Tapering for a competition is a tricky thing. If you ask 10 guys their thoughts, you might get 10 different trains. Lately, many questions have been directed my way leading up to the European Regional and, at best, I am capable of answering but a few. These answers are hardly scientific and are rooted more in lessons learned from past experience than anything else.
First, the most discussed issue by far: How much time to take off?
Many coaches instruct their athletes to begin tapering their training up to 2 weeks in advance of competition. Others train up to the day of competition, arguing that the body needs to be peaking in order to perform. Undoubtedly, these different philosophies align most adeptly with the different sports/competitions from which they were born. Necessarily, then, borrowing a scheme from a track and field guru or an Olympic lifter isn’t necessarily going to be the best approach to prepping for a CrossFit event. Ideally, I’d like to be peaking but rested.
How to do that… My programming runs in 6-week cycles (1 week of rest to follow each), during which I tend to feel best during the 3rd to 4th weeks. This would be the time when I feel most ready to compete. Additionally, I’ve noticed that during my rest week, I find that after 3 days I start feeling stiff, a little less mobile, and tend to have less energy. When I have nothing else to do, this is fine—I can just work out of it during the first week of training. With a competition coming up, however, this is not ideal. With these facts in mind, then, my optimum tapering program would see me train hard for 3-4 weeks, take 3 days of complete rest, then hit the competition with high energy, high confidence, and fresh muscles. So, that’s what I try to do. I missed the mark a little this time, due largely to the unexpected ankle fiasco 2 weeks ago, but overall I still feel pretty decent. Nothing is too sore, I don’t feel too tired or stiff, and I’m starting to build up nervous energy for the weekend. All good things.
Another big question is what to eat during a tapering period. Some will say that the lower training volume necessitates a lower calorie intake. I’m not convinced of this. For the most part, I eat the same way I normally would. If anything, I eat more. 3 days of high calories is not going to weigh you down. It might actually jack up your metabolism and speed the recovery process. I try to eat more of the things I know my body needs in the days leading up to competition, including supplemental multi-vitamins and protein. “Carbo-loading” is a thing of the past and hasn’t really held up to heavy scrutiny, but I think nutrient loading is hugely beneficial. Knowing that my body is going to be shouldering intense demands without optimal recovery between, it only makes sense to top up every reserve.
Last thing is the sleep/stress relationship. In my experience, the 3 days before a competition should be spent as horizontal as possible. I may throw in a few bodyweight squats, pushups, or good mornings to generate some circulation, but for the most part, getting off my feet is the name of the game. Take naps if you can, go to bed early, and get quality sleep. When you are awake, working, or doing other things, try to keep your mind off the event. This is hard to do, and I say this with severe self-criticism. Nobody won a competition 3 days before it happened, but many wind themselves up so much that they nearly lose it. Over-analyzing minutia does not help you do any better, trust me. Establish a subtle strategy for each event, visualize how it’s going to feel to do the movements, imagine concentrating on the workout rather than the other competitors, then leave it alone. Letting go and getting quality rest will help the body be in top form when you need it.
I’m really looking forward to this weekend, both for the competitive atmosphere and to see a whole host of friends in the process. I doubt I will be able to post much while there, but I’ll try.
Best of luck to everyone competing here in Europe and back home in the States. Go get it!