How To Taper Your Training Effectively
In this post, I discuss how to taper your cycling training in order to achieve a peak of fitness before a high-priority event. The recommendations are taken from personal experience and academic papers that looked at the tapering strategies of world-class athletes across a range of endurance sports.
Tapering refers to a reduction of training stress before a targeted event or competition and is principally used to promote freshness in an athlete. Athletes in endurance sports use a tapering period before their important events to achieve a “peak” level of readiness for the day of their event. A taper is a critical period in the cycling training plan for those athletes that want to be at their best right when it matters, but what should an effective taper consist of? Let’s find out…
The first element in an effective taper is maintaining intensity. Many athletes misinterpret the need for a reduction in training stress to mean that they should avoid hard, intense training. However, the tapering period’s purpose is to make you race or event READY and in most cases, your event is going to be fast, hard and intense. This is what you need to be prepared for. Instead, try to make your easy days a little easier/less intense and make your hard training a little harder/more intense. This will promote the largest and most specific fitness gains, whilst avoiding excessive stress from workouts that will yield little fitness gain in this short period of time.
MAINTAIN WORKOUT FREQUENCY
The second key to effectively tapering is maintaining the frequency of your workouts, i.e. keeping the regularity the same as you are used to. Introducing more days off than normal, coupled with a reduced training load leads to a loss of fitness and race readiness, which is exactly what we don’t want at this time. We want to have easier days and harder days, but keep the regular day to day training the same as usual.
If you do introduce a rest day or two, schedule these at the beginning of the taper period, perhaps 10-14 days out from competition. Try to avoid full rest days during the last 7 days before your event.
The third element for an effective taper is to reduce the volume of your training, and this can be done in two ways. The first way is to gradually reduce the duration of your cycling training sessions. Whilst maintaining intensity and frequency, reducing the time spent training will be enough to promote freshness and avoid excess fatigue. The second way is to cut out all training that isn’t sport specific.
If you are running, swimming or hiking for instance, now is the time to temporarily remove this from your training plan and focus solely on cycling specific training. This will encourage both readiness for your event and alleviate any stress caused by workouts that won’t benefit you on race day.
Try to reduce training volume by about 30-40% in the taper period, as compared to your average volume in the prior months.
Hopefully, this post has helped you understand a little more about a tapering period and what the science tells us is the best way to execute one. It’s useful to always bear in mind that if you’re at 99% on race/event day, you’re almost as good as you can get. However, if you’re 1% overtrained, then you’re overtrained.
Bosquet L, Montpetit J, Arvisais D, Mujika I (2007) Effects of tapering on performance: a meta analysis. Med Sci Sports Exerc 39: 1358–65.
Mujika I (2010) Intense training: the key to optimal performance before and during the taper. Scand J Med Sci Sports 20: 24–31.
Tønnessen E, Sylta Ø, Haugen TA, Hem E, Svendsen IS, et al. (2014) The Road to Gold: Training and Peaking Characteristics in the Year Prior to a Gold Medal Endurance Performance. PLoS ONE 9(7): e101796. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101796