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Tapering allows older adults to switch focus from fitness to skill training

This is an excerpt from Bending the Aging Curve by Joseph F. Signorile.

The Translational Taper

During the fluctuating increases in intensity and volume at the beginning of the targeted training cycle, the level of skill (ADL-simulated) training is very low. Look at the patterns of decline in each component in figure 9.8 as the transition takes place from the targeted training phase to the translation phase. The rapid decreases in intensity and volume are known to athletes as a taper. This taper allows significant recovery, maximization of the fitness effect, and supercompensation. It also allows us to switch our concentration from fitness to skill training.

So what’s the best way to taper? In a review paper on the topic, Inigo Mujika and Sabino Padilla (2003) presented the common patterns of taper and examined their effectiveness. These authors looked at three major factors: (1) the duration of the taper, (2) the volume decline during the taper, and (3) the optimal pattern to use for the taper. Although the duration of the taper producing the best performance varied due to the nature of the activity and the training status of the participant, the average length was 2 weeks. Individuals using longer durations of training or very high intensities required longer tapers than individuals training at a more moderate level. Additionally, well-conditioned individuals responded more quickly to a taper when compared with individuals at a lower level of conditioning. For older clients, there is clear evidence that recovery takes longer for older versus younger athletes, all other things being equal. But since all things aren’t equal, and older clients often work at considerably lower levels than a young athlete works at, a 2-week taper is recommended.

The volume change that produced the best performance across a 2-week taper was a decrease between 50% and 75%. This included a decrease of 50% in the frequency of training. The last variable that Mujika and Padilla examined was the pattern of the taper. There were four patterns studied. The first was an immediate drop in training load called a step taper. The second was a linear taper in which load declined at a constant rate across the tapering period. The last two were exponential tapers, one fast and one slow, that began rapidly at the start of the 2-week period and then plateaued. Obviously, the faster taper used a more rapid decline in training volume than the slower taper used. The most effective pattern of taper seemed to be to maintain intensity at a high level while decreasing volume. This strategy has been shown to have the greatest positive effect on both performance and physiological factors associated with cardiovascular as well as strength training.

Also notice in figure 9.8 that there is a rapid increase in skill-based training occurring during the taper. Since formalized training targeting a specific need usually occurs 3 days per week on alternating days, secondary goals and ADL-based skill training can be addressed on the off days.