Like a school child “cramming” the last minute revision as exam preparation, many athletes will panic train in the last few weeks before a major event. Surely that 100 mile ride the weekend before your Ironman will be the perfect preparation, or riding the local hill 20 times, will give you just the boost you need before your European sportive? Won’t it????
Potentially not! So STOP TRAINING, and think about your final few weeks…
Taper – What it is
If you have been training hard towards your goal event (you have been haven’t you?) a taper may help you achieve your desired performance. This is where the magic word “taper” appears. Essentially, the taper is a period of 1 to 3 weeks of reduced training desired to eliminate training-induced fatigue (have you read the blog on over-training), but without losing fitness.
Although, (because of the complexity of training programme design for competitive athletes) there are limited studies on the effect of tapering for endurance performance, research in a different number of sports has shown that tapering can improve athletic performance; maximal power output; maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max); whole muscle strength and power; sub-maximal power output; increase muscle glycogen concentration; oxidative enzyme activity; haemoglobin/haematocrit ratios; and even improved psychological well-being.
In isolation, or in combination, these factors will have an impact on the way the body performs during exercise, and are also likely to lead to an increase in performance on race day.
How it works
Simply, training places a stress response on the body, this overload in turn leads to a suppression of performance capacity and a level of fatigue. Ensuing recovery allows the body some time to repair and restore, or even improve physiological function. The correct balance between training and recovery will allow your fitness to develop.
The process is repeated over days, weeks and months – you train to increase fitness. However there is a very delicate balance between overload and repair. If this balance is out, either overtraining can occur (insufficient rest), or fitness will not develop (insufficient training undertaken). For most endurance athletes overtraining, rather than insufficient training is the issue.
The taper thus allows for a period of extended recovery from the overload period. Improved physiological performance with the taper will result from both recovery from past training, and a restoration of the tolerance to training and exercise. Additionally, positive psychological and motivational changes, including enhanced mood state, reduced perception of effort and improved quality of sleep contribute to enhanced performance capabilities.
Some athletes are worried they will lose fitness when they taper, but don’t panic! Studies have shown that in over-trained athletes complete rest for as much as six weeks can actually lead to an increase in performance!
The optimal taper is specific to each individual. What is correct for you is dependent on the volume and intensity of your preceding training, and your need to recover from exhaustive exercise to compete at your peak.
The best tapers are suggested to reduce total training volume, whilst maintaining training frequency and maintaining or slightly increasing training intensity, and increasing recovery.
The following acts as an indicative guide of the final weeks before a major long distance sportive, but obviously will be different for a runner, triathlete, or someone competing over a shorter distance:
|Ideal Plan||“Last minute” backup|
|21||Base/End 3-5 hours||This plan is more suitable for someone who has tried to get away with minimal training. The taper is far from ideal, but will get you to race day fresh and sharp|
|19||End 60-90 mins|
|18||Th intervals (8 x 5 mins, 1 min easy)|
|17||End 90-120 mins|
|16||REST or recovery 30 mins|
|15||Th intervals (3 x 12 mins, 3 mins easy)||15||Base/End 120-150 mins|
|14||Base/End 2-3 hours||14||REST|
|13||REST||13||Th intervals (6 x 5 mins, 3 mins easy)|
|12||Th intervals (4 x 8 mins, 2 mins easy)||12||REST|
|11||End 90-120 mins||11||Th intervals (3 x 8 mins, 4 mins easy)|
|10||Th intervals (6 x 5 mins, 1 min easy)||10||End 60-90 mins|
|9||REST or recovery 20-30 mins||9||REST|
|8||Th intervals (3 x 8 mins, 4 mins easy)||8||Base/End 90-120 mins|
|7||Base/End 90-120 mins||7||REST|
|6||REST||6||Th intervals (4 x 5 mins, 3 mins easy)|
|5||Th intervals (4 x 5 mins, 3 mins easy)||5||End 45-60 mins|
|4||End 60-90 mins||4||REST|
|3||Th intervals (4 x 3 mins, 3 mins easy)||3||Th intervals (3 x 3 mins, 3 mins easy)|
|2||Easy/recovery 30-60 mins||2||Easy/recovery 20-40 mins|
|0||RACE DAY||0||RACE DAY|
Your perfect race day
- Best tapers are achieved by reducing total volume of training (training hours) and duration of each session, whilst maintaining training frequency (sessions per week) and maintaining or slightly increasing training intensity
- Avoid getting caught in the pre-event excitement: Do your best to fully rest on the day before your event. Stay off your feet as much as possible, sit rather than stand, lie down rather than sit. Relax and keep your body and mind fresh for the big day.
- Use your additional time in the last weeks effectively by ensuring your race kit is prepared, well maintained and that you have planned your race strategy. Use the last few days to make sure you are well hydrated and carbohydrate loaded if needed.
Don’t forget if you want more information, or need a personalised training plan, just contact me. Good luck!