birthday challenge
October 29, 2012 posted by

Can You Taper And Gain Fitness Simultaneously?

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I did a birthday challenge test run this weekend. It was, unfortunately, harder than expected. Now I need to start tapering for a performance peak but I still lack fitness in one physiological realm, beckoning the question: can I taper and still gain fitness?

Further complicating this issue is that I don’t have a date set for the challenge. Like an alpinist, I’ll be watching the weather and take my shot when I can. I need a weekend in the next two to four weeks. The forecast is calling for perfect conditions this weekend but that would seem suicidal if my test run was an indication. The longer I wait the more time I have to train but the chances also increase that I get completely shut out by winter.

Tapering is never simple. Basically, the less training you do over the last two weeks before an event the more your body recovers, which increases your reserves for race day. Two weeks is the magic number because that’s how long it takes for your fast twitch (emergency so far as your body is concerned) muscle fibers to fully recover. However, two weeks is enough time to wreak havoc on your system when you’re used to training hard. Primarily, your reduced training load can negatively affect your diet and sleep patterns, two things that can send your fitness level south quicker than anything else.

Luckily for me I’m lacking endurance, though it’s power-endurance, which is harder to gain than aerobic endurance. Still, it’s better than if I were lacking power, which would spell doom at this point. I could use more power (who can’t?) but since I’m getting all the moves on my routes and will get a recovery bump of a couple of percent through tapering, that bit of hay is in the barn.

With this in mind, here’s my training template for the next few weeks. For those confused by this lingo use this blog’s search function for “periodization” and you’ll get caught up pretty quickly, or maybe start with the 5 most important factors for race training.

Goals: To taper in all areas but make increases in power endurance, or resistance in climbing terms (the ability to hang on when pumped).

Variables: date for actual peak not set.

Logic: Since I know the event will happen on a weekend I will have a hard power endurance session early each week, and one more on each weekend that it doesn’t happen. All other training will be based around recovery and weight loss. The latter is super important because every pound you lose without sacrificing fitness is increases fitness by decreasing the load you need to push (think of it as taking weight off of a max set).

Specific focus: The challenge (click here) includes heavy volume of aerobic work so I’ll want to keep riding and hiking at an aerobic pace. I recently did a hundred-mile mtn bike ride so I think I’m okay here as long as I continually get some saddle time.

Finish the work on the routes. 4 of the 8 routes still need some work and it’s no small task. While not “training” it’s hard work (watch the vids) that’s, at least, good for caloric burn and weight loss.

Increase anaerobic endurance. This is the rub. In my test run I did 4 of the 8 planned routes and failed within the last 4 moves of the others. This sounds close but I was using routes in my garage that I HOPE are harder than the actual climbs. They might not be, however, and I was completely cooked. To have any confidence I need more cushion.


Mon – Aerobic conditioning and active recovery: yoga, easy but long-ish ride and/or hike.

Tue – Hard anaerobic session. Redpoint burns at challenge intensity but—very important—nothing above challenge intensity. No 100% moves or powerful bouldering problems. No moves I might fail on due to anything but being pumped because it’s too much recruitment (of high threshold muscle cell motor units).

Wed – Aerobic training. Slight different than Monday, I’ll do some specific muscular work for climbing that works as active recovery. Some easy routes, rice bucket and stabilization work, a solid ride and/or hike at aerobic level, and yoga. This is a high volume but low-intensity day. Should not feel hard at all but burn calories.

Thurs-Fri – Active recovery only.

Sat – Test run, which is a lot like Tuesday.

Sun – Active recovery.


  • Are you taking work burns on the actual routes themselves, just to get the details like clipping stances and shakes dialed? Just remember on game day all the training is beside the point and it's time to just let it flow and be efficient. I would love to see a sample day"s diet during this taper phase…. Bruce A.

  • Soda water and sleeping pills.

  • I'm cleaning the routes early and, at least, figuring out the moves. Not getting much chance to get mileage on them so they won't be wired but I will know them.That is in theory, really, as I haven't had time yet to bolt them all so a few things are still unrehearsed. I have a ton of routes in the garage so simulations are good. I did do two of three parts of one of the routes yesterday (it's a link-up and I'm adding a finish) and it was much easier than my simulation, so that's good. Looks like a couple of the routes are going to be more like hard 12, which isn't helping either. Been working on a "taper diet" but I don't have it dialed yet so, basically, trying not to eat too much and limiting beer consumption. My try the Bjarne plan if that doesn't work.

  • Steve, I have a similar type goal. I want to complete the 12 original p90x videos the last three days of the year. A welcome to 2013 kind of challenge. I tried this earlier in the year but couldn't complete the workouts in good style (so only did 9 workouts) and was wondering if you had any insight for these last 7 weeks in terms of weekly routines and tapering. I plan to rest a few hours between each of the 4 workouts per day… but this cumulative lactic acid buildup and exhaustion is tough.. Since you're an expert at these types of questions I thought I would ask. Yes, ive been keeping fit – but periodization advice sure doesn't hurt.-Chris

  • Steve,I would like to know if I could get in contact with you regarding the "Kevin Brown Training System" that was a project of yours and some others a few years back. It is a project I am definitely interested in because of some positive results I had with his techniques. My email is cajd20(at)gmail(dot)com.Thanks

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