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Effects and Mechanisms of Tapering in Maximizing Muscular Strength

Pritchard, Hayden BSc1,3; Keogh, Justin PhD2,3,4; Barnes, Matthew PhD5; McGuigan, Michael PhD, CSCS*D3

Author Information
Strength and Conditioning Journal: April 2015 - Volume 37 - Issue 2 - p 72-83
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000125
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Abstract

INTRODUCTION

Maximal muscular strength is defined as the maximal force a muscle, or group of muscles, can produce (4,30). Improvements in maximal strength are of utmost importance for performance in strength-based sports, such as powerlifting and strongman, where the ability to produce maximal force is a primary goal (15,30,42). Improvements in strength, specific to sporting movements, have also been shown to enhance the performance of other athletes, even in sports that are primarily aerobically based (5,21,37). Athletes target certain competitions as major events where the aim is to perform at their peak, which is achieved through a taper (34). Tapering is a reduction in training load to recover from the fatigue of training, and it is performed before important competitions to allow optimal performance at specific events (6,29,31). It is important, therefore, that athletes and coaches know how to maximize strength for key events by tapering correctly. Many studies and reviews have been written on tapering; however, there is still limited research available specifically related to maximal strength, with the majority regarding endurance performance (6,20,22,29,41) and some maximal power (7,12).

The aim of this review is to bring together what is currently known about tapering for maximal strength, to demonstrate the methods of tapering currently used in research, how these methods affect maximal strength, and the mechanisms contributing to the adaptations in maximal strength through tapering. Many coaches are uncertain of the taper phase of training, with trial and error often relied on rather than scientifically proven strategies (29). This information will be of use to coaches and practitioners to optimize athletes' performances in strength-based sports or sports where strength may help improve an athlete's performance, reducing the need for extensive trial and error. Appropriate publications were found by searching through the EBSCO Host and Google Scholar databases. Key words used in searches included the following: tapering, peaking, detraining, muscular strength, maximal strength, performance, muscle fiber types, cross-sectional area, and various combinations of these words. Effect sizes (ES) were calculated (where possible) to determine the magnitude of changes observed within studies (13). Hopkins scale for determining the magnitude of ES was used when describing these changes (23); there are: trivial 0–0.2, small 0.2–0.6, moderate 0.6–1.2, large 1.2–2.0, and very large >2.0.

TAPERING

Optimal performance in competition is vital; months or years of training culminate at 1 point, with the outcome determining the success or failure of ones efforts. Tapering is the final step in a training program, implemented in the last few weeks before competition and has the potential to make or break a program. Mujika and Padilla (32) defined tapering as “a progressive nonlinear reduction of the training load during a variable period of time, in an attempt to reduce the physiological and psychological stress of daily training and optimize sports performance.” This definition illustrates the major role tapering plays to reduce stress, or fatigue, while improving fitness to achieve optimal performance.

The fitness-fatigue model (8), as illustrated in the Figure, is a representation of the mechanism of how the taper is thought to improve performance. This model proposes that after a training session, there are 2 resulting after-effects—1 positive, fitness, and 1 negative, fatigue. Fitness after-effects may be changes, such as improved neuromuscular efficiency and hypertrophy, whereas fatigue after-effects may be changes, such as muscle damage, accumulation of metabolic waste products, or disruption to hormonal balance, for example. Performance within this model can be considered the sum of the positive after-effects of fitness with the sum of the negative after-effects of fatigue removed. Fatigue after-effects are usually of a greater magnitude but shorter duration than fitness after-effects, which tend to have a smaller magnitude but a greater duration (8). As fatigue dissipates, performance increases can be realized, as the positive performance contributions of the fitness after-effects are not overshadowed by the negative performance contributions from the fatigue after-effects. Too much rest, however, could be detrimental, as the fitness after-effects may be reduced resulting in detraining (32). The balancing act during a taper is to ensure fatigue is minimized while fitness is maximized (29).

