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What the hell is load management and how does it affect you?

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

If you’re involved in sport and exercise, then more and more you’ll likely see the term ‘load management’ popping up in articles, courses, workshops, and on social media. It’s something that is extremely important with regards to reducing the risk of injury as well as increasing performance through reducing something called ‘non-functional overreaching’ (essentially providing a stimulus on a repeated basis which you cannot recover from), and so I thought I’d do an article to give you an introduction in to what it all means (because I’m nice like that!).

Here I’ll cover what load management is, and keep an eye out for future articles where I’ll show you how to work out what is best for you, and things you can adapt to help manage your training effectively.

So, here we go…

When we’re considering load management, there are two main categories:

  • External Load – This is the training/exercise that you perform on a daily/monthly/annual basis

  • Internal Load – These are the stressors that affect the load that your body is under internally

Nowadays, those involved in sport and exercise are becoming more aware that they need to be keeping some form of track as to how much they’re doing week to week. Take endurance sports such as running and cycling for example, where we tend to use apps like Garmin or Strava to keep tabs on what we’ve done (as well as allowing our secret competitive side to come out when looking at our training partner and competitor’s stats!).

With technology being so accessible these days, it’s great to able to view your distances, paces, elevations etc. from each session so easily, as well as look back at your improvements across a year. These are great tools to monitor your external load.

More and more research (for example here and here) is now being performed in this area and we are starting to realise just how important managing these loads can be to reducing the risk of injury and illness as well as aiding your performance. The days of ‘go hard or go home’ are thankfully starting to be pushed aside and replaced with clearer messages of ‘you should only perform what you can effectively recover from’. I feel this is a huge leap forwards for both the exercise and rehabilitation professions. This doesn’t mean that we should necessarily be reducing the intensity, volume, and/or frequency of sessions, however the long-term management of these variables seems to play a significant role.

Researchers and industry leaders like Tim Gabbett – creator of the ‘Acute vs. Chronic Workload Ratio’ (click here for more info) are fantastic at showing us simple ways of what might constitute good training patterns, and what may be effectively setting us up for potential injury and under-recovery. Although some of us can be very effective at self-regulating our workloads, the human in us makes it easy to get carried away and start to spike them, sometimes unknowingly which can lead to frustrations and/or potential injuries and picking up multiple viral infections per year – sound familiar?

Our internal loads as mentioned above, are essentially what stresses are being place on our body internally. They are much more complicated to track as they are so multi-factorial, however technology such as sleep trackers and heart rate variability (HRV) trackers are starting to help us with this. Factors such as: sleep deprivation, increased psychological stress, poor diet control, illness, and existing injuries to name a few are all examples of factors which might increase your internal loads.

Sometimes, we may find ourselves in a situation where we have a good handle on our external loads, but don’t necessarily adapt when our internal loads change for whatever reason. Ideally, when internal loads increase, we’ll need to adapt our external loads in one way or another. This may only need to be a short term adaptation, but needs to happen to effectively manage over all loads placed upon the body. This way, we’re considering both internal and external loads and what effect they have on each other to keep you on top form.

That’s it from me today so I hope it’s helped to clarify what load management is all about. Keep an eye out for the next article in this mini-series, which will take a look at how you can be effective at managing external loads.

Chris Kitson M.Ost

**Fancy learning from the master himself of load management in a live 1-day workshop? We’re incredibly excited to be hosting Tim Gabbett and his workshop ‘Load Management: Training Smarter and Harder’ on 4th March 2020 here at The Movement Hub, Leeds. You can purchase your ticket here: http://bit.ly/34euZxr**


Gabbett Performance Solutions (2020) Control the brain, control the body. [Online] Available from: <https://gabbettperformance.com.au/> [Accessed 24th January 2020].

Gabbett, TJ. (2016) ‘The training—injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder?’, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50, pp. 273-280. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2015-095788

Halson, S.L. (2014) ‘Monitoring Training Load to Understand Fatigue in Athletes’, Sports Med, 44, pp. 139–147. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-014-0253-z

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