Remember my recent post on a study that found well-trained athletes had lower max heart rates than sedentary people? Well, here’s another related one. Researchers at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver found that max heart rate decreases 3-7% as aerobic fitness improves. And to further challenge our thinking, the study showed that when tapering for a race max heart rate increases. That implies a loss of fitness when tapering. This goes hand-in-hand with the seemingly counterintuitive concept I’ve often proposed here and in my tweets that tapering results in a reduction in fitness.
You can’t cut back on training without losing fitness. If this wasn’t the case then the way you would improve fitness is by just sitting in front of the TV every day for several weeks. You have to train hard to make fitness improvements - not slack off. Of course, what you gain when tapering during a peak period is a reduction in fatigue that makes you feel more fit. Coaches often call this “form.” When “on form” you’re rested, fresh, race ready, and very little fitness has been lost. The challenge when tapering is to lose a lot of fatigue while only giving up a small amount of fitness. That’s what makes peaking for a race so tricky.
Zavorsky GS. 2000. Evidence and possible mechanisms of altered maximum heart rate with endurance training and tapering. Sports Med 29(1):13-26.