The Truth About Tapering

The Truth About Tapering


You have put in the work. All summer you were diligent and dedicated. You stayed consistent and trained harder than you ever have before. But now it’s two weeks before your “A” race and you feel “out of shape”, anxious and you question every workout you have done up until this point. Your friends, family and spouse want to run screaming the other direction because they, nor you, can handle - The Taper.


But what exactly is a taper? Does it even work? And why do we feel SO crazy during it?


Hopefully, a few things will come to light as you read on...


Tapering, let’s define it.


According to Inigo Mujika and Sabino Madilla, who themselves have been responsible for much of the research on tapering, define a taper as, “A progressive nonlinear reduction of the training load during a variable period of time, in an attempt to reduce the physiological and psychological stress of daily training and optimize sports performance”.


In other words, we are decreasing our overall training load in order to peak for our big event. According to over 50 studies conducted by the journal of Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise, levels of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones--all depleted by high mileage--return to optimal ranges during a taper.


OK. I get it. But how do I do it?


Understand The Goal


First, it’s important to understand that you do not gain additional fitness 7-10 days prior to an event. So, if you didn't hit your big run goals- now is not the time to try and make up for it. Really, you are only sabotaging your efforts for the race. The goal of the taper should be to minimize accumulated fatigue and allow your body to Repair and Prepare.


Training Intensity


Intensity is the one aspect of your taper that should remain the same. In order to avoid losing physiological or perceived fitness, your workouts should maintain quality under decreased volume. This also means you shouldn’t add anything new. Again, if you haven’t been doing speed, hill, interval workouts this is not the time to try and dial those in.




This is what we strategically abandon. This is the art of the taper. Studies show that both physiological and psychological benefits occur at a training volume reduction of 60-90% in highly trained athletes. Again, this will heavily depend on your level of fitness and race distance. For example, tapering for a marathon should begin 21 days prior to your race. With maximum reduction in volume occurring the 7 days leading up to your event. In general, tapering should begin 4 to 28 days pre-race. This is also the Perfect opportunity to get a well deserved Sports Massage to address any fascial restrictions and flush out extracellular fluid.




A good rule of thumb is to keep training frequency to 80% (again, with reduction in overall volume) for highly trained athletes. However, research shows that moderately trained athletes can maintain fitness with training frequencies as low as 30%. As in pre-race training, the recommendation of Physical Therapy Elite, would be to maintain consistency (training frequencies of 60-80%).


What can I expect my payoff to be?


A realistic performance goal for the final taper should be a competition performance improvement of about 3% (usual range 0.5-6%). Med Sci Sports Exerc, vol 35, no 7, pp 1182-1187, 2003

This is significant and can mean an improvement in marathon time of 5 to 10 minutes!!


As always, if you are looking for specific help in your training or just have a few questions - Do not hesitate to reach out to the Sports Performance experts at Physical Therapy Elite.