Thomas, L., Mujika, I., & Busson, T. (2008). A model study of optimal training reduction during pre-event taper in elite swimmers. Journal of Sports Sciences, 26, 643-652.


This study assessed taper responses in elite athletes using computer simulations. Parameters of a non-linear model were derived from training and performance data over two seasons for elite swimmers (N == 8). The fit between modeled and actual performances was statistically significant for each swimmer. Simulations estimated characteristics of step and progressive tapers that would maximize performance either (1) after regular training only or (2) after overload training of a 20% step increase in regular training for 28 days. Thus, entering a taper after continued normal training was compared to a 20% increase in overload training for the month before the taper commenced.

The highest performance with a step taper was greater with than without prior overload training but required a longer taper duration (approximately 3.15 weeks vs. 2.3 weeks). The optimal progressive taper led to a better performance only after the overload period. Negative and positive influences of training were estimated as indicators of fatigue and adaptations to training respectively. During the optimal taper, negative influences were removed completely, independently of the prior training, whereas positive influences increased only after overload training.

Implication. The characteristics of an optimal taper reduction in elite athletes depend on the training performed in the weeks prior to a taper. A taper removed the negative effects of training experienced before its implementation. Positive effects appeared during the taper only after the previous month's training was increased by a 20% overload. Therefore, taper responses appear to be enhanced after increased overload training during the month before the taper starts.

This study shows that the slow component of aerobic function is related more to the amount of trainng that is completed rather than the quality of a single bout of exercise (i.e., a race).

[Editor's Note: This study assumes that all trained swimmers in all swimming programs are in the same physical and mental shape prior to a taper. That is too presumptuous. Swimmers partake of a host of training experiences leaving a great diversity of physical and mental statuses before important meets when tapers are enacted. The results of this study most likely are peculiar to the limited-subject group employed in this investigation. One should not infer that the findings of this study are appropriate for any group of trained swimmers.]

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