Ever feel like you finally are “on a roll” with getting to the gym? You work out as many times a week as you have planned and keep making progressions, but soon you feel your body working against you. You start feeling progressively more tired and have a hard time increasing weight/volume during your workouts. This is a common phenomenon and is called accumulated fatigue. You cannot constantly increase the demands placed on your body without giving it an equally well planned recovery. There are many factors that paly in here, but usually sleeping and the hours between workouts ISN’T ENOUGH. In fact, your performance can IMPROVE if you lower the demands placed on your body for a period of time. Athletes do this all the time in order to reach peak performance for competitions. The reduction in demands is known as a taper, and for bodybuilding purposes we can call it a deload.
So how do you taper? The two main types are step tapering and linear tapering. Step tapering involves quickly stepping down to a lower demand and staying there for a period of time. Linear tapering involves progressively lowering the demands placed for a period of time.
What is the best way to taper? Two two methods haven’t been compared in studies, but skipping your workouts, so called detraining, is the WRONG way to go about it as it reduces your performance (1). The best way is to reduce your training VOLUME (cut down on sets), while keeping intensity the same (don’t lower the weight). Ideal taper length varies between studies, but a volume reduction of 40-60% lasting 8-14 days should do the trick (2). Do it when you are feeling low on energy, typically after around 12 weeks of consistent training. You’ll notice increased maximal power, probably because of nervous system recovery and type IIA muscle fiber hypertrophy (3). Note that populations who recover faster, like adolescents and maybe even women, may not need to taper as much.
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A Brännström. Sport and Art 1(1): 18-23, 2013.