Tapering refers to a systematic decrease in training load leading up to a competition, and is a common practice in most competitive sports. The goal of a taper is to dissipate fatigue while maintaining fitness, therefore maximising preparedness for the event. In most combat sports, the tapering process is confounded by the period leading up to an event also being a period of body mass reduction in order to make weight. The purpose of this study was to examine the physiological and psychological responses to a taper. 

6 male professional MMA athletes were assessed during the last 5 weeks prior to a scheduled bout, during which time the athletes were performing 10 sessions per week. Measurements included a profile of mood states questionnaire (POMS), body mass (BM), creatine kinase levels (CK), urine osmolarity (UO), salivary IgA levels (sIgA), and cortisol levels (sC). Measurements were taken weekly from 5 to 1 weeks out, and daily during the final week. Training load was also monitored by multiplying total training time by session RPE.

  • BM decreased by an average of 10% across the final 4 weeks, with 4.7-5.7% of this loss occurring in the final week. 
  • TL peaked 2 weeks out 
  • sC peaked 2 weeks out, but then was further elevated the 2 days prior to the fight
  • CK peaked at the start of camp and again 1 week out
  • sIgA was significantly decreased in the last 2 weeks, and while there was some recovery prior to the event, this was not a complete recovery, and may have decreased mucosal immunity and increased the risk of illness
  • Urine osmolarity increased 4-fold from day 1 of fight week to the day of the weigh-in, and had only recovered 50% on fight day. 
  • Total POMS score peaked 1 week out, followed by a significant reduction at the start of fight week, followed by another spike in the last 3 days. Scores for depression and confusion were especially elevated in the last 2 weeks.
  • Scores of depression, confusion and anger were correlated with changes in BM.

Given the added demands of rapid weight loss, MMA athletes may enter matches with muscle damage and suboptimal mucosal immunity. Athlete monitoring may be useful in tracking recovery during a taper.

  1. Uddin N, Tallent J, Waldron M. Physiological and perceptual responses to a five-week pre-event taper in professional mixed martial arts athletes. J Sport Exerc Sci. 2020;

About the author

Sam Gilbert

Sam Gilbert is a registered physiotherapist with the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) and certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). He holds a bachelor’s degree in Physiotherapy from Latrobe university (Melbourne, Australia) and a master’s degree in Exercise Science (Strength and Conditioning) from Edith Cowan University (Perth, Australia).

A 3rd Dan black belt in Shinkyokushinkai Karate under the World Karate Organisation (WKO), Sam participated for over 20 years in full contact competition, winning multiple state and national titles, and culminating in a 4th place in the heavyweight division of the Shinkyokushinkai World Cup in 2009.

As the co-founder and clinical director of Club 360, the premier multi-disciplinary health and fitness center in Tokyo, Japan, Sam has combined his practical experience with an in-depth study of sports performance in relation to combat sports, and strives to help other combat athletes reach their full competitive potential, whilst at the same time decreasing injury risk and increasing competition and training potential.

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By Sam Gilbert