Like everything else about training with Mike Durner of Carmichael Training Systems, I have learned that everything is a lot more complex than I knew. Tapering to me, and I suspect most riders, was just taking it easy the week before the big ride. Ah, not so Grasshopper.
To research tapering so that I would understand what Mike was doing, I referred to this article
which is also the source that I have edited. Don’t think for a minute I knew any of this before I started the taper phase.
Tapering is broken into three categories. 1. Training Volume – the total amount of training I was doing. On average, 250 miles per week. 2. Training Frequency – How often was I training. On average 6 days per week. 3. Training Intensity – how intense (e.g. steady states and tempo rides).
Volume Adjustment – A reduction in training volume of between 40-60% is the most effective method. Reductions that are closer to 60% net the best average gain in performance. The nature of that reduction can be either a step or a curvilinear reduction. A Step-Taper is an immediate reduction in training volume to a low level (e.g. 40%) and then sustaining that training volume throughout the taper period. A curvilinear taper is one that reduces training volume more dramatically over the first part of the taper and less towards the end. Within the curvilinear model there can be either a fast or a slow decay in volume, depending on the event and you. I am doing a curvilinear model. To go a bit farther in the volume reduction discussion you need to consider the combined elements of previous training and over-volume training prior to the taper. Last week I did an over-volume training program of 21 hours and 350+ miles. The goal of over-volume training is to stress the system by over-reaching, nearly to the breaking point, and then recovering. The line between over-reaching, which is a recoverable state in the short term, and over-training, which requires a much longer recovery cycle (like 4-6 months!) is a very fine one. When done appropriately this stress-recovery cycle creates a meaningful training effect known as ‘super-compensation.” Simply put your body super-compensates for the stress imposed thereby increasing fitness.
An ‘overload’ block could be as high as a 20% increase in training for a period of up to four weeks. But this is one of those things that you should not do without lots of preparation (like years of 5000 miles years) and careful monitoring. The line between over-reaching and over-training is narrow and hard to master so don’t blow it the first time you try it.
The overload/taper strategy is the increase in taper duration for those who have appropriately overloaded. It has been indicated that with overload training the optimal taper period moves from, roughly, 2 to 4 weeks long with mine planned for 3 weeks.
Frequency Adjustment – The reduction in training volume is not reflected in a reduction in training frequency (I don’t get more days ‘off’) so I am still riding 6 days a week.
Intensity Adjustment – The most important adjustment is training intensity. While volume drops intensity does not. In fact the maintenance of high intensity training ALWAYS has a positive effect. Remember the purpose of the taper is to “minimize accumulated fatigue and enhance training adaptations. If you reduce the volume of intensity too much you run the risk of detraining. Therefore intensity training volume should remain very close to the levels in the final build period. That is to say that the number, time and intensity of my intervals remain the same. And I so wanted to be done with intervals.
So optimal tapering involves a reduction in training volume without any modification to the intensity or frequency of training. Specifically, the optimal tapering seems to be achieved with a 41-60% reduction in overall volume. So if you’re used to a 10 h training week with 5 days of riding and 2 days of breakthrough workouts, the volume might drop down to only 1h rides, but there should generally still be five of them and 2 of them should remain condensed interval/sprint workouts.. In addition, the ideal tapering duration seems to last 2 weeks. Mine is 3 weeks because I have trained so long (21 months) and feel it is better to go into my coast-to-coast more rested. A multi-week stage ride requires a longer taper period than a two day MS 150 ride—by a lot. But, then, my first taper week was still 9 hours and mostly high intensity. Remember, the key to a taper is that it is a highly specialized training phase designed to promote an overall drop in training stress by decreasing the volume while maintaining intensity. By doing so, it is permitting your body sufficient resources to recover and adapt by temporarily sacrificing your aerobic capacity while maintaining your anaerobic capacity.
Tapering is not laying on the couch the week before the ride. It is still hard work.