Nice to see you all again here for Coach Tip Tuesday!
There’s a lot of alliteration going on this week since I’ll be discussing Taming Taper Tantrums on this Tuesday. :) We’ve reached that point in the season when a lot of athletes are about to hit their A-Races. A proper taper is one of the most important things an athlete can do to improve performance on race day, but it’s also one of the hardest.
The length of a taper depends on the athlete’s training and on their goal race. Longer events require a longer taper. Generally speaking, taper lasts anywhere from one to three weeks prior to an A-Race. If you take nothing else away from this post, take this: you cannot gain fitness during a taper period. It won’t happen. It’s impossible to “double up to make up” at that point in time. What does that mean? It means that if you haven’t put in the work in training cycles leading into what should be taper period that you won’t be able to cram it in right before you race. In fact, if you try this, it will likely adversely affect your performance. I say this a lot, and perhaps I sound like a broken record, but I’ll continue to always say it: consistency is the key to ANY goal. Without consistency, no other gains are truly possible. If you haven’t been consistent in your training, you can’t make up for that in a taper period.
During a taper, the volume and intensity of workouts is scaled back in order to allow the athlete time to recover and prime for a race day performance. This time period could be looked at as a “marinating” period where the athlete is soaking in and absorbing all of the training they have put in. By scaling back volume and intensity, this allows the body to physiologically adapt and rest so that it is optimized for race day. However, just because intensity is scaled back doesn’t mean that it goes away altogether during this time period. Controlled, mindful incorporations of intensity are actually part of a smart taper since they help keep both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers firing.
Athletes tend to be on the Type A side of things, and as a result, it can be hard to take a “step back” from training - enter what I call Taper Tantrums. With extra time on their hands, a lot of athletes start having anxiety that they “aren’t doing enough” to prepare. I always encourage athletes to remember that the hay is in the barn when they hit a taper phase of training. They’ve done the work, and now it’s time to get their bodies ready to have the dessert of their training on race day.
It’s important to remember that just because you may have more free time during a taper doesn’t mean that you should start doing more physical activities unrelated to sport. It can be tempting to go for extra walks with your dog, catch up on your neglected yard, or go to the bounce house with your kids. Increasing physical activities, even non-sport related, does negate the gains that a proper taper will give you, though. That extra time during taper is best used for recovery modalities (think sleep, massage, foam rolling) and mentally preparing for the goal race ahead.
Unsure of how to properly structure or plan a taper so you can get the most out of your training? Give me a buzz and I’ll be happy to talk to you about how working with a coach can help you do just that. :)