The Ups and Downs of Taper Time

Feature by Michelle Berman, Swimming World intern

PISCATAWAY, New Jersey, October 19. HAVE you ever felt bad in the water the day before a championship meet? Have you ever felt good weeks before you were supposed to in the middle of taper season? Have you ever showed up at a meet thinking, ‘I have no idea what to expect?'

Taper season is as confusing to some as learning a new language. Alyssa Anderson, a junior at the University of Arizona, as well as a member of the U.S. Pan Pacific team, can swim just about any event on a meet line-up.

"A taper to me is a time where you are able to let your body fully recover from all the hard work and training you've done leading up to that point," Anderson said. "It is also a time to re-discover some of the easy speed you may have lost during tough training. Taper is when you put it all together and really get tuned in for what you've been preparing for all season."

As Anderson described, tapering is, in simple terms, a way to let your body energize itself prior to championship swimming time. But having a successful taper takes focus and emphasis on the details.

"Whenever taper time comes I get so excited because I know I am going to swim really fast. You have all this pent-up energy, and you can't wait to unleash it at conference or whatever your championship meet is at the end of the season," said Lisa Ginder, a junior at the University of Denver.

Prior to taper season many athletes have several team meetings, individual goal meetings, or even meeting among just the teammates.

"The coaches will let us know when taper is going to be starting, just so we see the light at the end of the tunnel. They are also very open and understanding when it comes to discussing taper, and your specific needs," said Anderson. "They love to hear input and feedback on how you are feeling in the water and what is working for you.

"We do have some discussion about what my individual taper should be. I am a distance swimmer, so I don't really have much of a taper," said Ginder. "I still do some of the same sets just less. For example: if we do 20×100's hold during the season than during taper we might do 10×100's one easy one-mile pace."

Every athlete is different. No athlete will train the same way as someone else, and not every athlete swims the same events. Therefore, it is crucial during this time of the season to stay in communication with your coach, and look up to your peers for advice.

Another key part of a taper season is being honest about how you are feeling throughout the tapering process. Being honest or not, may make the difference come time for championship swimming. Part of a coach's responsibility is to be as involved as possible in an athlete's season. A coach will guide you through the process as best as he/she knows how.

"I definitely think it is important to be honest with your coach, this is where communication plays a huge role. During taper, they are more dialed in with how your body is feeling and helping you stay positive and confident along the way," said Anderson.

Ginder agrees with Anderson, and emphasizes that not listening to your body during taper can in essence ruin your entire season of work.

So what happens when you are feeling awesome in the water, way too far in advance of championship time?

"I have been told in the past if I feel awesome that is a good thing, but can also be detrimental if it's too early," said Ginder. "So then I would back off of sets, and only go hard or fast when it was necessary during the workout."

On the other hand what happen when you feel horrible in the water when you are supposed to be feeling awesome, also known as taper funk?

"It's so strange how your body responds to taper. One day, you could be feeling unstoppable while the next you feel like you are swimming through molasses. I have had some pretty good meets where I've felt terrible in the water days leading up and have just had to tell myself that I've worked extremely hard and that my body IS in fact ready to do this and to be great," said Anderson. "You just have to be confident and if you aren't, do what they always say, fake it until you make it! Confidence plays a crucial role in racing and in order to be successful you have to know that you've worked hard enough and to just go out there and give it everything you've got!"

When a taper goes well or goes bad, it's hard to nail down exactly what the cause of the issue was. The cause could be anything, and therefore the importance of being open and honest with your coaches becomes more and more important. Both Anderson and Ginder offer some parting advice when it comes to tapering, and how to deal with the ups and downs that come with it.

Ginder, being a distance swimmer, emphasizes the importance of knowing that everyone is different.

"Taper is different for everyone. For instance: a male sprinter is going to have a different taper schedule than a female distance swimmer," said Ginder. "Also, don't be discouraged if you are a distance swimmer, and during taper season you have to swim an extra 1500 or so more than sprinters. You just have to know there are other swimmers going through the exact same thing you are."

Anderson, being a multi-event and senior national swimmer, knows the ups and downs of tapering.

"Listen to your body and really be aware of how it's going through the water," said Anderson. "Being conscious of this and communicating with your coach as well as staying positive, which is easy with a little self-talk and big dreams, makes a huge difference!"

Michelle Berman is a junior swimmer at Rutgers University who is serving as an intern at Swimming World this semester.