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How Long Should You Taper?
A lot goes into planning your training calendar for a race. This includes the ever-popular “Race Taper.” The period of time where you dial back your training volume to allow adequate recovery and then peak for the competition. A calm before the storm, so to speak. For a novice runner (or cyclist, or triathlete, etc.) this can be seen as your rest before the race. For a seasoned racer, this can be a tricky time because it plays all sorts of mental games with you. Regardless of your situation, the taper is important. Very important. But how does it work?
Flat out, I’m going to say that 2 weeks is too much for an endurance athlete. Unfortunately, this is a common timeframe we see built into many training plans. I think it’s a notion of “well a little is good, so more must be better.” At least that’s what I’m going to pretend. In order to understand why that’s too long, (and what is appropriate) we need to outline a few basic concepts:
- Training Adaptation
- VO2 Max
- Blood Volume
Training adaptations are the positive benefits of your training sessions. They are the physical improvements gained from busting your butt. Usually this is in the form of improving cardiovascular efficiency for endurance athletes. The same task will now require less effort.
Detraining is what happens when you take off for prolonged periods of time. You lose the efficiency of your heart and lungs and more energy is required for the same tasks. Insufficient training loads lead to loss of fitness.
VO2 Max is the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during exercise. Oxygen is necessary for energy production and muscle function. So the more you can use, the more efficient you can be (or better you can perform).
Blood Volume changes are a result of adequate or inadequate training. As your fitness improves, your heart can increase it’s efficiency and move more blood/oxygen to your body. The more blood and oxygen you can deliver, the more efficient you will be.
So what do these concepts mean for your taper? Quite simply, if you have insufficient training loads for too long in a short period of time, you will stop gaining training adaptations and instead will enter a detraining state. This is where you start to lose your ability to use and move oxygen to your muscles. Your blood volume decreases and your workload increases to achieve the same results. Your VO2 Max will then decrease because you’re not actually “AS” efficient at moving oxygen to your muscles anymore.
Now that we covered that, this leads us to the popular question: “How long is too long?”
For this, we listen to emerging science. And our colleagues who do this stuff for a living. What the current research shows is cardiovascular efficiency and VO2 Max starts to become compromised around that 10-day mark. Meaning if you don’t expose yourself to adequate training volume for longer than 10 days, you will enter that detraining state and start to compromise your training adaptations. Therefore, we recommend a shorter taper period than is commonly prescribed.
*8 to 10 days is sufficient for a proper taper*
It’s quite simple. We keep the advice short and sweet. No more than 10 days otherwise you start to risk losing fitness. Your rest period then begins to work against you and is counterproductive. Instead, keep up the intensity and drop your volume to allow for adequate rest and recovery.
So how do you taper properly?
- Decrease volume (10-40%)
- Maintain Intensity
- Keep the break short!
Short and sweet. Hopefully, that’s how you feel about this post, and also how you structure your taper now.
Let us know your thoughts and experiences. I’d love to know if you’ve experimented with his in the past, or what you have planned for this year.
Cheers, and happy taper…hope it’s short!