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The Tips & Tricks of Tapering

It’s that time of year again! Feeling nervous? Excited? Prepared? World Championships season is coming up in just a few weeks, and if you’ve done everything right, then right now you should mostly just be feeling tired. I’m going to be putting a few blog posts together over the next few weeks, to talk about the mental and physical prep we undergo for World Championships season. I thought I’d start off by talking about tapering, since it’s just about time to start one.

What is a taper, you ask? Well, before the biggest races of the year, athletes will put themselves through a massive training load they’ve been building up to all year, followed by a few weeks of rest called a “taper.” The end goal is to peak.

Peaking is this heroic feeling where you can push and push your body during a race, but you just don’t seem to get tired.

Our bodies can only achieve a proper peak once, maybe twice a year. Otherwise we’d do it all the time! When we peak, what happens is our bodies have undergone a huge training load, then we’ve backed off with a period of rest (aka the taper), and our bodies over-compensate for it. The body thinks that you’re going to put it through this huge physical demand of super-training again, so when you start to taper, the body uses the opportunity to reach a new plateau of fitness while it has the chance.

So before you start your taper, you should have done a ton of training. Your body should be pretty thoroughly taxed at this point. You don’t want to dig yourself in to an overtraining hole you can’t recover from, but you should be feeling pretty maxed out in terms of what training load you can handle. The trickiest thing about achieving a peak is that every athlete’s bodies react differently to training methods. Some athletes train with lots of shorter, high intensity workouts and are able to achieve the same results as an athlete who has to put in a ton of volume and multiple hours a day of training. Know what training your body responds well to. About three weeks out from your big race, begin your taper.

I’m going to share with you the basics of a proper taper, but there’s sooo much to it that it would be impossible to fit all in one article. Use these basics to write yourself a program, then I’d recommend having a coach or athlete who knows about tapering look over it and make tweaks. The more this person knows you and how you train, the better.

Tapering Weeks 1 & 2

After your massive training load, take 1.5 – 2 weeks where you’re doing very little. Tapering doesn’t mean that you get to be completely sedentary, sit on the couch and eat pizza all day long. This should be active recovery, where you’re still getting your blood flowing to prevent laziness, but you’re not going to deplete your energy stores or tire yourself out. Taking this down-time will be harder than you would think! After the weeks of intense training you’ve just put in, your body won’t be used to such low amounts of activity.

Go for a 20-30 minute really easy jog, or a hike, with at least one day a week of complete rest. Feel free to do some things just to get your blood pumping, but don’t forget that the main goal of this tapering period is for your body to rest and recover.

If you finish a workout during your taper period and you’re really tired, you’ve overdone it. Nutrition is equally important during this phase. Eat healthy and thank your body for what you’ve put it through. By the end of the taper, you should feel very well rested and ready to go again.

Tapering Week 3

Now you want to jump back into one week of whatever your regular training regimen was before embarking on this crazy peak quest! Include 2-3 high intensity training sessions into this week. If all goes well, by the time your big race rolls around at the end of this week of regular training, you should feel like a superhero! Don’t forget to take one more day of rest before your big race. Then go out and smash it!

My Spartan World Championship 2015 Tapering Program

Here is an example of the tapering program I followed before Spartan World Championships in 2015. Anything in red is a hard workout. These hours may still look like a lot at first glance, but keep in mind that leading up to this taper I was putting in about 3-4+ hours a day of training, with lots of high intensity and hill work. “Easy course jog/walk up hills – 2h” doesn’t sound like rest, but by this point in time it felt equivalent to going out for a long walk with the dog. Know your body and cater this schedule to yourself with hours that will push your personal limits in the first few weeks, and allow you the active recovery you need in the following weeks.

Author Lindsay Webster

Lindsay Webster, Competitive OCR, Mountain biker, xc skiier & runner.

Lindsay is a pioneer in the female OCR world, and her own life. She left the stability of a regular income to take a chance on something she wasn’t even sure she would be good at. The result? She’s the happiest she’s ever been.

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