Getting ready for a big swim meet? That means it’s time to taper! Learn how to effectively build a strong foundation and scale back your training to prime your body for optimal performance on race day.

What is Taper and Why Does it Matter?

Tapering refers to the practice of reducing your swimming volume and intensity in the days and weeks before an important competition. Whether you’re tapering for the 1,500m freestyle or the 50m freestyle, you need to make sure your body and mind are rested and prepared to swim fast.

During the taper phase of training, it’s very important to balance speed work, technique improvements and rest to maximize your chances of swimming a personal best time!

Taper Training Variables

A swim taper is very personal, and is highly dependent on your swimming background, your prior training volume and the events you’re focusing on.

1. Volume

Your swimming volume is the total distance you are swimming every week or month. Throughout your swim season, your training volume will ramp up to its peak and then slowly taper off or decrease as you get closer to your event.

Your volume will vary depending on what you’re training for. For example, Olympic athletes are typically on a four-year schedule, and will only fully taper for the Olympic Games. A high school or masters athlete, by contrast, will likely taper at least once per year for a championship meet.

2. Intensity

It’s not just about how far you swim, it’s also about how hard you’re working. This will also vary throughout your training. When you’re swimming at a very high intensity, you don’t need as much volume to break your body down.

Volume and intensity are inversely correlated: As your volume decreases during taper, your intensity should go up (and vice versa).

Related: The 5 Hardest Swimming Events

3. Density

Swimming density is the amount of swimming you do within a given period of time. For example, swimming 1,000 meters in a 30 minutes is less dense than swimming 1,500 meters in 30 minutes.

This also applies to the number of workouts you’re doing each day. Doing two to three workouts each day is more dense than one workout per day.

4. Composition

In our book, workout composition is the most important variable to think about during training. Look at the ratio of the following modalities in your training to determine the composition of your plan.

  • Speed work
  • Endurance training
  • Technique work
  • Strength training

The composition of your plan will vary throughout your season to maximize performance.

How to Taper: 16-Week Plan

If you’re new to tapering, try out this sample taper plan. Start with a fresh training plan, and stay consistent through to race day. This timeline can be adjusted for any length of time.

12-16 Weeks Before a Championship Meet

Start a Training Plan

Three to four months out from your event, focus on building your foundation. Start a training plan and begin increasing your capacity and working on technique.

Structured training plans can be designed for your specific goal, and help you make continuous progress without burning yourself out. Learn more about the benefits of training plans here >

If you aren’t sure where to start, try a personalized Training Plan in the MySwimPro app! Enter your goals and swim times to get a fully customized Plan made just for you.

Some Plans are designed to include a few weeks of taper already and others are not, so be sure to adjust your Plan accordingly based on your needs. Check out our most popular Plans:

Explore all Training Plans >

Related: Swim Meet Terminology to Know

Sample Workout: 12-16 weeks out

This workout (and all subsequent sample workouts) is ideal for an intermediate or advanced swimmer preparing to swim a 100 freestyle in competition.

  • Distance: 4,000 meters (volume)
  • Duration: 75 minutes (density)

Warmup

  • 1×500 Free easy
  • 12×50 Kick @ 1:00
  • 8×50 IM @ 0:55

Main Set (2x)

  • 6×100 Pull @ 1:20
  • 1×400 Free @ 6:00
  • 2×50 Free @ 1:00

Cool Down

  • 1×300 Free easy

6-8 Weeks Out

Hit Your Highest Volume 

In order to effectively taper, you’ll need to ramp up your training in the 6-8 weeks before your championship meet or race. This means longer workouts, shorter intervals, dynamic hypoxic drills, and heavier strength training out of the pool.

Related: How to Break 1 Minute in the 100 Freestyle

Need help organizing your workouts? Learn how to build your workout plan here.

Sample Workout: 6-8 weeks out

  • Distance: 4,800 meters (volume)
  • Duration: 90 minutes (density)

Warmup

  • 1×500 Free easy
  • 12×50 Kick @ 0:55
  • 8×50 IM @ 0:50

Main Set (2x)

  • 8×100 Pull @ 1:15
  • 1×500 Free @ 8:00
  • 4×50 Free @ 1:00, Descend 1-4

Cool Down

  • 1×300 Free easy

Notice that we decreased the intervals in the warmup and main set, and increased the total distance of the main set. Volume, intensity and density are ramping up!

4 Weeks Out

Refine Stroke Details & Specificity

One month before your competition, it’s time to focus in on event-specific training. Work on small details of your stroke technique, and start incorporating more race pace training.

Decrease Your Strength Training

Related: How To Taper For U.S. Masters Nationals 

If you’ve been strength training consistently for the past 8+ weeks, you should slowly start decreasing the intensity of your sessions. It’s important to maintain your frequency though, to keep your body in a routine.

Continue going to the gym as you normally do, but focus only on bodyweight exercises or stretching, try yoga, or drastically decrease the number of reps and weight for strength exercises.

