Take Home Points on Why am I Sore During Taper?
We commonly don't address questions during posts, but if we receive a lot of e-mails on a particular subject, it is evident the issue requires addressing. Some have recently asked us, "why do I often get sore during taper?". This common question has many factors, both hypothetical and scientific, but here are our thoughts:
Soreness mainly occurs from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) due to unaccustomed eccentric exercise. DOMS is the direct result of inflammation caused by micro-tears in the muscle fibers.
Unaccustomed exercises don't seem obvious in taper, but they do appear.
- High Intensity Training: Most programs shift towards higher intensity training during taper. This shift activates more type IIa fiber. In many traditional programs, these fibers are not activated at the same frequency or intensity, a possible mechanism of soreness.
- Unfamiliar Activities: Starts are underutilized in workouts, but taper commonly brings them out! More unfamiliar in training are relay starts. Many coaches fill in the extra practice time (due to decreased training volume) with starts, turns, and other unfamiliar motions. These unfamiliar, high-intensity movements are certainly a possible cause of soreness.
- Increased Sitting Time: Sitting more can be an unaccustomed exercise for many high-level athletes. Think about it, if you give a swimmers 90 more minutes a day for a month (from decreased training volume), it is likely they'll fill it with sitting. Sure, you want them to rest, but this increase in activity often results in soreness or even feeds into injury. Rest doesn't imply sitting around more, as taper life shouldn't be drastically different than training life.
- Increased Sleep Time: Just like sitting time, taper shouldn't drastically increase sleeping time. Ideally, your swimmer is already getting enough sleep, not requiring "catch-up" sleep during taper.
These are the main physical reasons for soreness during taper, but physical aspects are only a part of the equation. Psychological reasons for more soreness are prevalent, ranging from thinking more about soreness and fixating on every bit of soreness. These concerns are common in athletes requiring mental training, yet proper mental training skills must be developed before taper.
Remember, soreness alters biomechanics, which impairs performance. This makes limiting soreness and "feeling good" vital for elite swimming performance. However, it is uncommon for a swimmer to always "feel good", for these times strong mental skills and a systematic approach for competition is vital!
- Yu J-G, Malm C, Thornell L-E. Eccentric contractions leading to DOMS do not cause loss of desmin nor fibre necrosis in human muscle. Histochem Cell Biol. 2002;118(1):29–34.
- Proske U, Morgan DL. Muscle damage from eccentric exercise: mechanism, mechanical signs,adaptation and clinical applications. J Physiol. 2001;537(Pt 2):333–45.
- Trappe S, Costill D, Thomas R. Effect of swim taper on whole muscle and single muscle fiber contractile properties. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Jan;33(1):48-56.