Running your perfect bath is a tricky business. First you need good ingredients: water, bath soaps, towel, and tunes. You then put them all together, striving for the not too hot, not too cold Goldilocks of water temperatures, perfect depth, optimal (and dignifiable) bubble to surface area ratio, and of course, relaxing atmosphere. Finally, you sink into the bath. I agree, not quite life or death but still there are key decisions to be made; Get in too early and you’ll leave yourself with some lovely new red skin scorch ankle socks; Stay in too long and you’ll come out resembling a cross between a lobster and a rather lethargic bull mastiff pup. A lobstiff.
How you train and develop your fitness isn’t all that different.
You see like the perfect bath, to get the best out of your training you need the right ingredients, in the right quantities, put together at the right time and used in the right sort of way. The trick is to figure out if you have got this blend right for you. Get it wrong and, true, you might not end up like the new species of lobstiff but you may be at higher risk of injury and perform less than your best.
So, let me introduce you to Load; A way to measure if you have got your right training blend.
Load is something that you can measure that is related to your training. It helps you to understand if you are doing too much or too little training to get best progress for you. Now it can do this is two ways; The first is by telling you just how much training you are actually doing. The second is by revealing signs and symptoms as to how you are responding to that amount of training in terms of your performance and perhaps, more importantly, in how you are feeling.
Load can be either Internal or External.
You could, of course, measure a million things related to your training, couldn’t you? Fortunately, we can simplify load down to being either an external load or an internal load.
An external load is a tangible measurement, a bit like the water depth, temperature or bubble to surface area ratio of your bath. I tend to think of this as more about what your training actually involves. Examples of this include measuring your heart rate when at rest and exercising, the number of kilometres you run in a session (or in a week), or the number of repetitions multiplied by the number of sets when you perform resistance, calisthenic or plyometric training. Basically, its numerical. As an aside, I hated maths.
Which is just as well they created internal load! Now an internal load is not necessarily measurable in the same way, and is more akin to how you feel when you get out of the bath – that moment when you realise you’ve stayed in too long. In this sense then I think of internal load as your mental wellbeing in training and how it makes you feel. Examples of this include keeping a mood diary in training that highlights any current or upcoming stressors (such as competition, relationship or work issues) and how this affected your training, your quality and length of sleep, or how difficult training actually feels (as can be measured by the Rating of Perceived Exertion one to ten scale).
Measuring your loads can help you tailor your training
Now nine times out ten, I rashly throw a bath together like it’s going out of fashion. It’ll be the end of a long day where I’d seen just one too many patients yielding a ‘list’ of urgent (they’re rarely ‘urgent’) medical problems. It ends up too cold, way way too shallow, with not enough suds, and I find myself accidentally listening to some thrash metal radio station instead of my favourite unwinder, Smooth FM (other radio stations are available…). That is all because I haven’t paid attention to my loads. I am clearly stressed, in a rush, and I then have a bath that does not achieve its aim. From your training perspective, by measuring internal and external loads you will be able to measure exactly how much you are doing and how well it is helping you progress.
From a Sports and Exercise Medicine perspective, measuring loads importantly helps you prevent an injury. Now your body is always in a dynamic state of homeostasis. This basically means it is always trying to maintain a healthy internal environment for itself at all times. But much like a Donald Trump tweet you body never quite knows what is coming next. Applying too much load can disrupt this homeostasis and increase the risk of your musculoskeletal, neurological or metabolic systems not working as well during or after training and leading to greater risk of injury. The two most common ways in which this is done are:
- Continuing the same level of training when feeling rundown, unwell or under stress [An internal load i.e. stress]
- Increasing your training amounts too quickly [An external load i.e. volume]
Six load tips to support your healthy training
Load is a huge topic and in my effort to not bore you all, this is merely serving as a mental-nudge and introduction to it. I however really hope you have enjoyed this blog and found it helpful. If you haven’t, I do apologise and perhaps go and run yourself a nice bath to relax. I have to say it has been a pleasure to feature on @TheFoodMedic and share this topic with you all. With that in mind, I wanted to finish by sharing these six simple load tips that you can implement in your training from today:
- Keep a log of two external load measures and two internal load measures to track how your training changes over a week by week basis to learn how your body responds
- Avoid increasing your training external load by more than ten percent in a week, as we know that it is the sudden and sharp rise in training volume that is the greatest risk for injury
- When enduring a period of stress, personal pressure or feeling unwell, please taper off your training amounts and respond to how you feel by observing your internal loads
- While both are important, it is your internal load measures are a stronger marker for too much training than your external markers, so please always listen to it when it shouts at you
- You are an individual superstar, and as such you need to always personally tailor your training amounts and responses to load to only you, and never those around you
- Keep working on that perfect bath by trying some Smooth FM (and avoiding thrash metal)