For strength and power sports like powerlifting and strongman, the sport of weightlifting is the only barbell sport currently contested at the Olympic Games. Athletes are assigned to weight classes that are dependent on sex and age divisions. Male and female athletes contest 2 events: a) snatch and b) clean and jerk. Athletes receive 3 attempts per event to lift the highest load possible. The highest load lifted for each lift is then summed together to produce a weightlifting total (e.g., 175 kg snatch + 225 kg clean and jerk = 400 kg total). The highest weightlifting total achieved within each weight class is then used to determine the winners at the conclusion of the competition. Competition totals are then adjusted using a polynomial equation based on current world records that allow for accurate comparisons between lifters across sexes, weight classes, and age divisions (i.e., Robi Points, previously Sinclair Coefficient) (1).
Researchers have examined a variety of aspects of weightlifting including biomechanical descriptors of the snatch and clean and jerk (12), kinanthropometric assessments of weightlifters (37), injury epidemiology (13), and the benefits of performing weightlifting derivatives for athletic populations (30). However, little is known about tapering practices commonly used by weightlifters at all competition levels and how these practices align with our current understanding of tapering practices for strength sports (33).
At the end of an annual periodized plan, the taper is the final phase of training before a competition aimed at achieving full physiological and psychological recovery to peak for an important competition (20,21). However, implementing an optimal tapering strategy can be complex as training load can be reduced in numerous ways, via reductions in training intensity, training volume, session duration and training frequency, or any combination of these factors (20,26,40). If training load reductions are too large or occur for too long, the athlete may experience a partial or complete loss of training-related adaptations and perform suboptimally during competition (19). Alternately, if inadequate rest is provided, the athlete may still be fatigued during the competition, resulting in suboptimal performance and increased risk of burn out (9). An optimal taper therefore requires achieving some balance between training stress and recovery (15). Although a meta-analysis by Bosquet et al. (5) that involved swimmers, cyclists, and runners suggested that 8–14 days may be the optimal length of taper, what constitutes the most appropriate length and type of taper is likely to be influenced by the demands of each sport and the athletes' previous training practices (14).
The tapering modes described in the literature include the step taper and progressive tapers (i.e., linear taper or exponential taper with a fast or slow decay) (20). The simplest taper is considered the step taper, which is characterized by a complete and immediate reduction in training load relative to pretaper training (e.g., planned overreach, intensified training, and normal training) that is maintained for the entire taper duration (e.g., reduce all training by 50% for 1 week). Progressive tapers differ in the manner in which training load is reduced using either a constant linear reduction of similar magnitude (e.g., reduce all training by 25% each week for 3 weeks) or reduce the training load nonlinearly with these reductions occurring more quickly during the fast decay (e.g., reduce training load by 60% for 1 week followed by 40% for 1 week) vs. slow decay (e.g., reduce training load by 30% for 1 week followed by 20% for 1 week) taper.
What constitutes the optimal length and type of taper for strength sports such as weightlifting is still relatively poorly understood when compared with endurance (5) and team sports (36). Specifically, although a recent review provides some preliminary evidence that a step or exponential tapering method may be best for maximal powerlifting performance (i.e., maximal strength), the authors were unable to rule out whether between-study differences in tapering training volume may have confounded this conclusion (33). This appeared to be primarily because of the lack of literature comparing different taper modes experimentally. However, 5 studies involving the monitoring of training load across different training phases (including the taper) and performance in national-level (n = 1–9) (3,29,32) or international-level (n = 1–21) (6,45) weightlifters has been conducted that have provided some preliminary insight into the relative success of different tapering strategies. Despite the similar (3,29,32) or different (6,45) tapering practices highlighted in these studies, it is still unclear how to optimize a precompetition taper for weightlifting.
Therefore, the aim of this study was to quantify the tapering practices of weightlifters using a tapering survey (with some minor modifications) to that was previously used in other strength sports including powerlifting (25,34), strongman (41), and CrossFit (24). The data obtained in this study might assist weightlifters to improve competitive performance by highlighting: 1) similarities and differences in tapering practices and what is known about optimal tapering strategies in weightlifting; and 2) how different weightlifter demographic characteristics such as sex and level of competition may influence the alignment between tapering practices and effective weightlifting tapering approaches. Therefore, athletes' typical training characteristics data were collected to give insight into weightlifters' pretaper approaches to place the tapering data in context. It was hypothesized that weightlifters would undertake a taper before competing, specifically one that maintained high intensity efforts, but made substantial reductions to training volume.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
A detailed weightlifting tapering practices survey was shared widely via email, social media, and personal communications, aiming to collect responses to determine how competitive weightlifting athletes taper for their competitions. The Tapering Practices of Competitive Weightlifters was based on previous surveys that investigated the tapering practices of strongman (41) and CrossFit athletes (24). The initial survey conducted with strongman athletes was demonstrated to provide reliable responses (43).
