Load Management for Lifetime Athletes

Hi there, friend! Have you ever heard the term “load management” and wondered exactly what that meant? Have you pondered how you can manage loads in both training and life to be more successful in performance and health? That’s what this relatively brief read will explain. Let’s dive in!

Know when to go for the WIN!

Before we can get to managing load, we have to understand what constitutes load itself. There are many examples and I’ll just rattle off a bunch. Load is how much weight you’ve got on the bar or on a sled. It’s wind. It’s gravity. It’s ground reaction force. In the scheme of training program design, load is workload and that is the product of intensity (how hard) x duration (how long) x frequency (how often) x volume (how much in a given time frame). And in life, load is the total cumulative amount of all stressors.

Now let’s take this a bit further and look at a few examples of load mismanagement.

Example 1: The Overuse Injury. This can be foot or shin pain, or any “itis” represented by sore, inflamed tissue. Even stress fractures can fall into this category. Basically, the athlete keeps applying loading cycles that are either too high or too frequent for a given tissue to tolerate and adapt to. They go over the limit and the tissue breaks down. I often see this in the case of motivation misapplied.

Example 2: The Acute Injury. Sometimes we have an accident or an external force applied to the body (such as a collision in sports) when an excessive load is abruptly introduced. If it’s over our load capacity, something fails or snaps. Many of these are hard to avoid and just come with the process of living life. However, sometimes a judgement error, like overloading a barbell or sprinting maximally when your body is not ready, can be the culprit.

Example 3: The Systemic Breakdown. This load management error usually comes from one of two conditions, or a combination of both. You could be training and playing/competing smart, in a way that is appropriate for your body and level of conditioning…but your recovery practices suck. You don’t sleep enough, you eat crap, and your management of time and balance of work and relationship stressors stinks.Or…maybe you just pile on the training in an overzealous, unintelligent way, and eventually your media-influenced or mind-driven grinding wrecks your gut, immune system, and hormonal balance. In these cases, the mechanical body manages not to break, but your inner workings get totally “f-ed” up.

So how do you avoid becoming one of the examples mentioned above? 

Have a basic understanding of the stress-strain curve. The curve is pictured below and it can be applied to almost any material, tissue, system or organism (with slight variance in curve shape). Apply stress in a tolerable manner and the recipient responds elastically, easily rebounding back from the stressor. Adaptations can take place without damage. Take it a little further and we get some change in the target. A small amount of this is somewhat normal and acceptable, but take stress (load) too far and you end up with failure (injury or illness). Try to be aware of your limits, push them from time to time, but don’t inadvertently blow them out of the water.

Appreciate the balance of training, recovery, and lifestyle. We discussed how stress is load and training stress is workload. Try to make sure your training workload is reasonable for your goals and abilities. Then, understand that your recovery and lifestyle matter. Look at it this way. When you are really getting after it and in a hard training phase, do everything you can to have good recovery and a life that is relatively low in other stressors. And, when the s**t hits the fan and you have a chaotic schedule, unforeseen calamities, work and relationship issues — downregulate your training because you simply can’t absorb as much as when your situation is more ideal. Flex and flow like a natural beast in the natural world (which you are). Forcing and fighting will only work temporarily.

Use good program design which includes periodization. Design a training plan which intelligently applies intensity, duration, frequency, and volume in a manner which is personalized to your unique body and its needs. Don’t do the exact same thing all the time and avoid trying to do everything, all the time. Break your year into seasons, or periods which emphasize different capacities in human performance (strength, power, speed, agility, and endurance) to the degree that your inner beast requires or your goals demand. Spend some time in the off-season shoring up your weaknesses and really focus on honing and going to your strengths in your peak season. This ain’t rocket science, but it is a scientifically proven methodology.

Work with a coach. All the things mentioned above are easier when you have a coach who knows and cares about you, and who has your back. You can be your own coach, but frankly it rarely works as well. I’ve been coaching people out of injury and pain and into better health and performance for almost 40 years. I’ve worn hats called physical therapist, strength and conditioning coach, sports coach, trainer, and others but it has always boiled down to two things. First is creating strong, positive relationships geared towards the wins. Then there’s the application of science, with load management being one of the keys.

That’s all for today. Hope you took away a pearl or two. If you’d like to explore more cutting-edge concepts in athletic performance and health, check out some of the other articles, podcasts, and videos available at TLA. And if results-oriented coaching tickles your fancy, just ping me.

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