Tapering – what is it? And how do you do it?

February 2018

What is it?

Tapering is a term used in the sports science and training scene and with runners is used in the lead up to a specific target event or race they have in their training calendar. It involves a portion of the training program that has reduced volume and increased intensity in an attempt to manage the appropriate training load, in order to have peak performance at the specific moment in time on race day.

Types of Tapers

  1. Linear – gradual smooth decrease in overall training load
  2. Exponential slow decay – slower decrease in volume
  3. Fast decay – quick reduction in load that then slows with time
  4. Step – large initial drop that then plateaus for remainder of program

 Components of a Taper

  1. Duration
    1. 2 weeks for a 3-5km and 3 weeks for 10km upwards
    2. However the level of fatigue going into the taper is the key determinant of the duration
  2. Volume
    1. 40-60% reduction in volume over 2 weeks is a good starting point
  3. Intensity
    1. Should remain the same or even slightly higher with focus being on recovery
    2. The most intense session should be 5-14 days prior to 5-10km race and up to 30 days prior to a marathon
  4. Frequency
    1. Reduce frequency by no less than 80% for elites and by no less than 50% for the less trained

How does tapering effect performance?

  1. Improves oxygen carrying capacity
  2. Improved training recovery
  3. Improved glycogen stores and muscle oxygen capacity (mitochondria)
  4. Improved muscle strength and power
  5. Reduced muscle and overall body stress (reduced cortisol produced)
  6. Improved psychological and energy states
  7. Reduced rating of perceived exertion

Research suggest that improvements in performance are in the vicinity of between 2-5% and the recommendations for how much to taper depends on the volume, intensity, frequency and duration of your current training program.

Practical Applications

The following guidelines are recommended when considering a taper for long distance athletes.

  1. Use a period of between 1 and 4 weeks
  2. Shorter periods (1-2 weeks) appear to be better for 3km-5km.
  3. Longer periods (3-4 weeks) appear to be better for 10km and above
  4. Reduce normal volume of running 40-80%
  5. Maintain or increase intensity of efforts. (Example –  increasing the speed of running, reducing the recovery between efforts)
  6. For 5km and 10km perform the most intense session 5-10 days before competition
  7. For the Marathon perform the most intense session up to 30 days
  8. Reduce frequency of running sessions by 20-50%

Things to monitor and learn from in regards to your tapering (you will need some baseline measures to compare to)

  • Heart rate – resting, during and between efforts
  • Running form, cadence, energy levels, sleep quality, weight, mood and appetite – just to mention a few

It is very important to use recommendations and things that you read as a guide and to get to know your body and its training response. I hope that this gives you a little “food for thought” and allows you to tailor your training program to best suit your own personal needs.

Recap – General Guide to tapering for distance runners (5km-Marathon Distance)

  1. Duration – 1-4 weeks taper
  2. Volume – reduce by 40-80%
  3. Frequency – 20-50%
  4. 4Last difficult session – 5-10 days prior to race (5-10km) and up to 30 days (Marathon)


Until next time,

Keep Safe and Happy Running 


Physiotherapist & Exercise Scientist

Certified Professional with “The Running Clinic”

Motivate to Elevate

December 2017

Why do I exercise? When do I exercise? Where do I exercise? How do I exercise? What drives and motivates me to exercise? This is what I am wondering about myself as I stand at my desk and stare outside at the sunny southland sky. So when I came to answer these questions for myself, I thought it might be a good idea to put it out into the interweb to help others think about there what, when, where, why and how’s of exercise.

I like to think of motivation as the forces within and/or around each person that account for the level, direction, and persistence of, or absence of effort. This can be influenced by how people differ in their personalities, abilities, self-concept, values, and needs.  There are different overarching types of motivation those being intrinsic and extrinsic, being internally “pushed” or externally “pulled” respectively. There is no right or wrong… there just is 🙂

Once again this blog is about thought provocation in the pursuit of self-betterment. Do you exercises to help manage and curb the inner angst and turmoil associated with a hectic lifestyle? Is it to avoid the “bad” and get the “good” benefits for health, daily homeostasis and self-existence? Is it for solidarity, comradery and social interaction? Or is it a complementary exercise or for a competitive advantage? Fundamentally at our core, most of us have a desire and drive to be a better existence of ourselves, but what ever your reasons, the good thing is you’re out exercising (and if you’re not then it’s a GREAT time to start) and getting the myriad of benefits associated with it.

