Mountaineering Training | The Art of the Taper

Posted by: | August 29, 2014
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

The last week before the start of an expedition or climb can be a hectic and stressful period.  Between packing and repacking your bags and squaring away your work and life to be gone for a few days (or a month!), there is a ton to do.  It might be tempting to forego your workouts during this period in order to rest up.  Still others might channel their stress into a last week of intense training.  Rest is important, but so is maintenance of your fitness.  This is the period to taper your training plan, striking a balance somewhere in between the two extremes. 

The ultimate goal of the taper period is to reduce fatigue (physical as well as mental and emotional), while maintaining fitness.  There are four main parameters that you can vary in your training to create a taper: intensity, volume, frequency, and duration of the taper. 

Intensity is the only variable that doesn’t change.  You should continue to do your workouts at a similar intensity to what you have built up to.  This means that your aerobic workouts are still slow enough that you stay in your aerobic zone, but at the same time, your intensity workouts such as intervals and strength are still done at or above the level that your have been training at.  Achieve the reduction in fatigue that is requisite of these workouts by varying the volume and frequency instead

Volume should be greatly reduced during the taper period.  Research recommends that training volume be reduced by 50-70 percent for endurance athletes.  While this may seem like a radical drop in training, the reduction in volume will eliminate training fatigue, while the maintenance of intensity will maintain your fitness.  Reducing your training volume also opens up time in your day to complete other tasks that need to be taken care of before you go!

Frequency of workouts can also be reduced to lessen the training fatigue.  If you have been doing multiple workouts a day, drop to just a single workout per day.

Duration of the taper can vary.  For a very aerobic and endurance based sport such as mountaineering, about a week is ideal. 

To apply this to your training regime, think about the schedule of workouts that you have been following already.  Your aerobic workouts are a great place to dramatically reduce your volume; a two hour workout could be reduced to just an hour or 45 minutes of easy aerobic work at the same pace you have done your longer workouts at (resist the temptation to push the pace harder).  In your interval workouts, take longer rest breaks between intervals, and cut the number in half, while still doing a quality warm-up and cool-down.  With strength workouts, maintain the same weights, but reduce the number of sets and repetitions per set. 

This period is also a great time to focus on stretching and recovery for your body.  Take special care with your nutrition, recovery routine, and sleep habits to allow your body to recover from the training fatigue of the last several months, and you will show up in peak form!

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

RMI Climbers on the summit crater of Pico de Orizaba 18,701'.   (Courtesy Chris Villar)

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