Tapering involves decreasing specific variables of training (eg. volume) to reduce fatigue, and freshen up to ensure peak fitness for Taupo. There are a variety of ways to go about tapering and it is a careful seesaw between reducing fatigue without compromising fitness to improve performance. It can be a very anxious time, decreasing training volume, and a number of riders train too much in the final 2-3 weeks prior to the day, because they don't want to lose fitness, but instead stay tired!
Reduce What, By How Much and When?
The main variables that are changed throughout a training programme are volume and intensity therefore we can reduce either of these or both. Evidence suggests decreasing volume, but maintaining or increasing intensity is the best way to taper, and research in well-trained athletes has shown 6 to 22% improvements in performance to a low volume, high intensity taper. These large improvements are a combination of the physiological changes listed below, and are reason enough to taper!
Improved economy of movement
Increased power output
Increased blood volume and oxidative enzyme activity leading to increased VO2max
Restoration of muscle glycogen concentration
Increased power at lactate threshold
Reduce volume by decreasing your duration of training each day, and/or include another complete rest day. Up to 75% reductions in volume can be tolerated by most athletes, without a decrement in performance as long as high intensity training is maintained (>85% of maximum heart rate).
Overall we know maintaining or increasing intensity, while decreasing volume leads to the greatest improvements in performance, therefore the final question is when do you start? Tapering should start a minimum of 4 days prior to your event, and a maximum of 21 days. When you start your taper depends on:
- Your ability to de-train: some of us are particularly talented at de-training, and notice a loss of form very quickly with reduced training. If you fall into this category your taper should be short.
- Age: older athletes take longer to recover, therefore if you have grandchildren your taper should be longer.
- Training volume: if your training volume has been particularly high of late, then you will need to start your taper a little earlier and gradually decrease it. Research has shown gradual decreases in volume are more effective than sudden decreases therefore you need to allow more time to do so.
Just like speed work, tapering is an important phase of your training and can lead to large improvements (by doing less!), depending on the training induced fatigue in your system. If you have got it right you will be quite edgy and wanting to ride! It is a bit like a strong coffee. Slowly but surely the caffeinated infusion rumbles through your body, reducing fatigue before causing a large spike in performance. Tapering allows this spike to be accentuated but you must catch the earthquake of accentuation before it dies down and performance is decreased.
With the big event not too far away, enjoy your coffee but remember to try a few blends for different pre-Taupo events and find out what suits you the best to maximize future performance.
Amy Taylor is a Cycling Coach and Exercise Physiologist. She combines science with training, to make the most of the time her riders have to train. She helps a variety of riders, from complete beginners to elite athletes to fulfil their potential. She can be contacted on 09 631 5436.