What is the right tapering strategy for you? While this is not top of mind all year round, it’s important even when it’s not happening. Meaning you should be thinking about it when you’re planning your season.
I have spoken about tapering way back in episode #46 called Peaking and Tapering for Optimal Cycling Performance, and while the basic fundamentals have stayed the same since then. I have changed my mind on the different ways to taper for an event. This refined strategy comes from more experience and being able to work with more athletes to see the actual effects of different strategies.
We will touch on – what the right tapering strategy for you is. While this is not top of mind all year round, it’s important even when it’s not happening. Meaning you should be thinking about it when you’re planning your season.
The essence of peaking is building in training stress (overload) and progressing by manipulating intensity and frequency. Then when you get close to your A (or B) event all you are doing is letting your fitness rise to the top.
When you are building fitness throughout the year, you are stressing your body. And in some ways, the detail of the training session is not as important as the training effect. Meaning, you may get an adaptation from 4 intervals when you are down to do 8. So sometimes – you can let yourself off for failing to complete a workout exactly as it’s down.
Training is good for fitness but it’s also what causes fatigue. Which can hinder training – this is the balance. Think about training in a way that builds fitness but also fatigues you.
This is shown graphically in the Supercompensation chart. If you’re familiar with any degree of training science then you will have seen some version of the chart below. Any training load will fatigue you. The adaptations to intensity and frequency are very individual.
Another part of this is how you recover. This has the potential to really hurt your fitness. Because we are looking for the build in fitness over time supercompensation can work both ways – if you don’t rest enough then you can get negative supercompensation which is a slow death of your fitness.
There will be times when you are digging a hole, but it’s the scheduled or monitored recovery days or weeks that make all the difference between a program being too easy, too hard or optimal.
This is where the taper comes in. It allows adequate recovery pre-event. Periodisation is key here and ensures this build and recovery over time. it allows you (or your coach) to manage the load effectively. And this is why it’s important to think about it in the off-season. Because if you don’t plan your training around specific races or events then you might not be at optimal fitness in time.
Speaking of optimal fitness – what is it?
Peaking can be defined as the process by which an athlete reaches optimal physiological and psychological readiness through a process of planning training around specific events.
Have you ever felt like this?
I think it’s hard to always get this exactly when you want it. There are a lot of times when you might have this feeling either before or after an event. This is important to note, and use in planning for the next taper. An example of this was a recent taper I went through with an athlete building towards a big one day race.
This was the first taper we had done as coach/athlete. As the athlete is very experienced we worked together on a plan. In the end though I actually planned out the training, and the athlete didn’t complete it as planned. The result? The race was a moderate success, not a win but close.
In the race report the athlete had a hard race mentally and physically cramping severely with over a third of the race remaining. So no amazing sensations on the day – it wasn’t until a couple light days and another race that the sensations where there. The athlete was smashing it – and pulled out their best performance in this type of racing all year. Here’s some highlights from their ride/race report.
“Felt surprisingly good. Got up to 195bpm at the top of the hill, riding away from a lot of good riders. I felt strangely good actually.
Felt really good! Got 4th after a long breakaway and doing a lot of the work.
Felt I was the strongest there.
This is the first ride I actually felt race fit and ‘in control’ at high intensities. I could really push the pace and hold threshold with ease.”
“While your stress balance is in the neutral zone (-10 to +10) I’m guessing it’s the week of low volume that is starting to show itself. This indicates that a longer taper is needed before the next major event.”
Here’s the punchline though…
“Ah, so I should’ve listened to you when you added that extra day of rest in there last week! :\”
It’s all learning for me and any athlete I coach, but it’s interesting how this works. So when we get to the next taper – I know what exactly what to do, and the athlete will trust me to deliver them in top form.
So how do you write a taper?
Get a coach to do it…Well, that’s the easiest way out. Here are some general guidelines.
How do you reach your peak? Tapering. Defined as a period of reduced physiological and psychological stress to enhance the physiological adaptations and optimise performance.
Areas to consider when planning a taper are:
- The reduction of training load because there are different ways you can reduce the load.
