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Getting The Taper Right

The tapering phase will often determine whether you go into an event under cooked, over cooked or just right. Plus, it can even result in fitness gains of 3%. So, what is the most effective way of tapering?

The Science

Tapering can be summarised by the saying 'less is more'. What tapering specifically means is when training volume declines for a specific period prior your main event and improves performance across a broad range of exercise modes. Tapering is also a critical phase which allows the body to recovery from heavy training loads.

Murach et al, (2015)

The aim of a tapering is to enhance recovery while maintaining fitness. This can be manipulated across four dimensions, length, frequency, intensity, and volume. However, tapering is not designed to achieve additional adaptations or fitness gains.

The length of a taper varies between sports, generally, the longer your event the longer the taper. For example, a marathon may require a two-week taper, whereas a short time trial (< 16km) may only need to be 4 days.

On the other hand, the frequency of training should remain the same in highly trained individuals and technique-based sport. For example, in a triathlon context maintaining swimming frequency should be considered the priority. Although, for beginner athletes, frequency should decline by 30-50%.

Furthermore, studies have shown decreasing training intensity (i.e. working in < zone 2) while maintaining frequency and volume is not an effective taper. As a result, current studies are suggesting in order to maintain fitness and decrease fatigue, training intensity must remain the same but frequency and volume declines.

Lastly, the volume of training is arguably the most important when dropping fatigue. The decline in volume as a percentage varies between studies however, with most falling within a 40-60% range. In addition, training volume should decline exponentially instead of a step-decline or slow linear decline.