Purpose: The purpose of this investigation was to assess the effects of alterations in taper components on performance in competitive athletes, through a meta-analysis.
Methods: Six databases were searched using relevant terms and strategies. Criteria for study inclusion were that participants must be competitive athletes, a tapering intervention must be employed providing details about the procedures used to decrease the training load, use of actual competition or field-based criterion performance, and inclusion of all necessary data to calculate effect sizes. Datasets reported in more than one published study were only included once in the present analyses. Twenty-seven of 182 potential studies met these criteria and were included in the analysis. The dependent variable was performance, and the independent variables were the decrease in training intensity, volume, and frequency, as well as the pattern of the taper and its duration. Pre-post taper standardized mean differences in performance were calculated and weighted according to the within-group heterogeneity to develop an overall effect.
Results: The optimal strategy to optimize performance is a tapering intervention of 2-wk duration (overall effect = 0.59 +/- 0.33, P < 0.001), where the training volume is exponentially decreased by 41-60% (overall effect = 0.72 +/- 0.36, P < 0.001), without any modification of either training intensity (overall effect = 0.33 +/- 0.14, P < 0.001) or frequency (overall effect = 0.35 +/- 0.17, P < 0.001).
Conclusion: A 2-wk taper during which training volume is exponentially reduced by 41-60% seems to be the most efficient strategy to maximize performance gains. This meta-analysis provides a framework that can be useful for athletes, coaches, and sport scientists to optimize their tapering strategy.