)) and the exponential taper was found to be significantly longer duration than the step taper (11.3 ± 7.4 vs. 7.9 ± 3.4 days; p = 0.002) (respectively). Taper types and durations may be influenced by athletes' previous training load (18,19,29,34) and by the severity of fatigue the athletes carried into the taper process (5).

Strongman athletes decreased their training volume by 45.5 ± 12.9%, which is lower than those reported (58.9 ± 8.4 and 50.5 ± 11.7%) by New Zealand and Croatian powerlifters (respectively), but within the recommended guidelines (41–61%) stated in the literature (5). However, it has been suggested that athletes should consider volume reductions relative to the duration of the planned taper with larger decreases in volume for shorter tapers and more gradual reductions for tapers of longer duration (34,40). Interestingly, strongman athletes had a shorter taper and lower reduction in training volume than reported by powerlifters, with this perhaps reflecting the greater number of competitive events that comprise a strongman competition compared with powerlifting. Most strongman athletes reduced training intensity (by 50%) and training duration (by 50%, down to 30–60 minutes sessions), and maintained training frequency. Researchers have suggested that reductions in training volume should be achieved by decreasing the duration of training sessions, rather than decreasing the frequency and intensity of training (5). It seems that for strongman athletes to optimize a shorter taper period and lower reduction in training volume, manipulation of other training variables are used.

Strongman athletes' highest training volume occurred 4.3 ± 2.9 weeks out from competition, which is similar to those reported (4.5 ± 1.8 and 5.2 ± 1.7 weeks, respectively) for powerlifters (12,28). However, strongman athletes' reported highest training intensity (2.5 ± 0.9 weeks) was further out from competition (1.1 ± 0.4 and 1.9 ± 0.8 weeks, respectively) than powerlifters (12,28). Such differences may be influenced by the potentially greater physiological demands (4,10,16,20) and injury risks associated with strongman implement training (15,41). Winwood et al. (41) found that strongman athletes were almost twice as likely to sustain injury when performing strongman implement training compared with traditional training when exposure time was considered. It was also reported that of the 174 strongman athletes, 31% had sustained at least 1 competition injury (41) which may provide insight into why most athletes in this study reduced their training intensity during the taper.

Strongman athletes' training cessation was 3.9 ± 1.8 days out from competition. These findings are similar to those reported (3 ± 1 and 3.7 ± 1.5 days, respectively) by Croatian (12) and New Zealand (28) powerlifters. Previous researchers have reported that 3–4 days of strength training cessation may be optimal for maximal strength expression (38,39). However, no differences in training abstinence of 2, 4, and 7 days on the expression of maximal strength (bench press and squat) have been reported (1). Similar results were also reported by Pritchard et al. (27) who found that both 3.5 and 5.5 days off training have similar effects on strength performance measures (countermovement jump and isometric bench press relative force). These studies demonstrate that a training cessation of less than a week may be suitable for allowing for the expression of maximal strength.

Strongman athletes reported that their final heavy training session (performed with a loading intensity of 91%) was 9.1 ± 3.3 days out from competition. Athletes reported that this training session built confidence through training lifts at competition intensities and was located at the end of the final peaking phase before implementation of the athlete's taper. The peaking process has been described in the literature (35) as a 2-phase process, comprising of a pretapering phase and the final taper period culminating with the intended competition. The aim of the pretapering phase is to stimulate a controlled “over-reaching state” and elicit a supercompensatory adaptive response in the following taper (35).

Strongman athletes reported that their final resistance training session (at any weight) was 4.7 ± 2.0 days out from competition. Athletes reported that this training session was performed with an average loading intensity of 68% and was associated with priming, movement, and mobility work. Researchers (7,17) have demonstrated that priming activities performed in the hours leading to competition further improve performance on the day of a match. Currently, little information exists on the priming and preactivation strategies that strongman athletes use on competition day.

Muscular strength, muscular power, and aerobic conditioning were the most common types of training performed by strongman athletes during the taper. These training types are consistent with strongman training practices previously reported (42) and of the results of previous studies that reported the need for very high levels of muscular power (16), metabolic conditioning (4), high core and hip abduction strength/stability, and overall strength in strongman athletes (20).

