Tapering Strategies For A Meet
Over the past year of coaching, the one of the biggest leaps I feel I have made as a coach is the individualization and ability to adapt during the peaking process. This skill is something that a coach cannot truly learn until they have the experience with diverse sample size of different athletes. And after 40+ peaking blocks written in the past year, I think I finally have made some progress, but still am far from where I would like to be. Looking back, the key difference from before and now is that of the last 15 or so athlete’s I have had compete, not a single one completed the peaking block as was initially written. Every single time I have adapted the program based off their performance throughout the training block, sometimes just minor change and some times major. But that individualization and adaptability has been the key to a vast improvement in performance in competition over the past 3-4 months. In particular last week where I had 7 athletes competing around the country who finished a combined 59 of 63 on attempts. While it is difficult to really some up how to adapt and individualize a peaking block, as a lot of this comes down to intuition and general experience of knowing what to look for, I do think I can summarize some general signs I have found and the changes I make based off of those, with some specific examples to base this off of:
1.) First off, I would say the norm for how I set up most peaking blocks is that volume starts to drop about 10-12 days out for deadlift, 8-9 for squat, and 5-7 for bench press. Within that based on each lifter I will most likely keep intensity high on squats and bench press up until 5-7 days out, and deadlift around 10-12. Let’s say the athlete follows this exact pattern where they perform really well with the program as written and as soon as the taper begins thats when they are notating a feeling of fatigue, just as planned. This is the best case scenario, as everything is lined up as was desired so we stick to the plan. Where I may still make adjustments though will be based on psychological factors. Possible on the Monday or Tuesday lift during the week of the meet, if they have a particular lift they feel less confident with after their performance through the peaking block, I might allow them a bit heavier single just to solidify their confidence with the planned attempts.
2.) Some athletes just get destroyed by peaking blocks. These athletes tend to suck up submaximal volume like it is nothing, but then come high intensity peaking blocks they just get beat down. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t peaking, they just respond to this aspect of training differently. If I find an athlete fits into this mold, I very well may not run a typical peaking block. But let’s take the scenario of @lstomasiello, who I was coaching for the first time into a meet and did not have this insight yet. During his 4 week peaking block Lorenzo showed signs starting the 2nd week that just all around he was very fatigued and performance on squat and bench press in particular were trending down. Come week 3, we actually had to dramatically adjust his heaviest squat day as strength was just not there and was struggling with 85% of his 1RM. Fortunately I have 1 other lifter in @phvm_lifts who shows very similar patterns, and the silver lining is that when tapered correctly Tony always performed great in competition. So I used Tony as a template for Lorenzo and started adjusting accordingly. I typically keep squat intensity and volume up until about 8-9 days out and bench around 5-7 days, but for Lorenzo I adjusted to where we started tapering 12 days out for intensity. Usually I would be more prone to do the opposite with lifters, keeping intensity high and tapering volume, but Lorenzo was obviously getting very fatigue from high intensity but had done really well with volume in prior blocks, so I followed that pattern and adjusted accordingly. The week of the meet intensity continued to drop fast, where as volume was a slower taper. Come meet day Lorenzo was the strongest he had ever been and absolute crushed our expectations for squat and bench press.
3.) For Lorenzo, there was an all around decrease in performance, but for others it may be just for one lift. @netzer_strong is a good example of this, in that his bench press was showing high signs of fatigue 2-3 weeks out. All of his other lifts were doing great, so for the scenario I was more apt to believe our volume was causing the fatigue rather than intensity. So 2 weeks out I started dropping out pressing and tricep accessory work sooner than I normally do and also dropped volume a bit on bench press while keeping intensity high. The best way to describe what I saw in Joe’s bench press was that his triceps just looked shot, so my goal was to allow his triceps to recover and be fresh for meet day. And sure enough, come meet day Joe crushed an all time PR bench shockingly fast, but now we know what he is capable of in the future with this similar setup.
4.) On the opposite end of the spectrum of the above two examples is the lifter that just keeps progressing each week during the peaking block. These lifters tend to get really beat down by high volume training blocks but excel with intensity. @posten.lifts is a great example of this, and I tend to have him push intensity on his squat and bench press all the way until about 6 days out. We go fairly heavy on both lifts the Monday of the meet, and then do a real quick drop in intensity and volume for both squat and bench press the rest of the week. The extent of this intensity and volume drop will be variable each peak based on performance through the prior weeks leading up and how I feel he is to his optimal performance levels.
5.) To follow the above point, there are some caveats here. Notice with Patrick I stated squat and bench press, but not deadlift. Each lift may have its own needs for peaking, and for Patrick we actually taper his deadlift starting 15-18 days out. While his bench press and squat do really well with driving intensity all the way through the week of the meet, his deadlift does not, and I find this fairly common on the conventional deadlift in particular. Really what I am looking for is the week or workout where we see that drop in performance. That tends to be my signal of when we need to start tapering a lift in some manner rather than continuing to drive intensity and volume.
6.) Something I find with newer lifters or maybe someone who things have really clicked with all of a sudden is that their performance is increasing so rapidly that the last thing we really want to do is stop that training from rolling. So while they may be fatigued, their almost weekly progression would serve best to keep training as is versus tapering off of intensity and volume. The two scenarios where I see this is a very new lifter who is getting those “newbie” gains or someone who has just made some drastic improvements in their technique. For these lifters every workout seems to be another step in the right direction, so for them I very well may ditch a taper all together and just have them train into the meet like it is another training day.
7.) To piggy back off the last point, some people require high frequency of skill practice on certain lifts, particularly with bench press. It would not be uncommon for me to add another quick and easy bench session 1-2 days out based on how their peaking block has gone. If I find that they keep performing best during days they have less rest between bench workouts, or that they have skill regression on days with longer breaks between sessions, I’ll specifically adjust the week of the meet to include high intensity and more frequent bench sessions to keep skill practice high.
As mentioned, this is a tough subject to really write about as there is just so much that happens with each individual that only experience and intuition can really pinpoint. To summarize, what I really am looking for is when they seem to be finding peak performance during their peaking block, push just slightly past that and then adjust accordingly to maintain that performance while dissipating some levels of fatigue. And where that individualization really comes in is how each lifter can maintain performance, whether that be through volume or intensity, and manipulating those variables accordingly to have them come in full strength on meet day.