Many athletes have an issue in understanding what it means to come into a competitive “form” at the right time for their particular season for when the most important events have been scheduled.
Form is a very vague concept that athletes use in some sports to describe when they may be ready to compete. The word comes from the eighteenth century when horse racing provided sheets or “forms” to provide those who were betting on horses to show what the past performances of each of the horses.
Andrew Cogan, Ph.D., exercise scientist, will define form as the combination of fitness and freshness in a timely manner. Fitness is how well the body’s many systems seem to be functioning at a given point in time.
The endurance athlete who is fit will have optimized the cardiovascular, metabolic, muscular and nervous systems along with respiratory.
A fresh athlete is the one who is well rested for the competition. It is possible to be fit yet not be fresh because of heavy training and not getting the proper rest before an event.
You may be tired. It is also possible to not be fit while being fresh. This could be that you have been taking it easy too long and are not trained properly.
Being able to bring fitness and freshness together at the same time is what many call “peaking” and is what is said to be the underlying purpose of training for any type of competition in the days and weeks before a race.
In order to increase freshness as the time of the competition gets closer you will not do as much training; your workload will be reducing by duration and frequency. You will do easier, recovery type workouts or days off during the week.
Because of this your will be more fresh. But in order to maintain the fitness you have worked hard on over the previous weeks and months of training you will need to do a few key workouts at the race intensity, while the training between them will be easy between the intense training.
Making sure the intensity of the workouts is right is why you will monitor your heart rate, so that you know you are peaking like you should be.
How Peaking Works
Sports scientists don’t actually understand fully the physiology of how tapering the training and increasing the amount rest in the days and weeks before a race results in an increased fitness.
But what they do know is that there are several changes to the body because of this reduced training. The ones that are most notable are the increase in strength and power.
Some of the others include the reduced blood acidity, increased blood volume, increased carbohydrate storage in the muscles, greater red blood cell concentration for oxygen transport along with a sharper mental skill.
Tapering the training before the important competitions has been a widely practiced thing by many top athletes, there are many who are afraid that the cutting back on the training will cause loss of fitness.
They are definitely wrong. There have been numerous research studies that have been shown to support the reduced training.
Several using athletes in many different sports have found that when reducing the training by more than half of what they did normally for the two three weeks before the competition really hasn’t seen a loss in fitness or performance.
There have been others who have been able to show improvement in the performance when they tapering was done a certain way.
There was a classic study that was conducted at the University of Illinois of a group of runners and cyclists who cut back on training by reducing their frequency and duration of workouts while keeping the intensities the same improved their aerobic capacities, which is an important measure in fitness and significantly in the endurance performance.
Those who would reduce the intensity but the frequency and duration stayed the same lost fitness. You need to remember to not decrease the intensity of the training as the important races approach.
You need to make special note here of the ingredients and mix of them for a successful tapering according to this and similar other research studies.
This means to reduce the weekly volume so you can have freshness and emphasis on intensity which works on fitness.
The key for tapering is keeping the workout intensity which will work on the heart rate, power, and pace effort at high levels while giving your body more rest.
The tapering of the duration and frequency will occur during the final two periods before the competition or race, the Peak and race mesocycles.
Tune in next week for part 2 of this article…