By Ella Borgeaud (MPhysio, BSportCoach&ExerciseSc) SportsCare Barton
Want to remain injury-free as a runner? Monitor your training loads.
Load monitoring is a runner’s best tool to prevent injuries and optimise performance. Strong evidence shows that large and rapid changes in training loads are associated with increased injury likelihood.
So, what is ‘load’, and how do you monitor it?
Load is the cumulative stresses placed on the body during exercise. It can be broadly separated into external and internal loads.
External loads can be measured externally, e.g. duration of a run, distance covered by a runner, or total number of jumps in volleyball. However, we cannot rely solely on external loads to determine our body’s response to training. For example, a 55-year-old recreational runner will respond physically differently to an 18-year-old competitive runner during and after a 5-kilometer sub-20-minute run.
Internal load measures a runner’s perception of effort with the run. Internal load is commonly measured by rating your effort on a scale of 1 to 10, where 4 is ‘light activity’ and 7 is ‘hard activity’. Heart rate is another measure of internal load.
If your training load (both internal and external) one week spikes above, or below, what you have been averaging for the past 4-weeks, you are more likely to be injured. This means that training loads have the potential to protect runners from injury, and also increase risk of injury.
It is accepted that runners need to ‘push their boundaries’ to achieve peak performance, however, there are some errors that can be avoided.
One of the most common training errors is under-loading. Under-loading frequently occurs when a runner has undergone a period of rest due to holidays or injury, and then resumes running at the same pre-rest training level, resulting in injury. This is commonly referred to as ‘TMTSS’ (also known as ‘To Much Too Soon Syndrome’). To avoid this, runners should use ‘The Goldilocks Principle’ (not too much, not too little, just right). Runners should gradually increase their training load by 10% week-to-week.
Another common training error is over-loading. Over-loading occurs when a runner substantially increases their running volume from one week to the next.
There is a dogma that higher training loads are associated with higher injury rates; this is a myth! Strong evidence suggests that runners with higher moderate training loads (your average training load over 4-weeks) are actually more resistant to injury compared to those who maintain their training load at the lower end. So it’s not necessarily high training loads that are the problem, it’s how you get there (again, sticking to The Goldilocks Principle and only increasing training load by 10% week-to-week).
Top Tips to Minimise Training Load Errors:
- Record your training!
- Establish moderately-high overall training loads
- Minimise large week-to-week fluctuations (the 10% rule)
If you are new to running, managing a current injury, or wanting to improve your running technique, enquire about The SportsCare Running Lab services. These unique services are provided by Physiotherapists experienced in running biomechanics, running-specific injuries, and assessment of running technique. Services include one-on-one running assessments, 10-week group running courses, education sessions and load management education and planning.