Maximizing Your Swimming Taper
What is Taper?
Taper is the best time of year for a swimmer because for the first time in seemingly forever, you`re able to kind of enjoy practice. And why is that? Because it`s getting easier with less yards or less intensity.
Strength training decreases, the amount of yards (or meters) decreases, and usually morning practices decrease as well.
The purpose of taper is to gradually wean your body off of the high level of physical stress to properly make strength gains in the pool for your season`s last or nearly last competition.
Taper in swimming is different for everyone. Not only because not everybody swims the same events, but also because obviously everyone does not have the same swimmer body type.
I will give you some tips that we will go over below, that will be beneficial for your main competition regardless of who you are or what kind of swimming events you do.
The topics we will be covering are:
- Sleeping wiser
- Eating better (and less, sorry)
- Extra physical activity
- Mental stress & visualization
The idea behind sleeping right during taper does not necessarily mean sleeping more hours alone. Of course, you want to be getting 8-10 hours of sleep per night, but when you sleep is just as important.
Most competitions take place in the morning, and you`ll have to get up at least around 8am. This means that if you decide to stay up until midnight every day during and wake up at 10am, it will be difficult to adjust your sleeping patterns when competition time comes.
I know it might sound crazy, but I suggest setting your alarm earlier than you have to, in order to mimic the time you`ll have to be awake during likely 2-3 day competition.
Not only will this help you feel normal during your swims, but it will allow you to focus and have more energy when you need it most!
The last thing you want to worry about is how tired you are, when you should be focusing on winning those races.
Eating Better (and Less)
Okay, so I know this is going to be hard for most of you guys...but for taper you have to eat less. This means making a conscious effort to move away from pizza, soda, deserts, etc.
Eating less food is probably one of the most difficult parts of taper due to a swimmer`s normally high-caloric diet; however, cutting back on physical activity to a significant degree - which is what taper is all about - means that you aren`t burning as many calories.
A good trick that I like to use, is to make sure that I do not buy unhealthy food. If you don`t buy it, then you can`t eat it, right?
Don`t worry about eating less in quantity as much as you do about the quality. For example, instead of eating 1 donut...try eating 2 apples instead.
Avoid going out to eat as much as possible as well, since we all know the majority of restaurants serve unhealthy foods. Instead I try to buy the following foods during taper which fill me up as well as increase my recovery gains:
- Greek yogurt
- Whole wheat breads and cereal
- Skim milk
- Noodles (to make at home)
- Fruits (bananas, grapes, apples)
- Frozen veggies (whatever you like)
Cutting back on extra-curriculars
It should go without saying, but during taper it is a good idea to not be active in other extra-curricular activities you may be involved in.
This may be playing basketball with your friends or even bowling on the weekend. The ultimate goal for taper is to rest as much as possible. Physical activity that you need to stay in good enough shape will be (or should be) taken care of by your coach.
While cardio activity can be an okay thing to do during taper, strength training and putting stress on your muscles should be get to a low-minimum.
Everyone is different, which is why talking to your coach about possible out-of-pool activities would be a good idea. For distance swimmers, maintaining cardiovascular fitness is crucial so perhaps there`s more wiggle room to say... go on the treadmill.
Mental Stress & Visualization
I want to talk about mental stress because undoubtedly many of you readers are students like me. Having classes and tests at the same time as taper can be frustrating. You`re trying to concentrate on what you`ve been training months and months for, but school can derail your focus.
Obviously you can`t just quit school for the duration of taper, but you can make an honest effort to make school work less stressful.
Do your homework that will be due during the competition ahead of time!
Let your teachers know that you will be gone during competition days and ask to have the homework early and simply get it done. This way you`re not thinking about it during the competition - trust me you will.
Mental stress can involve many other aspects of your personal life - relationships, injuries, depression, a job, etc. The best thing you can do is to take care of yourself consistently. Take your medicine, stretch, buy your girlfriend flowers, whatever you have to do to put your mind at ease.
Visualization is something that you can do everyday, even without making it a real effort. Just thinking about the pool you`ll be swimming in, your competition, your swimming technique, etc.
Sometimes it can be beneficial to consciously sit down at your pool and take 5-10 minutes to visualize your race, then get up on the blocks and race it. Visualization for swimming is different for everyone and only you know what to do to put yourself in a good place to race.