Tapering and Peaking

By John Willacy

Article aimed at higher national level canoe slalom competitors preparing for a specific race.

Tapering and Peaking are fairly straightforward training concepts for aiming to bring about a high level performance at a specific race.

They are not complicated ideas, but can be tricky to time accurately and are often misunderstood.

The thoughts below are based on personal experience and are aimed at paddlers who are training on a daily basis. Adjust them accordingly to match your own training programme.

As every paddler, and every training programme is different, there is no specific must-do-it-this-way method. The individual paddler must learn what works best for them and their circumstances – everybody is different.


Basically an easing-off of the training load in the short-term run-up to an event. The aim is to arrive at the race feeling well rested, fit and relaxed, rather than feeling below-par from the ‘grind’ of heavy training.

For a daily-training paddler, aiming for a weekend race:

Monday: The last hard training day would probably be around the Monday prior to the race weekend, possibly the Tuesday.

Tuesday: A day to train realistically/usefully, but not too hard.

Wednesday:  An easier day, and the last day that any real form of intense lactic training would take place.

Thursday/Friday: Easy training days with relaxed and short sessions. Easy speed work, fun technique etc. A feel-good sess – nothing confidence challenging or physically tiring.

Use one of these days as a rest day/active recovery. Convention would say Friday; however  there’s something in taking a rest on Thursday (for a Saturday race) and then an easy ‘shakedown’ sess on Friday. Bear in mind that travelling is not resting – so if you are travelling Friday you may be better with resting Thursday and paddling Friday before or after the journey.

If you are a 2 session-per day paddler, then taper week would look something like this:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
2 sessions 1 or 2 sessions 1 session Rest or 1 easy sess Rest or 1 easy sess RACE
Last hard day Standard Day Easing off – No Lactic beyond here One of these 2 days should be a rest day Feel Good


Pro’s and Con’s with Tapering


It’s fairly easy to do. Just don’t train so hard as the race gets closer.

If you get it right you should reach race day feeling good, and confident that you have control of your training.


Life get’s in the way of Tapering. If you are racing at ‘Tully say and ‘Tully time is rare because it is a long way from home, then you probably want to get as much time on the water as possible in the final days before the race. That contradicts the idea of the Taper. You cannot have both – you have to make a choice or a compromise. In the week before a race, you are usually more at risk from doing too much rather than too little. Beware of training camps linked to races. (In an ideal world – the best option would be to visit ‘Tully a month or more earlier for training.)

Tapering can get in the way of training. If you have a series of say 3 consecutive race weekends and you taper for each one, then you can lose a chunk of training by the end of the series. Again you can’t have it both ways.

Tapering is not too complicated – train well and then just don’t do too much in the last week. Simple.


Peaking is working a detailed and structured training programme aimed specifically to achieve the best performance on a specified day/race.  Peaking can be broken down to two areas.

  • Long-term cycle.
  • Short-term cycle.

The Long-Term cycle is beyond the scope of this article but is basically the detailed long-term training programme that a paddler would follow to work up to a specific race, such as Senior Selection or major International races. This programme could be a year long, probably two. This is working towards the Peak.

The Short-term cycle is the training programme followed in the immediate weeks running up to the race – probably the last 2 or 3, maybe the last month. This is inducing the Peak.

Following structured training, you basically increase the quality, intensity and workload within the last 2 – 3 weeks. There are no distractions, life revolves around quality training and resting. Not much more.

For me I aim to train quality for the last 4-6 months and as I enter the month before the event I start to ramp things up – lifting the training load, ensure quality and a good focus.

  • At 4 weeks to go – start to lift the load.
  • 3 weeks to go – pushing hard by the end of the week.
  • 2 weeks to go – pushing very hard now – by the end of the week I feel pretty close to over-doing it.
  • Final week – hit the taper, and ease off sharply. Make sure not to do too much.

The idea is really a glorified taper, using the focussed training as a launch pad.

There is also an added physical factor. If you get the training ramp correct in the last few weeks, you’re body will over-compensate for the hard training, increasing strength and fitness. It ‘thinks’ that the high load will continue and over-compensates for this. Then if you get the taper correct you will have the best of both worlds: the prime fitness of the peak, combined with the recovery of the taper. Bonus!

Black Magic

The trick is getting the timing correct, especially of the taper. This is the ‘black magic’ side of peaking – it can be tricky. A day or two late (or early) and all that effort counts for little.

Pro’s and Con’s of the Peak


Get it right and you are flying.


Get it wrong and you are flying on the wrong day (or just plain old tired).

It’s intense. It takes a lot of work.

You can only do 1 or 2 serious peaks per year. (You can work numerous ‘mini-peaks’ through a season though, however the more you do the less benefit you get from each one. And eventually you will have to pay your debts on that intense training.

Need to prioritise races.

After a peak there may be a significant drop off in short-term performance.


You can’t perform perfectly at all races, especially if they are close together in a series. So bear this in mind if you are planning to use a taper or mini-peaks. You give them all your best shot, but you have to be realistic.

Simplistic Summary

Taper – Tapering is not too complicated – train well and then just don’t do too much in the last week.

Peaking – train hard and structured for a specific race. Ramp it up harder with 3 weeks to go and then taper in the last week. Needs practice to get the intensity/timing correct.


John Willacy

Feb 2018