Getting ready to perform your best requires proper training and preparation. Once you’ve built up your fitness and abilities, though, it takes more than just the training you’ve done and a desire to perform well. Achieving your best during your event requires you to pay proper attention to many factors such as pacing, fueling, tactics, and strategy among many others to achieve your goals. That being said, what happens in the final 2-weeks of your preparation can have significant impacts on your ability to perform at your best in your event. I’m going to discuss a few ideas regarding tapering that can help you be ready for your next event - whether it’s a race, a test, or just a big ride where you want to hit some PRs!
Tapering is basically a reduction in training load that allows your body and mind to be prepared to perform at their best. Most studies show increases in performance between 2 and 8% when a 2-week taper is performed compared to continuing to train at a similar level leading into a competition. There are many different durations of tapers that have been tested, but in general a 2-week taper tends to consistently show the best results. While there are many individual variables to consider with a proper taper, the key ideas that tend to be required for a successful taper include a maintenance or only slight reduction in training frequency, a significant decrease in training volume, and a maintenance or even slight increase in training intensity during the taper. Let’s look a little deeper at each of these 3 aspects.
You can think about frequency simply as the number of training sessions per week, and in some cases how many sessions per day. Generally speaking, training frequency should only be reduced appropriately 20% during a taper. If we use an example of someone who is performing 5 sessions per week, a 20% reduction in frequency would simply be to perform one less session per week during the taper. If you already train at a low frequency (say 3 times per week), then 2-weeks from your event you might keep the same frequency, but during the week of your event you could drop one session and just have 2 sessions rather than 3.
One of the most aspects of a proper taper is a reduction in training volume. Overall, training volume should be reduced by 30-50% from normal during a taper. Some of the most effective 2-week tapers include a 20-30% reduction in volume 2-weeks prior to the event, and then the final week a further reduction of 40-60% less volume. For someone who averages 6 hours of training per week, this would look like 4.5 hours total hours 2-weeks out, and then maybe just 2.5 to 3 hours during the final week. Many folks get worried about reducing their volume this much during a taper, but one thing that I’ve found to be helpful is to have 50% reduction in training volume during typical recovery weeks (every 3rd or 4th week) to show how reducing volume by that amount is consistently beneficial. As I often say, rest is not a four letter word. Well - actually it is, but it’s not a bad word.
Intensity is one aspect of the taper where we generally recommend either maintaining or even slightly increasing in one session per week during a taper. One way to do this would be to choose your highest intensity session of the week during your taper, and increase the target power by 2-4% compared to your pre-taper high intensity interval targets. If you’re doing a Sufferfest session such as the NoVid Tapers session, you could simply increase the MAP target intensity by 3% to achieve the increased intensity. The goal is not to make the entire session harder, but just to increase the stress of the intervals just a little higher. We’ll often increase the duration of the recovery between efforts or between sets during a taper compared to what you might do during a normal training session to compensate for the increased intensity.
There are some other aspects of tapering that you need to consider adjusting during a taper, including altering your daily nutrition to match the changes in your training load, ensuring that you’re getting proper sleep and rest, and reducing your strength training to more of a maintenance level 2 weeks out and considering just including core stability exercises the week of your event so you’re not overtaxing your muscles. Remember, it generally takes about 7-10 days for your body to truly improve from a given training session, so while you won’t be building fitness in a taper you are just trying to do enough to allow your body to perform at its peak on race day.
If you find yourself wondering what to do with the extra time that you’ve got during a taper consider spending that extra time on mental training exercises, like those found in the MTP, as well as practicing relaxation. You don’t need to meditate or visualize for hours on end, but spending a few minutes each day on your mental training will help you get the most out of your body. Remember, it’s your mind that will allow you to access, use and express your physical capacity! Finally, the winter preparation months are a great time to practice different tapering strategies to see how your body responds to variations in your tapering strategies. Practicing a final week tapering sequence every 8 to 12 weeks will give you several opportunities to experiment and find what kinds of tweaks you can make to your tapering routine that consistently lead you to feeling your best on your race day! In The Sufferfest app you can find the Full Frontal Prep Plan and Full Frontal/Half Monty Double 1-week taper and test plans under “Special Focus” as suggested options to use as the final week of a taper.
“Effects of tapering on performance: a meta-analysis”
Laurent Bosquet, Jonathan Montpetit, Denis Arvisais, Iñigo Mujika