As weightlifters, we have all heard the terms "taper" and "deload" but what do they mean? These words seem to be used interchangeably, especially with athletes who are newer to the sport. Today, we will discuss the differences between the two and how both can be used effectively for both coach and athlete.
Let's start with deloading. Have you ever overhead an athlete say, "Oh, man. This week is a deload week."? Sometimes, athletes have a difficult time understanding what exactly that means. A deload week is essentially a chance for the athlete to recover from previous weeks of training and maintain proper form. The athlete should not be pushed past a certain percentage during this week. The focus is geared more towards fine-tuning different parts of the lifts and giving the lifter a different variety of exercises. Before you say anything, yes, lifting big weight is fun. We agree. But paying attention to the details of technique can be fun too.
A deload week will usually show up in a program on the third or fourth week of a cycle. The idea behind this is to break down an athlete and then allow them to build back up in preparation for continuing the program. Even though the weights are light and not necessarily Instagram-worthy, your lifts during a deload week could be your best looking lifts (which is the goal). A deload week also helps a lifter feel more confident and consistent. Confidence and consistency are two huge factors that play into successful weightlifting performance.
But...wouldn't you want to do that before a competition as well? What is so different about tapering? We will usually taper an athlete two weeks out from competition (there's the first difference right there: taper is approximately two weeks; deload is one week). A taper program is very simple. We start by putting a lot of the accessory work on the back-burner and get more focused on the classic lifts, with the exception of continuing abdominal and low back work to keep the midline strong and stable. The first week of the taper will consist of doing snatch and clean + jerk (muscle snatch/clean, tall snatch/clean, etc.) working up to a moderate weight to prep the body for the movement. Next, our athletes will simply snatch or clean + jerk, depending on the day. They will either do 2-3 sets of doubles at a higher percentage (80% or greater), find a two rep max for the day and perform downsets, or find a heavy single for each lift. Finally, sessions will end with either heavy pulls (or deadlifts) or squats (hopefully you read our last blog post on pulls and squats!).
The second week will be a combination of heavy lifts and light lifts. We will start the first two to three days either finding heavy single again or hitting "openers" that we have planned to go for at the competition. As the competition gets closer, we will either have the athlete do power snatches and clean + jerks or perform the lifts at lower percentages to feel sharp going into competition. It is important to know how your athlete responds to these different stimuli. Some athletes may like to go into a competition feeling a little fatigued and some athletes prefer to feel fresh and rested. There is a fine line that a coach must walk to figure out how their athlete will be best prepared.