Sample Workout: 4 weeks out

  • Distance: 3,300 meters (volume)
  • Duration: 75 minutes (density)

Warmup

  • 1×500 Free easy
  • 8×50 Kick @ 1:05, odds easy, evens fast
  • 4×50 IM @ 1:00

Main Set (2x)

  • 6×100 Pull @ 1:30, Descend 1-6
  • 1×200 Free @ 4:00
  • 4×50 Free @ 1:10, Descend 1-4

Cool Down

  • 1×200 Free easy

We reduced total volume across all sets in this workout, and swapped in longer intervals to give you extra rest between reps. Intensity increases slightly with additional speed variations throughout.

2 Weeks Out

Adjust Your Total Volume, Frequency and Intensity 

When it comes time to really taper, you’ll need to adjust every aspect of your training to give your body the rest it needs. Our recommendations:

  • Maintain Frequency: If you have been swimming four days per week for the last six months, don’t break that routine. Keeping your time in the pool consistent will help you maintain your feel for the water.
  • Decrease Your Volume: Swim 20% less distance than your typical workouts to give your body enough rest to fully prepare for peak performance.
  • Increase Your Intensity: Incorporate shorter workouts with higher intensity and longer rest. This trains your body to perform at race pace level and avoids fatiguing your muscles too much.

Trust the Process

Tapering is a strange feeling, and the recovery process is different for everyone. It’s very personal, and the way your body reacts to drastic changes is different every time.

Trust your plan, relax, and resist the urge to train harder.

Sleep One Extra Hour a Night

Even though your body might feel rested because it’s not working as hard in the pool, you still need to make sure you’re fully rested.

Your sleep, diet and daily stress levels are just as important as your training when it comes to preparing for competition. Prioritize your health and get an extra hour of sleep every night the week leading up to your meet.

Practice Swimming at Race Pace

The art of taper is difficult for a lot of beginner swimmers because you’re trying to focus on resting while also increasing your performance. It’s important to practice swimming at race pace so you get comfortable with how your stroke, endurance, and mindset changes when putting in 100% effort.

Related: How to Drop 1 Second in the 50 Freestyle

Sample Workout: 2 weeks out

  • Distance: 2,000 meters (volume)
  • Duration: 60 minutes (density)

Warmup

  • 1×300 Free easy
  • 6×50 Kick @ 1:10, Descend 1-6
  • 4×50 IM @ 1:00

Main Set (1x)

  • 6×100 Pull @ 1:30, Descend 1-3, 4-6
  • 1×200 Free @ 4:00
  • 4×50 Free @ 1:10, Descend 1-4

Cool Down

  • 1×200 Free easy

For this workout, we chopped off the extra round of the main set to focus on higher intensity and less volume. We added some extra rest to the kick set in the warmup.

2-3 Days Out

Polish Starts and Turns

Related: 6 Tips to Improve Your Swim Start

In the month leading up to your meet, you’ll want to focus on your starts (dives) and turns (flip turns or open turns). These fundamentals are so important and can make a huge difference in your race.

We recommend reserving 10 minutes every workout to practice these skills:

  • Practice diving off of a diving block, including a backstroke start! Ask a friend, coach or lifeguard to whistle from the side of the pool to practice your reaction time. Bonus: place a hula hoop in the water and try to dive far enough to make it through the hole.
  • Watch our guide to a perfect crossover turn.
  • Do not practice illegal turns and finishes. For example, always practice a two-hand touch for breaststroke and butterfly, and an open backstroke turn for IM. If you do the wrong thing over and over again in practice, you’ll do it in meets and get disqualified! Read the official rules in your league to learn more.
  • For freestyle, practice pushing off the wall and completing three full strokes before you breathe. If you breathe off the first stroke, you’ll slow down your momentum.

Practice Your Routine

Related: 10 Steps To Prepare for Your Championship Swim Meet

Your mind and body should be so well trained that when it’s time to race, you’re on auto-pilot.

Do a dress rehearsal of every step in your routine. Mentally and physically walk through packing your bags, planning your diet, warming up in the pool, stretching behind the blocks, crushing your swim, and hitting the wall as hard as you can at the finish.

Sample Workout: 2-3 days out

  • Distance: 1,300 meters (volume)
  • Duration: 30 minutes (density)

Warmup

  • 1×300 Free easy
  • 4×50 Kick @ 1:10
  • 2×50 Backstroke @ 1:00

Main Set (1x)

  • 6×50 Pull @ 1:00, Descend 1-6
  • 1×100 Free @ 2:00
  • 4×25 Free @ 1:00, Descend 1-4

Cool Down

  • 1×200 Free easy

For this workout, we’ve reduced the volume and density significantly. We cut the main set in half again, with the goal to focus on solid race pace speed.

The Day Before

Get an Easy Swim in 

Head to the pool and get an easy warmup swim in. Ideally you can swim at the competition pool. This will give you a chance to get used to the temperature, find your visual markers, and feel confident that you know where the walls are so your flip turns and finishes are perfect.

Related: How To Shave For A Swim Meet

Depending on how much you’ve been training, your ideal warm up should be under 1,000 yards. This is your chance to stretch your body out, mentally prepare yourself, and get your feel for the water before race day.

We hope these tips help you taper correctly so you can swim your hardest at your next meet! Good luck and swim fast!

For personalized Swim Training Plans, coaching and more, download the MySwimPro app! Use code SWIM35 to save $35 on your first year of training with MySwimPro ELITE >

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