Best Peaking Strategies For Triathlon Racing

You’ve been training hard and your race is looming. How do you make sure you are ready on the day?

Getting your preparation right in the final weeks before your key triathlon race can make all the difference to your performance. This period is commonly called a taper.

Before going any further, it is important to define what we mean by ‘taper’. This is the training or physical preparation you do in the weeks leading up to a race to optimise performance. It is not rest – rest is passive!

By manipulating the type, volume and intensity of training you can optimise performance. An effective taper has been shown to improve performance by up to 6% in well-trained athletes.

A lot of scientific research has been carried out looking at the ideal taper, yet it is still an area that is not fully understood. Not much research has been carried out on endurance events lasting 2 hours or longer, and there is a limited understanding of the physiological, neuromuscular and biomechanical factors involved.

So getting your taper right is still a combination of art and science, and you are likely to come across conflicting advice.

Based on existing research, the most effective taper appears to be one that starts 2 – 3 weeks before the race. During this period a 40 – 60% reduction in training volume should be incorporated, whilst maintaining training intensity and potentially including a small (~20%) reduction in training frequency.

So What Does This Mean In Practice For You?

The main aim of the taper is for you to feel fresh (both mentally and physically) by the time that race day arrives so you can perform at your best.

If you are fairly new to triathlon and have not got much of a training background (e.g. you have done around 300 hours of training per year or less – which works out at an average of 5 to 6 hour per week), then you should taper your training for only around a week.

This is because you are not doing enough volume of training to need longer. Also if you were to reduce training volume for 3 weeks you would start to lose fitness due to not having a significant training background.

If you have a good training background and are have been averaging about 10 hours training per week, then you can afford to have a longer taper – about 2 – 3 weeks.

Regardless of how long your taper lasts, you should reduce the volume of training by around 50% but still maintain the intensity of sessions. In other words reduce the duration or frequency that you train but keep the training at the same pace/intensity as you have been – not lower and not higher intensity.

This is to provide enough stimuli to prevent detraining, and to maintain feeling for race pace, muscle elastic properties and neuromuscular activation.

Generally this would mean doing work at race pace, but you might have longer recovery between intervals during your taper than you would normally, and fewer intervals.

During your taper, focus your training more on your weakest discipline. For swimming you may have to reduce the volume by more than 50% as you are likely to have local muscular fatigue more than in the other disciplines.

As swimming is such a technical event you will need to gauge how much you need to keep doing to maintain your technique and ‘feel’ for the water.

If you are training and racing at a high level, then your taper could start with a few days of rest, before gradually building your training back up again. The rationale is that you would be able to take advantage of the being fully recovered to enhance training tolerance and respond effectively to the training done at this time.

As mentioned earlier, getting your taper right is a blend of art and science. So whilst you can use the principles above, you will need to play around with the exact details of your training to get it right for your key race.

In general the higher the volume of training you have been doing the longer your taper will be. Most triathletes will want to peak for 1 – 3 key races per year. You can use an early season race to practice your taper for your key race(s). For all other minor races, 2 – 3 days rest before the race should be enough.

Don’t worry if you feel lethargic during your taper. This is quite common, particularly if you are used to doing a high volume of training. This doesn’t mean you need to up your training though. This period of recovery is important for you to perform well on the day!

Final Preparations To Maximise Triathlon Performance

During the last week or so before your key race it is a good idea to practice your transition skills. Also, find out what type of swim start your race will have and practice this if necessary.

Particularly if you are preparing for an Ironman then ensuring a high carbohydrate intake during the few days before the race is important.

Summary Of Tapering For Peak Performance For Triathlon

• Duration of the taper will depend on your training background
• Reduce volume of training
• Maintain intensity of training
• Reduce frequency of training
• Focus on your weakest discipline
• Everyone is different, so practice your taper to perfect it before your key race.

Rhona Pearce has a degree and postgraduate degree in sports science and exercise physiology, and 10 years experience of providing sports science support to triathletes. Her husband is a triathlon coach for the British Olympic programme and together they have developed the Intelligent Triathlon Training website:

Visit to get your free triathlon training planner, and for lots of practical information and advice about all aspects of triathlon training, nutrition, triathlon gear, injury prevention and recovery.

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