Weightlifting athletes were recruited through the networks of authors, and widely distributed via social media channels, primarily Instagram. Regarding networks, authors contacted known coaches, athletes, and clubs with whom they had affiliations, sharing the survey invitation letter. Authors encouraged these known networks to share more widely. The lead author also directly contacted all listed Continental Federations using emails provided on the International Weightlifting Federations website, with the same survey invitation letter, again requested this information to be distributed to their networks. Furthermore, popular weightlifting Instagram pages were also tagged in a link to the survey invitation letter. Instagram was used as the major focus of social media recruitment efforts because of anecdotal evidence indicating it as a primary social media platform used by weightlifters. The aim of this recruitment strategy was to make as many weightlifters as possible aware of the survey, to maximize recruitment. The above-mentioned letter included an invitation to participate in the research and a link to the survey itself.
The letter contained brief information outlining objectives of the study and invited athletes to participate via the provided link. The platform used for this online survey was surveygizmo.com (now alchemer.com). The survey was only available in the English language. The first page of the survey provided an information sheet with research objectives and purpose. Written informed consent was provided by subjects' when they chose to begin the survey. However, they were able to exit the survey at any stage and resume the survey later. To assist in obtaining accurate information, subjects were encouraged to reference their training data (i.e., training diaries or logs) and complete the survey in conjunction with their coach.
One hundred ninety-four athletes began the survey. From the 194 athletes who began the survey, 146 completed the survey. To be considered a “complete” response to the survey, subjects had to complete, at minimum, the first 3 sections of the survey: specifically, the sections covering demographics and background information, training practices, and tapering. All subjects were adults i.e., over the age of 18. The methods used in this survey were approved by Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology Institutional Review Board (TRC 2020.058).
Weightlifting athletes completed a self-reported 4-section, 39-item, retrospective Tapering Practices of Competitive Weightlifters survey that was based around previous surveys used with strongman (41) and CrossFit athletes (24). The initial survey created for this study was pilot tested with research peers from a variety of universities and several weightlifting athletes to determine its suitability for use with the specific population. Small modifications were then made to the survey after pilot testing before it being released in its final format for use within this study.
The Tapering Practices of Competitive Weightlifters survey had 4 main areas of inquiry, similar to those from previously mentioned tapering studies; these were: (a) demographics and background information, (b) training practices, (c) tapering, and (d) tapering practices. The first section, demographics and background information, contained questions on sex, age, height, body mass, country of origin, resistance training experience, weightlifting training experience, competitive level, coaching, and use of a training diary (or similar). The next section, training practices, had questions on the number of training sessions per week, types of training, and durations. Types of training were categorized as resistance training (including traditional and specific weightlifting training) and metabolic conditioning (including both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning activities). Traditional training included standard exercises performed in the gym by regular weight trainers and strength athletes (e.g., deadlift, squat, bench press, and assistance exercises). Weightlifting training included the specific weightlifting lifts (i.e., clean and jerk and snatch) and derivatives (e.g., clean, power clean, power snatch, and jerk). Subjects were asked to provide their common or typical training frequencies and durations in this section.
In the third section, tapering, subjects were asked whether they use (or ever have) a taper in their training, with the ability to provide explanation for why they do or do not use a taper. The final section, tapering practices, contained questions on the reason why they taper before important competitions, specific questions regarding length of taper and taper type, if they taper for all competition, the strategies used and how training is altered during—and before—the taper (i.e., volume, frequency, intensity and duration, type of training performed, and when last performed before competition) along with when all training ceases in the taper. Within this final section, subjects could also provide detail of other nontraining strategies used during a taper, details of poor tapering experiences, and a chance to provide any other information of interest.
Subjects were provided with the following definition of a taper: “a reduction in training load (volume and intensity) over a period of time prior to a Weightlifting competition.” Information on common tapering practices was encouraged to be provided in the context of a high priority competition. Whereas tapering types (step, linear, and exponential with a slow or fast decay) were defined for subjects and applied as described in research (20). Closed questions were used in the first 2 sections, with both open and closed questions used in the final 2 sections.
Mean values and SDs were calculated for the subject characteristics, training practices, and taper training characteristics. Frequencies of responses were collated for questions related to the tapering practices of weightlifting athletes. Categorical and ordinal data were reported as both absolute numbers and percentage of responses. Scores for the ranked question, i.e., “what training types are performed during the taper” were determined by weighted calculation in Alchemer; training types that were ranked first scored higher than the following ranks, so that the total score was the sum of all weighted ranks (24,41). Weighted calculations were based on the 8 training type options represented.
