The Art of Taper


The taper is more of an art than a science. It is impossible to have a formula that works for everyone. There are many factors that need to be taken into account including age, training history, sex, muscle mass, and race distance.

AGE and MUSCLE MASS: Older athletes tend to have more muscle mass, this comes with maturity. More muscle needs more rest.

TRAINING HISTORY: If you have trained 20 thousand meters a day, six days a week, for the last 11 months your taper can last longer than the swimmer that has gone 5 thousand a day, 5 days a week for the last 3 months.

SEX: I am not a sexist. Females GENERALLY need less taper.

DISTANCE: Obviously swimming the mile does require more aerobic capacity and a long taper will rest the muscles but cut into that aerobic base.

More than anything the taper requires the athlete to listen to their own body and communicate with a coach. During the taper it is not unusual for me to come into practice and start the day by sitting down and talking with my coach about how I feel that day. Adjustments are constantly made. Not just daily but even in the middle of a set. More yardage can be added or taken away based on how I feel and how I look in the water.

An extreme example of taper dates back to when I was at Texas my freshman year. We had done a lot of heavy training and for most of the season I was buried, literally. I was swimming about a foot and a half below the surface of the water. As we closed in on the end of the season and the big meet, after a couple weeks of tapering, I wasn’t recovering as fast as I needed and we were running out of time. Eddie Reese told me to take a week off. I didn’t even show up to the pool. I think it was over a week. I did stretching and thought about swimming a lot but didn’t do any swimming. When I did get back I was back on top of the water. The conference meet came and I went something like a 42.9 (100 free), which was about a three second drop from the times that I was swimming before I started the taper.

I don’t recommend you try this. But it is an example to show that tapering is all about adjustments.

Taper is not a time to get out of swimming or an excuse to do less yardage. It is as important as the heavy training that you do in the middle of the season. If you approach your coach and tell them that you are exhausted when you aren’t, you will get less yardage but you won’t swim as fast as you’d like to swim come the big meet. A short sighted swimmer can take advantage of this taper opportunity.

A coach can take advantage of their swimmers at this time too. As the swimmers have more energy it is easy for a coach to get overly excited and ask too much. In a tough set during taper that results in great times, it’s exciting. Remember that the base is already there and those times came with rest. It’s okay to give another lactate set but give your swimmers time to recover in between.

During a taper it is important to create the “race day”. Come in, warm up the way you would on race day, get up on the blocks and throw one down. Do it on a day that you feel good or have a predetermined day. During our camps at the Race Club we have The Races at the end of the week. We run through this program.

This helps mentally as well as physically. We learn a lot about the psychology of our swimmers in this setting, and our psychology has a lot to do with determining how fast we can swim. It goes back to the old saying, “Whether you believe you can or can’t, you’re right.” Familiarize the swimmers with the zone and show time. Use the competitive spirit to get something incredible out of your swimmers.


We are all familiar with the get out swim. The get out swim ususally happens towards the end of practice on a day when the coach is feeling particularly good or generous or if he needs to get to an appointment. I believe that the get out swim is one of the best things a coach can do. Why? It takes one swimmer out of practice. They are assigned a time by the coach. If they reach that time practice is over and everyone gets out.

It creates a pressure situation that is otherwise never created in swim practice. There is pressure on race day. It puts all eyes on the swimmer. How will they perform? All eyes will be on them come race day. The confidence gained from a successful get out swim will carry through to race day. A failed swim on the other hand may demonstrate to the swimmer that more work needs to be done (if in season) or that more rest is needed (if in taper). It familiarizes a swimmer with goal orientation.

Do get out swims throughout the season, but definitely have get out swims during taper. Get out swims are fun and what swimming is really all about, racing!


Expect the taper blues. Your body is going through changes. As you start your season and after the first week or two of heavy training you feel different, okay lousy. You can also expect to feel different when you start to rest. After a week or two of taper you can expect to experience the taper blues. It is a window of time that you will feel awkward in the water. Know that it is a window, just like that soreness you feel after being reintroduced to heavy training. Get through it. Don’t panic and re-up the yardage. It will make you feel less awkward if you do. If you went back to vacation when the training starts to hurt at the beginning of the season it would feel less awkward, too. It takes faith in your coach and the work that you have put in through the season. Get through it. Make it through those taper blues and you’ll be ready to swim fast.


I am very proud to announce the arrival of Gigi Hall on 1-5-06 at 2::45 pm weighing in at 9 lbs. and 10 ounces. Both Gigi and her mother are happy and healthy. Thank you to all that have sent their congratulations.


Let us know about your taper. What’s the best taper set you’ve done? What is the longest taper? Do you have a good get out swim story? Does anybody know anything about the taper blues? Anybody know how to change a dirty diaper? Join the message board at

Happy days,

Gary “Pops” Hall Jr.

About the author

Gary Hall Jr.

Gary Hall, Jr. is a three-time Olympian and 10-time Olympic medalist. He won his second 50m free Olympic title at the 2004 Athens Games, where at 29 he became the oldest male in 80 years to win gold for the U.S. team.

2 Responses to The Art of Taper

  1. vince errichiello

    Tapering is a very precise study, and it truly is very different for each individual. I agree with everything that you said here. I definitely think that taper is more about the quality of the work that you do over the amount that you do. Sure you could cut the amount of yards, but how is the quality changed? This makes a big difference in how you will perform at the end of the season. I wrote a whole blog about this topic, I think it shares many of the same ideas listed here in this post:

  2. Isaac Silver

    I remember hearing about the “take a few days off” method of “correcting” a taper quite some time ago, probably from you Gary. I have tried this method with several swimmers over the past few seasons. If faced with a swimmer who is obviously not hitting the taper right, or who still is in the “awkward window” too close to a competition, 1,2, even 3 days away from the pool has always corrected the problem and produced excellent swims for those particular athletes. It is great advice. Note: they were all sprinters who had probably waited too long to drop the weights. The rest really paid off.


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