Tapering: what is it, does it makes sense, and how do you taper?
Tapering is trying to reach a peakform at a certain time for a race or game after having trained towards that moment. The aim is to reach a topform both mentally as physically.
This is particularly important for individual athletes, less so for team sports, those have a whole season to focus on and they need to be in game shape all season long if possible, so working towards a 100% pure top form is very difficult for them. We often see that in practice, for example during the last World Cup football, a good number of top players where far from there top form. There heavy club season had taken its toll.
There are differences of opinion about the usefulness of tapering, but I think there is little doubt about it usefulness; it is not possible to stay in top shape for long periods, both mentally and physically. Opponents of tapering say that if you have to taper you are simply over trained and the taper will simply eliminate overtraining.
My answer to this is that after a good tapering your can reach your season best, so there must be more into it than just the elimination of overtraining.
What exactly is tapering, it is reducing the training load by reducing the training volume but with maintain the intensity. This gives the body the ability to fully recover from the training done before and makes a great
Another point, but that's more my personal opinion, is the mental aspect, a part of that is getting used to the game length. It is important to get accustomed to the time you need to perform during your race. In normal training you often do prolonged exercise at lower intensity and shorter (interval) training at race intensity. I think it is important to get used to the race length in time close to your racing date. Furthermore, it is also important to get used to your race speed and intensity. You can train this by using your race pace in your training, but in shorter pieces. To mimic the whole race, intensity wise is obviously almost impossible and too strenuous. So that is not an option and would certainly not fit in a good taper routine.
How long should a taper last? I think 7 or 10 days is enough. If it lasts longer you will start lo loose power in performance because there would not be sufficient training stimuli. The last week before the taper you still train hard, in the first half of the taper do you do short exercise at race speed, but with longer pauses between intervals and with less volume.
Do 4 / 5 days before your race a sub maximal test. In the last three days rest up and prepare you especially on the contest. After the last test, you should make a race plan and make sure you know how the specific conditions will be during, so you don't come across unexpected surprises.
And during the race, stick to your race plan, you have to do your own race to get the best result out of you, if you let the circumstances or your opponents dictate your race you won't get the best out of you. If you have done it right, you will perform the best you can at that moment.
Individual athletes such as swimmers, athletes, rowers, cyclists can train towards a peak and often work towards several points in their season to reach a top shape. For instance qualifying for tournaments and of course peaking on those tournaments themselves. It is very important to precisely bring the best out of themselves at the right moments. Both mentally and physically. Those two can't seen apart, the one can strengthen the other but they can also weaken each other.
And although it may seem that I am talking about top athletes, tapering is for everybody, it can work on every level.