F5-3
Figure:
Fitness-fatigue model.

EFFECTS OF TAPERING ON MAXIMAL STRENGTH

Tapering can be performed in several different ways, with 4 main types being described and applied previously (33). These are step taper, linear taper, exponential decay (slow decay), and exponential taper (fast decay). The step taper is a nonprogressive drop in training load that occurs at once and remains unchanged at a reduced level. The linear taper is a progressive reduction in training load that occurs in a linear fashion. An exponential taper is progressive and can occur with a fast or slow time constant of decay, with the training load remaining higher during the slow decay taper (33). So far, no studies have compared the effects of different styles of tapering on the expression of maximal strength, as various styles of tapering have been used across studies to date. Table 1 shows a summary of the studies on tapering.

T1-3
Table 1-a:
Effects of tapering on muscular strength
T2-3
Table 1-b:
Effects of tapering on muscular strength

Häkkinen et al. (18) performed one of the earliest studies looking at the effects of a 1-week step taper on maximal strength. Ten strength-trained athletes performed 2 weeks of regular training followed by 1 week of reduced training, where volume was reduced by ≈50% with no changes in intensity. When split into 2 groups, it was seen that the 5 stronger Finnish national powerlifting competitors showed a statistically significant increase (by 8.3%) in leg extensor peak force during a maximal voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC) after the taper with a moderate ES of 0.61, whereas the weaker athletes showed a slight decrease (−3.6%; ES, −0.28). This study showed that well-trained strength athletes can improve their isometric strength with a step taper of only 1 week's duration.

Coutts et al. (11) also investigated a 1-week step taper in 7 well-trained athletes (state-level rugby league players) after 6 weeks of periodized training (to induce overreaching). This study involved reductions in both volume (≈30–40%) and intensity (≈35%), as well as training of other fitness components. Statistically significant increases were seen in maximal low-velocity isokinetic torque for the knee extensors (45.6%) and flexors (15.6%) compared with the pretaper values, with very large (3.85) and moderate (0.90) ES, respectively. However, compared with pretraining, there were no statistically significant improvements, with only the knee extensors showing a higher value (7.6%; ES, 0.34), whereas knee flexor strength decreased (−10.6%; ES, −0.36). Also not statistically significant, were the small increases in 3 repetition maximum (RM) on the bench press (5.2%; ES, 0.32) and squat (7.2%; ES, 0.53) compared with pretaper values. When compared with the pretraining values, no change was seen in bench press performance and the squat showed only trivial, non–statistically significant improvements (1.6%; ES, 0.11). These results suggest that after 6 weeks of overreaching (intensified, or harder than usual training) 1 week of tapering allows for improvements in strength; however, this may not be a long-enough taper to fully overcome the effects of accumulated fatigue.

Longer duration step tapers have also been investigated. Zaras et al. (43) had 13 well-trained competitive throwers (7 males, 6 females) perform 2-week tapers, both a light-load and a heavy-load taper, after 12 or 15 weeks of training. All participants performed both tapers and the training length before the taper was assigned in a counterbalanced fashion. Training involved resistance training, throws, and plyometric training. Light-load tapering (LT) used 30% of 1RM, whereas the heavy-load tapering (HT) used 85% of 1RM. During both tapers maximal speed of movement was emphasized. Nonstatistically significant improvements were made in peak force during MVIC on a leg press in both groups, with greater increases after HT (14.5%; ES, 3.00) than LT (2.7%; ES, 1.00). 1RM leg press showed non–statistically significant improvements in the HT (4.6%; ES, 0.15), whereas non–statistically significant decreases occurred with LT (−2.8%; ES, −0.12). These results suggest that greater improvements in strength are made when volume is dropped but intensity is kept high during a taper.

