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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.

SO WHAT IS A TAPER?

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

SO WHAT DO WE “KNOW”?

  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

SO HOW DO WE DO IT?

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

 For more information on how Strength and Conditioning programmes can help you improve your sporting performance go to www.damnfitsc.com.au/strength-and-conditioning

PART 3: If You Want to Run Faster… Build These

As we have discussed previously – one of the major benefits of strength training is its ability to improve the running economy of runners.

If you have missed this discussion I invite you to go back and read Part 1 of this series Kickstart You Running. Part 2 of the series, 3 Mistakes to Avoid is also worth a look

IF YOU WANT TO RUN FASTER you need to build strength in these muscle groups:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Gluteals
  • Calves

QUADRICEPS

Key muscles: Vastus Lateralis, Vastus Medialis, Vastus Intermedius, Rectus Femoris

Key Functions: knee extension and hip flexion

Key Exercises: Squats, Lunges

NOTES

I will often incorporate both of these exercise into a runner’s program. At times I will run them concurrently, with the most of the heavy lifting being done in the squats while the lunges are used to develop strength and stability on each leg individually. At other times I will use variations such at the Bulgarian Split Squat or Front Loaded Split Squat to target the muscle differently.

HAMSTRINGS

Key muscles: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus

Key Functions: hip extension and knee flexion

Key Exercises: Deadlifts, Nordics

NOTES

Both of these exercise will load and strengthen the hamstring. Early on you need to be aware of soreness and how this will impact your running.

When using Deadlifts I like to mix up the range of movement (from the floor, raises, deficit and Romanian style) and the means of weighting the lift (Hex Bar, Olympic Bar, Dumbells, Banded).

There are a great number of variations of the Nordics. Throughout the season I like to vary the style to challenge the muscles in a variety of ways. My absolute favourite is using the Glute Ham Raise (GHR).

GLUTEALS

Key muscles: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus

Key Functions: hip extension, external rotation, transverse abduction (Glute Med), Internal rotation (Glute Med), Abduction, Transverse Abduction (Glute Min)

Key Exercises: Hip Bridging, Bench Hip Thrust

NOTES

My “go-to” exercise for the Glutes is the Bench Hip Thrust. It has the ability to move a heavy load in a running specific direction (esp in terms of acceleration) without the overloading of the spine that can occur during squats and deadlifts. To incorporate Glute Med & Min I place a band around the thighs just above the kneecaps and then resist the pulling together of the knees caused by the band.

CALVES

Key muscles: Soleus, Gastrocnemius, Tibialis Posterior

Key Functions: Dorisflexion (Gastroc, Soleus), Plantar flexion. Inversion (Tib Post)

Key Exercises: Standing Single Leg Calf Raises (barefoot), Weighted Seated Calf Raises

NOTES

Being able to develop strength in the calves in both the straight leg and bent leg position will help to significantly reduce the chance of common running injuries such as Achilles Tendinopothy and Plantar Fasciitis.

One of the common ideas we use is to develop the eccentric strength first, working slowly on the downward part of the moment (often under weight) and then being assisted in the rising motion.

Sets 2-3 of 15-20reps on a single leg will assist in building the required strength.

The exercises we have listed above will help develop strength in the key muscles involved in running. These exercises (or those that work the muscles similarly) should form the core of any strength programme aiming to improve running performance.

For more information on how Strength and Conditioning programmes can help you improve your sporting performance go to www.damnfitsc.com.au/strength-and-conditioning

PART 2: Strength Training for Runners – 3 mistakes to avoid

In this the second article on Strength Training for Runners we look at the top 3 mistakes runners make when weight training.

In the first blog of this series we examine the fantastic benefits of strength training. If you haven’t had a chance to catch up on this post it can be found HERE.

So now, here it is – our TOP THREE things to avoid when training in the gym:

1. FOCUSING ON ENDURANCE

We know that sprinters have a greater percentage of fast twitch fibres Type II) than those that run longer distances (Type 1). These Type 1 fibres are more suited to endurance events whereas the Type II fibres fatigue more quickly and work better in short bursts.

This knowledge has led to the misconception that if runners are to train with weights then they should be on a high rep (15-25) and low weight program.

However the purpose of weight training runners is to make them stronger to improve ground reaction forces and improve running economy. Working with high reps and low weights will improve muscular endurance (how long the muscle can keep working) but WILL NOT improve strength.

We have also seen in recent years the advent of WODs, F45, CrossFit and the like. These sessions will, most likely, help improve your general fitness, change your body composition and improve muscular endurance BUT WILL NOT improve the force production required to improve your running performance. These workouts are designed around minimal rest, train to exhaustion and are often not designed to progress your strength in a manner which will reduce your chance of injury.

Runners need to train specifically to make the strength and force improvements required to improve running results. The most effective programs will have you regularly working in the 3-6 rep range and completing 4-5 sets of each exercise. Rest breaks can range from 1-3 minutes between sets.

You will at times also venture into the power range – lifting 2-3 reps per set and 5-6 sets of each exercise with even longer breaks in between sets.

