It’s Taper Time

Compiled by Coach Bob Steele

Editor's Note: The following short article compiled by Coach Bob Steele first appeared in USA Swimming's COACHES QUARTERLY in March of 1995. It's a great summary of a complex topic.

Tapering Research

The following ideas are provided for coaches to utilize as situations and philosophies permit. Results may vary depending on the individual athlete. The ICAR Annuals (1989-1991) provide these research concepts for coaches to apply:

Diet and Taper Training

  1. It is important to maintain caloric intake that matches caloric cost in order to avoid rapid weight loss.
  2. During taper periods, an adjustment in caloric intake should be made that matches the reduced caloric cost as a result of decreased training volume.
  3. Calories are important in the provision of proper nutrient intake and maintenance of energy storage. If disrupted, training response may be compromised.
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What’s New & What’s Not

By Dick Hannula

What's new and what has been around for a long time but now has a new package? I've been in the process of cleaning out my files, and boxes of newspaper clippings that were never filed. I keep running across the old that is now considered new, and some very interesting articles that keep me from making the timely progress that I'm trying to attain. Currently I'm reading a 1975 newspaper interview with Olympic women's coach, Jack Nelson. He was asked about the new training methods and their contribution to lowering swimming times. Jack responded, "Practically everything "new" is 10 to 40 years old, if not 80. I'd say about 80% of those articles that we read about new training methods have been around for years. They give it a new name and they write about it."

I heartily agree with Jack. This extends to technique as well. I don't want to give the impression that nothing is new. However, most of what is new is the fine tuning of what has already been done. One example of a "new" concept is the trunk rotation, or swimming on the side, in the long axis strokes – free and backstroke. Much of what has been written recently indicates that this is a new concept in swimming. Where have these people been? Murray Rose and his generation of Australian Olympians swam on their side, rotating the trunk. This was in 1956, and they weren't the first swimmers to use this technique. Howard Firby was lecturing in the early 1960s that free and backstroke were swum best using the trunk rotation, or swimming on the side. He illustrated this in his lectures through the use of a molded, from clay, swimmer. He also illustrated this in his drawings that he later used in his excellent book. Howard was a commercial artist, and had an exceptional "eye" in analyzing why some swimmers swam faster than others.

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Information for the Swimming Family

By Allan Williams, Senior Coach, Parkway Swim Club, St. Louis, MO, ASCA Level 2

Author’s note: The following article appeared in the teams bi-monthly newsletter and was intended to help all new families to the sport of swimming understand this important time of season. At the same time I was writing, I realized that many of the Senior swimmers that I directly coached did not know the basis of a taper and its true intentions. While there is nothing ground breaking in it’s content, I believe the article puts the whole taper concept into something the swimmers could/would understand. I hope you will find it useful.


The word taper in swimming is a word that we all come to know early in our swimming career. I’m not too sure whether or not we all really know what tapering is and why it is used. The following is a working definition of what we will be covering; a taper is “the reduction of workload during a period immediately prior to a major competition.” As a swimmer goes through their swimming career they may encounter different ways to accomplish a taper. There is no one way to do a taper, nor a magic formula. One of the most important things that a swimmer must do during a taper, any taper, is to believe in themselves, their abilities, and the work they have done over the course of the season. They must also instill the belief in their coach as a professional with the swimmers best interest always in mind. So, with that said, let’s start to look at what this concept of a taper is.

The taper is used in swimming by groups of all ages and is a common practice everywhere. A taper is the need to recover following prolonged periods of high-volume/high-intensity training. The purpose of the taper is to allow the swimmer to adapt to, or supercompensate for the level of level of work accomplished in the training program. (Supercompensation can be defined as optimal and maximal recovery). An important ingredient of the taper is the work that has gone into swimming before the taper even starts. Tapering allows the swimmer to adapt to perform as the result of regular season training. What we as coaches are trying to say is that the work you do during the season is like money you place in a bank; at the end of the season a swimmer can go to that bank, collect all of his/her money with interest as the pay-off for the hard work done in season. Bottom line, you can get what you put in and more!

During a taper the work volume can be reduced along with the intensity of work. The frequency of practices and focus during a practice should remain at the same level as the regular season. The reduction in volume of work will not result in a decreased performance ability. All performance factors are maintained at this important period of time. The amount of work volume dropped during the taper may/will vary from coach to coach – swimmer to swimmer. This only plays a small part in heightening performance capacity. The length of a taper will vary too. As studies by ICAR (International Center For Aquatic Research) have shown, peak performance can be accomplished at a 60 percent reduction of work volume. This can be done over a long period of time or a relatively short period. Studies also show the same taper can be effective for the high volume and lower volume groups.

During the first three weeks of a taper (according to ICAR) changes that occurred were “increases in power, neuromuscular efficiency, anaerobic contribution of the swim, fast twitch muscle recruitment, and mechanical efficiency.”

Shaving down has been a long-time companion of the taper. Shaving down for a swim meet is for gaining an advantage of a few tenths of a second. Just what does shaving body hair do? Shaving results in faster swims independent of training. The advantages of shaving are related to a decrease in drag to be overcome by a swimmer. The final result is that less power application in the pull pattern is required to overcome that drag.

The final aspects of a taper, and by far not the least, is the mental side. In the final stages of a season a positive self image is needed to help create the desire to succeed and have the confidence to do so. Many swimmers may feel as if they are under stress at this time. Mentally or emotionally they may be trying to solve problems that come about during school or training. These problems may be amplified at this time. Parents tread carefully. Sometimes too much motivation or too much anxiety for results, or pressure by parents/coach can come into play in a negative way. It is important to have a clear mental picture of technique before the swim is executed successfully. Experiments in several sports have shown that it is possible to improve performance by sitting in a chair relaxed for five minutes a day and visualizing one’s self performing desired techniques.

Now you are ready to go out and execute your taper taking full advantage of the knowledge of what it is you are about to do. You have that winning edge over your opponent and the clock. Be focused, be aware of your body and most importantly be confident that you will do well!!