COACHES CORNER: Pivot Week

Every week our coaches at West continue to grow as coaches with evidence based information to help move our athletes forward.

The goal of a Pivot Week is to manage fatigue from all the heavy work we have been doing and re-sensitize ourselves to our new block at the end of the month, and to keep things exciting and fun…spicing up the relationship. For long-term progress in the gym, we do need a pivot or low stress week every once-in-a-while. For us, it’s after our cycles of 6-8 weeks. This is an important tool to consistently see gains, and to minimize the likelihood of injury.

Review. Pivot weeks are generally weeks of:

  • Low stress
  • Different exercise selections than what you have been doing
  • Different Rep schemes than what you have been doing
  • Getting us re-sensitized to our main lifts that we love and hold in high regard
  • Fatigue reduction to help us recover and respond better to our new training block

Article of the Week: Effects and Mechanisms of Tapering in Maximizing Muscular Strength
Link

Abstract TAPERING FOR MAXIMAL STRENGTH REQUIRES REDUCTIONS IN TRAINING LOAD TO RECOVER FROM THE FATIGUE OF TRAINING. IT IS PERFORMED BEFORE IMPORTANT COMPETITIONS TO ALLOW OPTIMAL PERFORMANCE AT SPECIFIC EVENTS. REDUCTIONS IN TRAINING VOLUME, WITH MAINTAINED OR SMALL INCREASES IN TRAINING INTENSITY, SEEM MOST EFFECTIVE FOR IMPROVING MUSCULAR STRENGTH. TRAINING CESSATION MAY ALSO PLAY A ROLE, WITH LESS THAN 1 WEEK BEING OPTIMAL FOR PERFORMANCE MAINTENANCE, AND 2–4 DAYS APPEARING TO BE OPTIMAL FOR ENHANCED MAXIMAL MUSCULAR STRENGTH. IMPROVED PERFORMANCE MAY BE RELATED TO MORE COMPLETE MUSCLE RECOVERY, GREATER NEURAL ACTIVATION, AND AN ENHANCED ANABOLIC ENVIRONMENT.

Info

  • Athletes target certain competitions as major events where the aim is to perform at their peak, which is achieved through a taper
  • Tapering is a reduction in training load to recover from the fatigue of training, and it is performed before important competitions to allow optimal performance at specific event.
  • The aim of this review is to bring together what is currently known about tapering for maximal strength, to demonstrate the methods of tapering currently used in research

Tapering

  • Defined “a progressive nonlinear reduction of the training load during a variable period of time, in an attempt to reduce the physiological and psychological stress of daily training and optimize sports performance.” (I like this, not only the physiological but the psychological stress of daily training.) The goal being to reduce stress and fatigue and increase performance.
  • The fitness- fatigue model helps to show how the taper works:
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After training, 2 things happen – 1 positive “Fitness” and 1 negative aftereffect “Fatigue”

Fitness aftereffects can be neuromuscular efficiency and hypertrophy. Fatigue aftereffects can be muscle damage, accumulation of metabolic waste products, or disruption to hormonal balance.

  • For example, performance within this model can be considered the sum of the positive after-effects of fitness with the sum of the negative after-effects of fatigue removed. Fatigue after-effects are usually of a greater in magnitude, but shorter in duration, and the fitness after effects are usually smaller in magnitude, but longer in duration.   
  • As fatigue goes away, performance increases, as the positive performance contributions of the fitness after-effects are not overshadowed by the negative performance contributions from the fatigue after effects. But… too much rest could be detrimental, as the fitness aftereffects may be reduced resulting in detraining, which we do not want. 
  • So the goal is to minimize fatigue and maximize fitness with the use of the taper to increase performance. 

Types of tapers: Step Taper (What we do at West)
The step taper is a non-progressive drop in training load that occurs at once and remains unchanged at a reduced level. The article lists different types of tapers, 1 strategy took  Ten strength-trained athletes performed 2 weeks of regular training followed by 1 week of reduced training, where volume  (sets/ back offs) was reduced by 50% with no changes in intensity (RPE stayed where it was). When split into 2 groups, it was seen that the 5 stronger Finnish national powerlifting competitors showed a statistically significant increase (by 8.3%)  This study showed that well trained strength athletes can improve their strength with a step taper of only 1 week’s duration.

Another  study involved reductions in both volume (z30–40%) and intensity (z35%). Statistically significant increases were seen in compared with the pretaper values.  These results suggest that after 6 weeks of overreaching (intensified, or harder than usual training) 1 week of tapering allows for improvements in strength; however, this may not be a long-enough taper to fully overcome the effects of accumulated fatigue. Sometimes 2 weeks of low stress may be better than 1. 

Another study by Zaras et al, had competitive throwers  perform 2-week tapers, with some doing a Light load taper (30% of of 1rm) and a heavy taper (85% of 1rm) after 12 or 15 weeks of training.

 All participants performed both tapers and the training length before the taper was assigned in a counterbalanced fashion. Training involved resistance training, throws, and plyometric training. Light-load tapering (LT) used 30% of 1RM, whereas the heavy-load tapering (HT) used 85% of 1RM.  The results suggest that greater improvements in strength are made when volume is dropped but intensity is kept high during a taper. 

Another study (I know.. This is pretty cool) performed a 2-week step taper, with recreationally active participants after 12 weeks of training. With  Participants were placed in morning  and evening training groups and tested. This study was focused on whether the time of day for training influenced the response to the taper if testing occurred at a different time of day. 

Tapering resulted in a weekly drop in training volume of 50%, with increased intensity (from 10RM to 8RM). After the taper, participants showed statistically significant improvements in performance at both testing times (morning and evening) regardless of training time of day. This study shows that a 2-week taper is able to improve performance when volume is reduced and intensity kept pretty high, time of day doesn’t really matter. 

Endurance Studies There are studies with endurance athletes that instead of the step taper strategy use, progressive tapering which showed good results. EX: Endurance athletes performed a 10-day progressive (linear) taper, which followed after 3 weeks of training. During the 10-day progressive taper training, volume was reduced by 72% (reducing the number of sets each training day), but the intensity of training remained unchanged. These results show that a short-duration progressive taper in which volume is reduced but intensity kept high is able to improve strength.

Bottom Line These studies showed that a longer duration progressive taper that reduces volume and increases intensity is able to improve performance in dynamic multi joint compound exercises ( Squat/deadlift/ press are multi joint).

There seems to be a trend that maintaining or even increasing training intensity during the taper has greater benefits when compared with studies, which reduce the intensity. So we assume that  a taper that maintains or increases training intensity while decreasing training volume is most effective for enhancing maximal strength.

The literature reviewed in this article seems to indicate that tapering is effective at increasing measures of maximal strength. Evidence based info baby!!… Which is what we are known for and proud of at West.