The Masters gets under way this week on April 9th and the world’s number one player is taking some time away from competition. Rory McIlroy will have been “off” nearly three weeks before he hits his first drive at Augusta. Like other top tier athletes, McIlroy knows that tapering before a big competition helps reset the body and the mind and puts you in a position to excel.
Marathon runners have used tapering for years to give their bodies a chance to rest before pushing themselves during the big race. The idea behind tapering is that coming into an event well rested allows you to maximize the strength and fitness gains you’ve made over the previous weeks or months of training.
Of course, McIlroy has not been sitting around. He’s been practicing at Augusta with his dad and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, having fun on the course, getting used to the lay of the land, taking nothing seriously. It’s a mental and physical rest.
For some athletes, however, tapering can be difficult, because the decrease in training leaves them feeling antsy and, in some cases, sluggish. There’s a fear of losing your edge, causing some serious pre-competition anxiety.
Like McIlroy, keeping your mind and body “in the game” is the key. While he’s tapering, he’s still playing golf. Just not at the same intense level that he’ll undoubtedly be playing during competition. Tapering is the time to refine technique, no matter your sport, and get a good feel for your desired competition pace.
Of course, taper length varies from person to person, and depends on the athlete’s preferences and the length of the event. For runners, a taper for a half-marathon might last a week, while a taper for a triathlon might be four times as long. The Masters is kind of a golf marathon, with play stretching out over 72 holes, that’s four complete rounds over four days.
For most folks, truly perfecting a taper plan requires a degree of trial and error. If the taper period is too short, you didn’t get enough rest. Too long, you run the risk of losing not only your mental edge, but also your physical conditioning.
So, most trainers and coaches suggest that you maintain a consistent number of training days per week. If you usually work out five days a week, continue that during the taper, but reduce volume by cutting training time (or distance) in each workout.
Look at it this way- pushing yourself each and every workout, with no rest, is like running a car engine 24/7. It’s only a matter of time before it (and you) break down. Do yourself a favor and build some taper time into your workout schedule.