Tapering and the Distance Swimmer

As a distance swimmer you can only effectively taper so many times in a year. As a collegiate swimmer I could only do a full taper twice a year, once at the end of short course season (March), and once at the end of long course season (August).

Too often athletes try to taper or rest too many times in a single season. You need to choose only a very few events, or only one, per season to perform a full taper.  I wanted to offer some guidance and advice on tapering for races. First some general rules:

  • Younger athletes can get in shape faster
  • Older athletes fall out of shape faster
  • The more training volume you put in the more often and the longer you can effectively taper

During a season I use three separate forms of taper for my distance athletes:

  • Rest: I don’t really think of the rest taper as a taper.
    • When to use it: I use it before focus races. Those are races important enough where I want a good performance, but not important enough to interrupt my training. The not interrupting my training is the most important key here.  While building your aerobic base the more you interrupt your training schedule the less you progress.
    • How to do it: Simple, and straight forward take the day, two max, before the race off.
  • Drop taper: The term refers to a form of taper where you retain most of your training at normal levels and then “drop” suddenly near the end.
    • When to use it: This is an excellent alternative for distance swimmers and triathletes any time they want to perform at their best.
    • How to do it: Stop lifting approximately three weeks before the race. Keep all other activities such as swimming, running, biking at full training level. Two weeks out reduce all non-swimming activities, except stretching, over the course of the week. Keep your swimming levels at full. One week out, drop your yardage each day as you approach your race. For races of one-mile or less, emphasize race distance sets performed on extra rest and increased speed.  Focus on finding and keeping and feeling good in a rhythm. The day before the race, take the day off.  In my best tapers I don’t perform real great (but not bad) in workouts right up to the end.
  • Full taper: This taper will leave you fairly out of shape after you race and you will need time to build back up. For some swimmers, and many older swimmers it can take a lot of practice in understanding your body to get it right.
    • How to do it: The beginning of this taper is very much like the drop taper.
      • A minimum of three weeks before the race stop lifting and begin tapering off your non-swimming activities.
      • Two weeks out, stop all non-swimming activities, except stretching. Reduce your yardage and focus on race length sets that break the distance up into pieces and give you varying rest between repeats.
      • One week out, continue to decrease yardage and focus on race pace sets. Sets do not have to be full race length, especially if your race is over one-mile. No more paddles.
      • Two days out, swim an extended warm-up focusing on feeling good.
      • One day, take the day off.

If you are anything like me either of the two tapers (drop and full) can have me bouncing off the walls with the energy that I am not putting into workouts.  I always enjoy this, but fair warning to significant others, look out.  I know I drove my former husband nuts.

Which-ever you choose, remember this guiding principle.  The more you rest, the more you begin to lose your conditioning, so taper wisely for the fastest racing season.

Up Next: Workout basics

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