You can challenge this even further by adding more explosive work using plyometrics – click HERE to read our early article on how to incorporate plyometrics into your program.

2. FOCUSING ON STABILITY

Do runners need to be stable? YES.  

Should stability be the key focus of your training? NO

In recent times the concept of function stability (under various names and guises) has become very popular. The use of Swiss Balls, Bosu Ball and Wobble Boards has become the cornerstone of many programs.

It doesn’t take much googling to find the latest “party” trick – squats standing on a swiss ball. You can even find people who do with a weighted barbell on their shoulders. It does show great balance but… its dangerous (think falling/crashing)  and it DOES NOT improve force production… SO IT DOES NOT IMPROVE RUNNING PERFORMANCE.

I definitely use these stability tools in my athletes’ programmes, especially in rehab but not to the detriment of my number one priority – FORCE PRODUCTION. Training with stability tools WILL NOT improve your ability to produce the type of force needed to improve your running performance.

3. ADOPTING A BODYBUILDER’S PROGRAM

Despite what your ego may tell you… You want to be a runner not a body builder. Bodybuilders spend 5 to 6 days a week in the gym (sometimes twice in a day). Their goal is to increase muscle mass.

The goal for runners is to increase STRENGTH and FORCE without gaining muscle mass (more weight to carry).

Body Builders like to isolate muscle groups in training. Runners, on the other hand need to train the body to function as a unit and thus training should reflect this. Runners need to get stronger as unit to produce the most force possible with the least effort.

SO REMEMBER:

  • Correct strength training WILL IMPROVE running performance
  • Never train with a focus on endurance while lifting
  • Use stability tools for rehab/prehab or when first being introduced to the gym
  • You are not a bodybuilder… don’t train like one

For more information on how Strength and Conditioning programmes can help you improve your sporting performance go to www.damnfitsc.com.au/strength-and-conditioning

PART 1: Kick-start Your Running

Even experienced runners hit plateaus from time to time – a period of time where performances seem to stagnate and consequently motivation becomes tougher. The temptation is to work harder, run further and wait for the improvement to come. Changing the training dynamic is certainly one way to kick start your running… but it’s not the only way.

Those newer to running often find that improvement comes quickly early on as the body “figures out this running thing” and then the improvements disappear… and are often replaced with injury and frustration.

If you find yourself in either of these situations – your performances have flat lined (or God forbid, gone backwards) or you are facing increasing injury annoyance then adding strength training to your program may well just be the kick-start you need.

This is what we know:

Adding strength training to your running training can

  • increase maximal strength and reactive strength
  • improve running economy
  • improve maximal oxygen intake
  • improve the mid and latter stages of your race/performance

AND all of this can occur WITHOUT any associated hypertrophy (increase in muscle size ie not added weight to carry around)

So, to kick-start your running you should:

  • Set aside regular training time for strength training
  • Find a qualified and experience strength coach to guide you in integrating strength training into your training programme
  • Check out our blog on using plyometrics to take your running to the next level

For more information on how Strength and Conditioning programmes can help you improve your sporting performance go to www.damnfitsc.com.au/strength-and-conditioning

Time to Walk the Talk

It’s time for me to Walk the Talk.

I have made the decision that I want to compete again next season. For the past few years I have been content to train as a “sparring partner” for some of my locally based athletes and to have a run at the occasional competion (normally as the result of losing a bet – though I would prefer it was referred to as me being supportive).

I have always loved competing and welcome any opportunity to jump on the track and sprint. But I have missed the feeling of stepping on the track knowing I was in condition to perform at my best.

A lot has changed since I last trained seriously with an eye to competitive performance. I have gained: 2 more kids (I have 4 now); quite a few kilograms and a large number of clients (with whom I love working).

Three of my kids have reached the “active phase” – dancing and tennis taking up much of our “spare” time. Having given birth to our youngest 17 weeks ago my amazing wife is nearly ready to return to full time employment so I again get to be the stay-at-home Dad (a job I wouldn’t swap for the world.)

So it is against this background that I have decided to train and compete again. The obvious question is…Why now? There are the obvious responses – to challenge myself, the adrenalin rush from competing, the comraderie of fellow competitors. All of these are real but for me, my biggest motivation is that my kids are at an age where they can come and watch me compete and will, hopefully, be able to remember it. I want them to be able to see how I have set a goal and worked hard to achieve it.

So, over the next 10 months, I am going to train hard, blog about it and then see what I am able to achieve. I will reveal the struggle, the reality of being a Masters athlete and, hopefully, all the boxes I have ticked off.

This is a very similar journey to that faced by many of the athletes that come to me at Damn Fit SC. They still have a burning desire to compete at there best, they face many hurdles – some aged related and others related to the demands on their times. So just like we do for them, we are going to create a plan for me and implement the layers of accountability.

Stay tuned… there is more to come!!!

For more information on how Strength and Conditioning programmes can help you improve your sporting performance go to www.damnfitsc.com.au/strength-and-conditioning