Over the past few years there have been a growing number of outdoor events or exercise in natural environments – the trail running boom, godzone (and the like) races, colour runs and tough mudda courses and the term Green Exercise (not specifically the colour but more so the co-existence of nature and exercise) has come about. Research shows that green exercises has additive psychological benefits when compared to other activities and these include enhanced mental wellbeing and reduced psychophysiological stress. Green exercise helps shift attention to external cuing like the trees, birds, waterfalls etc. rather than internal cues like fatigue and perceived exertion.

So whatever your reasons, whether you are pulled or pushed the reasons are yours to embrace.  I look forward to seeing you out and about getting your exercise groove on :). If your think you might start or do something new tomorrow, just remember, TODAY is yesterday’s tomorrow!


Until next time,

Keep Safe and Happy Running 


Physiotherapist & Exercise Scientist

Certified Professional with “The Running Clinic”

Does your breathing limit you performance?

November 2017

Have you ever been exercising and felt the burn and inability to get enough air into your lungs..? We all have 🙂 ! Unlike the picture below, this is generally a sign of cardiovascular fitness and that the task was demanding more of our heart and lungs than we could deliver. Historically it was believed that a person’s breathing pattern was not a limiting factor in athletes due to the apparent breathing reserve (1). Whilst there is limited research into altered breathing mechanics and its effect on performance (2), more recent research suggest that this may not be the case and that working on breathing pattern and sporting performance could be of benefit.

Most of us take no notice of our breathing, which I must add is NORMAL! And the majority of us have a normal breathing pattern at rest and during exercise. However some of us may have an ineffective pattern when we exercise which leads to an overall reduced performance. So what is the cause and effect of an ineffective breathing pattern?

Cause (2)

  1. Pathological factors – for example exercise induced asthma
  2. Emotional factors – anxiety and stress (we all have it to some extend when we compete)
  3. Biomechanical factors – posture during chosen sport
  4. Physiological factors – changes to your breathing rate beyond the normal respiratory response to exercise and poor breathing mechanics at rest

Effect – all negative to performance

  1. Increasing breathing rate at the expense of maintaining your volume of air per breath (3)
  2. Continually breathing at higher (than normal) lung volume during performance (4,5)
  3. Increased work of breathing – muscles that control breathing fatigue earlier (6-8)
  4. Blood stealing – sounds horrible but put simply it is blood getting transferred away from your working muscle (i.e. leg muscles during running or cycling) and diverted to your breathing muscle as they are fatiguing (9)

So what can be done?

Breathing Pattern Retraining

This is a technique used by Physiotherapists to correct breathing pattern disorders and poor abnormal respiratory mechanics (10-12) and may benefit athletes by correcting resting breathing pattern disorders or poor mechanics. Correcting poor mechanics that arise from exercise and altering respiratory centres sensitivity to the build-up of the by-products of exercise (13,14).

I hope this helps you realise that getting breathless with exercise is normal and is generally a sign of fitness, and as you increase your training load then your fitness should also improve. However, if you are training hard and wanting to maximise your performance, then looking at your breathing pattern during your chosen sport may be the edge you require 🙂 .

Until next time,

Keep Safe and Happy Running 


Physiotherapist & Exercise Scientist

Certified Professional with “The Running Clinic”

Cadence – What is it? Why is it important?

October 2017

We touched on this briefly last time (September, 2017), but what is it? Cadence is a noun and is defined as “the flow or rhythm of events, especially the pattern in which something is experienced” (Dictionary.com, 2017). Simply put in regards to running, cadence is defined as the number of times your feet hit the ground within a one minute period. So we have answered the, what is it? Now let’s cover why is it important?

To start with let’s get our nerd groove on and break down one of the most important parts of our running stride (foot contacting the ground) into the fundamentals of physics (specifically Sir Isaac Newton’s 3rd Law of Physics)  – which is, for every action (force) there is an equal and opposite reaction (force). When your foot hits the ground, the amount of force it hits with is equaled by the ground resisting, thus if you run with a slower cadence you are more likely to over stride which leads to a greater contact force between your foot and the ground! 


The picture above shows this, with a slower cadence you’re more likely to hit the ground on your heel out in front of your body with force (red arrow) acting like a break on your momentum and thus leading to increasing ground reaction forces. The increase in the force has been shown to increase leg pain in runners! So we know why cadence is important for reducing force but what is ideal? And is there a magic number we should aim for..?

