Tapering for competitions – things to think about

Tapering isn’t a science it’s a process. How do you get it right?

Response to Taper Effect

Musculo-Skeletal

 

Resting the physical part of the body allows muscle growth to occur. Tapering results in more than just recovery and repairs, it gives the body a chance to improve and build.

 

Neurological

 

Mitochondrial connections between neurones in the brain are reinforced through repeated actions i.e. repetitions and practice. A period of tapering that comes too early or lasts too long or fails to recognise the need to maintain some skills levels could lead to a diminution of a skill. Thinking through an action or activity, without engaging the body in the action, may help maintain, even improve the way in which the body responds come competition time.

 

Psychological

 

By doing something different to the regular slog of training the athlete feels as if they are preparing for something big and therefore get keyed up for it. However, depending on their experience and self-awareness they may feel the taper is too long or too much, or that it is leaving them feeling weak, or out of sorts. They key is for the coach to ‘play it by ear,’ and to tailor the taper to the athlete not the athlete to a prescriptive taper.

 

Carbohydrate Intake

 

Weight gain would result if the same carbohydrate quantities are consumed during a taper as during the intensive training. Advice of a nutritionist should be taken.
Intensity of Training

 

Will vary from swimmer to swimmer, based on their biological age, gender, levels of fitness, the event/s they are entered for and specialisation (or not), as well as their response to the taper and any other factors that may come into play simultaneously such as injury, illness, bereavement, the pool being closed … your name it!

 

Duration of Training

 

As above, though it is reasonable bearing in mind the physiological capacities & abilities of swimmers, that age groups swimmers only need a short taper (if any), while senior/mature heavily muscled sprint swimmers tend to benefit from more.

 

Tapering, Super-compensation and all that jazz

‘Super-Compensation’

‘Compensation’ also known as ‘adaptation’ occurs through-out training for a swimmer’s performance to improve. This is when after a period of intense training fatigue occurs followed by rest & recovery which produces an overall improvement in performance. Effort followed by recovery that results in adaptation occurs daily, even twice daily if an athlete swims/exercises more than once and during the week if there is rest or period out of the water/not exercising (desired or otherwise). Super-compensation is simply a heightened, lengthened or extreme version of other minor or regular periods of compensation. In other words, after many weeks or months of intense training a longer period of rest and recovery occurs that is designed to produce ‘super-compensation,’ or compensation that goes beyond the usual degree of adaptation, so that the resulting performance in an important competition is greatly enhanced.

How long should a taper be for a swimmer?

The duration and timing of a tape will vary from swimmer to swimmer and depend to some degree on the importance of this event to this swimmer and the team for whom they swim, as well as the event or events or specialisation … as well as their age, levels of fitness and expectations. Age group swimmers need little tapering as they haven’t the muscle bulk that would benefit from the adaptation process of the taper, whereas as Senior swimmers competing in a sprint event may benefit greatly from a longer, deeper period of tapering. If a swimmer is keeping a logbook and they, perhaps their parent and/or team manager, and especially their coach and/or assistant coach, know and understand this swimmer’s make up, physical & psychological, as well as other factors that may impact on their training and the nature and need of a taper such as school trips &/or national exams, then between them a taper, that is to a degree bespoke, cane be planned for.

How to bring about optimal performance in relation to factors at a competition that can affect an individual’s performance

How to bring about optimal performance in relation to factors at a competition that can affect an individual’s performance

Factor Your Strategies

Hydration

 

Educate athletes to understand why the need to be hydrated during training and at competitions is important. This ‘education’ ought to include a classroom/conference style presentation, with supporting literature and perhaps drink samples provided by a sponsor. As well as publicity for the event going onto the club website, in the club newsletter, on the club notice-boards and in swimmer’s log books, a sheet outlining hydration principles would be used to make the information readily available to swimmers, coaches, parents & team managers. Ensure that swimmers have drinks poolside and that these are suitable to their needs – some energy drinks containing too much glucose for example.

 

Team Spirit and Unity

 

How swimmers get on with their ‘colleagues’ is vital, the lane dynamic can go wrong, as can the mood of the squad or certain swimmers in it, even affecting the entire team depending on who is involved/responsible. From the outset club members, squad or not, need to understand the need to abide by certain club rules, but more than that to participate in some of the charity & social events the club puts on that creates a sense of belonging and combined pride and commitment.  Attitude of parents, committee, coaches & teachers all counts her … even the presence of Club Flyers & Posters around the ‘home’ facility, as well as the wearing of club swimming caps, costumes, tops, hoodies, t-bags & so on. This team ‘spirit’ is also enhance through internal & external PR, posting of results, writing up of event reports, appearances in local papers and putting laminated cuttings up on notice-boards and linking to news on the club website and sharing stories in the club newsletter. All this creates ‘unity’ at an event, as does sharing a coach, and staying at the same location, eating together …  and staying together in a poolside ‘corral.’

 

Environmental Issues

 

Travel distance to the location. Outdoor, v.humid poolside, poor seating, nature of warm-up arrangements – is there a separate pool for warm ups & swim downs? 25m or 50m. Local weather and time zone, time of year (hot, cold, wet, snow etc) Changing rooms/cubicles, team changing, quality and cleanliness of toilets/showers. Access to appropriate food & drinks. Lighting, distance from changing rooms to pool. Temperature away from the pool. Crowding. Bins.  Ease of reading electronic boards. Ease of greeting parents/friends. Sound.

 

Length of Competition

 

Over a day or days, how long during the day between warm up and heats and events. Heat declared winners or finals. Award ceremonies during or after events. Electronic timing or officials … or both.

 

Format of Competition

 

Suitability or otherwise of running order and the events chosen by individual swimmers who may or may not feel good or otherwise about the choices they originally made and the competition they now face … or don’t face. Some events become a non-event if there are few entries …

 

Level of Competition

 

Just as swimmers competing in events where they could appear to do so badly they are humiliated so swimmers that run away with the events won’t gain anything if they are just swimming against the clock and if they mock the event by swimming slowly it does them and the club harm.