If you are a runner, you have probably read or heard about tapering your activity in the week before a race. However, you may be wondering exactly how much to taper and when to start. It is not a perfect science and probably varies from person to person and with the length of the race. Here is my two cents based on research that I have read and personal experience.
First of all, when it comes to strength training, if I do lower body at all the week of the race, it would be Sunday or Monday at the latest (given that the race is Saturday morning). In addition to making it early in the week, I take it easy and just lift for maintenance. You won't find me trying to squat my all-time best that week! Taking a rest that week with strength training isn't a bad idea either. You don't want to risk injuries or sore muscles.
As far as cardiovascular exercise, I have tried several different methods and it really does depend on the length of the race. For a marathon, I would start tapering two weeks in advance. However, for the purposes of this particular post, let's say you're running a half-marathon or less. It is probably best to complete your last long training run two weeks before the half-marathon. After that, you can still run, but keep it to 5-6 miles at the most. In the week leading up to your race, consider shorter runs with the same intensity you plan to run your race. (As an aside, I think you'll always run faster in a race, thanks to adrenaline, but my point is that you should be running at a speed that you would be happy with during your race.) Some research suggests that people who run shorter distances, but with "race speed" do better on race day than those who run higher mileage at a more relaxed pace in the week leading up to the race. This may mean that during this week, you're only running 2 miles at a time, but with gusto. For the rest of your workout, cross-train or walk. Consider doing an easy workout on the elliptical or stationary bike.
Don't forget about rest! Rest is an integral part to any exercise or training regimen. I would suggest taking one to two days off before a race to allow your muscles rest. This doesn't mean you have to sit on the couch for two days straight, but keep your exercise to easy walking or the activities that are part of your normal day.