As mentioned above, cadence is the number of times your feet hit the ground every minute. The ideal number in the literature that is bandied about is 180 steps per minute. As mentioned in my September 2017 post (The running Conundrum – Part II) that would mean then each foot would hit the ground 90 times in 1 minute. If we extrapolate this out into a 30 minute run, at optimal cadence your feet hit the ground 5400 times!

When thinking about it this way, the amount of force your body is exposed to is considerable, so anything that can be done to reduce this is advantageous. Most of us in the general population have a cadence of between 155-160 beats per min which is too slow. The guideline is generally to aim for between 170-190 steps per minute with 180 being the flagship.

The increase in cadence:

  1. Reduces ground reaction forces and vertical loading rates
  2. Reduces vertical oscillation – how high you spring with each step (to a point!)
  3. Reduces stride length
  4. Promotes more midfoot contact at foot strike causing a lower peak force of contact

So, with the knowledge of what is a good guide, is it as simple as increasing cadence? Yes and No! Whilst changing your cadence is very important (in my opinion, one of the most important things to consider!) it should be done gradually and under the watchful eye of someone who knows running form and technique. Changing things too fast or by too much can result in increased risks of injury! If you are interested in your running style and cadence and would like some advice then I would be more than happy to assist as I can 🙂 .

Until next time,

Keep Safe and Happy Running 


Physiotherapist & Exercise Scientist

Certified Professional with “The Running Clinic”



The Running Conundrum: To shoe or not to shoe? – Part II

Date: September 2017

Last time (August 2017 blog – The Running Conundrum: Part 1) we discussed the terminology associated with running shoes and how the latest research suggest that we should think of this as a continuum on which all running shoes fit. To recap the terms we discussed were minimalist and maximalist shoes and the 5 key factors (based on the research) that should be considered when looking at the characteristics of that shoe (weight, flexibility, stack height, heel-toe drop and motion control technology). We finished that blog with the questions around:

  1. What is the best shoe for me to be wearing?
  2. I have been fitted for this shoe so it must be right…Right?

Well the answer to that is…

When looking at running shoes and how appropriate they are for your body you need to ask yourself a few key questions:

  1. Do I have (or have I had) and injury to my foot, ankle, knee, hip or back?
  2. How old am I?
  3. What are my previous footwear habits?
  4. What is my running experience?
  5. Do I care about my performance or am I happy with where I am at?
  6. Am I currently at the start, middle or end oy my training for the season?
  7. Do I like the feel of my shoes?
  8. Do I like the colour? (the latter not being that important but to be honest it is a little 🙂 )

I can appreciate that this is a lot to think about when choosing a shoe! But, if I put it to you this way, if you were to run with what is considered the optimal cadence (number of times your feet hit the ground in 1 minute) then each foot would hit the ground 90 times in 1 minute. Over a 20 minute run each foot would hit the ground 1800 times! That’s a lot of repetitions! When thinking of it this way, suddenly choosing the most appropriate shoe is definitely something to think about! Upwards of 70% of running injuries occur in the lower limb and some studies report up to 50% of these occur at the knee (van Gent et.al, 2007). This is why putting time and knowledge into correctly choosing your running shoes are paramount.

This is also one of the reasons why when looking at changing a running shoe the transition to doing so should be very gradual and controlled. The best way that I could think to try and make this as user friendly as possible is to show you the wee flow chart below.

It is extremely important to stress that when looking at changing (or moving to a more minimal) running shoes that this is done in consultation with a health professional and the process is done gradually, because if done to fast the mechanical load will be too high and injury will ensue. The rule of thumb is for every 10 percent change in minimalism this should be done over a 1-2 month period.

So what is the take home message…if you run in traditional shoes and have no injuries and do not want to increase your performance and efficiency – stay in your normal shoes. If you have an injury or want to improve your technique, efficiency and performance then you will need to consider what is between you and the trail and get a professional to guide/assist your decision making 🙂

Keep Safe and Happy Running 


Physiotherapist & Exercise Scientist

Certified Professional with “The Running Clinic”

Lindsay celebrates 30 years in the business

Monday the 14th of August was a day of celebration at Accelerate Physiotherapy. Lindsay Stephenson began her business with Anne Allen in 1987, called the Esk Street Physio clinic. Over the years, there has been three name changes (Stephenson Allen, Stephenson Murray, and now Accelerate Physiotherapy), and three different locations around Invercargill. A wee morning tea was put on, with some past faces of the clinic joining us. Plus some lovely messages from past staff were sent through, from those who weren’t able to make it. We wish Lindsay congratulations on her amazing achievement with the practice.


