hard, prepared well, got your weight down, power up and you are
as fit as you've been all year. Your key event is just around the
corner; so what now? When is enough, enough? When is too
much, too much? And when's the right time to throttle back to be
mentally and physically fresh
for your big day? We'll try and answer most if not all these
questions in this month's article. But if you're stuck for time, the short answer is; it
What is a taper?
A taper is considered to be a period of time where the volume of training
is reduced in the days or weeks leading up to a key event to prevent
training-induced fatigue from impacting your performance on the day. It isn't
done for every event just the one or two a year that you have pre-determined
to be your key objectives for peak performance.
The key to a well
executed taper period is finding the best balance between recovery and
A structured taper will allow the body to recover from the
accumulated fatigue of hard training without reversing the affects of
training adaptation. The best training and form in the world can all
be wasted with an ineffective taper period. Get it right and you'll
fly on the day, get it wrong and you'll not be competing to your full
Pump Up The Volume?
Most definitely not! You'll have
noticed from my earlier statement that only the volume of training is reduced
during a taper period, not the intensity.
Some people lose the full advantage of a taper period because they reduce
both volume and intensity. Ensure you differentiate between
the two and success is at least a step closer.
Here we'll try to
discuss the merits of a taper and the advantages it could bring if you
allow yourself to follow a few simple rules and guidelines. I say,
"allow yourself" because it still surprises me how many people ride
long and hard
up to two days before a key event. They're nervous, that as the big
day approaches, they'll lose valuable
fitness if they don't stay at full throttle.
You can't get any fitter in the last week before a key event; it's a fact!
Remember the FIT principle?
Good training is all about manipulating three critical factors to get
the maximum return on your training investment. The
Training Methods &
December Planning factsheets explain these
factors in more detail.
To cut a long
story short, a good training programme relies on adjusting the Frequency, Intensity and Time
(duration) of your workouts to physically overstretch your body to create
a sustainable adaptation to your training load. The key word is
"sustainable." You can't overstretch your body indefinitely. You need to
schedule active rest, recovery and adaptation periods in to your training plan, then
finish it off with an equally well planned taper period.
A taper is a cross
between a rest period and an activity period. You still stress your body
before a key event, you just do it for a shorter activity period, which
gives you a longer recovery period. You get to
after your key event! To make the point absolutely clear; tapering
isn't resting! Please don't confuse the two.
How long is a taper?
As I said above, and will continue to say throughout this factsheet; it depends. If you're training for an Iron Man
event you might need to take a three week taper. A full on sportive
like the Marmotte, L'Etape or
Quebrantahuesos would probably require a 10
day taper; a 25 mile time trial might require just a 7 day taper.
It really is horses for courses and requires a little trial and error to
get it just right. The only problem is, you don't want to be "erroring" when preparing for your key event of the year. But you have
to start somewhere, and to be honest, I've never heard of anyone saying
they tapered too much!
The quantifiable benefits
Again, there is a key word in the heading above; quantifiable. These
things have been measured by clever people with clever stuff; there is scientific research to back
these concepts up.
So it's worth paying attention and at least giving the next paragraph or
so the benefit of the doubt.
that a well planned and executed taper can lead to an increase in oxygen
uptake, an increase in muscle glycogen levels and an increase in an
and power. Some studies have measured a 3% increase in power, and an
increase in sustained endurance, over control groups that never undertook a
Now I can hear a
few of you scoffing at 3%. But consider this...
Everyone I know
wants to target the hour for a 25 mile time trial. It's the place
where everyone wants to be and it's difficult to hit for the "normal"
cyclist, especially here in Jersey. Most "normal" cyclists (those
with a job, a family, and a life!) end up around the 62 minute mark in
Jersey for a 25 mile time trial mainly due to the 30 or so corners and
junctions on the courses. A well executed taper, giving a minimum of 3%
improvement, would knock two minutes off that time! Two minutes
without having to train any harder! How good is that?
There is no template
as each individual reacts differently to the same training stimulus, the same
is found for tapering. Don't do what your mates do or copy a
schedule from a book.
You cannot write a cookie cutter template taper that works
for everyone. Each individual needs to find the taper that works
best for them. Having said that, there are at least some indisputable rules of
have to be followed.
Frequency has to
remain around 80% of previous training patterns.
Intensity has to
remain at or above that of competition level.
Time (volume) has to
decrease by at least 50-60%.
So, if you're
training five times a week, you don't cut back to two sessions, you drop
to four. If you have a power meter you know exactly, from previous
race data, where you need your power levels to be. So your intervals
need to be at race pace, plus some! And as for time, if your
endurance ride is four hours, you cut it back to two to two and a half
hours. These are all starting points for you to work from.
As I said, there
is no template, and these figures aren't prescriptive. But they do
make excellent starting points against which to prove your theories when
you taper for one of your less-important objectives.
The taper period isn't exclusively used for physical recovery and
adaptation. Nutrition is as key to your training and tapering as any
physical activity you may undertake. Your performance on the day
relies heavily on the food you eat the week before the event. Just
because you've cut back in one aspect of your training doesn't mean you
can let discipline slip in another.