Answers to open-ended questions on tapering practices were 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 via 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 subjects 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 subjects, as well as the various subgroups of sex, and competitive standard (local or regional, national, and international level). A 2-tailed unequal variance t test was used to determine if any statistical differences (p ≤ 0.05) existed in the demographics and training data of the weightlifting athletes as a function of sex. A one-way analysis of variance with Games–Howell post hoc tests was used to determine if any statistical differences existed among competitive standard (i.e., local or regional, national, and international level), between taper type lengths and among weightlifting exercises, and among traditional exercises in regard to loads used (as a %1RM) and days when the exercises were last performed during the taper. 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. Significance was accepted at the p ≤ 0.05 level. To control for family-wise type 1 error, the Holm step down multiple adjustment procedures were used on raw p values. All statistical analyses were performed using SPSS 25.0 for Windows (SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL), and higher-order themes were generated using Microsoft Excel (version 9.0; Microsoft, Seattle, WA).
Demographics and Training Characteristics
One hundred forty-six weightlifting athletes from 20 countries completed the survey. Demographics and training characteristics of all subjects and for each sex are presented in Table 1. Subjects reported that on average they had been resistance training for 9.5 ± 7.5 years, of which 4.7 ± 3.4 years was specific weightlifting training, and 3.9 ± 3.3 years competing within the sport. Subgroup analyses revealed that male athletes had significantly (p ≤ 0.001) greater general resistance training experience (10.8 ± 8.2 vs. 6.9 ± 4.6 years) and performed less metabolic training sessions (aerobic or anaerobic) per week (0.7 ± 1.0 vs. 2.0 ± 1.7) than female athletes. International athletes had significantly greater (p ≤ 0.001) weightlifting training experience and competitive weightlifting experience than local or regional standard athletes.
Table 1 -
Demographics and training characteristics (mean ± SD
) for weightlifting athletes (n
|All athletes (n = 146)
||Male (n = 99)
||Female (n = 47)
||Local or regional (n = 51)
||National (n = 61)
||International (n = 34)
| Age (y)
||29.2 ± 8.7
||29.0 ± 7.8
||28.8 ± 9.3
||27.9 ± 6.7
||27.9 ± 8.4
||33.2 ± 9.8
| Height (cm)
||172.5 ± 10.1
||177.9 ± 7.6
||163.8 ± 6.9*
||176.2 ± 10.0
||171.6 ± 10.4
||170.8 ± 7.1
| Body mass (kg)
||84.0 ± 17.2
||88.5 ± 13.4
||74.3 ± 19.5*
||80.9 ± 18.2
||84.6 ± 18.4
||80.4 ± 12.0
| General resistance training experience (y)
||9.5 ± 7.5
||10.8 ± 8.2
||6.9 ± 4.6*
||8.2 ± 5.2
||8.3 ± 6.3
||10.1 ± 5.0
| Weightlifting training experience (y)
||4.7 ± 3.4
||5.0 ± 3.6
||3.6 ± 1.8
||3.2 ± 1.6†
||4.7 ± 2.9
||6.7 ± 4.5
| Competitive weightlifting experience (y)
||3.9 ± 3.3
||4.3 ± 3.7
||3.0 ± 1.8
||2.3 ± 1.4†
||4.1 ± 2.8
||6.5 ± 4.7
| Total training days (/wk)
||5.0 ± 0.9
||4.9 ± 0.9
||5.2 ± 0.9
||5.0 ± 0.8
||4.9 ± 0.9
||5.2 ± 1.0
| Resistance training sessions (/wk)
||4.7 ± 1.2
||4.7 ± 1.0
||4.7 ± 1.1
||4.9 ± 1.0
||4.6 ± 1.0
||4.8 ± 1.3
| Metabolic training sessions (/wk)
||1.2 ± 1.5
||0.7 ± 1.0
||2.0 ± 1.7*
||1.1 ± 1.5
||1.2 ± 1.4
||0.9 ± 1.4
| Training session duration (min)
||116 ± 33
||119 ± 29
||110 ± 34
||115 ± 29
||113 ± 32
||125 ± 33
*Significantly different to other level of variable, p ≤ 0.001.
†Local or regional level significantly (p ≤ 0.001) different to International level.
Coaching, Training Diary, and Taper Characteristics
The diary use, coaching, and taper characteristics of weightlifting athletes are presented in Table 2. The majority of the athletes had a coach (73%), with 23% self-coached. Athletes who selected “other” (n = 6) specified that they had received coaching in the past and were now generally self-coached. Subgroup analyses revealed significant differences in coaching between male athletes and female athletes (χ2 = 15.66, degrees of freedom [df] = 2, p < 0.001) with a higher percentage of female athletes having a coach than male athletes (94 vs. 63%, respectively). The majority of athletes (78%) used a training diary, whereas 8% of athletes specified that they have never used a training diary.