The Running Conundrum: To shoe or not to shoe?

Date: August 2017

This will be a two part series on the running shoe conundrum; we will stack” up the knowledge and research, have flexibility” in our ideas and drop” the hammer on what is recommended via the research! (All puns entirely intended, hands up who has a healthy fetish with running shoes – guilty as charged!)

Over the past few years there has been discussion, research, marketing and objection towards reducing the supportive nature of shoes and getting back to basics – “The Minimalist Movement or The Barefoot Running Movement”. If you are involved in the running community, enjoy reading fitness blogs or magazines and/or have a healthy obsession/fetish with running shoes then you may have heard about this. However a large part of the community hasn’t. So together we will delve further into the black hole that is “running shoes” and hopefully come out the other side refreshed with a newfound knowledge (or strengthening existing knowledge) you can use for yourself, family and friends. It is important to note that I have no vested interests in any shoe company and unfortunately 🙂 get no gratuities from any shoe brand.

In the beginning there was terminology…broadly there are two main terms/groups that most people talk about with running shoes, those being “minimalist” in nature and by virtue of opposing forces…you guessed it maximalist shoes. The way I like to think of the running shoe “groups” is more of a continuum by which there are varying degrees of minimalism – this is called the “Minimalist Index”.

You might be asking: Well Joel, how do I tell what is what? And what is best for me or my child? Great Questions! As with all my blogs my goal is to promote thought and understanding and I will hopefully answer those questions in the coming series.

The “Minimalist Index” was created by a group of Researches to allow a standardized measurement of minimalism within a running shoe. The research consisted of 42 experts from 11 countries and agreement was met on the classification (Esculier, et.al 2015). The index is characterized by 5 main measures of a shoe:

Simply put, the lower the stack height, lighter the weight, lower the heel-toe drop, less motion control (pronation control) technologies and the more flexible the shoe is, the higher the “Minimalist Index”. Now more questions are likely to be popping into your head … like what is the best? What should I be wearing? I have been fitted for my shoes so they are the best right? I could imagine you’re sitting at home (or work) thinking about the next awesome run and now wondering are my shoes the most appropriate and efficient I could be wearing..? All great questions!

If the shoe fits do I wear it? Well…it depends! This is what we will start to discuss next time 🙂

Until then,

Keep Safe and Happy Running 


Physiotherapist & Exercise Scientist

Certified Professional with “The Running Clinic”

Does running reduce your risk of death?

Simply…YES! Running reduces your risk of all-cause mortality (cause of death) by 63%! Is it Worth Doing? The whole idea of this blog is not to get you running marathons in 2 weeks or breaking world records (however this is great if you wish! 🙂 ) the idea is to get thought provocation and question your exercise ideas and promote discussion around healthy living. Let us start with some simple questions that you can ask yourself and your kin:

  1. How active are you?
  2. What level of activity am I/are we doing currently?
  3. Does running directly relate to reduced risk of death?
  4. What is the required exercise for healthy living?                        

As you may have discussed with friends and family (as I have had this discussion multiple times with clients throughout the years), if there was a magic pill that could be taken to reduce your risk of all-cause mortality (death by any cause) including cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer then given the nature of our current society, the quick fix, the majority of us would say… YES sign me up!

I’m sorry to say this is not the option (although it may be one day) and is not the ideal solution on our journey to optimal health. A recent study by Artelo et.al., 2012 concluded that running will reduced your risk of all-cause mortality (especially cardiovascular disease) by 63%. This is crazy when you think about it…63%! I will discuss more on this later, firstly let’s try and clear up some misconceptions with running and related injuries.

There is the thought out there that running will cause increased wear and tear on your knees and cartilage and that this will lead to early osteoarthritis and result in early potential joint replacement.  A recent review of the research by Timmins et.al, 2016 suggest that this is not the case and running cannot be directly correlated to the development of osteoarthritis. In fact the evidence also suggests that subjecting your cartilage to load (in a controlled and gradual manner – progressively loading through running) actually increases the thickening of the knee cartilage over time. So, what does this tell us, running isn’t linked to the development of osteoarthritis and running has been suggested to increase cartilage thickness in your knees over time (Mosher, Liu & Torok, 2010).

The body will adapt as long as the stress placed on the body is less than the body’s ability to adapt!

