One of the fundamental aspects of your race preparation is tapering your training to peak on race day. Athletes use the term peaking to describe being in the absolute best condition (physically, emotionally and mentally) at a specific time for an event. Peaking is not always easy to perfect and requires experience and planning. This article could save you costly errors and disappointment.
Pro triathlete and Olympian Kate Roberts has learned the science of peaking and how to specifically taper her training to reach peak performance through races around the globe.
1. Develop confidence in your training regime
My best performances in a triathlon can always be traced back to breakthroughs in my training regime. As a young and inexperienced triathlete, I was often uncertain of the outcome of my training programme. As I started gaining more experience, I was able to see a pattern and I found confidence knowing that my training was the key determinant to my race performance. Nowadays when I get that magical feeling of invincibility during my hardest weeks of training, a few weeks out from race day, I know exactly what I will be capable of in the race. My mood, confidence and energy levels change dramatically and I become an extremely motivated and determined athlete.
2. Get in the zone
Key to reaching my peak is the undisturbed, quiet focus in my preparation. If I can recall moments where I truly developed in training and felt like I improved every single day, they occurred when my life was quiet and where I had limited distractions and stress outside of my training. When I got every single aspect of training and recovery right and had the time to mentally prepare myself for each and every training session, it was during these periods of training that I was able to build my fitness to unprecedented levels. I often call this state of mind ﾒBeing in the zoneﾓ.
3. Never compromise on recovery
Even as a professional triathlete, there have often been periods in my preparation where I canﾕt get in the zone. I have realised that this mostly occurs due to distractions that have made me compromise on my recovery, often leaving me on a plateau and unable to reach peak fitness. Unfortunately in the life of an amateur athlete, where work and family commitments are your priorities, the task at hand to peak becomes even more complex and far too many suffer from an imbalance between their training and recovery.
4. Always taper your training
The term tapering is the gradual reduction of training intensity and duration as you edge forever closer to race day. It is a necessary aspect of endurance training and it starts in the last few weeks before the big day. Tapering can often be an incredibly frustrating time for triathletes as you have spent the past few months training very hard and the reduction in training can make you feel restrained.
Whilst most athletes know the benefits of a taper, many do not know how to do it correctly. In response to a taper, what works for one person may not work for another. The main aim of a taper is to reduce fatigue but at the same time make sure that your fitness level remains high. If you completely rest during your taper, your window for peak performance will be very short.
5. Gradually reduce your training load
Ideally, instead of completely resting, plan training sessions that gradually reduce your training load, while allowing you to maintain your fitness levels and decrease your fatigue levels. According to Ingio Mujika, author of Tapering and Peaking for Optimal Performance, high volume training increases your fatigue levels more so than intense training and has less of an effect to maintain fitness levels. Bearing this in mind my suggestion for the best possible taper is to reduce your volume while at the same time maintaining your intensity levels in sessions.
6. Taper intensity
While reducing your volume to about 50 percent of your average weekly hours during your taper, you must be sure to maintain or in some cases even increase your intensity slightly during this taper period. However this does not mean you should go testing your fitness by doing PBs in training. You should never go searching for confidence during your taper and I often avoid using a stopwatch during intense workouts. The one mantra that I use for intense sessions during a taper workout is “feel good” which can be achieved by keeping intensive workouts shorter than usual with more rest between sets.
7. Modify your diet
Your energy output will go down as you reduce the energy spent on training. This decline needs to be managed in your daily meals, by eating a little less than normal. Some athletes continue to eat what they normally do and end up gaining a few unwanted kilograms. Whilst a kilogram or two is normal, especially during the final week of the taper, gaining more than this may make it harder for you to reach your goals come race day. On the other hand, do not attempt to lose weight during your taper phase. Your body is recovering and needs proper nutrients and balance to make all your hard work a reality. Putting it in starvation mode sends the wrong signal and will probably reduce the effect of your taper.
Whilst you may not hit the nail on the head the first time, keep notes on how you felt during your training and taper preparations. I can assure you that you will reach your peak performance and elevate yourself to new racing heights.
Originally published in the July/August 2013 issue.
Apply the above seven training tips and further benefit by incorporating the Alexander Technique.