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A proper taper is one of the keys to a great performance. It is the final piece to the puzzle as it relates to training for a triathlon (or any race). If executed properly, the taper phase will allow your body to heal up, absorb fitness and be fresh for race day.
Have you ever finished a race and felt like your results did NOT reflect your current fitness and overall training efforts? Below we will discuss what, why and how to taper like a pro.
Maybe you have heard the word, but aren’t exactly sure what it means.
The taper phase of training is the period immediately proceeding your race. The length of your taper will vary based on your race distance, your coach’s training philosophy and you as an individual. Another consideration is the level of priority of the race (i.e. A, B, C race).
Training for a triathlon is all about STRESS & RECOVERY. In order to gain fitness you must stress your body… and then recover. Depending on the phase of training you’re in, the type of training stressors will vary.
Regardless of the type of stress you create through various training sessions, you will NOT be fitter immediately following. I repeat, you will NOT be fitter immediately following.
However, as you recover from the hard efforts you WILL BECOME FITTER. Over a period of time of specific & consistent work followed by a period of recovery, SUPERCOMPENSATION will occur and your “fitness curve” will shift.
It is VERY important that your “active recovery” and “easy days” are just that. If they aren’t, your HARD days won’t ever be HARD enough. It’s black or white and this is one of the biggest mistakes age groupers make (we’ll save this topic for another day).
If you don’t recover properly throughout training and then taper leading into your race, your body will NOT be primed to perform as it should.
First, it is important to understand that tapering is just as much an art as it is science. Each athlete is different and therefore requires a specific individual “prescription.”
Generally speaking, the key to a proper taper is reducing volume BUT maintaining intensity. In order words, … do NOT just sit on your butt. And do NOT just incorporate ALL easy efforts in your taper either. These two guidelines are fairly standard and will apply to 99% of athletes.
Keeping intensity will allow your body to remain sharp and snappy while reducing the overall load which will allow you to recover. You can also incorporate short “race pace” efforts during this period as long as you allow for plenty of recovery between efforts in any particular training sessions.
A training load reduction of about 20% per week is a good place to start. But again, each athlete is unique not only in their ability to recover, but other factors like experience, average weekly training volume and personal characteristics (some people CANNOT sit still while others welcome the lighter training load).
The more we work with an individual athlete the better we know them. We learn what they need and what they don’t need. Often time it requires HOLDING THEM BACK and reassuring them they are FIT and that they WILL BE ready to rock on race day as long as they allow their body to actively rest up and taper.
A lot of this can be subjective and a lot of times it helps tremendously to have a coach to better guide you through your taper.
At RTA Triathlon we use Training Peaks to deliver workouts and monitor the progress of our athletes. Training Peaks gives us a ton of great data based off the results of workouts we prescribe our athletes. We’ll regularly monitor each athlete’s Training Stress Score (TSS), Fatigue (ATL), Fitness (CTL) & Form (TSB) along with other metrics.
These metrics allow us to evaluate quantitatively and ultimately marry it with subjective athlete feedback. Both are equally important and together they begin to illustrate the art and science behind training.
If you taper properly you’ll notice your ATL will drop substantially, CTL will go down slightly (as your body is recovering) and TSB will climb into the positive. TSB is a good indicator of “race readiness.” A TSB of around 20 (+/- 5) for an “A” race tends to be ideal, but we have also seen athletes do very well with a lower TSB. It all depends and this is partly why the better we get to know our athletes the better we can perfect THEIR taper.
Take the example above. This athlete had their race on 4/30. After a solid taper you can see his TSB on race day was 19.2. A week prior, it was -15. This athlete had a good race (given current fitness) and executed well, but has room for improvement. He went on to podium at this race.
It’s important to note that in the days leading up to your race your body may feel like CRAP! Aches, soreness… just OFF.
Do not worry!
This is very likely your body repairing itself as you actively recover and become primed to race. Athletes tapering into longer distance races (i.e. the HALF and FULL distance) have done equally well whether they felt great in the days leading up to the race or like complete crap. TRUST YOUR COACH. TRUST YOUR TRAINING. AND STAY FOCUSED ON YOUR RACE.