Copyright 2007 The Sportsmedicine Institute, Inc.
Used by permission.

Tapering refers to the period just before a major race or game, when an athlete reduces workload to be in peak shape on the day of the competition. Ordinary exercisers can apply this training principle when they plan to enter a local race or charity event.

Top athletes must spend a tremendous amount of time training to be able to compete successfully. Their huge volume of work leaves them near exhaustion and before major competitions, they have to find the best way to reduce fatigue while retaining fitness.

Many studies have been done to help athletes and coaches decide on the best strategy. Researchers at the University of Montreal compiled the results of 27 scientifically acceptable studies. They concluded that the best duration of tapering is two weeks, the optimum training volume reduction is by 40 to 60 percent, and the intensity of workouts should be maintained (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, August 2007).

Training load during taper

Almost all of the studies agree that athletes should reduce the amount of work they do. While each athlete must decide on his optimal reduction, many bicycle racers drop from up to 400 miles a week down to fewer than 200, and many runners drop from above 100 miles to fewer than 40.



Duration of taper

A tapering period of eight to fourteen days appears to optimize performance in which an athlete can lose his fatigue and still maintain his ability to compete at high intensity.

Intensity during taper

Almost all studies show that athletes need to maintain intensity during tapering. During background training, they take workouts in which they run, skate, ski, cycle and swim very fast two or three times a week. They often continue these intense workouts during the two-week taper, stopping a few
days before the competition.


While nobody really knows how tapering improves performance, most researchers believe that it increases a person's maximal ability to take in and use oxygen (VO2max). This is explained by increases of blood volume, red cell production and enzymes that utilize oxygen in the production of energy. Since fatigue interferes with coordination, tapering alleviates fatigue to improve efficiency of movement that, in turn, improves a person's ability to use oxygen for energy.

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