Taper can be a nerve-wracking time for swimmers, as they reduce their usual workload and start resting in preparation for competition. With less training and more downtime, it’s easy to allow your mind to start wandering and ask “what if” questions concerning your training and upcoming races. However, you need to keep focused on your goals and maintain a level head through the taper phase. Check out these six tips for making the most of your taper:
1. Practice your skills
As your training volume decreases, you’ll have more time to practice your skills without adding to your workload. During taper, every dive is an explosive race dive, every turn is a race turn with powerful underwater kicks off the wall, and every finish is a race finish. These skills need to be sharp – races are won and lost on dives, turns, and finishes – and taper is the perfect time to fine-tune them before competition.
Take some time after each training session to practice your skills. It helps if you can get a teammate to work on skills with you. If you have a device to film with, even better, because you can get immediate feedback by watching your dives, turns, and finishes. Don’t underestimate these crucial race components; the more you practice, the more natural they’ll feel in your race.
2. Remember there will be ups and downs
Taper can feel a little bit strange sometimes. Because your body is transitioning from a period of intense work to a period of rest, it might react in strange ways. Some days you might feel invincible and some days you might feel absolutely terrible. These ups and downs are unpredictable and often unavoidable.
The key is to avoid panicking. You need to remember that as your body is in flux, it’s best to keep a level head and keep moving forward without getting too excited or too worried. If you’re feeling like molasses in the water one day, make sure you tell your coach how you’re feeling, but don’t get too anxious. Obsessing over how you’re feeling every day won’t help you – just keep confidence in yourself and the work you’ve done so that you can push through those low points.
3. Don’t make too many changes
In the spirit of keeping a level head through the ups and downs, you should also keep some consistency in your schedule. Taper is enough of a change for your body to handle without altering other aspects of your life. Swimmers that radically change their diet, sleep schedules, and daily routine will do themselves a disservice by shocking their body right before competition, potentially causing imbalances. Remember to continue doing what you’ve been doing all year outside the pool, and allow your rest in the pool to work its magic.
4. Rehearse your meet routine
As you’re preparing for competition, it makes sense to rehearse the routine you’ll actually do at a meet. Make sure you have a consistent warmup that you can rely on, and practice this exact warmup in training so that you can make any adjustments before you get to the meet. Talk to your coach about doing a time trial or a small race pace set wearing the competition suit you’re going to race in. Then, do your usual cool down routine, exactly as you will at the meet.
You don’t want your body to be surprised at all when you’re in competition, so you should practice your entire routine beforehand. That way, you’ll be totally comfortable and confident in your approach when you go through the same process at a meet.
5. Use deep breathing and visualization
Many swimmers overlook the importance of mental preparation during taper, but one of the best ways to get ready to race is by doing simple relaxation and focus exercises outside the pool. Deep breathing is a great way to relax your muscles and facilitate recovery. Set aside a few minutes on a daily basis to clear your mind and slowly inhale and exhale to relieve tension and reduce pre-competition stress.
Visualization is another great tool used by many top swimmers to help them prepare to race. Just as you should arrive at a meet having practiced your physical routine, you should also go through your mental routine in your head. Take the time to picture yourself stepping up to the blocks, diving in, and executing a flawless race – the one you’ll want to reproduce in actual competition. The more you imagine yourself being successful, the more likely it will happen.
6. Believe in yourself
This is perhaps the most important thing you can do to help your taper. You need to keep faith in yourself and have confidence in your preparation. There’s no point worrying about whether or not your training was effective, because that’s all in the past – believe in the work you’ve been doing all year and don’t forget to have fun!