The Taper – Are You Getting It Right?

Be at your peak for competition

With less than 8 weeks to go until the Australian Masters Athletics Championships, and also until the Stawell Gift, most of our Track & Field athletes are in the final phase of their preparation. Trying to “get it right” on the day of competition has always been one of the most challenging aspects of programming for athletes – it is part science and part art (experience)

We are going to look at the taper – the final physical preparation for an athlete, the science behind it and how we look to put it together.


Definitions vary but the general concept is that it is a reduction in an athlete’s training load, which is achieved through an adjustment in some or most of the training variables:

  • Training Volume –total km covered, sets/reps/weights lifted
  • Training Intensity – how hard you train, the level of training
  • Training Frequency – how often you train
  • Training Pattern – how you put your training phases/sessions together


  1. Training Volume is the most easily manipulated component. The taper should see a reduction of roughly 50% of total volume. Research appears to indicate that this volume reduction is best achieved by reducing the volume across all or most sessions rather than just by reducing sessions.
  2. Training Intensity should stay at the pre-taper level. There is a general consensus that there should not be significant increase or decrease in the training intensity during the taper. This is despite the temptation that may exist due to the athlete feeling fresher due to a decrease in training volume.
  3. More in dispute is the reduction in training regularity. Whilst much of the latest research indicates that decreasing training regularity is not ideal, there is still a very strong body of anecdotal/experiential opinion that is not against the idea of reducing the number of sessions an athlete experiences during the taper period. This is possibly a semantic argument as many coaches in my experience may drop a “training” session but introduce an extra mobility session or massage.
  4. Changing the order of training sessions and recovery sessions/rest days can also be used to reduce the training load of athletes. This can also effect the pattern of the reduction in load – does the reduction happen linearly or with a significant initial drop or a small bit at first and increase over the length of the taper?
  5. Full tapers generally run for 7-15 days though can operate over as little as 5 days depending on the pre-taper loads on the athlete


The answer to this question lies in the “art of coaching”. It involves knowing the athlete, monitoring the athlete and, especially in the case of Masters Athletes, listening to the athlete. There is no “one size fits all” solution.

A basic taper involves the reduction of training load. However, as each athlete is an individual, the effect of any taper design will vary between athletes. Therefore the design of a taper involves knowing your athlete and then using that knowledge in conjunction with the principles outlined above.

As a starting point you should:

  1. Know the pre-taper volumes of your athlete
  2. Look to reduce that volume by roughly 50%
  3. Plan how long you wish to taper and how that will impact the manner in which you reduce the volume
  4. Maintain the pre-taper intensity of training sessions

It is important to also remember the concept of training reversibility:

  • Strength/Speed  based athletes will start to lose maximum strength after 3 weeks of inactivity
  • Endurance based athletes will see a 5-20% reduction in endurance performance after 4 weeks of inactivity

The maintenance of training intensity will ensure that the athlete does not lose performance during the taper period (though it is important not to extend the taper past 15 days).

Good luck with your upcoming competitions

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Author: DamnFitSC

Coaching athletes since 1988. Post Graduate qualifications in Sports Coaching. Accredited with Australian Strength and Conditioning Association. Have coached athletes across numerous sports at local, state, national and international level.

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