Tapering swimming

Tapering swimming TrainingThe tapering strategy used by many swimmers to opti­mize competition performance has been defined as "a progressive non-linear reduction of the training load during a variable period of time, in an attempt to reduce the physiological and psychological stress of daily training and optimize sports performance" (Mujika & Padilla 2000). The aim of the taper be­fore the main competitions of the season is to elicit substantial improvements in performance. These per­formance gains have been variously attributed to in­creased levels of muscular force and power (Trappe et al. 2000), and improvements in neuromuscular, hematological, and hormonal function, and/or the psychological status of the swimmer (Mujika & Padilla 2000).

The main features of the taper include a sys­tematic 3-4 week reduction in training volume, on­going aerobic work to maintain basic fitness and de­velop race fitness, and fine tuning of race pace and pacing strategies through use of descending sets, bro­ken swims, and time trials. Training volume is gradu­ally reduced reaching about 20% of the peak weekly mileage at the time of competition. The conventional wisdom in the swimming community holds that male and sprint swimmers generally require a longer taper than female and distance swimmers respectively.

A study of the taper of swimmers competing at the 2000 Olympic Games revealed a mean performance improvement of 2.2 ± 1.5% (range -1.1 to 6.0%) over the final 3 weeks of training (Mujika etal. 2002). A total of 91 out of the 99 analyzed performances were faster at the Olympic Games after the taper and only 8 were slower. The percentage improvement in performance time was greater in the males (2.6 ± 1.5%) (mean standard deviation) than the females (1.8 ± 1.5%). The improvement of -2% in performance with the taper similar for all Olympic events and was achieved by swimmers from different countries and perfor­mance levels. This information provides a quantitative framework for coaches and swimmers to set realistic performance goals based on individual performance levels.

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