Chtourou et al. (9) also performed a 2-week step taper, with recreationally active participants after 12 weeks of training. Participants were placed in morning (n = 10) and evening (n = 11) training groups and testing occurred at both time points. This study was focused on whether the time of day for training influenced the response to the taper if testing occurred at a different time of day. Tapering resulted in a weekly drop in training volume of ≈50%, with increased intensity (from 10RM to 8RM). After the taper, participants showed statistically significant improvements in performance at both testing times (morning and evening) regardless of training time of day when compared with pretraining variables. Improvements occurred after the taper but were non–statistically significant compared with pretaper results. However, no information was given on the magnitude of improvements. This study also shows that a 2-week taper is able to improve performance when volume is reduced and intensity kept high.

Reviews on tapering for endurance training indicate that progressive tapers may be most effective for performance improvements (6,33). Currently, there have only been 2 studies investigating the effects of a progressive taper on maximal strength, with both showing promising results. Gibala et al. (16) performed a 10-day progressive (linear) taper, which followed after 3 weeks of training by 8 resistance-trained (>1 year) participants. Tapering was compared against complete rest (detraining), and all participants completed both conditions in a counterbalanced fashion. Overall during the 10 day progressive taper training volume was reduced by 72% (reducing the number of sets each training day), but the intensity of training remained unchanged. After the taper, statistically significant improvements occurred in peak torque during MVIC of the elbow flexors (6.8%; ES, 0.35) and non–statistically significant improvements in maximal low-velocity isokinetic peak torque of the elbow extensor force also occurred (2.8%; ES, 0.11) compared with baseline. However, maximal low-velocity isokinetic peak torque of the elbow flexors had statistically significant higher values 2 (4.3%; ES, 0.18), 4 (7.7%; ES, 0.31), 6 (4.9%; ES, 0.20), and 8 (3.2%; ES, 0.13) days into the taper. MVIC peak torque also had statistically significant higher values 2 (5.3%; ES, 0.27), 4 (4.1%; ES, 0.21), 6 (7.5%; ES, 0.38), and 8 (6.1%; ES, 0.31) days into the taper. These results show that a short-duration progressive taper in which volume is reduced but intensity kept high is able to improve strength of the elbow flexors, and can so do in as little as 2 days.

Izquierdo et al. (25) performed a 4-week taper after 16 weeks of resistance training in 11 national Basque ball players. This study also had 2 further groups involved, these were a complete rest (n = 14) and a control group (n = 21). The taper involved progressive lowering of training volume while intensity was increasing. Specifically, training at 90–95% of 1RM (3–4RM) during the taper, for 2–3 sets of 2–3 repetitions for all exercises; compared with 85–90% of 1RM (≈5RM) for 3 sets of 2–4 repetitions for all exercises immediately before the tapering period. The taper resulted in statistically significant improvements in 1RM bench press (2%) and half squat (3%), no changes were observed in the control group. These data showed that a longer duration progressive taper that reduces volume and increases intensity is able to improve performance in dynamic multijoint compound exercises.

The literature reviewed in this article seems to indicate that tapering is effective at increasing measures of maximal strength (11,16,18,25). This has been shown to occur during both 1-step and progressive tapers, with no studies yet to directly compare types of tapering to determine the optimal method. As various measures of strength and many training methods have been followed, practitioners should be cautious with drawing definitive conclusions. However, there seems to be a trend that maintaining or increasing training intensity during the taper has greater benefits when compared with studies, which reduce the intensity (16,18,25). In all studies, volume was reduced (by 30–70%, through reduced training frequency or training session volume) which, if intensity is maintained or increased, is essential to reduce training load. Therefore, it may be hypothesized that a taper that maintains or increases training intensity while decreasing training volume is most effective for enhancing maximal strength. More research directly comparing methods of tapering for maximal strength is required to confirm this.

MECHANISMS OF TAPERING ON MAXIMAL STRENGTH

Maximal muscular strength maintenance or improvements that occur during a taper must be the result of physiological changes. Specific changes within the muscular and/or nervous system are likely to be responsible for performance changes. Several studies have investigated potential mechanisms (11,16,18,25,43).