Table 2 -
Weightlifting athletes training diary use, coaching, and taper characteristics.*†
|All athletes (n = 146)
||Male (n = 99)
||Female (n = 47)
||Local or regional (n = 51)
||National (n = 61)
||International (n = 34)
| Have a coach
|15.66‡; 2§; p < 0.001‖
| Yes, currently use one
| No, but has previously
| No, never used one
n = 86
n = 69
n = 17
n = 31
n = 36
n = 19
| Linear taper
| Step taper
| Exponential taper
|16.35‡; 2§; p < 0.001‖
*The results are expressed in 2 ways, with the first value being the total number of occurrences and the second value (in parentheses) being the percentage of total occurrence.
†Discrepancies appear for “taper type” and “always taper” subject numbers when data were not reported by weightlifting athletes.
§Degrees of freedom.
‖Significant p value.
Ninety-nine percent (n = 144) of athletes indicated that they use a taper in preparation for weightlifting competitions (Table 2). Of the 86 athletes who completed the tapering practices section of the survey, 36% indicated that the linear taper was the most common type of taper they used followed by the step taper (33%). Differences that approached significance were observed among sex, with a higher proportion of female athletes utilizing the linear taper (47%) than male athletes (33%). Significant differences (χ2 = 16.35, df = 2, p < 0.001) among sex were observed for “always taper,” with a higher proportion of female athletes (65 vs. 45%) always using a taper than male athletes for weightlifting competitions. Some weightlifting athletes made comments on why they used the linear taper. The main themes generated were as follows: taught this way; it is slow and steady; and it works well. Weightlifting athletes (n = 86) provided reasons or made specific comments of why they tapered. After performing a content analysis of the subjects' responses to the open-ended question on why they used a linear taper, it was apparent that all answers fell into 3 main categories. The 3 reasons reported were rest and recovery, physical preparation for peak performance, and mental preparation.
Taper Length and Taper Characteristics
Weightlifting athletes' (n = 82) taper length and taper training characteristics are presented in Table 3. Subjects indicated that their normal taper length was 8.0 ± 4.4 days and that all training ceased 1.5 ± 0.6 days before competition. When the taper lengths were categorized, significant differences (χ2 = 20.62, df = 4, p < 0.001) were observed among sex, with female athletes tending to have a higher proportion of shorter taper lengths compared with male athletes. A graphical representation of the athletes' tapering timeline is presented in Figure 1.
Table 3 -
Weightlifting athletes taper length and taper training characteristics (n
|All athletes (n = 82)
||Male (n = 66)
||Female (n = 16)
||Local or regional (n = 31)
||National (n = 36)
||International (n = 18)
|Average taper length (d)
||8.0 ± 4.4
||8.6 ± 4.6
||5.3 ± 1.8
||8.2 ± 4.0
||7.9 ± 4.2
||7.8 ± 5.5
|Taper length ranges
| <7 d
| 7–10 d
| 11–14 d
| >14 d
|20.62‡; 4§; p < 0.001‖
|Cease training before comp (d)
||1.5 ± 0.6
||1.5 ± 0.6
||1.5 ± 0.6
||1.4 ± 0.6
||1.5 ± 0.6
||1.5 ± 0.7
|Weeks out highest training volume (wk)
||5.9 ± 3.9
||6.0 ± 3.7
||5.4 ± 4.6
||5.7 ± 3.2
||5.8 ± 4.1
||6.5 ± 4.6
|Weeks out highest training intensity (wk)
||2.6 ± 1.5
||2.6 ± 1.4
||2.5 ± 1.7
||2.3 ± 1.1
||2.8 ± 1.7
||2.7 ± 1.5
|Drop in training volume during taper (%)
||43.1 ± 14.6
||43.6 ± 14.4
||40.7 ± 15.8
||45.8 ± 13.9
||39.4 ± 11.9
||45.6 ± 19.5
|Final training session at any weight (d)
||1.7 ± 0.7
||1.7 ± 0.7
||1.9 ± 0.7
||1.7 ± 0.7
||1.7 ± 0.7
||2.0 ± 0.8
|Final training session at loads >85% 1RM (d)
||5.9 ± 2.3
||5.9 ± 2.2
||5.8 ± 2.8
||5.4 ± 1.8
||6.1 ± 2.6
||6.1 ± 2.6
*Results are expressed as mean ± SD or with the first value being the total number of occurrences and the second value (in parentheses) being the percentage of total occurrence.
†Discrepancies appear for taper length range numbers when data were not reported by weightlifting athlete.
§Degrees of freedom.
‖Significant p value.
Weightlifting athletes reported that their final heavy training session (>85% 1RM) was 5.9 ± 2.3 days out from competition, and the final resistance training session (at any weight) was 1.7 ± 0.7 days. 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 into competition. 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. Training light was the main theme that emerged from the final training session followed by priming and mobility work. Recovery and psychological readiness were also related themes for the athlete's last training session.
