Tapering is a phase of training!

The South African racing calendar is filled with events. Almost any weekend we can choose to run, cycle or swim an event. It is easy to get caught up in the hype (I have been there), and then we may end up feeling tired, both physically and emotionally. Know which is your goal race, and then you can plan your build up, tapering and recovery around that race. There may be other races or events in the lead up or preparation to that event, but you need to keep your eye on the big picture.

All good training programs have quality training (hill repeats, interval training time trials), easy runs, long runs and strength training (yes the gym session). But included in every training program are rest days, and these are just as important as the other sessions. Most programs will also have different phases; base training, building phase, peak training and then a tapering period.

Tapering is a phase of training! “The main aim of this training phase is to reduce the negative physiological and psychological impacts of daily training (i.e. accumulated fatigue), rather than achieve further improvements in the positive consequences of training (i.e.fitness gains)” (Mujika et al 2003). What is important in the above definition is both the psychological and physiological improvements. From the psychological perspective, tapering is associated with performance-enhancing changes such as reduced perception of effort, reduced perception of fatigue, and increased vigor.


In order to taper we want to decrease the load of training by either reducing frequency, intensity or volume of training. It seems that decreasing volume is better, but to keep the quality training (just less off it)

The recommendation from Mujika et al(2003) are:

  1. The primary aim of the taper should be to minimize accumulated fatigue, rather than to attain additional physiological adaptations or fitness gains. This goal should be achieved without compromising previously acquired adaptations and fitness level.
  2. The maintenance of training intensity (i.e., “quality training”) is necessary to avoid detraining, provided that reductions in the other training variables allow for sufficient recovery to optimize performance.
  3. Reductions in training volume as high as 60–90% appear to induce positive physiological, psychological and performance responses in highly trained athletes.
  4. High training frequencies seem to be necessary to avoid detraining and/or “loss of feel” in the highly trained (>80%). On the other hand, training-induced adaptations can be readily maintained with very low training frequencies in moderately trained individuals (30–50%).
  5. Positive physiological and performance adaptations can be expected as a result of tapers lasting 4–28 d, yet the negative effects of complete inactivity are readily apparent in athletes.
  6. Tapering strategies are usually effective at improving performance, but they do not work miracles! A realistic performance goal for the final taper should be a competition performance improvement of about 3% (usual range 0.5–6.0%).

We all know (and may even have experienced) a less than ideal build up to a big race. Life may have gotten in the way (work and family commitments), we may have been injured. This too will adjust how we go into the taper phase. What is perhaps important is to understand that it is a phase of training, and how you approach it may need to be tailored based on how your preparation for your goal race has gone.


In summary a tapering intervention of 2-wk duration, where the training volume is exponentially decreased by 41–60%, without any modification of either training intensity (quality sessions) or frequency(number of times per week), is the strategy that will maximize the probability to obtain significant improvements in performance.  With a bit more time from decreased volume, spend some time visualising about race day. Visualise yourself getting through tough parts of the race, see yourself at the start, crossing half way, finishing the race. You are in peak physical condition, spend some time now on the mental game. You want to arrive on the start line in peak condition both physically and mentally.





  1. Mujika I, Padilla S Scientific Bases for Precompetition Tapering Strategies. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 0195-9131/03/3507-1182 DOI: 10.1249/01.MSS.0000074448.73931.11
  2. Bosquet L, Montpetit J, Arvisais D, Mujika I Effects of tapering on performance: A Meta-Analysis. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 0195-9131/07/3908-1358/0 DOI: 10.1249/mss.0b013e31806010e0
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