Changes in the musculature may be influenced by alterations in the hormonal or biochemical profile of an individual. Testosterone and growth hormone are anabolic hormones known to enhance anabolic processes and protein synthesis within the body, whereas cortisol is released in response to stress and is catabolic, the ratio of the testosterone to cortisol therefore can be used to provide some indication of whether the body is in an anabolic or catabolic state (28). Coutts et al. (11) noted that the testosterone to cortisol ratio had statistically significant decreases during the 6-week overload training period, and there was no statistically significant change after the taper (also, no statistically significant changes were observed in either testosterone or cortisol). Creatine kinase, which is a biochemical marker associated with muscle damage (10), was seen by Coutts et al. (11) to have statistically significant increases after training and was then significantly reduced during a 7-day taper. Low levels of plasma glutamine, high levels of glutamate, and a decreased glutamine to glutamate ratio have been associated with a state of overtraining (35,36). Coutts et al. (11) found that plasma glutamate showed statistically significant elevations and the glutamine to glutamate ratio showed statistically significant decreases after the training period; after the taper, these changes reversed. However, no statistically significant changes were seen in glutamine concentration throughout the study. Taken together, these changes may indicate that although an anabolic hormonal profile was not produced, muscle recovery was still able to take place during the 1-week tapering period.

Izquierdo et al. (25) measured hormonal changes during their 4-week progressive taper after 16 weeks of resistance training. No statistically significant changes were seen at any time during the study for total testosterone, free testosterone, cortisol, or growth hormone. However, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) remained decreased (compared with pretraining) during the taper, and IGF-binding protein-3 (IGFBP-3) had further statistically significant increases after the taper. IGF-1 is known to increase protein synthesis in strength training and so enhance muscular hypertrophy (28); therefore, a sustained decrease may indicate that protein synthesis is still suboptimal during the taper. However, IGFBP-3 is involved in regulating the availability of IGF's and extends the circulation of IGF's within the body (28). These changes did not occur in the detraining group who showed decreases in performance, so it may be hypothesized that even with decreases in IGF-1, the increases in IGFBP-3 may play a role in improving performance, potentially through other growth hormone metabolites or pulsatile releases of growth hormone not measured in this study.

Changes in muscle architecture or muscle mass may have potential to play a role in improving performance during the taper, as these have been shown to improve performance after periods of resistance training (14). Izquierdo et al. (25) noted that tapering participants maintained statistically significant reductions in body fat levels during a 4-week taper, whereas those who simply stopped training did not. This was not seen for a 1-week taper (18); however, this time frame is likely too short for changes in body composition to occur. Zaras et al. (43) observed no changes in muscle architecture (vastus lateralis thickness, pennation angle, or fascicle); however, the 2-week time frame to observe such changes was probably too short given that such changes have usually been observed after extended periods of training (1,27). They did, however, observe that an increased lean body mass from the training period was maintained, during both LT and HT. These observations suggest that tapering allows for maintenance of increased lean mass gained from prior training, but a taper period is likely too short a time period to have direct effects on muscle architecture or increases in muscle mass.

Nervous system changes may play a major role in increased maximal strength after a taper (19). Häkkinen et al. (18) observed statistically significant increases in the average maximum integrated electromyography (for 3 quadriceps muscles together) together with the increased MVIC peak force for the competitive powerlifters undertaking 1 week of reduced tapering; however, this was not seen for the noncompetitive lifters. This finding suggests that in well-trained athletes, a 7-day period of reduced training may improve neural activation and is associated with improvements in force output. No statistically significant changes in motor unit activation (using the interpolated twitch technique), time to peak torque or maximum rate of torque development were found by Gibala et al. (16) after a 10-day taper, suggesting minimal or no contribution of the nervous system to their results. However, they concluded that motor unit activation may have been too insensitive to detect neural changes and that integrated electromyography may have been a better technique to use. Results from these 2 studies are inconclusive; more research is needed to determine whether improved neural activation plays some role in improved performance after a taper.

