The Ten Rules of Taper

The Ten Rules of Taper

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Ah, taper season. 

The time after a long, grueling winter training season when yardage (hopefully) decreases, intensity ramps up, and the focus is all about speed. Speed off the blocks. Speed off the turns. Speed between the walls. 

Finally. At last. Speed.

Taper can seem like a mystifying, magical process to some. It’s not. Merely, it’s a recalibration of sorts. A refocusing. Taper is changing the body to adjust to meet settings: You want your body to feel ready to race in the morning, ready to perform at nighttime finals, and in the best possible shape it can be.

Taper philosophies vary team to team, coach to coach, swimmer to swimmer. But there are some constants to adhere to. Simple rules and philosophies that virtually everyone follows in order to make sure upcoming taper season is as successful as can be. 

Here they are. 

The Ten Rules of Taper:

1. Get enough sleep. (But not too much.)

Yes, taper is about getting sleep. But don’t overdo it. Oversleeping can be as harmful as under-sleeping (if that’s even a word). Don’t be that taper swimmer who “takes a nap” then returns twenty years later, groggy, bearded, and confused why he’s suddenly 35-years-old. 

2. Eat right: Veggies, fruits, grains, proteins. (But don’t change too much.)
Yes, you want to eat right during taper. But if you’re two days before your championship meet, don’t drastically alter your everyday diet. Don’t suddenly shift your body into some crazy, insane diet you haven’t been doing the entire season. Instead, shift gradually, and don’t shift too much. Just like you wouldn’t veer from 8,000 yards a day to 2,000 yards a day, you shouldn’t drastically alter your nutrition the day before the meet. Stay consistent, but stay healthy. 

3. Begin waking up and swimming the same time as your prelims/finals. 
Some teams do this. Some teams don’t. But the body has its own clock: When to eat, when to sleep, when to perform. At taper, if you’ve never swam in the morning before and suddenly you’re asking your body to swim its best at 8am, you likely won’t. Begin to adjust your body clock now. If you can, swim when you’ll perform. Sprint when you’ll sprint. Look at your upcoming championship meet schedule: Are you slated to sprint at 11am? This Saturday, go to the pool and sprint at 11am. Do your meet warm-up. Practice everything you would do at the upcoming meet, including the time of day you’ll race. 

4. Hydrate.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. 

5. Weed out negativity.
It starts with words: Weed out negative words. Don’t. Can’t. Won’t. Not. No. Stop. Impossible. No way. Not gonna happen. These words are weeds, and you need to get them out of your vocabulary. Thoughts turn into emotions, and emotions turn into actions. So make sure your actions are positive ones. 

6. Compliment another teammate once a day. 

That’s right: It’s swim team bonding time. Compliment someone. “Nice work that set.” That’s it. You’ll feel better, and you’ll make someone else feel better. Don’t wait until the championship meet to start cheering for your teammates. Cheer for them right now, during taper practice. 

7. Wash your hands regularly.
In other words: Don’t get sick. If you’re in public a lot, wash your hands a lot. Don’t eat anything without washing your hands first. Don’t touch your face without washing your hands first. Trust me: There’s nothing worse than getting the flu before the last-ever meet of your career. I’ve been there. It’s not fun.

8. …But if you do get sick, keep a positive mindset.

Okay: You’re in taper, and something bad happens. Your shoulder hurts. You wake up one morning and you have a fever. All is not lost! Keep a positive mindset. My last-ever championship meet, I both hurt myself and had the flu about one week before the meet began. Every night before you go to bed, imagine your body healing. Imagine little construction workers hammering away at your shoulder, or clearing away those viruses. The power of the mind is a mysterious process, but I firmly believe that imagining your body healing can help (and it can’t hurt). Keep a positive mindset.

9. Understand that taper is supposed to be hard.

Taper isn’t easy street. It’s not supposed to be easy. Just calculate the amount of yardage you’ll swim at your upcoming championship meet: Warm-ups, warm-downs, sprints, prelims, finals. That’s a lot of daily yardage. So if you’re aiming at “doing nothing” during taper, your body will just break down by that last day of the championship meet. Yes — taper is about winding down. Tapering. But it’s also about re-focusing your energy to speed. And “speed” means “sprints.” And sprinting is hard. You’ll sprint a lot during taper, and it will be hard, but this is good. You’re preparing your body to race fast. Not to go on vacation. (That’s for after taper.)

10. Let go. 
Let go of your expectations. I know some people love to visualize the time they want to go at the upcoming meet. I was never that swimmer. When I did have a goal time in mind, if during the race I wasn’t performing where I thought I should be, internally, I’d freak out. My mind would lock up and so would my body. Throughout the years, rather than hold onto expectations, I learned to let go of them. I learned to stay in the moment and simply focus on technique and body motion. Rather than imagining grandiose victories with impossible-sounding times, instead, I learned how to let go of expectations and simply swim. If pressure and expectations make you nervous before swim meets, just let go of them. Watch them fly away. Feel the great weight lifted off your shoulders. 

Feel that freedom? Good.

Now go race.

Good luck this season, swimmers.

Follow Mike on Twitter @MicGustafson, or email him questions for his weekly Mailbag at



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