“It’s taper time!” Have sweeter words ever been spoken?! After working hard for weeks or months a small break is likely welcome, especially when a little extra rest is key to a great performance on race day. All gain, no pain!
What is a taper and why do it?
As you train hard, your body breaks down and then builds back stronger on subsequent recovery days – this is where performance adaptations are made. But even with regular recovery days, weeks upon weeks of training compounds and results in residual fatigue, especially for athletes who are constantly striving for new limits.
”Tapering” is the act of altering training in the days leading up to a big event in order maximize performance. The goal of a taper is to show up to a start line physically and mentally refreshed by eliminating excess training fatigue while maintaining fitness. In the final days before a race, no fitness is gained, but doing too much can be fatiguing while doing too little can leave you feeling flat. However, if timed correctly, you come out the other end rested, supercompensated, and ready to throw down a great performance.
Here are some general guidelines:
Reduce mileage by as much as 60% in your regular and long runs in the 7-10 days leading up to the event
Maintain training intensity (but reduce volume of intensity). You don’t want your body to be shocked as soon as you fly out the gates so keeping some intensity will keep your neuromuscular system primed and leg turnover in check.
Select a proper Last Workout for your final hard interval session. Chose a workout you are confident you can nail and avoid the temptation to “test yourself”. This close to a race, you won’t make any fitness gains so there is need for self-torture. The goal of the workout is to finish feeling fresh and fast!
Recover like a pro: Use the extra time you would normally spend training to do all the little “extras” you may, ahem, occasionally pass up, like foam rolling, trigger point release, and other self care activities
Take an extra off day. Many of the pros take an extra rest day two days out from a major competition, so for a Saturday race this means Thursday we chill!
Enjoy yourself! A taper is very much a mental break as it is a physical break. Fill your extra time with enjoyable stress free activities. That could mean spending more time with friends who put you in a positive state of mind or catching up on your to-do list so you feel more organized and calm.
Tapering is highly individual, and the importance and length of a race will dictate the amount of taper required. For example, a local 10km that you are using as a long workout, while the Spartan World Championships or a key marathon may require weeks of tapering.
Don’t be afraid of “losing fitness”. By doing a minimal amount of training and a maximal amount of recovery, you’ll hit the start line refreshed and ready to roll. If you’re uneasy about the interruption to your training routine, recall all the great work you’ve put in over the last training block and find comfort in the fact that all elite athletes taper – it works!
Pro Tip: You may feel a bit “off” or lethargic when training less. This is just because you're out of a routine and your body is confused! Don’t overthink it – have confidence in yourself and your fitness.
Embrace the rest and show up to that start line ready!!
By Faye Stenning, Bkin, and Jessica O'Connell ,MSc, CSEP-CEP, OLY