You’ve spent months working your butt off preparing for the biggest tournament of the season. Now is the time to ready your body for the final push.
The next few weeks are critical in you final physical performance. Unfortunately, not understanding the taper causes some athletes to push too hard and others to do to little.
Doing too much
Many ultimate players have such a profound fear of getting “out of shape” that they barely allow themselves a taper at all. But the truth is, if you have been training for months on end, your body is not going to lose all those adaptations in 2-4 weeks.
Even if you did absolutely nothing for an entire week, you would show little to no decrease in VO2 max. The cardiovascular system is among the more quickly adapting athletic qualities. but it would take about 10 days of inactivity for any negative changes to begin taking place. So relax. You cardiovascular system, your strength, and your power output will all be fine. If you do the taper right, these qualities will actually increase.
Doing too little
On the other extreme are players who train normally up to about a week before the main competition of the season and then stop everything all at once in the hope of getting maximum rest and recovery. These are usually the same people who throw in a few “rest days” prior to every tournament. Unfortunately, doing nothing is not the best recipe for the best recovery. Some movement and some blood flow will help your body make the most of it’s own healing and recovery properties.
Of all the athletic qualities, mobility is something that can change almost daily. It’s important to continue to move in order to maintain your movement quality.
Additionally, you want to keep your nervous system primed for action. A few days of doing nothing can leave you feeling sluggish even if nothing has changed physically.
Doing it just right
The two variables to think about in your taper are volume and intensity. One of them should change, the other should not. Volume is the amount of work that you’re doing – how many reps/sets/miles/whatever. Intensity is the often referred to as the quality of the work. In strength training this is how much weight you’re lifting. In sprinting and agility work, it’s how fast you’re going.
In the taper you want to dramatically decrease the volume of training while maintaining the intensity of your training.
In the weight room this will mean doing fewer sets than you are used to going. You can still lift the same amount of weight, in fact, you may find yourself lifting more than usual as the positive effects of the taper start to show.
In your speed and agility work you will again do fewer reps or sets of the drills you normally do. However you will still do your sprints and agility work at top speed.
You want to decrease the volume of your training as much as 60-90% of your regular training volume in the two weeks leading up to your tournament of choice.
What should I be doing?
You can carry on with the same type of training you have been doing. Now is the time to do workouts you’re comfortable with. Throw in a few or your favorite workouts and do things that make you feel confident as an athlete. Part of the purpose of the taper is to help you feel good. So don’t add to your stress level by trying something new or doing things that leave you feeling frustrated.
Since your workouts are going to be shorter, use the extra time for some visualization exercises. Assemble a mental highlight reel of your best offensive and defensive plays of the season. Visualize yourself being successful in various scenarios you’ve been working on throughout the season. Run through the team playbook in your mind. Get yourself mentally prepared for anything by imagining how you want to react to various uncontrollables like the weather, bad calls, sleeping through your alarm clock, or whatever else you can think of.
Five Basic Things to Remember About the Taper
Accept that you’ve already done all the training that is going to dictate your physical performance.
Improvements in performance will now come from rest and recovery, not from training.
Decrease the volume of your workouts
Maintain the intensity of your workouts
- Focus on mental preparation
To read more about the science and physiology of tapering, see Melissa’s Can You Trust Your Taper on the Ultimate Results blog.
Feature photo by Burt Granofsky – UltiPhotos.com
Today marks the one year anniversary of the publishing of The Ultimate Athlete Handbook.
I was doing my first weekend ultimate fitness clinic in Ireland on the day the book was published. Since writing the book I’ve worked at Power Train Sports Institute, started The Ultimate Athlete Project, and spent two months in Colombia giving weekend braindumps of everything I know. After a year of all of these adventures, I thought I’d take a look back at The Ultimate Athlete Handbook to see if I had changed my opinions on anything or wish I had done anything differently.
It can be weird as an author to reread your own work. By the time I’m done fiddling with a piece of writing I just want to get rid of it and never look at it again. In looking at The Ultimate Athlete Handbook a year later, I’m still pleased with what we produced. The objective was to give players an overview of the athletic qualities needed for ultimate and how to best train those qualities. There is no fluff. Every sentence has a purpose. An athlete can easily pick a page or chapter in the book and find something new that they can apply immediately to their training. Though I’m always looking for new and better ways to train, the book covers the fundamentals and there is nothing in the book that I would take back.
In my clinics in Colombia we spent a lot of time talking about how to put the concepts in The Ultimate Athlete together into a comprehensive workout and into comprehensive long term plans. I know that this topic needs to be addressed in the ultimate community because I still get questions about “what’s a good workout for ultimate?” In order to get the most out of training, you really need to think beyond the workout and embrace a more long term training plan.
Looking back, if I could change one thing about The Ultimate Athlete Handbook, it would be to have included a chapter about program design.
I hesitated to talk about program design in The Ultimate Athlete Handbook because is it such a huge topic. There are about a million nuances to think about program design. There is no one perfect way to do it. But the same could be said about any of the topics in The Ultimate Athlete Handbook. So, in the spirit of The Ultimate Athlete Handbook, I present to you the fundamental concepts of program design as a place to start.
Many players are still using the linear periodization paradigm and coupling it with traditional track workouts. When players suggest you should start with long distances, then 800s then 400s and progress to shorter distances as the season gets closer, this is linear periodization. However, linear periodization model for track is not likely to be the best model of training for ultimate.
