The tapering strategy used by many swimmers to optimize competition performance has been defined as "a progressive non-linear reduction of the training load during a variable period of time, in an attempt to reduce the physiological and psychological stress of daily training and optimize sports performance" (Mujika & Padilla 2000). The aim of the taper before the main competitions of the season is to elicit substantial improvements in performance. These performance gains have been variously attributed to increased levels of muscular force and power (Trappe et al. 2000), and improvements in neuromuscular, hematological, and hormonal function, and/or the psychological status of the swimmer (Mujika & Padilla 2000).
The main features of this phase are maintaining an active approach with at least three low- to moderateintensity aerobic swims completed each week, specialized programs to target weaknesses in individual fitness profiles, and dietary control to maintain body composition.
There are few studies that have directly addressed the issue of the most effective program for swimmers to follow during the off-season or in short breaks from training and competition.
There is, however, a significant body of literature that details the Lime course of training adaptations with training and loss of fitness during detraining (Counsilman & Counsilman 1991; Mujika & Padilla 2000). A typical strategy for the off-season involves a marked 50-70% reduction in the frequency, volume, and intensity of training.
The following is an example of the features of periodization that may encompass a typical 14-week swimming preparation fora national championships or major international meet.
As in most training programs the initial phase involves the development or reestablishment of endurance fitness. This serves as the basis for the subsequent development of aerobic and anaerobic capacities and the functional utilization of these capacities. Functional utilization refers to increased swimming speed at a given metabolic load. Apart from the underlying physiological adaptations, improved endurance will lead to an increased ability to cope with fatigue and more rapid recovery from the stresses of speed training and competition. In particular, the aim is to develop the capacity and efficiency of the cardiorespiratory system.
A creative approach to the planning of training sessions is essential to maintain an adequate adaptation stimulus. Once the various cycles are organized within the season or yearly plan, the detailing of individual training sessions can begin.
Some coaches make the mistake of not properly integrating speed and endurance in the training pro- gram. This is particularly evident in the endurance phase where too great an emphasis on the volume of training may impair speed. It is an oversimplification to think that only low to moderate intensity volume work is undertaken in an "endurance" week or phase, and that only speed work is done in a "speed" week. If insufficient speed work is undertaken during the endurance phase, a swimmer may pay the price later on when they are unable to reproduce race or competitive speeds. Conversely, swimmers may become overloaded and prone to fatigue, illness, and injury if they do too much speed work without the benefits of some complementary endurance training. Highly trained swimmers can use endurance training to recover from and prepare for speed training.