More research is needed to determine the mechanisms responsible for improved maximal strength after a taper, with very limited data currently available. However, it seems that hormonal and neuromuscular changes are minimal during short-duration tapers and that recovery of damaged muscle fibers may play a larger role in performance improvements. Maintenance of muscle mass during the taper along with repaired muscle may be 1 explanation for improved performance. However, because of the lack of research in this area, it is difficult to draw any clear conclusions.

TRAINING CESSATION

Training cessation occurs when training completely ceases but regular daily activities still occur. It is also commonly referred to as detraining. Strictly speaking, short-term cessation is not true detraining, because in some cases, it can result in improved performance (32) and therefore can be classified as a type of tapering. In contrast, detraining is defined as a loss of training-induced adaptations after training cessation and so results in decreases in performance (32). Training cessation can only be differentiated by the length of time someone ceases to train; improved or maintained performance is only seen with short durations because training adaptations can be maintained. Table 2 shows a summary of the studies discussed in the following section.

T3-3
Table 2-a:
Effects of short-term training cessation on muscular strength
T4-3
Table 2-b:
Effects of short-term training cessation on muscular strength

EFFECTS OF TRAINING CESSATION ON MAXIMAL STRENGTH

When training cessation has occurred for no more than a week improvements, or maintenance, in maximal strength have often been observed. Anderson and Cattanach (3) found small (combined mean of 4.9%) and non–statistically significant improvements in 1RM bench press and squat strength when 41 track and field athletes (22 men, 19 women) had 2–7 days off training after a 5-week strength training program. This study showed that 1RM strength can be maintained when only a short period of time is taken off training in trained athletes. Weiss et al. (39) also investigated the effects of short-duration training cessation, between 2 and 5 days, and its effects on strength in the 1RM heel raise and maximal low-velocity isokinetic torque of the plantar flexors. Fifty-four untrained participants were involved in the study and before training cessation had completed 8 weeks of resistance training of the plantar flexors. It was observed that all durations of complete rest had only trivial ES except for 1RM heel raise strength at 3 and 4 days of training cessation, which had a small ES (0.30 and 0.38, respectively). These results again showed strength can be maintained with short periods of training cessation, and perhaps, 4 days of training cessation may be beneficial for maximal strength expression in untrained participants.

A follow-up study was conducted by Weiss et al. (40) using more ecologically valid strength measures of a 1RM bench press and maximal low-velocity isokinetic force of the bench press with 25 strength-trained participants. Almost all variables again, regardless of condition, had trivial ES after training cessation periods. The only exception to this was the maximal low-velocity isokinetic force of the bench press at 4 days of training cessation (ES = 0.26); however, 1RM bench press did not show this same trend. Again, it was seen that training cessation for short durations had minimal impact on maximal strength expression, but perhaps, 4 days off training may have a greater positive impact on maximal strength as seen by the small ES observed. Training cessation for 2–7 days seems to have no negative impact on performance, allowing for maintenance of performance and potentially small improvements.

