The Taper: The ‘forgotten’ phase of training

Tapering is a training strategy that allows endurance athletes to achieve peak performance for major competitions. Manipulating both the volume and the intensity of the training during the taper allows the athletes to flush out any fatigue without losing training induced adaptations.

There are an infinite number of methods used to structure tapers. In addition, there are both intra- and inter-individual responses to different tapering protocols and coaches and athletes often use a trial and error approach to determine which tapering protocol is best suited to a specific athlete.

However, based on previous scientific research examining the effectiveness of tapering on subsequent endurance performance, the optimal tapering period should be between 8 – 14 days.

The preceding training load is a big determinant on the structure of the taper. Elite endurance athletes are generally exposed to larger training loads than recreational level athletes. Therefore, elite athletes might begin their taper two weeks before the event, while most recreational athletes will only require a taper of one week.

It is important to note that ALL athletes, no matter what level they compete at, will benefit from the inclusion on a taper.

When we begin working with a new athlete we firstly set up an annual plan that allows us to design their training program. The annual plan consists of all the events that the athlete is planning on competing in in that year and this allows us to structure how the training volume and intensity will change over the year to ensure that the athlete is in the best possible shape for their target events.

Most of the athletes will compete in more than one event per year and we will therefore include multiple tapers throughout the season. This allows us to ‘experiment’ with different lengths of tapers and ensure that we have a sound strategy as we approach a ‘goal’ event. Depending on the importance of the event and where it fits in in the training cycle, we might not include a taper at all, but rather use the race as a training session. Other events will have short tapers (~3 days) in order to flush out most of the acute fatigue from the preceding training weeks.

When the athlete is approaching a target event, we will use a two-week taper where we decrease the volume of the training, but keep the intensity at a moderate to high level. The high intensity is required to ensure that the athlete does not lose the training induced adaptations.

A typical pre-race (taper) week will look like this:

Day 1: REST – NO exercise!

Day 2: 1.5 – 2 hour easy ride at a LOW intensity and high cadence (>90 RPM)

Day 3: REST – NO exercise!

Day 4: Warm up for 30 minutes at a LOW intensity. Follow this with 4 x 4 minute intervals at an intensity corresponding to your functional (lactate) threshold. Rest (ride easy) for 10 minutes between each of the 4 minute intervals. Cool down for 30 minutes.

Day 5: REST – NO exercise!

Day 6: 1.5 – 2 hours easy ride at a LOW intensity with 5 x 2 minute accelerations to bring your heart rate up to your functional threshold for last 30 seconds of each acceleration (Use relatively hard gear and moderate cadence (70-80 RPM). Rest 5 min between each of the accelerations.

Day 7: Race day

During the taper period, your training volume will be reduced and therefore you may need to adjust your nutrient intake to prevent weight gain. However, we do not recommend that you avoid any of macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, fat and protein) during this period, but rather adjust the quantities appropriately.

Some symptoms of getting the taper wrong include ‘sluggish’ legs. Failure to keep the intensity up during the taper could result in feelings of tired or ‘sleepy’ legs. Athletes will mention that it took their legs a while to ‘wake up’. In addition, if the training load is too high during the taper or before the taper, fatigue could still be present on race day and this will obviously have a negative effect on performance, especially at the higher intensities.


Squier, Sep 25 2014 12:55

Nice article! Thanks!

'Dale, Sep 25 2014 12:59

The fine art of tapering / peaking...

eddy, Sep 25 2014 01:24

Tapering is what I am good at.

I have already started mine for Argus. I am also well advanced with my carbo loading....

JoeMan, Sep 28 2014 08:01

Thank you, this will settle an agreement :)

Boerklong, Sep 28 2014 09:29

Im tapering for karoo 2 coast 2015

DieVlieg, Sep 30 2014 02:23

I am taking a 10 day rest a month before my big event. Thereafter I have 3 weeks to train. Will the 10 day rest cause a huge gap in my training or can I optimize my training afterwords in a way that the 10 day rest will actually have a positive affect on my training. The month leading up to the resting period saw me doing intensive training and today I rode my best ever ride. I can say I achived my goals today the day before I rest.


BTW not resting is not an option. I am taking a family holiday and the mistress (cycling) is not invited.


My sport is MTB

Slow_one, Oct 03 2014 08:10

mmmmmm I'm way ahead of you guys..... Im Tapering for DC 2015 already :)

Slow_one, Oct 03 2014 08:12

I also like day 1,3 and 5 of the training program ...... looks like my Marathon training program ..... oh yes Day 7 is always a rest day  .... :)