How to Taper: Avoid the Mistakes and Get it Just Right

by | September 9, 2013, 2:46pm 0

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

  1. Accept that you’ve already done all the training that is going to dictate your physical performance.

  2. Improvements in performance will now come from rest and recovery, not from training.

  3. Decrease the volume of your workouts

  4. Maintain the intensity of your workouts

  5. 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 –

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