Tapering: peak performance at the end of the season

We are almost at the end of the football and field hockey season. As a trainer/coach, you have likely noticed that fatigue is starting to build up in your players; they are not as fresh as at the beginning of the season. And to make things worse: the most important games of the season are yet to come! How do you make sure your players can still excel during these games? In today’s blog, we will discuss how you can adjust your training program to let your players peak at the end of the season.

In the previous blog, we discussed how to plan conditional training to improve your team’s physical fitness. However, at the end of the season fitness of the players is most likely not the limiting factor for optimal physical performance. Rather the accumulated fatigue of the season starts to play a role. Therefore, in the last 2-3 weeks of the season recovery is crucial for the performance capacity of players. To let your team peak at the end of the season, the principle of tapering can be used.

What is tapering?

Tapering is a progressive reduction of training load aiming to reduce the physical and mental stress of training in order to maximize performance after an intense training period’ 1. By exposing athletes to less load, they will experience less muscle damage. Therefore, their bodies can regenerate from the accumulated fatigue over the season2. Furthermore, since they are still exposed to a certain amount of load, their fitness level does not deteriorate. Due to unaffected fitness levels and declining fatigue players’ performance capacity will increase (see image). Now that we know the connection between training load reduction and performance capacity, we need to know how we should reduce training load for optimal tapering effects.


How to apply tapering in your training schedule?

A reduction of training load can be achieved by adjusting three factors: frequency of training (i.e. how many sessions per week), duration of the training, and intensity of training. In tapering it is important to keep the intensity of training the same3,4. For training adaptations, the principle of ‘use it or lose it’ holds: If one would reduce the intensity, certain physical capacities (e.g. explosiveness) are not challenged and therefore the player will gradually lose this ability. It is for this reason that it is important to keep the intensity the same.

Implementing tapering effectively in your periodization

The most effective tapering strategies will depend on your individual needs and the demands of your sport. However, there are some general principles that can help guide your tapering plan:

  1. Start tapering 1-4 weeks before your competition or event, depending on your sport and individual needs.
  2. Reduce training volume by 40-60% during the taper period, while maintaining intensity. For example, you might reduce the number of training sessions you do each week, or reduce the duration of each session.
  3. Maintain high-intensity training during the taper period, but reduce the volume. This will help you maintain your fitness levels while still allowing your body to recover fully.
  4. Allow for adequate recovery time between training sessions during the taper period. This will help ensure that you’re fully recovered and ready to perform at your best come competition day.
  5. Focus on good nutrition and hydration during the taper period, to ensure that your body has the nutrients and energy it needs to recover and adapt to the demands of your sport.

Considering that intensity of training can’t be changed, the volume of training load should be changed. This leaves us with two possible adjustments: changing the frequency and/or duration of training. For these two factors, shortening duration of training is the most optimal way to successfully apply tapering. In soccer, a 25% reduction in duration is already effective for improving performance! 1 This means that if you had planned a small-sided game with 4 intervals of 4 minutes separated by a rest period of 2 minutes, you should only perform 3 of these intervals while keeping the work (4min) and rest periods (2min) the same. This way you reduce the volume of the training load, without changing the intensity (and thus no decline in physical fitness will occur (detraining))!


In contrast to our intuitive thought that the peak performance at the end of the season is reached with an increased training load (with the goal of improving fitness), we should train less! It is not the fitness level limiting performance capacity at the end of the season, it is fatigue that plays an important role. By training smarter, detraining effect will not occur while simultaneously enabling players to recover from accumulated fatigue. It is not training harder that increases our performance at the end of the season, it is training smarter that makes the difference!

JOHAN’s tip of the week

Reducing the duration of training can best be achieved by limiting the number of repetitions of exercises. In the image below you can see how you can adjust the repetitions for different format of small sided games!



  1. Fessi M.S., Zarrouk N., Di Salvo, V., Filetti C., Barker, A.R. & Moalla, W. (2016). Effects of tapering on physical match activities in professional soccer players. Journal of Sports Sciences. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2016.1171891
  2. Coutts A., Reaburn P., Piva T.J. & Murphy A. (2007) Changes in selected biochemical, muscular strength, Power, and endurance measures during deliberate overreaching and tapering in rugby league players. International journal of Sports Medicine. 28; 116-124.
  3. Bosquet L., Montpettit J., Arivisais D. & Mujika I. (2007) Effects of tapering on performance: A meta-analysis. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. DOI: 10.1249/mss.0b013e31806010e0
  4. Mujika I. & Padilla S. (2003). Scientific bases for precompetition tapering strategies. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. DOI: 10.1249/01.MSS.0000074448.73931.11
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