Perfecting the Taper For Better Performance

Guides

Have you ever wondered what a professional cyclist does to compete at the highest level against the best in the world? Or have you wondered what things you should be considering when you prepare for your big events?

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Canada’s Michael Woods left the Tour early to prepare for Tokyo

Introduction

With the Olympic games coming around the corner, many professional cyclists are in the final stages of their preparation. In fact, the Canadian Michael Woods recently withdrew from the Tour de France to focus on his preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.

This month’s toolbox article will be focused on the science and the art of the Taper, featuring a meta-analysis of the scientific literature performed by Laurent Bosquet and colleagues. Hopefully, this article will help you understand the theory behind a taper period, as well as give you some practical advice in helping you taper for your key events. Let’s get started!

What is a Taper?

In technical terms, a taper is a reduction in training load of athletes in the final days of their preparation before important competition (Bosquet, et al.). By reducing an athlete’s training load, the idea is to allow that athlete to arrive on the day of competition feeling fresh & ready to perform. Tapering is called an art and science because there are many factors to consider while tapering, which we will investigate in detail later.

Perfecting the taper results in peaked performance during competition. The biggest challenge facing athletes and their coaches is to minimize the accumulated fatigue from training while simultaneously preserving or enhancing the physical fitness built up from that training.

What factors need to be considered for a taper?

Keep in mind that the key idea behind a taper is to decrease the total training load of training. This can be accomplished through modifying your volume, intensity, & frequency.

Decrease in Training Volume

Training volume is considered the product of both duration and intensity. For athletes that are using Power Meters, you can use measures like TSS/week or XSS/week as an objective measure of your weekly training volume. According to the meta-analysis, the general recommendation for a taper includes a reduction of 41-60% compared to pre-taper training. For example, if an athlete is completing 1000 TSS (XSS) per week, they should aim to complete 400-600 TSS (XSS) per week during their taper.

xpedo cxr pedalbanner with Brian McCullough

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Decrease in Training Intensity

One misconception about a taper is that athletes should avoid high intensity. However, the truth is quite the opposite. Although the idea of the taper is to reduce training volume & increase freshness, this does not mean that you should skimp on the high-intensity work! Based on the analysis in the scientific literature, it seems that maintaining intensity is a key parameter in maintaining beneficial training-induced adaptations.

Decrease in Training Frequency

Training frequency could be described as the number of times that you are training each week. The consensus in the literature is that modifying total training volume is preferred over modifying the training frequency. In other words, it appears that athletes should aim to continue riding the same total number of sessions per week during their taper. However, the length of each individual session should be reduced.

Duration of the Taper

Remember when I mentioned that tapering is an art and a science? The duration of the taper could be considered an art since there is significant variability between athletes. The science would suggest a dose-response between the duration of a taper and the benefits of the taper period. In layman’s terms, this means that a longer taper is generally preferred, with the ideal tapering period being between 8-14 days. However, the authors of the meta-analysis did also point out that no two athletes will respond the same. For some athletes, a shorter, 1 week taper will be sufficient to recover without losing fitness. Other athletes might find that they need 3-4 weeks of tapering to feel fresh.

Type of Taper

There are two main types of tapers – progressive taper & step taper. A progressive taper means that training load is gradually reduced over the course of the taper period. On the other hand, a step taper is a straight downward jump in training volume. A progressive taper is more common in the research literature.

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Wout van Aert didn’t have much time between Paris and Tokyo

Conclusion

The purpose of this week’s toolbox article was to discuss the concept and importance of a tapering period, as well as provide some practical tips to help you perfect your taper for your next big race/event. A 2-week taper with a 40-60% reduction in training load without altering the intensity or frequency of training appears to be the most effective strategy to minimize accumulated training fatigue while minimizing loss of training-induced adaptations. However, keep in mind that there are some individual variability in tapering, so you might want to experiment a little to find the taper strategy that works best for you.

Stay safe and ride fast!

Bibliography

Bosquet L, Montpetit J, Arvisais D, Mujika I. Effects of tapering on performance: a meta-analysis. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Aug;39(8):1358-65. doi: 10.1249/mss.0b013e31806010e0. PMID: 17762369.

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