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Article - 19 August 2011

4 Steps To The Perfect Taper.

Here is a short piece I did for Cycling Plus magazine on tapering down to a cycle sportif event which comes up in 10 days. The basic principles hold true for any other endurance event. The key is to experiment because we all react differently the 'unloading' of training stress - these really are just the bare bones...

You have trained hard, watched your food intake and now you are in the shape of your life. This years’ target cyclosportif is 10 days away. To perform at your best you now need to taper down to the event. Tapering should not be confused with resting. It is a period of time in which you reduce your training volume, while maintaining training frequency and increase training intensity. Numerous research studies have shown that this recipe will replenish muscle glycogen levels, improve oxygen uptake, increase power output and improve your performance - all for doing less training than usual. Here is how to reap those benefits in the 10 days before your key event:

1. Volume. Cut time in the saddle by 50%. The simple premise of the taper period is that you shed fatigue more quickly than you lose fitness. Avoid the temptation of staying on the bike too long particularly towards the end of the taper when you start to feel strong.

2. Frequency. Maintain the number of training sessions you do or reduce by no more than 20%. So if you ride 5 times per week then cut to no less than 4. Just ride for half the time you usually do. The body thrives on consistency, don’t surprise it.

3. Intensity. Aim to include some short (30s-2min) efforts, separated by long recoveries (3-5mins). The intensity of these efforts should be above that which you will encounter in the event. This is easy if you use a power meter but if not, then just go hard for these short durations. This fires up the fast twitch type 2 muscle fibres which are the only aspect of your fitness profile you can still improve with training in the last 10 days. But do not over do them – 4x30 second efforts is plenty.

4. Nutrition. The taper period is not an excuse to over eat. Continue to eat high quality nutrients in the form of five small meals per day. Ensure you get sufficient complex carbohydrates with each meal and stay hydrated. In the last three days add another small meal containing complex carbohydrates. You may find you gain some weight as muscle glycogen levels rise but this is normal and will underpin your performance.

The way in which we each react to the taper process is highly individual. With time and experimentation you will get a good idea of what works best for you. Pay attention to the signals and sensations your body gives you over the taper period and make a note of them for comparison next time. But as your starting point go with these four scientifically proven steps. They work. Happy tapering!

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