Experience the Difference

Tapering for success

On social media these days I see so much information about the ‘perfect’ way to taper for an event.

Simultaneously, I see just as many athletes’ post-race reports that mention ‘I got my taper wrong in the lead-up and had I got that right I would have had raced to my true potential with a better result for myself’. We will never know if that statement was true or false.

Just like every other part of an event preparation where the human body is involved, there is no one method to ‘taper’ that will suit 2 individuals, let alone each one of you out there. That ‘broad brush’ approach does not work in any aspect of event preparation.

To achieve the best possible result for yourself requires a very careful, precise and individualistic set of procedures based on many factors must be implemented.

An important note, that what you did last time (if there was a last time) that seemed to work, may not work at all this time around.

After preparing athletes for a large range of sports events for over 40 consecutive years and having ‘tapered’ athletes for thousands of events from as short as a 60 metre sprint to multiple day adventure races and everything in between.

I completely believe that, the shorter the taper the better, regardless of the length of the chosen event, a well-planned taper is a requirement.

Generally speaking, races are completed at a lower intensity than the targeted training required to prepare for that event adequately.

So what is a taper and what should a taper achieve?

  • A taper is put in place that athletes feel less fatigued both physically and mentally in the days leading into the chosen event.
  • Typically a taper involves a decrease of training volume in the lead-up to a race or an event
  • If the taper is implemented successfully, athletes feel fresher and more energetic by race day.

The longer that you have trained for, the more conditioned you will be to that all important training and recovery regime and in so doing will require less length of a taper in the lead-up to your event.

If you are diligent in the application to the detail of your post training recovery procedures and are aware of how you feel between your sessions you will know how long your taper should be at this point of your preparation. Reading your body is key. The body continually sends messages to your brain and you need to take notice of the messages that you are being sent.

If you are unsure of your present condition and fitness level and how you are tracking with your preparation for your next event, then I suggest that you add an extra day of taper so that when you stand on the start line you will have no residual fatigue to deal with regardless of your fitness level.

For the well-conditioned athlete a long taper is likely to have you feeling heavy and lethargic on the start line which is likely to hinder your race day performance.

Tapering mistakes I see

  1. The number one mistake I continue to see is that when many athletes commence a taper, they simultaneously increase their food intake.
  2. The problem with this is that the moment you reduce your training volume and/or intensity the body will automatically store more glycogen because you are not using the stored energy that the body is familiar with.
  3.  This means that the body doesn’t need any extra food as it can only store so much anyway. This is the exact scenario that will leave you feeling very heavy and possibly lethargic come event start time.
  4. Tapering for too long. The body craves movement and a long taper removes a lot of important event specific movement patterns that are needed during the event.
  5. Doing limited or no physical training at times that the body is accustomed to. A complete day off is good 48 hours before the event but every other day I feel you should do something albeit shorter whilst maintaining the higher intensity that the body is used to.

I feel that the poor old ‘I got my taper wrong’ gets the blame for a lot of poor or worse than expected performance levels in races for all of the above reasons, (too long, too short, incorrect diet) when the real reason that you are likely to have a worse than expected event is in the months leading up to the event where your overall preparation in training sessions were inadequate for your expected outcome.

Some observations I have made are that I have never witnessed a great event result from a very long taper.

Some of the best event results I have seen are by athletes that had no taper at all in their preparation.

Somewhere between those two extremes is the correct amount of time to taper for your upcoming event/s.



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