What about the idea that running reduces the height of your discs in your back and leads to increased wear and tear? Recent research suggests that this too is not the case. Belavy et al, 2017 has shown that in long distance runner and joggers that their disc heights were greater with improved hydration leading to improved strength! The way to approach these topics, or the way that I like to think about them, is that the body adapts! The human body is best not to be thought of as a manufacturing machine that over time wears out, the human body adapts to the loads (exercise) that it is subjected to…as long as the loading is at a rate that the body can adapt! Often I see (and have been very guilty of the same) of doing too much too soon leading to injury 🙂 . Just remember, one size doesn’t fit all and a good program is always recommended!

So what are the recommendations? How should we approach this?

The American Heart Association (2010) has coined the phrase “Ideal Cardiovascular Health”. This is broken up into two main areas that equate to optimal cardiovascular health and should be simultaneously present. They are – Risk behaviours and Risk Factors. The two main areas need to be in the absence of clinical cardiovascular disease – heart failure, stroke, coronary heart disease.

Risk behaviours

  1. Abstinence of smoking within the last year
  2. Ideal body mass index (BMI)
  3. Physical activity at goal levels – described as 150 mins of moderate intensity exercise per week or 75 mins of vigorous exercise per week
  4. A diet that promotes good cardiovascular health

Risk Factors

  1. Normal Cholesterol levels
  2. Blood Pressure < 120/80 mmHg ( not on medication for same)
  3. No Diabetes

The idea is based on meeting the 7 mentioned points above. The study mentioned preciously by Artelo et.al., 2012 has shown that someone that meets 3-4 of the above points has a 55% reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to someone who only meets 1-2 of the points, and someone who meets 5-7 of the above points has a 63% reduced risk of death (cardiovascular cause) compared to someone who meets 1-2 of the points above.

So…putting it all together…what is the take home message?

Running is a great form of exercise that produces endorphins and ‘feel good’ hormones, if transitioned and loaded properly can improve cartilage health and when combined with a healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of death from cardiovascular causes by up to 63%. The Body adapts to the training load that is applied to it and when mechanical load is sufficient for tissue adaption then health and performance improves. Everyone is different and a personalised program is recommended 🙂


Keep Safe and Happy Running 


Physiotherapist & Exercise Scientist

Certified Professional with “The Running Clinic”

Runity Running Course

runningBeing a runner, when Polestar Pilates were hosting a Runity Painless Running Coaching Course in Auckland this year I was really interested personally and professionally.  It was a fantastic course!! I learnt a lot for myself but also for clients. There has been a lot of work to do since to work towards gaining the Coaching Certificate and another course next year to go!

To summarise a whole 3 days

  • Everyone should be able to run and keep running. Humans are the only animals that are designed to run for long distances like marathons and ultras (not saying we all have to) as we evolved running after our prey and outlasting them so we could catch them.
  • There is a huge variance in running styles but, there is an optimum style where you are a low risk of injury due to the repetitive nature of running.
  • It is worth getting checked out to see what you need to improve to run for years bypassing the injuries. It often comes down to poor flexibility in some areas – not always the areas you think but may be back, hips and ankles.

Check the runity.run website for more information.

Happy running


Off on OE

They say all good things must come to an end and it is true. My last day working for Accelerate Physiotherapy is on the 13th May 2016 after working here for the past 4 years 2 months and 8 days.

It will be a bittersweet moment as I leave the clinic, my wonderful colleagues, my friends, family and New Zealand; as my Husband and I head off on an adventure overseas. We are heading over to the UK to start exploring and working around the world and we are unsure exactly when we will be back.

Over the past 4 years I have made many happy memories with the girls at Accelerate and I feel very privileged to have been able to play a part in the recovery and rehabilitation of the clients that I have seen over the years.

Everybody who walks though the clinic doors has a story and as a physiotherapist I enjoy hearing their story and finding a way that I will be able to help them get back to narrating and participating in their own story; as opposed to “sitting on the side lines” as is often the case when an injury is involved.

For the past 2 years I have been lucky enough to operate our satellite clinic in Tuatapere every Tuesday and Thursday and it has been great. The staff at the Tuatapere Medical Centre are wonderful and the community seems to enjoy having the physio service close by (unless they are receiving trigger point release, they don’t seem to enjoy that so much!).

So when I leave the clinic on Friday it will be with feelings of excitement, sadness, nervousness, anticipation, exhilaration, but most of all I will feel thankful. Thankful of the great times I have had, the wonderful people I have met and thankful that I have an amazing opportunity to spread my wings and fly.

So this good thing must come to an end but I cannot wait to see what good thing is coming next.

Until next time…and I shall leave my final words up to Arnie…”I’ll be back”

 Lucy Scurr