Strength training is a valuable supplemental strategy for any endurance athlete. It has been shown to improve performance and address common risk factors associated with injury. However, in contrast to strength training for the non-athlete, endurance athletes need to be mindful of total volume in order to prevent overtraining which can lead to injury.
When following a periodized training plan, the volume of sport training vs. strength training fluctuates throughout the year to put you in the best position possible to be successful come race day. However, mismanaging training volume or neglecting the taper can negate months and month of hard work.
The taper can be described as a structured reduction in training volume for a specific period of time prior to athletic competition. After building volume to prepare the body for race day, the taper acts as a formalized recovery period which has been shown to improve performance. This has now been documented in swimming, cycling, running, rowing, triathlon, and team sports.
Tapering generally varies by sport but the general premise remains the same. In terms of endurance athletes, the research shows that reducing training volume 40-70% over a 2-3 week time period immediately preceding your race creates significant performance benefits. In order to reap the reward of a proper taper, intensity of training must be maintained.
The reason tapering is so important, despite initially sounding counterintuitive, is that it helps you replenish your muscle glycogen stores which have previously been depleted by high volume training. In addition, fast twitch fibers grow at an extremely fast rate which contributes to greater power development and an improvement in economy. Who doesn’t want more energy and a faster “kick” during race day?
Now, if you are an endurance athlete who is also incorporating strength training alongside your sport training, this must be taken into consideration. If you remove strength training altogether or maintain/increase volume and fail to respect the taper, it can have a negative impact on performance. Therefore, strength training should follow a similar recommendation of reducing volume while maintaining intensity.
Volume is easy to adjust when it comes to endurance and strength training. This simply means reducing the amount of time (duration, miles, sets and repetitions) spent completing a certain activity. However, maintaining intensity is a challenge for many who want to be extra cautious and not get injured leading up to race day. It’s important to continue trusting your plan, hitting the assigned paces or RPE, and not allowing a big reduction in resistance used during strength exercises which will ultimately cause a loss of fitness. Fitness levels will remain consistent for around 1-month when reducing volume if intensity is maintained.
What you should absolutely not do at any point while tapering is fail to reduce total volume and/or add more strength training into your program. Even if you are dissatisfied with how your body feels at that time, less is always more in the weeks leading up to race day. As the research states, “Generally speaking, the problem with most athletes is not a lack of training rigor but demonstrating discipline in “pulling back” on training when necessary.” Respecting and properly executing the taper is one key to training success.
If you have questions regarding how to navigate the taper to see the absolute best results on race day, click here and schedule your free phone consultation.
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART