Backing off of training or ‘tapering’ can be a difficult when pursuing athletic goals. Taking your foot off the gas leading up to a competition can feel counterintuitive and uncomfortable. However, it’s a necessary part of the training process to allow an athlete to reveal the results of their hard work. A lesson learned at a young age changed how I learned to prepare for competition.
In college I was a thrower on the track and field team. I loved to train as much, if not more so than competing (insert path to strength and conditioning here). During the indoor season of my senior year we had a “social gathering” after a track meet and I was challenged to an arm wrestling contest. Now, being young and full of myself, I wasn’t about to back down, especially since the person running their mouth was half my size. What I didn’t know was he was an arm wrestling champion; needless to say, this did not go well for me.
I woke up the following morning with severe pain in my elbow and disappointment in my heart. There was no major injury, but it did limit my weight training. On the bright side of things, due to the mechanics of throwing the weight (indoor hammer), I was still able to practice and didn't need to share with my coaches what had happened. Over the next few days I continued the reduced training outside of throwing and practice while I healed. The next meet I had my best throws of the year, despite the pain in the elbow and the limited time in the weight room. The next week was a similar situation, reduced weight training and increased throwing distances. After two weeks, my elbow had recovered and I was able to return to full training in the weight room. The following meet my throwing distances dropped which confused me since my elbow was back to normal and I was feeling good….
As I reflected about what could have lead to a lesser performance I concluded that the extra training was taking more out of my system than I realized. I started to change the way I trained on a weekly basis which then carried over to better performances in the throwing ring. I took an even bigger ‘taper’ going in to the national meet that year and had my best performance yet.
Although a painful lesson, this taught me so much firsthand; when it comes to tapering and adjusting your training, everyone has different recovery needs. How much and how it is done needs to be experimented with and not underestimated, preferably under controlled conditions and not forced due to ego or stupidity. The whole purpose of training for sport is to increase your performance - make sure that you allow yourself the opportunity to explore what works best for you. And if someone wants to arm wrestle you that bad, I'd recommend passing.