Eat the correct
food in the correct quantities and at the correct time. Keep your
glycogen levels stocked by eating little and often. Don't eat three
big meals a day, eat five smaller ones and make sure you remain hydrated
at all times.
your whole preparation period by neglecting this vital piece of your
competition jigsaw. And don't underestimate the psychological
effects of treating yourself to a dessert in the taper period.
You've trained hard for a prolonged length of time and are now as fit as
One small dessert
isn't going to hold you back. Reward yourself for your training
effort before the big day; but not the night before! It all adds to
the confidence that you're as well prepared as you can be and are looking
forward to competition day.
Planning your training
This next section provides empirical evidence of a controlled,
structured, season long build and taper, planned in October and executed
In the table below you can clearly see, the overload and taper principles
at work, from my actual SRM race and training
data files. The first red
block is La Ronde Picarde sportive, at the back end of
competition period. Season over, I recovered in October with short, easy, steady-state 50k rides
with a tiny Training Stress (TS).
planned (and rode) the rest of the season in progressive overloads and
distances to peak for June and again in September. You can see the
Bossis rides were shorter but more explosive to give an overload
for my two key events, The
Pyreneene and the
Hubert Arbes which took place
a week apart in June.
After a July
back-off, so I could watch the Tour, I then
began my end of season build up with
Courir Pour La Paix in August.
I tapered properly for this event and ended up just 2 minutes behind the
comeback kid, Bernard Hinault; yes that one!
My final and key event
of the year, and the most "stressful" was the
Lapabie in September. Once that
over I went back to October's 50k wind-down rides. Here's a full season at a glance
with the peaks and troughs and tapers.
La Paix August
You can see from
the actual training figures above that Training Stress and Intensity
Factor build each month to give a controlled, progressive, sustainable overload.
Ideally, your season should be planned the same. As should your run up to
your key events.
You don't need a
power meter to do all this. You can gauge the "hardness" of your
training and events on experience, distance, climbing and
possibly average speed. Don't over complicate things, I can
because I'm sad! This is a very simple concept that can be as easy
or as complicated as you wish to make it. Keep it simple!
Do not underestimate the psychological benefits of a taper period.
If a taper is carried out correctly you can actually feel yourself getting
stronger as your key event approaches.
The mental lift
this gives is enormous. To be in with a chance of performing well on
your chosen day you need to peak both physically and mentally. If
one of these factors s just slightly off song you could compromise your
chances of successfully fulfilling your goal. It doesn't matter how
strong you are, if you're not mentally fresh you could be handicapping
yourself against less powerful but mentally more attuned athletes.
So refresh your brain as well as your muscles.
Common sense touches
The taper period is an ideal time to concentrate on technique and
strategy. As fatigue occurs and the emphasis is on completing
intervals or sets, it's all too easy for technique to drift as you fight
for that last ounce of race-winning fitness. Use the taper period to
concentrate on doing the small thing right. Don't drift just because
the sessions are easier; use the time to sharpen your skills and enhance
If you train in
the evenings, due to work or family commitments etc, but your key event is
in the morning, try to use the taper period to train at the same time of
day as your key event. This will allow your body to adapt to the
environment and conditions in which you will be competing.
As you train to a
lesser level, make sure you adjust your nutritional strategy accordingly.
It would be a shame if you put on a kilo or so during your taper period
because you forgot to throttle back on your carb intake! Also,
remember that fluid replacement and balance is just as crucial in a taper
period as it is in an activity period. Don't get to your key event
competing away, or at home, save your sunbathing until after the event.
Sitting in the sun the day before a key event may help with your tan but
it isn't conducive to optimal hydration levels. Common sense, but
I've seen it done.
Also, if you've
got new kit or nutrition products don't save them all up for the big day.
Test them during your taper period. It's no use having a brand new
pair of race shoes for the big day if the cleats are misaligned or your
new shorts have a seam just where you don't want it! Test your kit
in the taper period and if you have new tyres get them scrubbed in before
you go flying up the road. Literally!
Each athlete and each cycling discipline requires differing combinations
of physiological, psychological and technical abilities. Therefore
the same athlete will require differing tapers for differing events.
A taper that worked for a 180k sportive isn't the same one to use for a
ten mile time trial. And differing athletes will require different tapers for the same events.
Find what's best for you in your chosen discipline.
No one got to a
race fatigued because they recovered too much the week before a key event.
If in doubt err on the side of caution and do less. Go for a ride
and when you feel good; go home!
that simple. A while back I saw someone go on a 40 mile club run,
then contest the last mile dash and give it a big sprint at the end.
Thought nothing of it.
The next day I see them half-way down the
results sheet for the Island 50 mile Time Trial Championship! What
on earth were they thinking? Did they really believe they'd get a
fast time with a heavy workout
on the Saturday! Maybe they did.
Train hard, taper
well, realize your potential.