Longer durations of training cessation are less likely to have positive effect with detraining a more likely outcome. Gibala et al. (16) had 8 resistance-trained (>1 year) participants complete 10 days of training cessation after 3 weeks of resistance training. After 10 days of training cessation, maximal low-velocity isokinetic peak torque of the elbow flexors showed statistically significant reductions (−8.1%; ES, 0.34) and MVIC peak torque of the elbow flexors was also reduced (−1.9%; ES, 0.13); however, this was not statistically significant. Measures were also taken every 2 days during training cessation. Maximal low-velocity isokinetic peak torque of the elbow flexors showed statistically significant increases after 2 days (4.7%; ES, 0.21), and non–statistically significant increases after 4 days (1.7%; ES, 0.07) of training cessation, while all other time points showed reductions. MVIC peak torque was nearly identical at 2 (0.1%; ES, 0.01) and 6 (0.2%; ES, 0.01) days of training cessation. At 4 days of training cessation, there was a small non–statistically significant increase in MVIC peak torque (1.3%; ES, 0.09). All other time points showed non–statistically significant reductions in MVIC peak torque. These results show that in trained participants, 10 days of training cessation of the elbow flexors reduces maximal strength, but 2–6 days off training may allow for improvements or maintenance of maximal strength. Hortobagyi et al. (24) had 12 strength-trained athletes (8.1 ± SD 1.61 years of resistance training experience) cease their regular training for a 14-day period. Small reductions were seen in 1RM bench press (−1.7%; ES, 0.12), 1RM squat (−0.9%; ES, 0.05), MVIC peak force of the knee extensors (−7%), and maximal low-velocity isokinetic concentric torque peak force of the knee extensors (−2.3%), however none of these values were statistically significant. The knee flexors showed no statistically significant changes for either MVIC peak force or maximal low-velocity isokinetic concentric peak force. Such results demonstrate that 2 weeks of training cessation may be enough to cause reductions in performance.

As training cessation continues for up to 4 weeks, the magnitude of detraining effects is increased. Terzis et al. (38) had 11 physical education students perform 14 weeks of resistance training followed by 4 weeks of detraining. After statistically significant improvements in strength during the training period (22.1–32.9%), non–statistically significant reductions occurred in all 1RM values after the 4-week period of training cessation; 1RM bench press (−4.2%), leg press (−5.7%), and squat (−3.9%). Izquierdo et al. (25) performed 4 weeks of training cessation after 16 weeks of resistance training in 14 national Basque ball players. This study also included a taper (n = 11) and a control group (n = 21). Four weeks of training cessation resulted in statistically significant reductions in 1RM bench press (−9%) and squat (−6%) performance. Together, these 2 studies show that training cessation of 4 weeks is enough to cause reductions in strength performance.

With more than 4 weeks of training cessation, only significant reductions are seen, clearly showing these durations to simply be detraining. Reductions back to pretraining values have been observed in previously untrained participants who ceased training for 3 months after an initial 3-month training period (where MVIC peak force of the knee extensors showed statistically significant increases by 16.7%) (2). Following 10–18 weeks of training with 12 weeks of training cessation resulted in a statistically significant reduction of 68% in MVIC peak force of the knee extensors (17).

Short durations of training cessation have been shown to maintain or produce small improvements in maximal strength and could be used as part of a taper. It seems that 2–6 days of training cessation is most likely to result in improved performance or will allow for maintained strength (3,16,39,40); however, 10–14 days of training cessation results in small reductions in performance (16,24). One month or more of training cessation will result in significant decreases in strength performance and is not advised as a method of tapering (2,17,25,38).

MECHANISMS OF TRAINING CESSATION ON MAXIMAL STRENGTH

As with the mechanisms of tapering and regular training, the major physiological changes resulting in changes in maximal strength from training cessation are most likely to occur from changes in the muscular and/or nervous system (14). Several studies have looked at these mechanisms.

Hortobagyi et al. (24) noted changes in several anabolic hormones and other biochemical markers after 14 days of training cessation with growth hormone, testosterone, and the testosterone to cortisol ratio showing statistically significant increases, whereas cortisol and creatine kinase showed statistically significant decreases. These results may indicate the body is in an enhanced state of tissue remodeling and repair after 2 weeks of training cessation; however, maximal strength performance was only maintained within this study. After 4 weeks of detraining, Izquierdo et al. (25) observed no statistically significant changes in total testosterone, free testosterone, growth hormone, or cortisol. A tendency (p = 0.07) for elevated IGF-1 was observed, which may indicate reduced stress of training and an enhanced anabolic environment. However, this study did not show favorable changes in other anabolic hormones, such as growth hormone, and performance also decreased.

