How to make sure you get in prime shape in the last few weeks before a big race... By Phil Mosley
Tapering is the art of reducing your triathlon training-load before a key race so that you’re physically and mentally ready to perform at your best. There is no single “correct way” of tapering and it depends on several factors such as an athlete’s natural ability, training background and race length. A scientific review paper published by the International Triathlon Union (ITU) concluded the same thing: “Lowering your training volume by about 41-60% induces positive physiological, psychological and performances adaptations in highly trained triathletes, but performance benefits could be attained with somewhat smaller or bigger volumes.” It doesn’t narrow it down much but at least it shows there are several ways to achieve a positive result. In this feature we’ll talk about some of the strategies we use as part of our online triathlon coaching philosophy.
How Long To Taper
According to the ITU review paper, the optimal length of a race-taper varies widely from four to 28 days in length. It takes experience to get it right, based on your own body, your training history and the race you’re tapering for. Some athletes rest really well into events and race fast when fresh. They tend to have more natural speed and rely on well rested muscles to go fast. These athletes are better off tapering 7 to 9 days into a key event, with low volume while touching lightly on pace work. Others tighten up and are sluggish if they do not remain activate enough. These are the “diesel engine” athletes who rely on high cardiovascular fitness and can perform aerobically at a higher percentage of their lactic threshold. In this case, we rest these athletes 7 to 14 days before the event and then gradually build them up on race week, sharpening in the 3 to 5 days prior to the race.
How Often To Train During A Taper
Aim for a reduction in training frequency of around 20% during your taper period. This is primarily to avoid losing fitness but also to maintain your confidence and skill. For example, if you normally train six times per week, you could cut this down to four training sessions plus the race itself.
How Long Should Your Workouts Be During a Taper?
Reduce your training volume by anything between 41 and 60 percent during a taper period. This means carrying on with most of your usual sessions, but cutting them down in length. Research shows that it’s important to maintain your usual workout intensities, rather than doing everything at an easy pace in an attempt to recover. However, none of the workouts in the final week of a taper should leave you feeling tired for several hours afterwards.
Three Taper Strategies
Linear: This involves reducing your workload by 20 percent two weeks out and then a further 20 percent in the final week before your key race.
Step: A sudden reduction in training two weeks before your big race. And then you maintain that low load for the remainder of the taper. Research has shown this to be the least effective type.
Exponential: This involves gradually reducing your training load two to three weeks before you race. Your training load should then progressively reduce in the final week prior to the event. For many, this taper is ideal for recovering from the final block of training and then sharpening the body and mind in time for race weekend. We tend to use this approach as part of our online triathlon coaching process.
//Boxout// Our 3 Top Taper Tips
Be careful not to over-do your running in race-week. It’s a weight bearing exercise and leads to greater muscle impact than swimming or cycling.
Give yourself a rest day one or two days before you race. Use this time for relaxing, packing, registering and any final race-route research.
Aim for eight hours sleep per night in the final week. Triathlons start early, so it’s unlikely you’ll get more than five hours the night before you race.
Sample Taper Week For Sprint or Olympic distance triathlon
Monday Cycle 40 minutes, including 10mins at your target race pace. Afterwards, go straight into a 20 minute run of 5mins at target race pace, 15mins easy jog.
Tuesday Swim 1500m, including 8x100 at target race pace with 15secs rests. Wednesday Easy 40 minute cycle, straight into an easy 20 minute jog.
Thursday Cycle 30 minutes, including 3x2mins at target race pace with 2-minute recoveries. Go straight into a 20 minute run as (5mins at target race pace, 15mins easy jog).
Friday Day off Saturday Practice open water swim. 1000m including 4x100m at race pace with race-start practices (beach or deep water) +30secs recoveries.
Sunday Race day
We've had great results from our triathlon coaching clients thanks to our tapering strategy. Why not try it yourself?