Types of Training Performed during the Taper
Weightlifting athletes reported what type of training they do during their taper. A summary of these responses is presented in Figure 2. Muscular strength and light technique work were the most common types of training performed followed by aerobic conditioning. “Other” types of training included core training, speed work, and improving mobility.
Weightlifting and Traditional Exercises Performed During the Taper
Weightlifting athletes reported what loads were typically used and when the main weightlifting and traditional exercises were last performed during the taper (Table 4). No significant differences were observed between the weightlifting exercises with respect to the loads used and when last performed during the taper. In contrast, significant differences (p ≤ 0.001) in load used were observed between assistance exercises compared with the back squat, front squat, and deadlift. Differences that approached significance were observed among traditional exercises with the deadlift being performed further out from competition than the front squat.
Table 4 -
Main weightlifting and traditional exercises, loads used, and when last performed during the taper.*
||Clean (n = 95)
||Snatch (n = 92)
||Power snatch (n = 53)
||Power clean (n = 48)
||Jerk (n = 20)
| When last performed (d)
||3.6 ± 2.6
||3.1 ± 1.9
||2.5 ± 1.0
||2.8 ± 1.1
||2.6 ± 1.2
| Loads used (%1RM)
||75.3 ± 15.0
||74.9 ± 15.1
||70.3 ± 11.1
||70.1 ± 10.1
||74.3 ± 11.6
||Back squat (n = 74)
||Front squat (n = 74)
||Deadlift (n = 29)
||Overhead press (n = 25)
||Assistance exercises (n = 24)
| When last performed (d)
||5.2 ± 3.2
||4.0 ± 2.1
||7.8 ± 5.0
||5.7 ± 4.3
||5.7 ± 4.1
| Loads used (%1RM)
||82.4 ± 10.1†
||79.2 ± 10.8†
||84.8 ± 11.4†
||73.2 ± 10.9
||65.0 ± 15.8
*%1RM = percentage of 1 repetition maximum.
†Significantly (p < 0.001) different to assistance exercises.
Weightlifting athletes were asked if any other changes were made in exercises being removed or added to their training programs. Eighty percent of athletes indicated that they made changes, which included a reduction in assistance exercises, a reduction in some strength work (squatting and pulling), an increase in technical work, and an increase in power work (clean and jerk, snatch, push press, and jump squats).
Changes in Intensity, Frequency, and Duration During the Taper
Weightlifting athletes (n = 86) reported how their training intensity, frequency, and duration change during the taper. A summary of their responses is presented in Figure 3. The majority of weightlifting athletes reported that their training intensity decreases (70%), training frequency stays the same (57%) or decreases (41%), and training duration decreases (86%).
Other Taper Strategies Used by Weightlifting Athletes
Weightlifting athletes (n = 72) were asked to specify what other types of strategies they used during their taper. A summary of their responses is presented in Figure 4. The majority of weightlifting athletes used nutritional changes, foam rolling, static stretching, and massage in their taper. Other strategies included chiropractic and osteopath care, physiotherapy (included dry needling), acupuncture, hot and cold therapy, and water manipulation.
When Tapering Did Not Work and Why
Weightlifting athletes (n = 56) provided reasons or made specific comments of when tapering did not work and why. A summary of their responses is presented in Table 5. The 3 main reasons reported were training too heavy or too hard, training too light, and life–work circumstances.
Table 5 -
When tapering has not worked and why (n
||Selected raw data representing responses to this question
|Trained too heavy or hard
||“High volume/loads too close to the competition.”
|Trained too light
||“I did too little or too light, which left me feeling slow or weak on meet day.”
||“Sometimes life events interrupt the process (Home/Work/Injuries).”
|Too long a taper
||“Longer delayed tapers that extended up to 2 weeks, reduction in performance possibly due to lack of stimulus.”
||“Tried to cut too much weight and felt weak.”
||“If I haven't been sleeping well the fortnight before, my taper doesn't go very well.”
|Nutrition or dehydration
||“In some previous conditions nutrition or dehydration has interfered.”
||“Impacted by travel, beds, pillows. Things outside of norms.”
||“When I perform badly it's more often due to nerves or messing up my weight cut or having an injury.”
||“Was sick 2 weeks before competition.”
*In some cases, the subjects provided information that represented more than one concept and their response contributed to more than one higher-order theme.
