Maximize Performance With Less Training

(Aka How to Taper Properly)

Many of us have a goal. It may be to win a particular race or to finally be able to hang on to the fast group on the Saturday club ride. As long as we have a goal we probably have some sort of game plan.

If you follow any kind of regimen or general strategy, you are most likely committing a reasonable amount of time and effort to pursue your goal(s).

Unfortunately, I have often witnessed a great preparation over many months being wasted by the lack of a proper taper, which often is a determining factor between success and failure. Some athletes seem to think that they need to train up until the last minute before their event. Often this is just the nerves manifesting themselves in irrational behavior.

Let’s briefly think about what you are actually trying to achieve in regard to whatever goal you may have. It’s not just about maximizing your fitness alone, it is actually about your performance level. You may be at the peak of your fitness for the season thanks to a great preparation, but your performance level may not be.

How can that be? Well, you might be as fit as you have ever been overall, but in the very instance of your goal event, you are simply fatigued, possibly because of some counter-productive, last-minute training.

In order to get the best performance out of our system we need to be as fit as possible, but also as rested as possible at the right time.

This is a tricky task. How can I optimally balance both, fitness and recovery to maximize my performance – just in time for my goal event? First ask yourself, how important whatever event you are doing is. Many athletes stretch themselves thin by trying to always do their best in every event they enter.

Here is how you taper, depending on the importance of the event you are participating in:

Priority 3: This is essentially a training event. You don’t taper at all and use the event to improve your fitness. No special preparation takes place. Within a season you can essentially do as many of these events as you like. Important: take your head out of the game and just have fun with it. If you feel any sort of mental pressure before a Priority 3 event, don't do it and just train.

Priority 2: These events are important for you, but they are not your season goal(s). The best way of preparing for these events is to plan your training so that they fall into a rest week. Take 2-3 days off before the race, which means NO training, with the exception of a 45-60min “leg-opener” (will explain below) the day before the event.

Priority 1: This is it. This is what you have been training for all season. You should only have 1-3 Priority 1 events in your season and here is how you taper for them.

  • The taper lasts two weeks.
  • The first week of the taper starts two weeks before the event and during this week you reduce your training volume by 40% in comparison to the last week before the start of the taper. I.e. you trained 15h in the week before the taper began, which means that you will train for no more than 9h during that first of the two taper weeks. The intensity of your training should stay the same.
  • The second week of your taper (the week before the event), you reduce to 40% of the training volume in comparison to the last week before the start of the taper. Using the same 15h, you are now training for no more than 5.5h. The intensity should be unchanged (fairly high).
  • Day three and two before the race is off (NO training).
  • The day before the race you can do a “leg opener”, which consist of a 20-30min Warm Up with increasing intensity, 10-15min of race intensity, and a 15min Cool Down (easy spin).
  • You can combine your taper with carbo-loading if indicated for the event (if duration more than 2h). To learn more about carbo-loading check out this earlier POST .

The simple idea is to reduce training volume to give the body more time to recover, while, at the same time, keeping the intensity high to maintain that peak-fitness you have worked for so hard over many months.

If you want to go beyond training volume, to gauge your taper phase, you should definitely use a power meter. Collecting power data allows you to not only quantify the volume (time) of your training, but the entire training load (aka training stress), factoring in intensity in addition to duration. With the help of a good power meter software or power meter app, such as StriveMax :-) you can track the development of your fitness, fatigue level, and performance level visually and ensure that your taper is resulting in an increase of your performance level, just in time for your main event.

Have fun kicking butt and as always keep Striving – with Strivemax
Rich