hen setting any fitness goal, we must be realistic about the potential to achieve what’s been set out. Sticking to a plan over the Christmas period is no different.
Real talk: the holiday period is NOT the time of year you can expect to make gains, so don’t set unrealistic targets that you can’t reach.
Whether you’re going away for a holiday over Christmas and NYE or your just having some well-deserved time off life, it’s fair to say you’ll be reducing your training frequency (and so you should!). No doubt your body needs a bit of time to actually rest and best yet, proper tapering (ie. reducing your training load systematically) can actually significantly increase your performance (win!).
But at the back of your mind I’m sure you’re worried about losing your hard earned gains, right? Well, tapering your training frequency over the silly season does not need to mean you lose muscle or strength gains, you just need to do it smartly.
So here are 4 effective steps for planning a taper of your training without resulting in diminished muscle or strength:
Tapering your strength training, without experiencing detraining effects (like loss of strength and muscle atrophy) is recommended for 8-14 days*. During this period, if other training components remain optimal (I’ll explain about them next), performance metrics such as strength can be retained.
Training volume refers to the total work done, ie. sets and reps. During your taper period, it is ideal to reduce training volume by about 30%*. This reduces the overall stress within the muscle fibres whilst still retaining strength levels for a substantial length of time (longer than you might think!). This reduction in training volume for a set time period actually encourages neuromuscular adaptations that lead to increased performance coming out of the taper. If that’s not enough reason to taper off over Christmas, I don’t know what is!
The whole point of tapering is to give yourself (physically and mentally) a break from the gym. So with that comes the reduction in training frequency (ie. training sessions per week). If you’re training smartly, you should really only need to smash out 2 quality strength sessions at the gym per week, leaving plenty of time during the other 5 days to actually rest or get outside and enjoy everything summer in Australia has to offer!
Maintaining the intensity of your training is the key factor in order to retain performance during a taper. By continuing to train with purpose, during the sessions when you do actually train, you’ll promote increase of power, muscle glycogen content and muscle repair*. Whilst training intensity is maintained, this explains how training volume and frequency can be reduced.
The ultimate goal is to come out of the holiday period in the same shape and condition you were coming into it. If you can increase your socialising (and with that you’re calorie intake) and come out the other side unscathed, that’s a massive win! And it’s then (and only then) you should look to reassess where you next goals should be set.
*Brännström, André, Anton Rova, and Ji-Guo Yu. “Effects and mechanisms of tapering in maximising muscular power.” Sport and Art 1.1 (2013): 18-23
*Shepley B, Macdougall JD, Cipriano N, Sutton JR, Tarnopolsky MA, Coates G. Physiological effects of tapering in highly trained athletes. J Appl Physiol. 1992;72(2):706-11.
*Meeusen R, Duclos M, Foster C, et al. Prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the overtraining syndrome: joint consensus statement of the European College of Sport Science and the American College of Sports Medicine. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013;45(1):186-205.
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