Rested, Not Rusty
Toeing up to the line on the day of competition is a confluence of training factors where you should have absolute certainty of the degree of your fitness.
Your fitness should be peaked at its highest point.
What factors converge at this point?
Well, certainly the execution of your training (progressions, volume, intensity, frequency, etc.), nutrition, family support, and rest.
An often overlooked aspect of training is the taper, or the trimming down of training volume as an event approaches.
One principle guides tapering:
Rested, but not rusty.
In order to peak your fitness, you must avoid being fatigued from training. Yet, you cannot rest too much, or you risk feeling off with your timing, coordination, and rhythm, or some other aspect of fitness.
How do you achieve the guiding principle, then?
We use three guidelines to execute the Rested but not Rusted principle:
- Half the volume, same intensity: intensity determines what kind of adaptation you get, volume determines how much of the adaptation you get. Close to an event, the hay’s in the barn. Working high volume will only fatigue you before the event. Plus, you need to train at the speed of the event you’re training towards. If you do a ton of volume ahead of time, you’ll be bogged down while your competitors are firing on all cylinders. In general, we cut the peak volume (or, depending on the event, the previous week’s volume) in half, but we keep the peak intensity the same. This ensures plenty of recovery, while keeping athletes training at the speed of their sport. If the taper goes into a second week, the volume will be cut from the first week, depending on the athlete and nature of the event.
- Limit tapering to 1-2 weeks: If the total specific training block is greater than 6 weeks, we use a two week taper. If 6 weeks or less, we use one week. All training is cumulative, and, therefore, so is fatigue. Even if you’ve had deload weeks regularly, the sum total of long training blocks takes a long-term toll. Longer tapers for longer blocks allow you to accumulate adaptations due to the extra rest and recovery.
- Front-load or bookend intensity work: Intervals should happen early in the week, while sprints – if appropriate to the event – can happen right before. Easy recovery days should happen in the middle or end of the week. This way, you can really focus on hitting the proper intensity without feeling ragged, and even hit supramaximal efforts (i.e., sprinting) right before an event to prime the pump for race/event speed in the next 24-48 hours. It’s typically a big confidence boost. However, if sprints are unnecessary, then intensity should happen early, and recovery right before an event.
Finally, two things to consider for tapering which are important, but more on the athlete than the coach: nutrition and rest. You should keep eating like normal, unless you have a dietary plan directing you otherwise, or you are cutting weight. What you eat will feed your recovery and adaptation. Taper weeks should also be a time when you rest a lot. This means you only taper for big events – top priority events. Naps, extra hours of sleep, elevating and icing muscles and joints, etc. are smart options for athletes serious about delivering their best performance when their toe finally does meet the line.