The Taper Period– part 1
One of the crucial parts of a training plan is the taper period: a decrease in the total training load before your race. Yet, for a lot of people, it remains a strange concept. You train extremely hard to reach your goal fitness in preparation to your race, but a few days or even weeks before your goal event, you will suddenly be training less than before. How can a reduction in training load lead to an improved race performance?
It doesn’t matter if you are a cyclist or a runner, your goal is to be prepared optimally for your race. This includes improving your fitness! Of course, a high fitness level is required to do well in your goal event. Therefore, your training plan up to the taper period is mainly build upon increasing your fitness level. This fitness should be built up gradually during your training period by increasing the training load in a controlled and structured manner.
It’s fairly simple: an appropriate increase in training load will result in an improved fitness. On the other hand, a reduction in training load will result in a loss of fitness. So why do you have to decrease the overall training load a few days or weeks before your race?
That’s because fitness isn’t the only component that will determine your race performance! The extent to which you are prepared for your race can be described as your overall level of race-readiness. Several factors contribute to your race-readiness besides fitness. For example, you should not only be physically prepared, but also mentally prepared. Even your material choices and nutritional plan are significant to your race-readiness!
Therefore, race-readiness is more than just an improved fitness. It’s about the big picture.
I probably don’t have to tell you that you can get very tired after an intensive exercise bout. That’s part of the idea of becoming fitter: you need to challenge your body in a structured and controlled way so that it is capable to adapt to these challenges. Once adapted, your body will be able to cope with a similar challenge in the future. Next time, in order to be challenged again, the training load should be increased even further.
Structured and controlled are key concepts! You can train endlessly and really intensive, but your body needs to recover in order to improve. The principles of tapering are built on this. After a week of hard training, you will be tired and your body still needs to recover. If you will race after such a week, your body will be fit, but it won’t feel that way. You probably feel sluggish and tired.
That’s where the concept of freshness is getting involved in your training plan. Decreasing the amount of fatigue with a taper period, will make you feel fresher at the start of your race. Although the reduction in training load might lead to a small loss of fitness, overall it will improve your race-readiness! Once again, focus on the big picture, be patient and make sure your body is recovered from earlier efforts. You will be repaid in improved race readiness and race-performance!
Next: Taper – part 2: the details of your taper period
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Friel J. The Cyclist’s Training Bible. 5 ed: VeloPress; 2018.