Many athletes have strong emotional responses to the word ‘taper.’ Is it time that we replace the term with something more positive? When you’re standing on the start line after months and months of preparation, would you rather feel like you’re tapered or peaking?
Taper is defined as diminishing something at one end, in our case, the preparation. Athletes push themselves through arduous blocks of training; building strength in their bodies and belief in themselves, only arrive at the taper, which inherently carries a negative connotation. So much of an athlete’s race day performance lives ‘between the ears’, and through the final phase of the preparation, we carry with us such a negative term.
There is no question we need to reduce fatigue leading into an event to ensure peak physiological performance, hence why the original term, taper, fits so perfectly. However, it seems the word ‘taper’ was given to this phase of training without any consideration to the phycological state of the athlete.
Some athletes yearn for tapering, while others fear it. These reactions are largely emotional, pushing athletes to behave in certain ways, contrary to how they’ve behaved during the previous months of preparation.
Those Who Embrace the Taper
Take the athlete that loves the taper. They’ve slogged it out, and they’ve been looking forward to that last session of the prep where everything starts to taper off. They enjoy the extra forty minutes of sleep before work and the quality Netflix couch time at night.
As coaches, we must note that this ‘yearning for taper’ can be a slippery slope. Erring on the side of caution, i.e. “it’s raining so I’ll skip this one today, I’ve done the work,” or “I’m a bit tight, I’ll go get that massage instead of swim,” can cause training disarray. They essentially toss out so much hard work, in just a few weeks. If explained correctly, perhaps the athlete that yearns for taper can also yearn for the peak phase.
Those Who Dread the Taper
Take the athlete that fears taper. They’ve slogged it out, and they’ve been dreading the taper for a month. They feel anxious lying in bed for an extra hour in the morning, or during the dead time after dinner. This too can be a steep slippery slope.
They might, in turn, decide: “I’ll just turn the legs over for forty minutes to flush things out,” or “I feel so unfit, I’ll just throw in a few efforts to stay sharp on today’s run.”
Maybe, just maybe, if that final phase of the preparation was called the peaking phase, they would no longer fear it.
To Taper or To Peak?
You decide what works best for you! Regardless of its title, the pre-race training phase is very important and should be carried out with confidence not doubt.
Article Credit – Tim Ballintine https://www.trainingpeaks.com/coach-blog/rethinking-the-taper-phase/