By Lewis Morrison, MSc, CSEP-CEP, FMS2, Peak Centre for Human Performance.
You have been training for months and now your goal event is just around the corner. You followed the training and nutrition plan, completed all the workouts, did the strength training, and remained injury-free. Now, with just a few short weeks until race day you are nearly at your peak fitness. However, this next portion of the training plan can make or break your race. This is the time to resist the urge to cram in that final long run or extra speedwork session. This is where the taper comes in. In order to plan a taper effectively training volume, intensity, frequency, and duration all need to be considered.
Why should I taper?
Though the taper is a nice change of pace for some, others find the taper difficult psychologically. Many athletes are reluctant to ease off their training because they fear that they will lose fitness. Training creates fatigue and results in a decrease in performance. The taper allows the body a chance to recover. The coolest thing about the human body is that when you give it a chance to recover, for a period of time you will be stronger than when you started. Ultimately it is the combination of training AND recovery which results in improvements in performance.
A taper is a period of reduced training volume that lasts from 7 to 21 days prior to a major event. The longer the event and the greater the accumulated training volume, the longer the taper should be. During this period of reduced volume, it is important to maintain some intensity work specific to your event and race goal like some short race pace work.
When you get 2 to 3 weeks out from your event you must accept that you’ve already done the training that is going to dictate your physical performance for the event. You cannot make any meaningful improvements in these last few weeks before the event, BUT you can do plenty of damage – Trust the taper! Your final longest session should be completed approximately three weeks before race day. However, higher volume athletes might want to start reducing up to four weeks out. Through the taper you should gradually reduce your volume by 25-30% per week. Feeling tired or sluggish, experiencing odd little aches and pains and feeling restless are often experienced by athletes during the taper. This is normal. By the middle of your race week your nagging aches and pains will be minimized, your body will start to feel super charged and by the time you hit the start line you’ll feel like a superhero. You’ll be ready to race!
Don’t forget to also taper your strength training in the final two or three weeks before your big event. Reduce the frequency and volume of these workouts from 2 to 3 weeks out, and then eliminate them in the final week. Keep in mind the focus is on maximizing recovery.
The taper is a great time to work on your mental game as well. Mental preparation and attitude are almost as important as physical training for maximum performance. Shorter workouts free up some time to do some visualization work. Use the opportunity of the taper to get a mental, as well as physical, edge.
Final Six Things to Remember About the Taper:
- Accept that you’ve already done all the training that is going to dictate your physical performance
- Improvements in performance will now come from rest and recovery, not from training
- Decrease the volume of your workouts
- Maintain the race specific intensity of your workouts
- Focus on mental preparation
- Learn from your taper. Take notes on how you do the taper this time around and how you felt on race day so that you can make adjustments next race/event/season