To the authors' knowledge, this is the first study to document the training and tapering practices of weightlifting athletes. Weightlifters trained for 5.0 ± 0.9 days per week with a typical training duration of 116 ± 33 minutes. Training consisted of predominantly resistance training (4.7 ± 1.2 days per week) with some metabolic training (1.2 ± 1.5 days per week). Most athletes had a coach (73%), with a significantly greater percentage of female weightlifters (94 vs. 63%) using a coach compared with male weightlifters. The linear (36%) and step taper (33%) were the most common type of tapers used by athletes, with a typical taper length of 8.0 ± 4.4 days. During the taper, athletes reported a reduction in overall training volume (43.1 ± 14.6%), with the majority decreasing training intensity (70%) and training duration (86%). Training frequency generally stayed the same (57%) or decreased (41%). Muscular strength and light technique work were the most common types of training performed during the taper followed by aerobic conditioning. Nutritional changes, foam rolling, static stretching, and massage were other strategies used in the taper. Tapers were performed to enhance rest and recovery and improve physical and mental preparation for peak performance. When tapering was unsuccessful, athletes reported it was because of training too heavy, too hard, or too light and the interference of life and work circumstances. The findings of this study support the initial hypothesis that weightlifting athletes would undertake a taper before competing and reduce training volume. Contrary to the initial hypothesis, most weightlifters reduced training intensity during the taper.
Weiss et al. (38) described the taper as an integral part of periodization training, which involves the gradual cycling of volume, load, and exercise specificity in order for strength or power to peak at particular times. Ninety-nine percent (n = 144) of weightlifting athletes in this study reported that they used some form of taper in preparation for competition. It has been suggested that the taper allows for the physiological and psychological recovery from accumulated stress, to help maximize competition performance (21). Athletes in this study stated rest and recovery, physical preparation for peak performance, and mental preparation as reasons for performing the taper, which demonstrates that the weightlifting athletes are aware of the performance-enhancing potential of a well-designed taper.
Researchers (5) have recommended that the taper length duration of 8–14 days may be optimal as athletes can benefit from the reduction of accumulated fatigue without the negative influence of detraining on performance. Weightlifting athletes in this study indicated that their normal taper length was 8.0 ± 4.4 days, which is similar to those reported for strongman athletes (8.6 ± 5.0 days) (41) and North American powerlifters (7–10 days) (34), but longer than those reported by CrossFit athletes (5.4 ± 2.7 days) (24). Interestingly, taper lengths reported by Croatian (18 ± 8 days) (10) and New Zealand (16.8 ± 6.3) (25) powerlifters were longer than taper lengths reported among North American powerlifters (34) and the other strength sports. An interesting finding by Grgic and Mikulic (10) was that the higher (HI) group (Wilks coefficient >350) in their study had twice the length of taper (18 ± 8 vs. 9 ± 1 days) than the lower (LO) group (Wilks coefficient <350) who were coached and comprised mostly of female athletes. Grgic and Mikulic (10) surmised that the duration of taper may differ by the strength level or gender of the athlete. Findings of the current study add support to this view; although no significant differences in tapering characteristics were observed among competitive standard, significant categorical differences were found among female weightlifting athletes who reported significantly shorter taper length ranges than their male counterparts.
Athletes may choose their taper types and durations based on their previous training load (15,26,31) and the amount of fatigue they carry into the taper process (5). The linear (36%) and step taper (33%) were the most common type of tapers used by weightlifting athletes. Differences that approached significance in taper types were observed among sex, with a higher proportion of female athletes tending to use the linear taper (47%) as opposed to male athletes in whom the step taper was more preferred (35%). Weightlifting athletes who used the linear taper reported that it was the taper they were taught to use; it was slow and steady and it worked well. Interestingly, the use of a linear and step taper has not been observed in the available taper-based weightlifting literature (3,45). However, step tapers have been reported to be the most common type of tapers performed by North American powerlifters (34), CrossFit (24), and Strongman athletes (41). Grgic and Mikulic (10) found that Croatian powerlifters performed the step (40%) and exponential taper with a fast decay (60%). Additionally, it is important to note that the preferential step taper was determined from moderate-to-large sample sizes (n = 364 (34), n = 72 (24), n = 454 (41)), whereas the preference of using the exponential taper was considered useful for only a small sample size (n = 6 (10)). These tapers provide greater reductions in training load compared with linear and slow decay tapers (26). Travis et al. (34) surmised that the step taper for strength sport athletes may be effective because of the highest volume training taking place between 4 and 5 weeks out from competition with taper durations ≤2.5 weeks (24,25,41). Similarly, weightlifting athletes in the current study reported that their highest training volume was 5.9 ± 3.1 weeks out from competition.
Researchers have suggested that training load can be decreased through the alteration of training volume, intensity, and frequency (39), and evidence suggests that performance improvements are most sensitive to the reduction in training volume (5). Findings from a meta-analysis across a variety of sports (5) demonstrated that maximal performance gains are obtained with a total reduction in training volume of 41–60% of pre-taper value. Weightlifting athletes in the current study reduced their training volume by 43.1 ± 14.6%, which is similar to CrossFit (41.2 ± 15.5%) (24) and Strongman (45.5 ± 12.9%) (41) athletes but less than Croatian (50.5 ± 11.7%) (10) and New Zealand (58.9 ± 8.4%) (25) powerlifters. Travis et al. (34) reported North American powerlifters (n = 176) decreased training volume by 41–50%. It seems that weightlifters and athletes in the strength sports are conversant in reducing training volume to optimize competition performances.
