It’s Taper Time!

I am getting ready to head off for US Masters Nationals back in my home town of Atlanta this week. Unfortunately I really haven’t been training consistently these past few months, so my taper is not very effective. However, if done properly, tapering correctly for a big swim meet can make a world of difference.

A swim “Taper” refers to the time before a major competition where a swimmer decreases their total distance per workout. While training during the season, a swimmer will typically average a certain amount of distance swum per workout…let’s say 6000 yards. A week or two before the big swim meet, the swimmer drops down the total distance in a workout to say 5000 yards… then 4000… then 3000… then 2000. As you decrease the workload you have more energy, feel stronger, and gain confidence in the water.

Tapering is essentially a recovery period before you major swim meet. You certainly don’t want to be broken down when trying to go a best time, so taper lets you back off and feel faster in the water.

It is important to remember that just because you are doing less yardage, does NOT mean you swim with less effort during practice. In fact if a coach tells you to go ‘all out’ during a set, then you better kick it into high gear! Taper sets will likely be the fastest swims you have done in practice all season. This not only helps you understand what it will feel like to go fast during a race, but it also gives you confidence as you see improvements from previous practices during the season.

Here are some quick pointers about taper that I have learned over the years:


    • Taper differs for everyone. Depending on age, ability level, body type, and even gender, almost everyone will vary in how they taper. Trust in your coach to know what is best for you.
    • Work on getting a better ‘feel’ for the water. Use the slower/technique sets to understand your stroke.
    • Go FAST when the coach says. Build that confidence in the water and get your body racing.
    • Fine tune the small things. You have put the yardage in already this season, so start perfecting your starts, turns, streamlines, etc. These will make a huge difference during your meet.
    • Rest outside of the pool. Just because you have more energy does not mean you should expend it elsewhere. Save it for your big race.
    • No horseplay! You can still have fun, but just don’t break your arm doing so…a coach’s nightmare.
    • Remember to warm-down. Although you may feel good, continue to warm down after practice and races. Your body still needs to recover correctly.

Now if only I had actually put the work in this season, my ‘taper’ would be feeling much better right about now. I will have to give you a recap of the meet in a future post.

- Mark