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How to Optimize Endurance Using the Taper Method

Whether you are training for an Olympic event or just a weekend 5 or 10K, we are all looking for the best way to optimize our endurance performance on the big day. In addition to completing your goal feeling good rather than wasted and dreading your next workout. Several studies have suggested the taper method, which is a reduction in training load and intensity in the final stages before a big event. A recent study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, a publication of the American College of Sports Medicine, looked into different tapering methods to see how varying the different components of training overload: frequency, duration, or intensity can influence the extent of improvement on performance. Training load can be reduced through a decrease in frequency, intensity, or volume alone or in vary combinations of the three. Most recent studies, including the one by Bosquet et al. found that a decrease in duration while maintaining both intensity and frequency resulted in the greatest performance improvement.

When vary duration of taper were compared, the two-week taper proved best. Less than two week or those greater, up to three weeks, resulted in larger drops in performance or smaller improvements. Yes, you actually improve your function by reducing your training and allow your body to rest and recover from the training. As we’ve mentioned in other posts, it is important to remember that you “do not get fitter while you are working out. Rather you gain in fitness following the appropriate training stimulus assuming you get adequate rest and provide your body with proper nutrition.”

The benefits of the taper method can best be explained by a 13-34% increase in muscle glycogen stores. More muscle glycogen results in an increased capacity to maintain maximal oxygen consumption, or aerobic endurance, which leads to optimal performance. The added rest during the period of taper also allows the muscle to repair and improve both their metabolic and mechanical properties. Future research may determine whether such tapers aid strength and power athletes to the same extent as endurance athletes. One thing is for sure, recovery is critical to performance – as you train for your event as well as during the taper.

Written by Jodie Sasaki with Eric Sternlicht, Ph.D. – Occidental College, Los Angeles CA.