The other mistake players make is to have no periodization at all. Some players seem to have the idea that you can find a magic workout for ultimate and the more you do it, the better prepared you will be. A lot of players spend all of their ultimate careers in the general preparation phase of training being in various degrees of “in shape” and never taking the time to tap into the profound benefits that come with lifting heavy weights or focusing on the motor skill foundation of agility.
The best way to think about your long term planning is neither linear periodization nor the magic workout theory. The best way to organize your training is to think of having various phases in which you have a primary focus. Accept the fact that you will not be able to improve on all athletic qualities at once. Unless you are a novice athlete, trying to work on everything at once will likely be counterproductive.
I’m suggesting the following four step process as a way to help you think about program plan and what you might want to do in the months leading up to the season. I’ll go through the process with two examples.
Step 1: Focus
Choose a primary focus for your training for the next 3-6 weeks. What athletic quality will you try to improve? Examples of athletic qualities you might focus on are strength, power, agility, jumping ability, work capacity(endurance), or strength endurance. Change the primary focus of your training every 3-6 weeks to enhance your adaptation to your training. You may have more than one focus if they are complementary (strength and power, power and vertical jumping). Avoid having goals that contradict one another (endurance and power, strength endurance and jumping)
Example 1: Let’s choose work capacity
Example 2: Power development
Step 2: Choose your tools
What is the best way you have available to develop the athletic quality you are working on? Do not worry about the “perfect” way. The best way for you is using training methods that you feel safe doing on equipment that is easily accessible during times you can use it.
Example 1: work capacity – Do you have access to a large field? Do you have access to a track? Do you need to do this work in a small space in a gym? For this example let’s say there is a large grassy area in a park near my apartment.
Example 2: power – Have you been coached in the Olympic lifts? Do you feel comfortable doing simple derivatives derivatives of the Olympic lifts and have access to a place to do them? Do you have a medicine ball? sandbags? Can you get access to any of these things? For this example we’ll say I have a gym with a squat rack but no Olympic lifting platform.
Step 3: Create your schedule
Here you need to ask yourself two questions. How often do you need to do the type of workout you’re doing in order to get the best training response (here is where a little knowledge of supercompensation goes a long way).
Fill in the days that will get you the best response for your primary focus. Other days will be spent maintaining other athletic qualities and not doing work that will interfere with your main objective.
Example 1: Work Capacity (conditioning) Let’s say I have access to a large field and I have decided to use alternating linear and lateral conditioning workouts as suggested in The Ultimate Athlete Handbook. Let’s say I have about one hour per day available for training four days per week and practice on the weekend. My schedule for a phase in which my primary focus is conditioning may look like this:
Tuesday: strength training legs, lateral conditioning
Wednesday: linear interval workout
Thursday: strength training upper, lateral conditioning
Friday: linear interval workout
Sat: ultimate practice
Sun: ultimate practice
Because the lateral workouts are very short (20 minutes maximum) and don’t take up much space, I can probably do these in the gym. This will allow me to do a short strength training session beforehand to maintain and hopefully build some strength. Because I am working on conditioning, it does not matter if my legs are tired after a lifting session. If I wanted, I could also put extra mobility drills or a few speed and agility drills before my M, W, F conditioning workouts.
Example 2: The focus is power development. Let’s say I have access to a gym with a squat rack. I have decided to use Olympic lifting derivatives as my main tool for training. Let’s say I have five days per week available for training plus a winter league game tuesday night. Wednesday night is trivia night at the local bar.
My schedule might look something like this:
Monday: snatch grip jumps, reactive squats, strength training
Tuesday: league game
Thursday: high pulls from hang, dumbbell snatch, strength training
Friday: light conditioning
Saturday: 3-4 Plyometric drills, hard conditioning
Sunday: Agility drills, light conditioning
Power development work must be done when you are able to work near 100% intensity to have a training effect. More is not better so it would be best NOT to do a lot of power focused work every day unless you are doing very low volumes. Your desire for good quality power workouts should be a factor in deciding the difficulty level of a conditioning workout the day before. In the above schedule the conditioning on days before my power days are going to be light enough that I do not have residual fatigue. And I still want to move and do my warmup/mobility drills every day so that I am not sluggish coming into my power focused exercises. With one day of playing ultimate, one day of a harder conditioning workout, and a few days of lighter conditioning, I will easily be able to maintain my conditioning while improving my ability to produce power.
Step 4: Organize your training blocks
After 3-6 weeks, change your primary focus. There are a few ways to think about organizing your training blocks. You could choose your greatest weakness that is holding you back and improve it. You could develop your greatest strength. You could plan your training blocks in a way that they build upon one another. For example, a strength block followed by a power block makes sense because first you develop strength, then you learn to express your strength over a shorter period of time. Other logical progressions are strength followed by strength endurance, power followed by speed, agility, or jumping. You also want to take into account the time of the year and how much you are playing. In season is not the best time to work on maximum power development because you may be playing too hard and too often to do high intensity work on a consistent basis. Off season is not the best time to work on conditioning because you can quickly develop that when you need it closer to the start of the season.
What we prescribe as strength and conditioning coaches will always be part science and part art which is formed from experience. I hope you take the principles above and experiment with your own training plans. Remember there is no such thing as a perfect plan. And what will be perfect for you one season, may not be perfect for you now. So don’t be afraid to try new things, experiment, make mistakes, and constantly improve upon what you’re doing. If you’re still using the same training plan you were using three years ago, change is long overdue. Good luck in your training this season and feel free to leave comments/questions below!