Column: Taper: a swimmer’s favorite word

Every aspect of life seems to improve when you aren’t constantly exhausted and sore.

Swimmers everywhere consider one word sacred. It is the reason we endure five-month stretches of brutal training and get out of bed for each morning practice. I start to feel giddy just thinking about it. The word?

Taper.

Taper is the period before an important meet in which we ease up on our training in order to rest for the meet. It is four weeks of bliss.

Different coaches have different philosophies about how to structure their season, but all teams taper before their last meet of the season. Many, like us at Mizzou, also taper a second time, in the middle of the season, in order to get ahead of the game in qualifying swimmers for the NCAA meet.

During taper, we gradually decrease our training from nine practices a week to five, and the yardage and difficulty of those practices drops as well.

First, morning practices are cancelled (the most exciting words I hear all season are “no practice Monday morning”). Then, we phase out the lifting and dry-land portions of our workouts. All the while, we swim less distance in the pool, focusing on short bursts of speed and technical improvements rather than aerobic work.

The other aspect of taper is resting and avoiding any form of injury outside of the pool. This is taken very seriously. Every year, we get the “you’ve come this far, don’t do anything stupid to get hurt” speech from the coaches.

In addition, we tend to go to comical lengths to avoid expending unnecessary energy in the name of taper. Taking the elevator, even to avoid one flight of stairs, is common. Any kind of pickup sport or other exercise outside of practice is out of the question. If someone asks you to do something as simple as taking out the trash, taper provides an excuse to say no.

Admittedly, taking taper to this extent is not entirely necessary, but we do it because the feeling of dropping from about 20 hours of difficult training a week to less than 10 is euphoric. Every aspect of life seems to improve when you aren’t constantly exhausted and sore. We can’t help but love taper.

Taper is also what we talk about when workouts are the hardest. Right now, we are in the midst of our toughest training of the season. After practice last Friday, one of the first things I heard when I walked into the locker room was “only five weeks until taper!”

Thinking about the relief of fewer and easier practices, as well as the big meet that will follow, really does help get me through hard sets. As every swim coach will remind you, the better you train during the season, the better your taper and meet at the end of the season will be.

Until then, the other swimmers and I will be counting down the days (roughly 32 to go!). And when we get there, don’t look for me on the stairs.

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