What the heck is taper anyway?! Well, to taper means to “dial back” or take a break or rest right before your big meet. It works best if you’ve been training hard, especially during a long season and now you are getting ready for your meet. Athletes at the highest levels may do it once or twice a year, like for a national championship or world cup, while also doing mini “drop” tapers of 2 or three days before smaller meets.
Most coaches develop strong ideas about tapering as well as devising their own special formulas to get the most from their athletes. And what about Swimmerjoe? Well, I, too, have my own ideas…In fact, I take it to the highest degree of rest.
First: Eat Properly
While tapering, you can’t eat the same way as you do when you are training hard. Why? Well, remember back to the infamous Michael Phelps’ diet as revealed during the Olympics…eating 10,000 calories a day! Most intense swimmers consume thousands of calories during the season and if they continue this during the restful stage, then the athlete runs the chance of gaining a few unneeded extra pounds for the main event.
Taper Tip: Eat a bit less than usual, but make sure it is healthy with roughly 20-25% protein, 61-66% carbohydrates and 14% fats. The better you eat, the faster you will go– you choose!
Second: Rest Your Body
Your coach will take care of you in practice, but you must take care of yourself out of the pool as the meet gets closer. Do not do extra things that may strain your body. I see kids dial back their swimming while tapering, but out of the pool they are so wound up they spend all the stored energy doing things they shouldn’t. They stay up late, play ball of some sort, walk to the malls or football games, etc. Remember Ryan Lochte hurting his foot while skateboarding?
Taper Tip: If you are on taper, then truly be on taper! Use the ladder to get out of the pool, no need for the wall, don’t want to strain yourself! Ask your parents do a few things for you around the house as the meet approaches. (Just don’t tell them I told you!) Swim meets are extremely taxing mentally and physically so you need every bit of stored energy—the more you save the longer you will last at the days-long meets, such as Junior Olympics, Junior Nationals, Senior Nationals and Olympic Trials. Rest! Rest! Rest!
Third: Get Flexible
Stretch as much as you can! It helps in numerous ways that allow you swim at your highest level. Stretching can reduce muscle tension, increase the range of movement in the joints (much needed in swimming), enhance muscular coordination, increase circulation of the blood to various parts of the body, and increase energy levels (resulting from increased circulation). Stretching also help you at the end of your race…you know when you bind up at the end? Stretching will help alleviate that tremendously!
Taper Tip: Stretch throughout the season but don’t let up during taper. This expends little energy, so stretch as much as you want without overstretching the muscles to the point of injury.
Fourth: Finish the Unfinished
During your last three weeks before your meet, clean up all loose ends on your stroke technique, turns, starts, body position, training, etc. Allow your coach to really focus on these to prepare you for the big event. Speaking of training, you have to swim every workout like it’s your last, going as hard as you can, including the last few days during taper. Easy speed will show up and you won’t fail during the end of your races in the 200 or above races. If you do this while doing the first three steps, you will be untouchable!
Taper Tip: Come to practice and concentrate on one set at a time, not the entire practice. When you work on one set, skill or strategy and conquer it, go to the next and do the same.
Coaches’ Dilemma: The Fine Line
Coaches and swimmers always watch that fine line, whether they know it or not. This means they watch the line that has you and your coach hanging on to the yardage (so you can finish your races) as well as the highest level of rest. This is a tricky formula of how much to do of each to create your best and quickest speed at the meet. That is the constant guessing game we all play….although some coaches are very good at it!
Another thing that plays into perspective is the amount of muscle an athlete has versus another—this means not everyone’s rest will be the same. More muscle = more rest, less muscle = less rest. (Another game we play and figure out!)
And you thought tapering just meant easier practices….oh please!