How Many Days Do You Need to Recover and Why? The Difference Between a Taper and Recovery Days

Many triathletes get really excited about training and tend to train, train and train until they get injured or sick or both.  Training can get addictive especially after you start to see results.  It just feels so good when you have a hard workout and see your times getting faster. However, it is equally important to rest and recover on a regular basis.  By scheduling in planned recovery days you allow your body to absorb the training you have been doing and then get back to training and ramp it up a little more. By having recovery and taper days planned ahead of time, you won’t run into the common problem of getting sick or minor over use injuries.

A Taper week is a week or few days to reduce training volume leading up to a race.  During this taper week, you want to reduce volume to as little as 25% -75% of normal training volume depending if this is an “A” race or “C” race, or a long course or short course race (“A” race means that it is a really important race that you want to peak for and really do well.  “B” and “C” races are less important and can be used for training).

The shorter the race, the shorter the taper.  This is also athlete dependent.  Some athletes do better with longer tapers than others.  The key is to try different length tapers and see how you perform on race day.  It may take a few taper weeks leading into races to find the right recipe for you.  I’ve had athletes do great on a 2 day taper for a sprint race but need a whole week for a half Ironman® and as many as two weeks for a full Ironman®. Age is also a factor here. The older you are the more recovery time you tend to need but not always!

The 2 things to keep in mind during all tapers is to include a little intensity in the workouts and to resist the urge to do completely nothing!!!

You will actually feel worse and come back weaker if you take an entire week off and eat crappy.  Aim to get a minimum of 8 hours of sleep each night as well!

For taper week training  get 20-45 min of movement in during the 5-6 of the 7 days leading up to the race.  Include a few pick-ups in intensity which I like to call ORPS – Over Race Pace Pick-ups to prevent your body from feeling stale and sticky.

A typical taper week might include the following:

Monday– Full day off of cardio but include 40-45 minutes of foam rolling and stretching, or some yoga and working IN and  lots of water with a pinch of sea salt in each glass along with clean eating, good protein and veggies.  Write out your race plan and send to your coach. (see other blogs to see what a race plan is). Visualize and imagine the details of your successful race daily to ensure the results you desire.

Tuesday– light 30 minute swim around 1200-1500 yards- Include some fast 25’s and 50’s with lots of rest.

Wednesday– 30-45 minute easy spin on the bike, stretch use your compression socks after and get a full body massage.

Thursday– 20-30 min run with 4 x 1-4 min at over race pace intensity with lots of recovery after each one and an easy 30-45 min spin with 4 x 1-4 min ORPS again.  Drop your bike off for tune up and maintenance.

Friday- mental and physical rest day-  finalize your race plan pack for your race etc.

Saturday– pre- race brick-  15 minute swim, 20 minute spin on bike and 15 minute run, all very easy with 1-4 min ORPS.

Sunday- Race Day; get a good warm up in pre- race, shorter races require longer warm ups.


A Recovery Week or Few Days – Is when you reduce volume, similar to taper week but there is no race.  It’s just a few days of rest and recovery to help your body assimilate all the training and then go back to training for another 2-3 weeks, typically ramping up the volume and intensity to get you ready for your next race in a few more weeks or months.  Again, you don’t want to be completely lazy during this time.  Doing yoga or a few days of really light intensity can make a huge difference in your mental and physical ability to handle the next training block.  Recovery days are essential and must be taken and planned for so your body doesn’t break down and dictate the recovery by getting sick with something much worse than a little cold or minor injury.

I can speak first hand of this.  I trained my way into 18 months of recovery because I went 6 months on 5 hours of sleep, while working full time, training hard- 12 hours a week, breast feeding and just plain over doing it.  It took me way too long to recover because I was not getting adequate sleep and taking those planned recovery days as often as I needed to!  I didn’t want to miss out on training hard but, I learned my lesson.  Now I have planned recovery days and will take them sooner than later if my body is telling me to.  So, do yourself a favor and take the recovery and taper week or days and watch and feel your body respond with more energy. strength and speed every time!

Please let me know if you liked this Blog and if there are any topics you’d like me to write about in the future.

Erinne Guthrie is a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach since 1999 and Chief Motivating Officer at Full Circle Coaching, LLC since 2010. She has been training, racing and coaching triathletes since 1997 and is currently taking a recovery year after two consecutive years racing at Long and Short Course World Championships.  She is also a CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach Level 3, USMS Master’s Swim COach, Motivational Speaker, Mom and much much more.

Coach Erinne
Full Circle Coaching
Where Performance Meets Balance


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