The Swim Genius has noticed a common theme in the athletic community, there is a lot of buzz around the word "Taper". Just to be clear, I’m not speaking about a "Tapir", as defined by Wikipedia; “Tapir is a large, herbivorous mammal, similar in shape to a pig, with a short, prehensile nose trunk. Tapirs inhabit jungle and forest regions of South America, Central America, and Southeastern Asia.” Taper is a little different, ok really different. As defined by The Swim Genius: "Taper is the process of reducing the training load on your body, in preparation for an upcoming event."
The Swim Genius has received a lot of questions lately from students, and fellow swimmers. There has been an immense amount of chatter about who is tapering for what, and how long that timeframe should be? The Swim Genius can only speak from coaching and personal experience, but if you are audacious enough to sign up for an event that will take up near a day to complete, you should probably taper for two full weeks. This two weeks will be hell, and people around you may start to distance themselves. Why? You are an addict; dopamine, adrenaline, testosterone, and progesterone are your best friends, and without opening up those channels, you’ll feel the itch. After about four days of not working out, you begin to operate on a hormone imbalance. Symptoms of withdrawal include: crabbiness, bitchiness, short temper, loss of filter, and completely unnecessary emotional outbursts without provocation, in summary, you may become a hot mess of a human being. The Swim Genius would go so far as to say, you’ll become cantankerous. Your dopamine channel, assists with such things as emotional stability, and pain management. While sedentary, you may feel the need to take medication that are otherwise not needed, such as NSAIDs. You’ll probably feel like crap, and others will notice!
Note – Feel free to forward this article to explain your erratic behavior. After all it’s better than screaming at them, and crying in a dark corner for no apparent reason.
Taper will pay off when the event comes around, two hours in, you will feel great, because you get your fix. Eight hours in you’ll not feel that great, but still be moving, and twelve hours or more later, as you complete your task, the glory rises up, and makes those two weeks’ worthwhile. Fight the addiction, take in some extra calories, refine your nutrition, get body work done, you’ll need the rest, and stored energy.
Training tip: Practice the compiled distance within the scope of a full week multiple times prior to the event. Stack the distance with back to back workouts, within 24 hours, so that you are still resting, but pushing your overall maximum. Within one month of the event, schedule a “test out” workout, this can be breaking through your current training ceiling in a single effort, or over two days completing the combined distance, or timeframe necessary to complete the event. After your “test out” you should begin the taper process.
You may not be that audacious, or in other words, “bat shit crazy” like “those people”, but still qualify for mainstream crazy. For instance you are going to compete in an event that pushes over your top practiced distance, or hits that mark. A taper period of a week, to two weeks will do the trick. It’s about healing the micro tears in your muscle, allowing the fascia to loosen, and unbind. Giving your body that time to be at its peak, so that all of the training can pay off. Get some body work done, not right before your race, but three days ahead of time is good. There is a sweet spot in there, because even the body work requires recovery. Give yourself the gift of time to heal up, loosen up, and most importantly get your mind right! New distance, always comes with new pain, be mentally prepared, so the stroke demons don’t rise up, and begin asking questions that knock you off track.
If you are competing in an event that lines up with normal distances you currently train at; give your body a day, or two, or five. Increase your calorie load on those days to get a bit more energy. Recharge your battery, detoxify with good food, good sleep, and occasional massage.
Now, for those that over train leading up to your event. Lesson coming, take notes! Stop! Now! You’ll be lucky to finish, especially if considering one of those events that take up the bulk of the day to complete. For a lesser event, you’ll probably finish, right about where you’ve been training, but you won’t exceed your expectations, and you may have an external win, but an internal failure. What does that mean? An external win is when everyone tells you that you are an inspiration, amazing, and you receive great praise for your accomplishment. This may be accompanied by an internal failure; an internal failure is when you finished well, but bonked in the last couple of miles, and gave up the podium, an age division finish, or just got schooled by someone who generally doesn’t come in as fast. Guess, what, they tapered, and you didn’t! This is a sign of overtraining.
You should not be training in close proximity to your event, rest is mandatory. To keep the BS meter in check, The Swim Genius sucks at this because The Swim Genius falls into the bat shit crazy crowd. An addict in every sense of the word! The Swim Genius feels like crap after the dopamine crash, and then starts to take pills to offset the lack of training. Through torment, personal and viewed, the training timeframe is the years and months leading to opportunity. Taper is a two week insurance policy to ensure that all of that training will be available when opportunity arises, because going in tired only marginalizes your ability. Greatness is when that insurance pays dividends, and you forge that opportunity into a medal that hangs on your neck! It’s that important! Don’t mess it up!
Now pull of your tear soaked britches, and start resting, you over trainer! Yep, talking to you!
The Swim Genius
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