- Management of fatigue and physiological adaptations by adjusting training load
- Type of taper
- Taper duration
- Performance goals
Aims of a cycling taper
The big thing to wrap your head around is that there is a positive and negative affect in every taper – sometimes a taper is about giving up a little bit of your fitness by not training intensity for 10-14 days in exchange for performance. There is not much fitness in a taper it’s about getting you fresh. As a reminder here’s what I said last time about once you enter your taper- it’s not time to get fit.
In your taper if you cut volume and maintain intensity then the benefits have been scientifically proven to (amongst other things):
- Increase in maximal oxygen intake by up to 6%
- Increased blood and red cell volume
- Muscle glycogen increases progressively
- Increased muscular strength and power
So how do you taper?
There is endless way to taper for all kinds of combinations. Here are four frameworks you can use:
- Linear – reducing the training load in a straight line
- Step – Reduction is straight down
- Progressive nonlinear (slow) – longer
- Progressive nonlinear (fast)
What’s best for you?
No simple answer. It’s very individual and takes some trial and error. The top considerations though are:
- Type of taper (shape)
- Manipulation of training stress
- Length of taper
Here’s what the latest science recommends:
- Reduction of training volume, that’s volume, not frequency. No extra days off.
- No change in intensity of frequency – Keep frequency of at least 80% of previous training
- Optimal reduction in training volume is 40-60%
- Some maintenance work is vital to keeping the fitness you have
It’s possible to get a little more granular when tapering with a power meter. Here are some extra guidelines. Starting with the recommended length.
Again, the length of a taper varies depending on each rider, as does TSB. Best performances are generally (but not always) associated with a positive TSB and hence it is desirable to plan training so that CTL is high and TSB is sufficiently positive.
You are able to plan your reduction in training load much more accurately. Remember you don’t want to just stop riding. Plan a focused reduction in volume (e.g -3 ramp rate) with focus increase in intensity to target your event requirements.
I have found at least for amateur road racing with athletes that tend to reach a peak CTS of 90-110 that pulling things out too drastically causes a problem. I like to err on the safe side and pull out focused workouts that result in higher TSB first, emphasize things that are race specific (race winners workouts, group rides, training races) to give build confidence (also these things are usually less TSB than many workouts), shorten the duration of maintenance aerobic workouts to what I’d say is the bare minimum and allow for some solid super compensation by taking complete days off and allowing for complete recovery before the race.
Cycling Taper Guidelines:
Depends on the event and your CTL about 2 weeks out from the event, but I’d not bother giving up much CTL for freshness at less than say 75.
If you’re peaking for:
- Long RR/XCM – the one that carries the most fitness will win, not the one that will give the most freshness. So stay around +10.
- 3-5 day RR/MTB Stage Race – have a higher TSB than for a single day race. >+10.
– a shortish taper (10 days or less – dependent on starting TSB). I say shortish taper because a shorter taper can be planned to deliver you to the same TSB as a longer taper, but with less of CTL hit.
– aside from the usual maintain intensity, cut back duration recommendations, I would focus on bringing TSB to a relatively high positive level just prior to a 5 day stage race. I say relatively high TSB as a target because 5 days of racing has the potential of driving TSB quite low. I use “relatively”, because the absolute number is relative to your CTL, and especially your ATL time constants.
- Cyclocross/Criterium/XCO -10 to 15+ (peak power matters a lot)
OK, I’m going to wrap up here with an example of a 14-day taper for a 40km TT.
Monday – 1 hour low Z4. 2 x 5 minutes all out. 20 minutes recovery.
Tuesday – 75 minutes easy, including 6 x 1 minute at 120rpm
Wednesday – 1 hour Z2. 1 hour sweet spot with 6 x 1 minute at 350W and 120rpm
Thursday – 1 hour Z2
Friday – Race simulation ridden at 90% of race pace
Saturday – 2 hours Z2
Sunday – 20 km TT
Monday – 1.5 hours recovery
Tuesday – 30 minutes max. 75 minutes easy, including 6 x 1 minute at 120rpm
Wednesday – 1 hour easy. 3 x 1 km (2 at max and 1 in sweet spot)
Thursday – 1 hour mid Z3
Friday – Off
Saturday – 45 minutes easy
Sunday – A Race
Whether you use this or not – remember to take as many notes down as possible when tapering – including the days leading up to the race and weeks after. That way you can start to hone down your taper into a repeatable set of steps – and you can then worry about getting your head right for race day.