What is Tapering?

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Tapering is a strategy used by people who engage in endurance sports to reduce training volume leading up to an event or competition. The rationale behind this strategy is that a decreased volume will help you conserve energy while reducing the need for recovery. It is a way to prepare the body for an event and improve performance.

There are various tapering methods, but the most common is to train with less volume. This particular approach has been shown to dramatically benefit endurance. Other methods reduce both volume and intensity.

Although tapering is typically used to prepare for a specific event, it also can benefit your regular training performance, including offering better recovery, helping prevent injury, and providing a mental break from rigorous training. Tapering also is often combined with carbohydrate loading to put the body in the best position energy and recovery-wise before an event.

How to Use Tapering to Boost Performance

Tapering to boost your general performance outside of event preparation is a smart choice. One simple strategy is to plan your weeks of tapering every few weeks. You can try the following method:

  • Plan an easy day after your typical endurance training day.
  • Decrease your mileage by 50% to 75%.
  • Decrease the number of training sessions by 20% or add 1 to 2 days off.
  • Use the rating of the perceived exertion scale (RPE) to increase your intensity to 16 or 17—or 90% of your maximum effort for one day. Include interval training in this session.

The above is only one method for tapering. Research shows that choosing high-intensity, low-volume, or high-intensity, moderate-volume tapering strategies is beneficial for boosting the performance of endurance athletes.

Studies also show that as long as your training intensity is at a high enough level, reducing your volume should not negatively affect your endurance performance. 

Benefits of Tapering

Using tapering as a performance booster in your regular training can offset some of the side effects and risks of endurance sports. For instance, if you notice that your recovery has slowed down or you are increasingly sore and fatigued after your training, adding tapering weeks can provide a much-needed break without sacrificing progress and performance.

Tapering weeks also can help your body have time to replace depleted glycogen energy stores, repair tissues, and rehydrate. Additionally, the reduced volume gives your joints and muscles a break, potentially reducing your risk of injury.

Endurance training can take a toll mentally. It is a time-consuming process with a lot to think about. Not only do you have to schedule your training time, but you also have to work in recovery time and make sure you eat properly to support your training.

Tapering weeks allow you to take a break from the time spent training, leaving more time for stress-reducing activities like spending time with family and friends. Allowing yourself a tapering week may increase your ability to stick with your training consistently, long-term. After all, if you enjoy your training, you will be more likely to continue it.

What to Know Before Trying Tapering

Before you begin adding tapering to your training routine, it is essential to understand that if you are increasing your intensity, you might be met with new challenges, especially if you have not worked with higher intensities before. Here are some tips to help you meet those challenges.

Let Your Body Guide Your Strategy

Make sure to listen to your body. If you feel the intensity is too high, increase your volume slightly and back off on the intensity. Do not be afraid to work in full recovery rest days instead if your body tells you it needs them. Doing so will give your body much-needed rest and could potentially help prevent injuries.

And, if you feel fatigued throughout the day or have joint or muscle soreness that does not go away with rest, you should talk with a healthcare provider. You also should back off if you are experiencing signs of hormonal or mood changes and talk to a healthcare provider. You want to be sure you are aware of your body's cues and taking care of yourself.

Fueling Yourself Properly is Essential

Pay attention to your nutrition during this time as well. You may feel more or less hungry due to the change in volume and intensity. Be sure to fuel yourself adequately and consume plenty of water. Use an electrolyte solution if your training is more than 1 hour. 

Many endurance athletes fail to consume enough carbohydrates to fuel their activity. Use this time to evaluate how you are recovering. Pay attention if more calories and carbs are necessary to feel and perform your best.

How to Hydrate

  • Before exercise: Consume 7 to 12 ounces of fluid 15 to 30 minutes before training.
  • During exercise: Consume 4 to 8 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • After exercise: Rehydrate by drinking approximately 24 ounces of water for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) you lost during a workout. Weigh yourself before and after training for insight.

Gather Feedback to Guide Your Training

If you are unsure how to incorporate tapering into your training routine, do not be afraid to reach out for assistance. Talk to other endurance athletes about their approach or consider talking with a certified personal trainer or a coach for your sport.

Getting feedback and suggestions can be particularly helpful—especially if you have not experimented with tapering before. They can share their experiences with tapering and offer feedback on what you are doing.

Having someone to bounce ideas off of can be invaluable. It not only helps you make the proper adjustments but also gives you much-needed support and encouragement.

A Word From Verywell

Tapering is an excellent method of switching up your training to prevent some of the adverse side effects caused by endurance sports. Additionally, tapering can boost your performance for an event or help you meet your regular training goals.

Try different tapering methods and tailor the amount of volume and intensity you switch up based on the feedback your body gives you. Eventually, you will land on an approach that is right for you.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.