“Some athletes take 3 days to taper, while others take 14. What is the right amount for you and your upcoming event?”
Tapering is a common term used before an athletes peak event. “I am tapering for my upcoming marathon”. The question is, what does tapering mean and how does it help. Throughout this article, we will take an in-depth look at how to properly taper and what it means for your fitness tracking.
Tapering is when an athlete will reduce their training load in order to be fresh for their upcoming event. An example of this would be a runner who is completing 50 miles/week in peak season, then tapers down towards 20 miles the last 2 weeks to let the body recover. While the concept of tapering is straight forward, athletes often wonder if they have maximized this tactic.
How Long Should I Taper?
Some athletes take 3 days to taper, while others take 14. What is the right amount for you and your upcoming event? This requires both an artistic and scientific approach. The artistic side of the equation is that all athletes are different. Some will respond well to limited workouts while others still need to be moving. To identify your best taper, you should take notes of how you tapered and what your fitness metrics were throughout. By keeping track of your own values and racing/tapering multiple times throughout a year, you will begin to dial in your own approach. As you dial in this approach, your confidence and mental focus will improve as well!
The scientific side of this question is more straight forward. At COROS, we have EvoLab software to help athletes track all of their fitness numbers. What athletes should be targeting is a fatigue value in the “Performance” range, 20-39. When athletes reduce their current training, they should see their fatigue value decrease. When an athlete is within 20-39 Fatigue, they are ready for their best performances. When looking at a taper in terms of monitoring your fatigue, there is no set timeline of how long a taper should be. The goal is to achieve the fatigue rating you are looking to achieve when you get to race day!
Losing Fitness to Gain Form
This is a shocking statement for most athletes. You have trained all year for this key event and now you’re going to give up fitness? Yes, that is correct. During a taper, you will actually give up some of your fitness for good form. While racing at a peak level, it is more important to be fresh than it is to have the highest fitness possible. For this reason, a taper consist of more easy/off days to allow your body to become fresh.
Knowing this interesting fact, athletes should put a higher premium on their peak training portion of the year. This is where athletes build their fitness as high as they can (in a safe way). The higher you can build your fitness in peak training, the higher your fitness will be after you have finished your taper. Be mindful of overtraining and be sure to monitor your fatigue. You should hit your peak training load/stress roughly 14-21 days prior to an event.
Training While Tapering
A taper doesn’t mean completely off. When you take multiple days off, your body can become stale and lethargic. This can then lead to multiple days of training needed to recover your “snap” and “bounce”. Rather, we want to train, but limit our training load and bring our fatigue into the performance category. Your training should be focused and in a limited capacity.
Another item to note is specificity. These last days prior to an event, we want to target the right systems. If you are preparing for a 5k, then you should include shorter threshold/VO2 work. Enough work to keep the body moving, but not so much that it causes extra fatigue. Be sure to train in a specific manner that is similar to your upcoming event.
Tapering before a large event is one of the best things an athlete can do for performance. To maximize this taper, athletes should be looking to monitor their fatigue rating, plan their upcoming training appropriately, understand losing fitness for form, and train specifically for their event. By following these guidelines, athletes will increase their odds of success and be on their way to exploring perfection!