Undoubtedly, many of you that read this will have had a running related injury at some point in your lives, statistics show that at least 10% of marathon runners will sustain an injury in a year, and that figure rises to 65% in ultra-marathon runners!
Now, I am also pretty sure that when you’ve sought help you have been told you have done too much for your body to handle, that you have loaded your body beyond its capabilities and this has caused you to break down.
The research shows us that load is certainly one of the highest risk factors when it comes to non-impact related running injuries, so maybe we just need to be extra careful not to push ourselves Well then, how are we ever going to get to our goals? Or to run further or faster?
The key is all in monitoring your training loads smarter, and progressing safer, this is what I will explain more in this blog, as well as explain how training less could actually increase our risk of injuries and why training hard consistently is the best way to protect ourselves from injuries. Train more and get injured less… that must sound good?
Whilst there is some merit to the traditional over-loading theory, which certainly does explain a large number of injuries, the human body is a lot more resilient than we often give it credit for and is highly adaptable to new tasks. So I always wondered if we never over-load our bodies capacity, how will we ever get stronger? Then, in an online mentorship I am currently doing, I was lucky enough to come across a specialist in load management, Tim Gabbett, who is coming out with some ground-breaking work on this topic, and we are implementing it and seeing great results, with our patients reaching their full potential whilst staying injury free.
Any runner that has been out pounding the pavements for a while now would have certainly come across the ol’ chestnut of “10% increase a week” training rule, but until only recently this was mostly based on best practice and experience, however, now there is solid research coming out to prove just this.
What we can see from the graph above is that when we keep our increases in training loads at 10% per week or less, then our overall injury risk remains very low, however, as soon as we jump to 15% or above then our risk of injury begins to rise very quickly. An increase of 10% load in a week comes with an injury risk of below 10%, whereas an increase of 20% load has a injury risk of almost 30%… and that might be the difference of only a few KM in new runners or when starting pre-season training.
Now the interesting part… what we also now know from the research is that it is not just sharp increases in training that puts us at risk, but actually also a sudden reduction in training load also increases the risk of injury. Maybe you came down with the flu for a week or two, or perhaps you let training slip whilst on that two week beach holiday, whatever the reason for the drop in training loads if you return to the same level of load upon returning, your risk of injury will be higher. What I usually advise to athletes is to ensure that their training load doesn’t drop more than 10% whilst they are away, or when starting out training again reduce the load by 5-10% for each week they have been ‘under-training’.
In essence, what we are trying to achieve is to safely build up the bodies load tolerance to what we call a high ‘chronic’ workload, this basically means that you can continually train at a high level suitable to your training goals. Once we reach this level, as long as you avoid large spikes in training, your risk of injury drastically reduces and training actually becomes PROTECTIVE against injuries!
How does that work? Well, that comes back to the body’s ability to adapt, when we are continually (and progressively) loading our bodies, our bodies get stronger and fitter. Muscles, tendons, ligaments all become much more resilient to stress and their capacity for loading is so high that pretty much they can handle anything you throw at them. This level of high training loads should be the goal for all athletes, training hard and staying injury free is essential to giving the absolute best performance.
Now the tricky part… how do most runners measure training loads? Distance and/or time! Unfortunately, these measurements do not give a reliable or accurate representation of what load is actually being put on the body. Whilst there are fancier and more expensive methods of accurately measuring training loads, the easiest (and free) method I recommend is using the ‘Session Rating of Perceived Exertion’ model.
At the end of each session, you simply give the session a rating of 0-10 in terms of how difficult the session was FOR YOU and multiply this by the duration of the session in minutes. For example, for a two-hour run at race pace, on this particular day you might rate it at 7/10… 7 x 120 gives you a training load value of 840 for that session. At the end of the week you tot up each training session to get an overall value for the week and this helps to firstly compare to previous weeks and secondly, to help plan your training for the following weeks in the aim to slowly progress and avoid training spikes.
The beauty of this method for me, is that it takes in to consideration your overall condition on that day. We all have added load in the form of stress and emotions due to work, family, etc, which will all impact on our bodies, that same two hour run on a good day could feel great and easy, but on a bad day might be torturous. This model takes everything in to account and is super easy to use.
This blog is of course not just for runners, the same goes for whatever your sport(s) of choice may be, but to sum up, start to measure your training loads more smartly and use these figures to plan your training sessions and help to avoid training spikes. Build up progressively, allowing the body to adapt and become resilient to injuries by itself… and perform at your best!
Author: Glenn Fayers