The concept of “taper” is sacred in the world of swimming. Who doesn’t look forward to it? Even the word itself brings joy, carrying warm connotations of reduced training loads and signaling fast racing on the horizon. It can be difficult to contain your excitement as taper begins and competition approaches. However, with this change, it’s easy to become misguided and make an error that could cost you at your meet. Be careful to avoid these common taper mistakes swimmers are prone to:
1. Comparing yourself to your teammates
It’s easy to forget that taper is not one-size-fits-all. Keep in mind that other swimmers in your group have been on (slightly or completely) different training schedules all season. When it comes time to race, your event lineup will be different from that of your teammates – and if you do have matching lineups, it’s likely there will be nuances in your specializations. You are also a unique individual whose body will respond differently to taper than others in the group.
During taper, don’t make the mistake of closely comparing yourself to your teammates. It’s normal to go through ups and downs when you start to rest; some days you might feel on top of the world and others you might feel like you’re swimming through molasses. If one of your “down” days matches up with a day your training partner is on fire, don’t let it affect you. Trust in the process and remember that there are many different routes to the top of a mountain.
2. Being dishonest with yourself and your coach
Although you should be optimistic during taper, it’s important to stay realistic and honest with yourself and your coach. If you do feel like you’re swimming through molasses on a particular day, don’t lie about it – tell your coach how you’re feeling. Communication plays a huge role during taper because your coach needs as much information as possible while making adjustments to your training and fine-tuning your preparation.
Even though you might be tempted to give your coach positive reports despite feeling terrible in the water, pretending you feel a certain way is damaging. It’s important to be as honest as possible as you approach competition so that your coach can make decisions that will have the right impact on your preparation.
3. Continuing to eat like you’re in heavy training
In the middle of heavy training cycles, you probably consume a vast amount of calories on a daily basis just to restore your depleted energy. You might also indulge in junk foods and desserts more often than you should, championing the notion that you’re burning it off in the pool.
Be careful to make necessary adjustments when it comes time for taper; you cannot maintain the same eating habits after your training load is significantly reduced. Modifying your diet to reflect the training you’re doing will take some careful consideration and some deliberate action, but it’s a necessity. Don’t make the mistake of continuing to consume an immense number of calories when your body doesn’t need them, or else your taper could be compromised by your eating habits.
4. Becoming obsessive
During taper, most elite swimmers become very careful about the energy they’re expending inside and outside of the pool. It’s good to be cognizant of this, but don’t let it reach the point of obsession. I know swimmers who would refuse to climb even a single staircase after taper had started for fear that they would exert themselves too much. While it’s certainly humorous to boycott staircases in favour of ramps and elevators, don’t allow your taper quest to consume every aspect of your life in a negative way. This includes eating; while you need to give some consideration to your eating habits during taper, be careful it doesn’t turn into an obsession.
Keep in mind that taper does not mean zero exertion. While most elite swimmers reduce their training loads significantly during taper, they also know how important it is to continue spiking their heart rates with short, intense bursts in the pool. Outside the pool, be careful not to engage in activities that could result in an injury, but keep your day-to-day routine more-or-less the same. Remember that stressing out during taper won’t help you – stay calm and collected for optimal results!
5. Allowing your focus to slip
When you’re trying to avoid stressing out during taper, it can be easy to make the mistake of straying too far in the other direction and losing your focus. Although you need to be careful not to become obsessive, you also need to keep your eye on the prize.
Taper can be a very happy and exciting experience, knowing that all of the hard work you’ve invested throughout the season is going to pay off. Swimmers are often bursting with energy during taper, waiting to unleash it in competition. As the training load decreases and especially if the weather is starting to warm up, you might find yourself catching the “taper bug” and find your spirits soaring.
But be careful not to let this affect your focus. Although the number of metres you’re swimming may be dropping, your mental concentration needs to be at its peak. Taper is a time of restful preparation, but it’s also a time for honing your skills. Mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation during this exciting time.
Enjoy your taper, but consider the above points to avoid making a common mistake. Your upcoming races depend on it!