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Bob Bowman discusses tapering world champion swimmers

This is an excerpt from Tapering and Peaking for Optimal Performance by Iï¿œigo Mujika.


In the competitive world of high-performance athletics, it is paramount that athletes be at their best when their best is needed. In Olympic sports, this means that a peak of physical, psychological, and emotional energy must be attained for the culminating event in each quadrennium, the Olympic Games. With event specialization and the increased use of science and technology to improve athletic performance, it is imperative that the coach and athlete plan for success in both the long and near terms.
One thing becomes clear when we think about achieving performances on the world level: Failing to plan is planning to fail. A coach must take an inventory of all the elements that comprise his quadrennial plan and then shape shorter-term objectives within this broad framework. First and foremost is the athlete. Is he experienced in international competition or a relative newcomer? What are her technical strengths and weaknesses? How about physical strength, power, and endurance? Overall health and ability to withstand heavy workloads must also be taken into consideration. Is the athlete strong mentally, or does he require more seasoning under high-pressure conditions?

Each coach will have a different set of criteria and will plan her quadrennium in different ways to meet the special needs of the athlete. I have always believed that planning must progress from general (long term) to specific (short term) and from simple (macrocycle) to complicated (microcycle):

  • Macrocycles. After a broad, general goal has been developed for each athlete (i.e., win gold in the 2004 Olympic Games), more specific and detailed programs can be put into place. Each year of the 4-year term will have a major international meet and perhaps another national competition of importance. Thus each training year will be divided into two macrocycles: one culminating in a national championship (or trials meet) and the other in an international competition (World Championships). Within each macrocycle there will be periods of transition, building, intensity, competition, and specific training. Each macrocycle will also include a taper or peaking period, with the international competition macrocycle having a more extensive fine-tuning stage. Once the coach has determined his competition schedule for each macrocycle and has defined the training periods, then he can focus on creating a microcycle plan.
  • Microcycles. In our program the microcycle plays a critical role because the general outline of training remains consistent within each training week. The emphasis placed on certain qualities (i.e., aerobic endurance, muscle endurance, anaerobic power, and mixed training) determines the theme of training within given periods.

Although the emphasis and volume of the different types of work change as the season progresses, each type of training is included in each microcycle. This provides the foundation of the taper plan and ensures that athletes hit each of the important energy systems within each training block.