This weekend sees hundreds of cyclists ascending on the Victorian High Country, for the 2015 Bright Brewery Tour of Bright. Arguably one of the toughest races on the racing calendar.
Not only does training for an event require high training volume and intensity – but it is also important to ensure that the body is in tip top shape entering the event.
The last piece of the preparation puzzle is the taper period. A term that is often thrown around, but not always well understood. What exactly is the optimal taper strategy?
Words - Kate Perry
WHAT IS A TAPER?
A taper can be described as a short period of reduced training immediately preceding a race; enabling the body to fully compensate for recent hard training. This is achieved through refuelling nutritional habits, in conjunction with a decrease in training load.
There are many conflicting theories surrounding what is considered the ‘optimal’ tapering strategy. The length of taper often depends on the type of event you are preparing for. The more hours you train each week and the longer the race, the longer the taper should be.
HOW LONG SHOULD I TAPER FOR?
It is important to note that the athlete should train, and consequently taper; in line with the body’s adaptations rather than on a time scale. I.e. speed and strength components of fitness require different timeframes of tapering compared to cardiovascular endurance. There is a direct relation to the time it takes to achieve gains with the amount of time these gains can be lost.
Strength and speed gains take a long time to develop, and thus the taper should be given a considerable amount of time. This is so the athlete’s muscles have time to achieve a highly anabolic and recovered state.
On the contrary, endurance gains, develop at a faster rate. Thus, studies have shown a decline in endurance ability within seven to ten days (Woodward, 2013). Fitzgerald (2013) describes the most effective taper (non-specific to a given sport) as one that involves reduced but continued training instead of complete rest.
TAPERING 101 - TICKING THE BOXES
Scott (2013) highlights 10 key factors crucial to successful tapering:
Reducing volume: a reduction in >50 percent of the previous week’s training volume
Maintaining intensity: the maintenance of high-intensity efforts ensures that the neuromuscular system remains primed ready for race-day
Rebuilding the body: the inclusion of low intensity recovery that allows adequate recovery on rest days before and after the hard sessions
Reducing the elevated levels of stress hormones: the elevated stress hormones that cause muscle damage are a product of long or intense efforts. By reducing the volume of the training week, this alleviates muscle damage and thus enhances muscle integrity.
Maximising muscle power and liver glycogen stores: the combination of high-intensity repeats with maintenance of the athlete’s aerobic foundation during the final week of the taper, allows the body to maximise the strength capacity of the muscles and the storage of liver glycogen. It is very important to note that this must be in combination with eating properly.
Body repair: Studies have shown that maximal and sustained power output of muscle is heightened during adequate rest and recovery. The taper is designed to fully rest the muscles, ultimately enabling the body to perform at the highest workload.
Recovery workouts: it is recommended that the workouts below Aerobic threshold will promote optimal recovery.
Maintaining your normal number of training sessions per week: your body is programmed for a specific routine – whether you employ three to six workout disciplines each week, it is important to keep the routine. However – as mentioned, the length and intensity within each session is reduced.
Fuelling your body with nutrient dense foods: maintain your fuelling routine before, during and after exercise and be careful to maintain your race weight. Do NOT overeat during your taper!
Preparing mentally: mentally review your strongest assets during your taper. Concentrate on your strengths and relax – remembering that all the hard work for race day has already been completed.
EAT, SLEEP, RECOVER. REPEAT.
It can be seen that tapering is highly individualised, dependant on your current training status, and the type of event you are tapering for. How long is it? How hard is it? What has your training load been like? Generally speaking, the fitter you are, the faster you will recover, thus your tapering period doesn’t need to be for as long.
Key things to remember:
Keep the training sessions short and sharp
Don’t overeat when you think of the carbo loading about to take place! This is not an excuse to eat kgs of pasta!
Rest up: one of the best pieces of advice my first coach ever told me, to which I still try and practice is that if you are standing and could be sitting, then sit, and if you are sitting and can lie down, then lie down. Getting enough shut-eye and reducing the overall ‘load’ from everyday activities is also important when tapering. Just because you’re not training, doesn’t mean you need to fill this time up with other activities.
So as the days draw closer to the ToB, I am doing my best to rest, recuperate and mentally prepare for the weekend ahead – looking forward to what will no doubt be some challenging but exciting racing!
Best of luck to all those racing this weekend!