David Joyce's blog: Training for the Olympics

David Joyce

Hello from Leeds!!

The Opening Ceremony is within touching distance now. I’ve swapped the warmth of China for the inclemency of the British summer as our Olympic teams have descended upon the UK for the last couple of preparations before the Games get underway. Some of our teams will be staying in China until the last possible moment with the aim of completing a ‘smash and grab raid’ on the medals whilst others have sought a performance edge by coming to the UK early to get used to the change in time zones, climate, food etc. Most nations will be doing the same.

Irrespective of the sport, however, just about every Olympic athlete around the world will now be within their final tapering programmes, ready to perform at their very best in their respective events. A couple of weeks ago we talked periodization, and tapering is a key part of this process. Tapering, often called the Realisation Block, is the process whereby load is progressively reduced in order to reduce the physiological and psychological burden of training on an athlete.


"Tapering, often called the Realisation Block, is the process whereby load is progressively reduced in order to reduce the physiological and psychological burden of training on an athlete."

It is a process that, when done appropriately, will leave the athlete feeling physiologically and psychologically fresh, fit and ready to compete. During the preceding blocks of training, the training adaptations (and therefore the true state of fitness and performance) are often masked by fatigue. Tapering attempts to reduce this tiredness element to reveal the true performance status. A realistic improvement in performance that we can anticipate from an appropriately employed tapering strategy is around 3%. Given that most Olympic events are decided by less than 1%, it is easy to see how important this process it and how vital it is to get it right.

The optimal method of tapering is very much dependent on the individual and so most programmes will have experimented with their athletes to determine the most effective strategy for each individual (we don’t like experimenting at an Olympics for obvious reasons!). What we do know, however, is that generally speaking the best method of tapering for elite athletes involves a:

  • Progressive reduction in training volume of between 41-60%
  • Maintenance of training intensity so that detraining is avoided
  • Maintenance of training frequency at greater than 80% of normal training (moderately trained athletes seem to be ok with a 30-50% reduction of normal training frequency)

Depending on the sport and the characteristics of the preceding training blocks, the taper will last between 4 and 28 days, with 12 days seeming to be the most common recommendation in the scientific literature. With this in mind, you should be able to determine what most of the athletes will be doing over the next couple of weeks prior to their competition date(s).

If the tapering period is misjudged, the athlete will either:

  • peak before their event and be declining in their performance when they need it most; or
  • peak after their event and not produce the performances that they are truly capable of.

You can see it really is a tricky process and one that is vital for the coaches to get right because the next opportunity for Olympic glory is 4 years away!

‘Til next week,

Stay robust amigos!


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