Sunday, November 18, 2012

Simplifying Tapering

The subject of tapering is a never ending one among swim coaches (and we would guess the same is true in every sport- baseball teams want to “peak” at the right time – Go Giants!). We looked for a couple of standard definitions and present below first from Wikipedia and then from the USA Swimming website.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • In the context of sports, tapering refers to the practice of reducing exercise in the days just before an important competition.[1] Tapering is customary in many endurance sports, such as the marathon, athletics and swimming. For many athletes, a significant period of tapering is essential for optimal performance. The tapering period frequently lasts as much as a week or more.
As a general rule of thumb, longer endurance events are generally preceded by longer tapering periods, with the curious exception of particularly long endurance competitions, such as ultramarathons and multiday races. In swimming the opposite is true; distance swimmers will often taper for only a week or less, while sprinters (50 m-200 m) taper for up to 3 weeks.[citation needed]

And this from the home page of USA Swimming…
“A progressive nonlinear reduction of the training load during a variable period of time, in an attempt to reduce the physiological and psychological stress of daily training and optimize sports performance and enhance training adaptations during the taper period.” (Mujika et al. Sports Med. 34:891-927,2004; Thomas & Busso Med. Sci. Sports & Exerc. 37: 1615-1621, 2005)

This is further explained as a –
1 – Reduction in volume in the range of 40-90%
2 – Reduction in frequency – below 20% is not recommended
3 – Reduction in intensity – higher intensity is better than lower intensity, given 1 & 2 above

So what does all this mean?

Ken and I have been coaching for a combined 70+ years which means two things…no smart remarks here please! 1 – We are older and 2 – We have seen a lot of tapers.

We are taking our swimmers to a “big” meet in early December. Our entire training group has a “taper” meet, though the meets are different ones, they all occur within 8 days of one another. Then we have finals and then we begin build up into our winter training block. So we are in taper mode right now. 

And what does that mean?

To us it means this…a time when expectations for fast swimming are heightened. These expectations are what fuel the big meet. They come from and are justified by the recent meet performances and the workout swims we see on a daily basis – either fast repeats or super smooth technique – both of those are confidence builders.

The key ingredient in our minds is confidence and that comes directly from recent fast swims as well as the swimmer feeling like s/he is making progress on their stroke technique. We do a lot – and we mean a lot – of fast swimming without a watch. We are looking for technique and stroke balance and pacing. We can tell when a swimmer is closing the gap between training and racing speed by watching them perform certain skills in the course of a workout. We praise effort and pacing, not the time on the watch.

Ken has a great reference in this regard. He calls it “checking the oil.” He asks them, how often they check the oil in their car before turning the key. We all know the answer to that one…never. So why do they keep asking us to time them for a 25 or a 50? We tell them, no. They are not allowed to check the oil. They need to trust that the speed will be there.

I once had a swimmer tell me that “you don’t need to worry about me coach at this meet because I am going to swim fast.” That simple declaration was perfect. It stated the positive expectation he had. The only question that remained was “how fast”…and that is precisely why we go to the meet!

So taper = reduce the volume, reduce the workouts per week by only a little, look for higher levels of intensity…and never ever discount the power of belief. Positive expectations fuel positive races. Positive expectations come from recent meets and recent workout accomplishments – either speed or stroke improvements.

Keep it simple…always. It is easier for them to digest and for you to deliver.

And always smile…either the one that greets a great swim or the one that ruefully greets a swim that got away.

As Bruce says, “Some guys they just give up living
And start dying little by little piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up
Then go racin' in the street

Be one of those guys…

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