OC1 Tapering Workouts for Peak Performance…

The final stage of training for peak fitness and performance is where most athletes lose the competitive edge. Like the final reduction process to maximize the flavor of your favorite food recipe, the taper is where all your preparation comes together to peak your fitness. All scientific training programs are based on the principle of progressive overload. The body is stressed in training cycles where 2-3 weeks of progressively harder workouts are followed by a lighter recovery week. It’s only during the recovery week where fitness actually evolves. No one gets fitter during workouts it’s only when the stress is removed that the body has a chance to adapt to the stress of the workouts and get stronger. In this way, the strength gains of one training block is built on in the next.

After months of alternating weeks of hard work and recovery weeks, one’s fitness will have progressed, but the most profound fitness gains are still to come for those who understand the art and science of “the taper”. After the final training block is completed and recovery is provided the highest fitness level thus far in the training program is brought into the taper period where shorter, but harder workouts build on that fitness to peak performance.

If left to their own devices, both elite and recreational athletes, based on basic human insecurity and a superior work ethic, would typically continue training and deepening their state of fatigue when they should be focused on full recovery and peaking fitness. Instead of a decrease in training volume and increased intensity they try to squeeze in a few more weeks of the heavier training that they are accustomed to.

In the taper period, less is more. The higher fitness levels achieved during the previous training periods and the reduced frequency of workouts in the taper period allows for fresh legs to produce maximum efforts in the final workouts to truly peak performance.

The length of the taper period is dependent on the length and difficulty level of the competitive event as well its importance in your yearly schedule. For less important competitions during the training phase we might call for a short recovery of a few days to a week of reduced workouts before the competition. Our athletes are never allowed to compete without some recovery. For more important, more grueling or longer events, a longer taper period is required. For instance, competitions such as the Ironman Triathlon, the marathon length foot race or the century cycling event, a three week period of tapering workouts are prescribed after a week of recovery workouts. The typical taper formula calls for one week of 75 % of the training volume of the last build phase. For week two of the taper, 50% of the former training volume is prescribed and the final week of the taper the workouts are reduced to 25% of the volume of workouts prior to the taper. This allows for high intensity efforts to produce the final degree of fitness and technique required for personal best performances.

During the taper, our athletes are directed to reduce their caloric intake as their energy expenditure is decreased with less frequent training sessions. Also if they have maintained some cross training workouts in their program, light cross training workouts will keep the metabolism firing on all 8 cylinders and burn the excess calories. For instance, cyclists and runners might perform light swim workouts to stay loose but allow the legs to rest, A tennis player might spin the stationary bike every third day and allow the upper body to recover.

Also at this time there will be areas of the body that have been subjected to significant levels of stress in the earlier workouts and will begin to heal as workouts are reduced. This will produce aches and pains that can be concerning for any athlete so close to their competition. It is imperative to continue the recovery practices of stretching, foam rolling, icing and massage during the taper to assist the healing processes.

The art and science of tapering must be practiced and perfected over time to produce consistently great performances. Trust the science and consider working with a Phase IV Exercise Physiologist to coach you to maximize the benefits of all your hard work with a good taper. Most athletes know how to work hard, it’s those who know how to work as hard at recovery and peaking, are those who will reach their highest genetic potential.

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