In addition to the reduction in training volume, the majority of weightlifting athletes reported that their training intensity decreases (70%), training frequency stays the same (57%) or decreases (41%), and training duration decreases (86%). A similar pattern of results for training frequency and training duration is evident in literature (24,25,34,41) across the strength sports. Differences in the manipulation of training intensity among the strength sports are apparent with interathlete variation within studies. It has been 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 (8). In a recent review (33), it was found that subjects in studies who maintained intensity produced performance improvements of 1–6%, whereas those who had decreased intensity appeared to produce performance improvements of 2–10%. Travis et al. (33) suggested that given the typically high training loads strength athletes employ (generally ≥85% 1RM) maintaining or decreasing intensity may be a safer option when constructing a taper for maximal strength. In fact, Travis et al. (35) recently demonstrated experimentally that during a taper, training intensity can be reduced by 25% and 1RM performances can be improved in powerlifters. It seems that for weightlifting and athletes in the strength sports, the manipulation of training intensity is quite individualized and may be influenced by a number of variables, including the training load and fatigue going into the taper (15,26), the unique physiological demands (2,7,28,42,44) of the sport, and the associated injury epidemiology (13). A limitation in the present study is that we did not differentiate between changes of intensity to competition-specific exercises vs traditional exercises. Therefore, it is possible that intensity changes were made differently in the snatch and clean and jerk compared with squats and deadlifts.
Weightlifting athletes in the current study stated their highest training intensity occurred 2.6 ± 1.5 weeks out from competition which is similar to strongman athletes (41) (2.5 ± 0.9 weeks) and North American powerlifters (34) (2.3 ± 1.2 weeks) but further out from competition than Croatian (10) (1.1 ± 0.4 weeks) and New Zealand (25) (1.9 ± 0.8 weeks) powerlifters. Such differences (accompanied with greater reductions in training volume) may help explain the longer taper lengths used by Croatian and New Zealand powerlifters. Athletes who are working with higher percentages of loads proportional to their 1RM may require more time to recover (10).
Mujika (18) suggested that training at high intensities before the taper plays a key role in inducing maximal physiological and performance adaptations in highly trained athletes. Weightlifting athletes in the current study reported that their final heavy training session (>85% 1RM) was 5.9 ± 2.3 days out from competition, which is very similar to that reported for Elite CrossFit athletes (24) (5.8 ± 3.2 days) but closer to competition than strongman athletes (41) (9.1 ± 3.3 days). Weightlifting athletes reported that this training session improved confidence through training lifts at competition intensities followed by recovery and priming during the tapering phase.
Eighty percent of weightlifting athletes indicated that they made other training changes during the taper that included a reduction in assistance exercises, and some strength work (squatting and pulling), and increases in technical and power work (clean and jerk, snatch, push press, and jump squats). The reduction in assistance exercises has been reported among strongman and powerlifting athletes. Winwood et al. (41) reported that 50% of strongman athletes reduced or removed assistance exercises during the taper and concentrated mainly on the competition lifts. Pritchard et al. (25) reported that 91% of New Zealand powerlifters removed assistance (accessory) exercises from training 2 weeks out from competition. Such results were also reported among 70% of North American (34) and Croatian (10) powerlifters. It is apparent that like athletes in the other strength sports, training specificity is emphasized among weightlifters and that the removal of assistance exercises before a competition helps contribute to the overall reduction in training volume.
Weightlifting athletes reported that their final resistance training session (at any weight) was 1.7 ± 0.7 days out from competition, which is closer to competition compared with those reported among powerlifters (10,25,34) (2.8–3.7 days), Elite CrossFit athletes (24) (2.0 ± 1.1 days), and strongman (41) (4.7 ± 2.0 days) athletes. Weightlifting athletes stated that the final training session consisted of light training with priming and mobility work which helped to improve recovery and psychological readiness. Harrison et al. (11) have demonstrated that priming exercise performed within 48 hours of competition can enhance neuromuscular performance and may be an effective performance strategy for athletes. Currently, the optimal training stimuli for resistance priming exercise is unclear and little information exists on the priming and preactivation strategies weightlifting athletes use before and on competition day.
Weightlifting athletes reported that their training cessation was 1.5 ± 0.6 days out from competition, which is closer to competition compared with those reported among strongman (41) athletes (3.9 ± 1.8 days). Researchers (23,38) have suggested that for strength-power athletes, the training cessation should last between 2 days up to 1 week, with optimal performance expressed during 3–4 days of complete training cessation. This time frame may help the athlete super-compensate, so positive performance changes are expressed relative to the competition (32).