Strongman athletes in this study indicated what loads were typically used and when the main strongman events and traditional exercises were last performed during the taper. Although no statistical differences were observed between loads used (% 1RM) among strongman events and among traditional exercises, statistical differences were observed among strongman events and traditional exercises when last performed during the taper. The log lift (5.7 ± 2.0 days) and farmer's walk (6.1 ± 1.8 days) were performed significantly closer to competition than the stone lifts/work (7.6 ± 2.8 days) and yoke walk (8.2 ± 3.5 days). Researchers have reported that stone lift and yoke walk events accounted for the highest number of injuries in strongman athletes compared with other strongman events (41). Such injuries may be a result of the very high lower erector spinae activity associated with the stone lift and high spinal compression loads associated with the Yoke walk (20).

Of the traditional resistance training exercises, the overhead presses (5.3 ± 1.9 days) and bench press (5.7 ± 2.1 days) were performed significantly closer to competition than the deadlift (7.8 ± 3.2 days). Previous researchers (28) have reported that powerlifters' final deadlift session was further out from competition than their final bench press and squat session so athletes could gain additional recovery time. In this study, the squat was also performed significantly further out from competition (6.6 ± 3.2 days) than overhead presses. Traditional exercises such as the deadlift and squat produce exceedingly large hip extensor torques (6) and compressive or shear lumbar forces (6,9), which may influence postexercise fatigue. Recently, researchers (3) found no differences in central fatigue between the squat and deadlift exercises, which could indicate that similar recovery times are needed for these exercises. It is quite likely that strongman athletes are aware of the physiological stresses associated with strongman and traditional exercises and program the appropriate recovery periods near competition.

Strongman athletes indicated that massage, foam rolling, nutritional changes, and static stretching were types of strategies used in their taper. The use of foam rolling and nutritional changes were also tapering strategies reported by powerlifters (28). Studies have shown that myofascial release through massage and foam rolling acts as a mood enhancer and reduces fatigue, thereby acting as an ergogenic aid (14,37) and the nutritional benefits for sports performance are well documented (30). Other strategies (chiropractic and osteopath care, physiotherapy, hot and cold therapy, flotation, breathing work, sleep and meditation, and visualization of events) were also used by strongman athletes during the taper. The strategies reported by strongman athletes provide insight into potential recovery and performance enhancing modalities that may be beneficial for strongman competition performance. Whether all of these precompetition strategies are beneficial, performance may still need to be determined, because the evidence base for some of the strategies may still be limited.

Strongman athletes (n = 86) provided some insight into when tapering did not work. The main reasons reported were injury and illness, training too heavy or too hard, and taking too short a taper. Overexertion during the taper was a common theme reported among powerlifters (12,28). The researchers (12,28) suggested that powerlifters use training diaries to monitor their responses to training and tapering. Such practice allows athletes to accurately reflect upon their training and tapering practices, which may better inform their training practices. Previous researchers (42) have reported that most strongman athletes (83%) use a training diary/log in their strength and conditioning practice. Strongman athletes in the current were asked to refer to their training diaries/logs when completing the online tapering practices survey to minimize the limitation of recall bias. To further improve the robustness of this study design, a test-retest reliability analysis was conducted on the strongman tapering practices survey (43) to support the inferences drawn from this study.

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Practical Applications

This article serves as the first comprehensive description of tapering practices of strongman athletes. The information in this study will serve to help strongman athletes, coaches, and sports scientists in their goal of achieving the optimum training mix during the taper, leading to more peak performances at the expected time of the season.

To taper successfully, strongman athletes should reduce the total amount of volume of training relative to the duration of the planned taper. For shorter tapers (<10 days), volume reductions may be best performed using a step taper with reductions in training duration and intensity. Tapering should include a high degree of competition specificity including technical work on competition lifts. Such training will assist with reduction of fatigue while maintaining/improving strength expression and performance. Strongman athletes must be aware that strongman events carry a higher risk of injury than traditional lifts, and exercises such as the yoke walk and stone lift must be programmed accordingly so as not to impair competition performance. A training cessation of 3–5 days should end the taper to provide sufficient rest and recovery for athletes before competition. It must be noted that the expected performance improvements after tapering are a result of both the pretapering phase and the final taper. These 2 training periods should be considered as a continuum in an athlete's periodized plan to achieve the best possible performance at competition. The strongman athletes weekly training characteristics presented in this study will allow athletes and coaches to place the tapering practices data in context to athletes' normal weekly training practices.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank all the strongman athletes who participated in this study and the Strongman Corporation and the World Strongman Federation for their support of this research.

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Keywords:

peaking; training volume; training intensity; periodization; recovery; performance

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