Hortobagyi et al. (24) also reported non–statistically significant decreases in peak surface electromyography activity (−8.4–12.7%) of the vastus lateralis after 14 days of training cessation. Gibala et al. (16) saw no statistically significant changes in motor unit activation (using the interpolated twitch technique), time to peak torque, or maximum rate of torque development after 10 days of training cessation, indicating no change or reductions in neuromuscular activation. In addition, Hortobagyi et al. (24) found that type I and II fiber areas decreased, but this was only statistically significant for the 6.4% (ES, −0.30) decrease in type II fiber area and not the 5.2% (ES, −0.26) decrease in type I fiber area. Terzis et al. (38) also observed a statistically significant decrease in the cross-sectional area of type II fibers (IIA and IIX) by 10–12% after 4 weeks of training cessation. These results indicate that type II fibers reduce in size after training cessation, with greater losses seen after longer durations of training cessation. Kadi et al. (26) have shown that the number of satellite cells remains elevated at 3, 10, and 60 days of training cessation after 3 months of heavy resistance training in previously untrained participants. This indicates that the muscle is in a state of, or capable of, growth or repair at these times after training cessation.

Hortobagyi et al. (24) found no statistically significant changes in body mass or body fat percentage after 14 days of training cessation; however, body fat percentage did show a small and non–statistically significant increase (2.6%). Terzis et al. (38) also found no statistically significant changes in body mass, fat-free mass, or body fat percentage after 4 weeks of training cessation; again, although a small (non–statistically significant) increase was seen in body fat percentage (3.0%), which was mirrored by a small reduction in fat-free mass (−0.9%). These results suggest that a small decrease in lean mass may be associated with the small decreases in performance seen within these studies.

Given that few studies have looked into each of these many areas, it is difficult to draw conclusions on the mechanisms for changes in maximal strength performance during periods of training cessation. Although it seems that when training ceases for a short duration, the body is in a better hormonal state for repair and growth. There is also a lack of studies investigating these changes within the first week of training cessation, which is when positive changes in performance are most likely to occur. Neural activation of the muscles may be reduced or unchanged, which would result in decreased performance, but it is not known whether this may be enhanced during the first week of training cessation when performance improvements are seen; further research is needed.

T5-3
Table 3:
Tapering recommendations for maximal strength

CONCLUSIONS

Tapering is an effective strategy to enhance maximal muscular strength. Step and progressive tapers have both been shown to be effective following differing training methods before the tapering period. Reductions in training volume (by 30–70%, through reduced training frequency or training session volume) with maintained or small increases in training intensity seem to be most effective for improvements in maximal muscular strength. The optimal magnitude of such changes is not clear; more research is needed to determine this. Training cessation may also be able to play a role in enhancing maximal strength, with less than 1 week of training cessation being optimal for performance maintenance, and 2–4 days appearing to be optimal for enhanced maximal muscular strength. Improved performance may be related to more complete muscle recovery/repair, greater neural activation (with maintained muscle mass) and maybe an enhanced anabolic environment. Further research is required to gain a more complete understanding of optimal tapering for expression of maximal muscular strength, particularly, in the areas of optimal type of taper, the magnitudes of volume and intensity changes during the taper, and mechanisms causing enhanced strength.

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS

Given that training before a taper can differ significantly, recommendations will need to be adapted by practitioners and greater reductions in training load (and perhaps longer taper durations) implemented if an athlete has been undergoing a heavy training load. However, practitioners should ensure a taper duration of at least 1 week and no more than 4 weeks using a step or progressive taper. Reductions in training load should come primarily from total training volume. Reductions of 30–70% seem to be effective; this can be reduced through decreasing individual training session's volume and/or reducing the frequency of training. Intensity of resistance training should be either maintained at the pretaper level or slightly increased. Training should cease at least 2 days before the targeted competition/event but no more than 1 week prior (Table 3).

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Keywords:

maximal strength; performance; recovery; rest; sport; taper; training

© 2015 by the National Strength & Conditioning Association