Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tapering, though sometimes difficult, is essential for optimal performance

Yes, it's taper time again. The most beloved, hated week of training. One fellow blogger calls it the "taper worm." Others simply consider it a necessary evil of the process. 

During the long, hard weeks of training, I yearn for taper week. But once it's here, it's usually not all that I imagined. It's still busy--you're still working out, just less intensely. Then there's the added stress of needing to rest enough, eat enough, relax enough to hopefully be enough on race day. 

There is the anxiety over preparedness, though there is nothing to be done about it by this point. There is the ridiculous fear of losing fitness during taper week. There is agitation as you pace around like a caged tired, ready to bite anyone's head off, as all of the pent-up energy roils and percolates beneath the surface--which is the point. 

There's logistics and planning and hoping your goggles won't get kicked off your head and your tire won't get a flat. 

There's a lot that goes on, inside and out, during taper week. 

What follows is from my interactive fitness column, responding to a reader's question about tapering . . . 

Tapering, though sometimes difficult, is essential for optimal performance

Q: Do you find taper weeks a little difficult . . . emotionally speaking? 

A: Sometimes. It depends on the type of race I’m training for.

Tapering for a sprint race is a sprint in itself, the taper period being so short that I hardly notice it.

On the other hand, endurance races, such as when I was training for the Ironman last year, leave me exhausted and counting the days until taper time.  

So, it’s tapering for the middle distance races—half marathons, and Olympic and half Ironman triathlons—that tend to leave me feeling a bit out of sorts.

Tapering, a key factor in preventing training-induced fatigue from affecting your race-day performance, is the reduction in the amount and intensity of exercise in the days and weeks leading up to a race. Generally, longer endurance events require longer taper periods of up to four weeks, while shorter races may only require a week or less.

For most athletes, a well-executed tapering plan is essential for optimal race day performance. The key is finding the proper balance between rest and continued training. According to, “the best training and form in the world can all be wasted with an ineffective taper period.” 

Studies suggest that tapering, which allows you to fully recover from previous workouts and be completely rested for your race, can increase and athlete’s strength, power, motivation, autoimmune function, oxygen uptake and glycogen levels. A proper taper should leave you feeling strong and rested, taking pride in all you’ve accomplished during the grueling weeks of training, and excited that you are within days of reaching your ultimate goal.

But, that’s not to suggest that tapering is always easy. The sudden reduction in workouts can leave some athletes feeling depressed, sluggish, unmotivated and anxious about a perceived loss of fitness. These feelings are quite common as your body slows down to rest and recharge, and should pass as race day approaches. It’s important to remember that there are no workouts you can do at this stage that will enhance your readiness for the race.


Tapering affects each individual differently, so it’s important to listen to your body and figure out what works best for you. notes that the taper period can be an ideal time to concentrate on technique and strategy, using the extra downtime to sharpen your skills and enhance your body awareness. Nutritional considerations are a factor as well, as the reduction in mileage during tapering means that fewer calories are required. Focus on consuming healthy and nutritious items, particularly carbohydrates, in the days leading up to the race. To keep glycogen levels stocked, eat frequent, small meals, and drink plenty of water. 

In general, you should use the taper period to relax and get lots of rest. Continue stretching and consider getting a massage several days before your race. Read motivational books or magazine articles and reduce stress by practicing relaxation and visualization techniques. Most importantly, don’t try anything new in the week prior to or on race day.

If you’ve executed a well thought-out tapering period, the rest will pay off and, according to, you will be “so bored with sitting around that you are bursting at the seams to get out there,” which is exactly what you want. 


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