It's taper time again.
Those words bring delight and smiles to any swimmer. After a long hard season, tapering is like the big christmas gift at the end. It's that moment of relaxation, both physically and mentally, for most swimmers. It's a time when your daily yardage gradually decreases before you head into a big swim meet. You should note though that it's not all about yardage. It's about the mental recovery as well.
Timing your taper is crucial to success. If you start a taper too far away from a big meet then your body won't be ready when it comes time to race as you will have missed that peak performance point. If you start it too late then your body won't be ready either because it's still recovering and hasn't fully benefited from the time you are tapering. This means that a three day taper before a big race isn't really a taper, it's just a couple of easy practices.
Timing a taper to coincide with a best performance requires a significant amount of discipline and restraint. During your taper, you will find that you have more energy as you progress through your taper which you may want to use for other things like hanging out with friends or doing other active things, but I urge you to hold back. Reserve that energy.
Every taper is different. Not only from season to season but to each individual swimmer. It is a time to become more in touch with your body and mind. It's usually a personal journey as you narrow your focus into the big event. In fact, tapers should be individualized to fit each swimmer. There is no blanket method that works for everyone.
Recovery comes in two different ways. It's recovery for your body and for your mind. You've been working yourself through countless laps and difficult techniques to help improve your strokes. This has worn you down. While you're on your taper, you should take extra time to rest between sets and intervals. Listen to your body. Understand how it's reacting to the workout. If your muscles feel sore or if there is any pain, count out things like sprinting. Instead practice long pace sets until you feel fresh and rejuvenated.
If you're a week into your taper and you are still feeling fatigued, take a day off. Get outside and enjoy life, but again listen to your body and don't over do it. Try to get as much sleep as possible during this time. Our bodies use sleep as a time to repair, rebuild and reset. Always remember to watch what you eat, especially since you've eased up on your training intensity. A lot of swimmers make the mistake of eating too much during this time and make poor nutrition choices. Remove weights and cross training from your workout during your taper as these forms of exercise focus on breaking down your muscle fibers to later help you build strength. This won't help us this close to a big competition.
The next part of any taper is a decrease in yardage. Usually right before you start a taper session, you will have been training at an extremely heavy workload. This time has been used to wear down the muscles. Once a taper starts you want to reduce this workload intensity. A taper can last anywhere from one week to a full month (4 weeks). Anything more would really be pushing your ability to compete at peak performance as you will start to lose conditioning.
As mentioned, each swimmer handles tapers differently, but when it comes to decreasing the yardage a good rule of thumb is to follow the 100:75:50 rule. For example, a middle distance swimmer might be training at about 5000 yards prior to starting their taper. During the first week of taper, they would drop that yardage down to being only 3750 meters (approximately 75% of 5000). The next week they would drop the distance down to 50% of the 5000. Depending on the length of the taper, this swimmer might stay at this 50% for two weeks.
Remember this isn't set in stone by any means. Your coach should help you customize your taper to fit your personal goals and needs so that you reach that peak performance at the absolute right time. If you don't have a coach, then listen to your body. Watch for fatigue and soreness. These are signs that you need to adjust your taper to better fit your body.
Things to do during a taper
During a taper session, swimmers should be reducing the amount of sprints they are doing during practice. This is a time to stretch everything out. Practices should include a significant amount of kick, drills, and pull sets. Warm-up and warm-down should be twice as long as you would usually do. This can make these workouts seem like warm-up and warm-down is all you are doing, especially since the main sets in-between should be minimal. What you need to remember about a taper is that you've already put in the hard work. This is the time to recover and rest. Your goal should be to feel really good in the water.
Beyond the pool though, you should use this time to prepare yourself mentally as well. Enjoy the relaxation and recovery. Know that you've put everything you could into your training. Be confident in that work. Understand that you are prepared for the big race. Trust the system and trust your coach.
Finally, this is the time to master your visualization techniques. The more you practice your swim in your head, the more likely you will execute it that way during the real event. Use the confidence from your training towards visualizing that perfect race.
Taper can be stressful for some swimmers as they think their endurance is fading during this time. This is just a myth. If your coach has set up your training properly then up to a month of taper in order to reach peak performance during a big race is just what you need to do. However, a taper won't help you if you don't use this time to rest, recover and focus. Be confident in the training and the effort you've put leading up to a taper. Taper should be individualized. Talk to your coach or if you don't have one then join a support group like our private MySwim mastermind group on Facebook for expert advice on how to get the most of out of your taper.