What is tapering?
“Tapering = maximising recovery, not fitness.”
While we are exercising and training, we are actually damaging and breaking down our body (the muslces etc). In other words, we are actually in worse shape when we finish a training session than we were when we started! This is obvious when you see people stagger out of a tough sesison. It is in the following days (the Recovery Phase), when we are taking it easy, sleeping, mooching around and watching tv that our body does the interesting work of repairing and rebuilding our body slightly better than it was before.
So remember, we are in worse shape straight after a training session than we were before that training session, and in even worse shape than we will be a few days after the training session. This is very important if we are training up for a particular occasion or event, eg a big race, a championship or a fitness assessment. Because if we beast ourselves in hardcore training sessions right up to the day before the event, we will wake up feeling stiff, sore, aching, tired and generally beat up. This is NOT how we want to be going into an important event we have spent time and effort preparing for (because we will perform like a turd).
So, “tapering” is when we deliberatly wind down our training in the run up to the event. This way, our body will have time to recover and do all the repairs/rebuilding it needs to our battered, post-training bodies (in the Recovery Phase), leaving us a refreshed body ready to perform better than we could before and set new Personal Bests. This is also known as the “Supercompensation Phase”.
How do we taper?
There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to tapering, but here are some aspects that should work for most of the people, most of the time. Feel free to play around with them to figure out what works best with you.
Duration of taper.
This is how long before your event you should start your taper. This kinda depends on how hard you are training, and this can be very subjective. For example, I know of someone whos workload is huge, but if you ask them, they insist they don’t train much at all. Also, I talk to people who barely train at all, but they insist they train harder than Rocky! So be honest with yourself. There is a big difference between “serious training” and “working out”.
But as a general rule of thumb, they say 4-21 days tapering works. As you can see, that give you a LOT of flexibility to play with, so get experimenting! But here are some more helpers:
Sprint/strength athletes – you may need a longer taper duration. This is to allow your Central Nervous System (CNS) to fully recover.
Endurance athletes – you will want a shorter taper duration. This is because your CNS does not get as frazzled as the other guys, and our aerobic fitness declines quicker than muscle strength.
This is the overall amount of work you do in a training session. If you are a runner/cylist/swimmer etc, you can measure it in miles/kilometers etc. If you are training in the weights room, it could be measured in reps/sets. Or you could simply measure it in how long the training session lasts.
And this is the aspect that will change the most…it reduces. A good method to try is to quickly step your training volume down 50-85% (so you are doing less than/equal to half your usual training volume). Again, this gives a big range for you to play with, so here are some guides to help you:
Sprint/strength athletes – aim for the higher end of the scale (reduce more).
Endurance athletes – aim towads the lower end of the scale (reduce less).
This is how hard your training session is. Think how fast or how heavy it is. You want to keep this up as high. Don’t let it drop. A short, sharp session will help you keep your “fighting edge”, but won’t grind your body down like a regular sweat session can.
So keep your nerves reminded what it means to work at competition pace. You don’t want them to start working sluggishly.
Also keep this reletively high. Cut back about 20% and follow the “little and often” approach. This should help keep the weekly workload down to aid recovery, but not blunt your muscle memory or technique, especially if you’re event involves a high skill level.
- 4-21 days before your event, quickly cut the volume of each training session down to 50-85% of normal.
- If you currently train 3/week, cut down to 2/week.
- If you currently train 5/week, cut down to 4/week.
- Keep the intensity/speed/weight of your sessions up at competition level.
Have a play with these and figure out what works best for you. And if you want to put it to the test, don’t forget our monthly strength & fitness assessments. See what happens to your scores with a taper.