Muscular strength, light technique work, and aerobic conditioning were the 3 most common types of training performed by weightlifting athletes during the taper. Muscular strength and aerobic conditioning were also specified as being the most common types of training performed by strongman athletes (41) during the taper along with muscular power. Weightlifting athletes in this study indicated what loads were typically used and when the main weightlifting and traditional exercises were last performed during the taper. Weightlifting exercises were last performed closer to competition (2.5–3.6 days) than traditional exercises (4.0–7.8 days) with loads between 70 and 75% 1RM. Although no significant differences were observed among weightlifting exercises for load and when last performed, significant differences (p < 0.001) were observed among traditional exercises in load between assistance exercises (65.0 ± 15.8% 1RM) compared with the back squat (82.4 ± 10.1% 1RM), deadlift (84.8 ± 11.4% 1RM), and front squat (79.2 ± 10.8% 1RM). Differences that approached significance were also observed among traditional exercises, with weightlifters reporting that the front squat was performed closer to competition than the deadlift (4.0 ± 2.1 days vs. 7.8 ± 5.0 days, respectively). Such data corresponds with strongman athletes (41) (i.e., deadlift 7.8 ± 3.2 days) and studies among powerlifters (10,25,34), in which the final deadlift session (8–11 days) was further out from competition than their final bench press (≤7 days) and back squat (7–10 days) session, so athletes could gain additional recovery time. The results demonstrate that weightlifting athletes are aware of the physiological stresses associated with their training and structure their tapering practices in line with current recommendations for tapering to improve maximal strength (22,33).
Weightlifting athletes indicated that nutritional changes, foam rolling, static stretching, and massage were the most common recovery strategies used in their taper. Nutrition plays an important role for strength-power athletes in regard to fueling of sport-specific training, recovery from training, and the promotion of training adaptations, including skeletal muscle hypertrophy (27). In the weeks leading up to competition, some weightlifters may consume a low residue diet (limiting dietary fiber) and restrict fluid intake to achieve minor reductions in body mass to meet competition weight (making weight) (16). The use of nutritional changes and foam rolling were also tapering strategies reported by powerlifters (10,25,34) and strongman athletes (41). Research investigating foam rollers have generally reported increased range of motion, diminished perceived pain, accelerated recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage, and improvements to the extensibility of muscles and tendons without significant concerns of performance impairments (4). Other strategies (chiropractic and osteopath care, physiotherapy [included dry needling], acupuncture, hot and cold therapy, and water manipulation) were less commonly used by weightlifting athletes during the taper. The strategies reported by weightlifting athletes provide insight into potential recovery and performance enhancing modalities that may benefit weightlifting performance.
Weightlifting athletes (n = 86) provided some insight into when tapering did not work. The main reasons reported were training too heavy or too hard, training too light, and life–work circumstances. Training too heavy and too hard were common themes reported among powerlifters (10,34) and strongman athletes (41). Studies (24,25,41) have suggested the use of training diaries for strength sport athletes to help determine training loads (17) and to monitor athlete responses to training and tapering. Such information can help athletes and coaches optimize training and tapering practices. Ninety-two percent of weightlifting athletes in the current study stated they currently use (78%) or have previously used a training diary (14%), which is similar to what was reported among strongman athletes (83%) (41). To minimize recall bias, weightlifting athletes were asked to refer to their training diaries or logs when completing the online tapering practices survey.
This study serves as the first comprehensive description of tapering practices of weightlifting athletes. Based on the results of this study, to carry out a successful taper, weightlifting athletes should reduce the total amount of training volume by 40–45%. For shorter tapers (<10 days), volume reductions may be best performed using linear or step taper with reductions in training duration and intensity. Athletes need to be aware that both “training too hard” and “training too light” during the taper can yield negative impacts on athlete readiness and performance. Tapering should include a reduction in assistance exercises and focus on a high degree of specificity including technical and power work on the weightlifting lifts and their derivatives. A training cessation of 2–4 days should end the taper to provide sufficient rest and recovery for athletes before competition. Athletes need to be aware that the training load going into the taper will influence taper type, taper length, and taper training intensities. Thus, athletes and coaches should use a trial-and-error approach to determine if a pretaper planned overreach or continued normal training is optimal in designing an effective tapering strategy. The use of training diaries to monitor training load could also help athletes and coaches to implement effective tapering practices and minimize poor tapering experiences, through having accurate training records and details of previous tapering experiences. The results presented in this study will benefit weightlifting athletes, coaches, and other strength-sport athletes to prescribe optimal tapering strategies for peak competition performances.
The authors would like to thank all the weightlifting athletes who participated in this study.
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