The Art and Science of Tapering Sprinters

Any other factors?
Sure—personality types, for one. I learned a great lesson by coaching Duje Draganja and Mike Cavic—two swimmers with very distinct personalities. Duje is high-strung, and his energy levels are high. Mike is a little more calm, sedate. But Mike has a lot more hair than Duje, so if you just go on the hair theory, I would overtaper Mike.

But if you look at the personality, you see the high energy level of a Duje or an Anthony (Ervin) or Gary (Hall). Experience has taught me that if you have a guy who is jumping around all the time, he's going to need a longer taper than a guy who might just sit and watch.

But a guy like Anthony is pretty laid-back ...
Yeah, he's laid-back, but he also has a lot of energy. When he gets in the water, he has fun, and he's doing this and doing that. Same with Gary! Once you give them a little rest, you get an idea of the kind of energy they have.

So guys like Gary Hall and Anthony Ervin need longer tapers?
Yes, and I would correlate that directly with their personality.

You said that age makes a difference between swimmers who are 17, 18 years old and those who are 21 or 22. What about age groupers and Masters swimmers?
With age group athletes, the taper is shorter. They can still do more intense stuff more often because they have the ability to recover quickly. So I would say that for a young kid, 10 to 11 days would probably be a long taper.

For an older person, I would think you'd have to taper them quite a bit, especially if they're training hard. Of course, that's another factor—you have to look at how much training a person has done.

OK, let's take a typical Masters swimmer who is 40 to 50 years old and is only swimming 2,000 or 3,000 yards a day, four days a week.
I'd say you do very race-specific work starting about three to four weeks out. Start doing high-intensity, race-specific work two or three days a week. And you'd do some aerobic work, but it would be more recovery type rather than training. And I would go out, say, four weeks with that in mind. Basically, you're still training them, but you're training them in a different way. Generally I'd like to see Masters train with a little more intensity.

Also, with more intensity, you produce more growth hormone. In contrast, long aerobic training really does not produce much in the way of growth hormone.

Although aerobic training may be easier, that's precisely why aerobic training takes on a recovery aspect—rather than a training aspect—during taper.

In review, list the factors you consider in designing a taper.
OK, here goes: work done, muscle mass, age of the swimmer, personality, the meet or meets for which the swimmer is tapering, the level of testosterone, the percent body fat—though that's more of an issue with women than men. Body fat is more of an indication of how long that individual could taper. The higher the body fat, the shorter the taper.

Another factor is a person's health. If someone isn't particularly healthy or is prone to catching colds, you go for a longer taper. Likewise, I consider stress. The more stress a sprinter is under, the longer the taper.

Although there's a scientific element to it, it seems that designing a taper is more like an art than a science.
It is. And a key element in it is communication with your swimmers. You've got to listen to them. For example, I might ask a swimmer how he feels. Invariably he responds, "Fine." So I follow that up with, "On a scale of one to 10, are your legs tight or loose? Is your lower back tight or loose? How about your shoulders? Your arms? How do you feel in the water—are you riding high or low?" My point is, you need to help the athlete understand the factors that go into how he feels.

Do you then add up all his scores and use the total?
Exactly. The sum of all those one-to-10 evaluations gives us an overall quantitative score that answers the question, "How do you feel?" For me, if he averages more than a seven, I'll cycle in a fast swim. If it's less than seven, then I'll give him another day to rest.

Originally Published: 6.1.2005

Related Article:

      • Sharpening Your Swimming: Theories on Tapering

  • 2
  • of
  • 2

Discuss This Article