Managing your loading

Load management is a term used in sport when we are trying to quantify and adapt an athletes physical stress, usually in the form of matches, training or gym sessions, to achieve optimal adaptation and reduce the risk of injury and/or illness. As a concept it is not applied to performers, as they tend to measure their tiredness in a much more subjective manner, along the lines of how they feel. There is certainly some merit in both, but what is a nice middle ground that takes advantage of both the subjective and objective ways to monitor load or fatigue, is to combine them.

For the purpose of this post, and not to confuse the issue, we’ll focus on one of the two main ways of monitoring your loading, specifically External Load. External load describes the objective load lifted by the individual, which is objective and therefore can be measured using simple metrics such as kilograms.

Why would you bother monitoring external load?

By monitoring the load within your sessions you can start to track your overall capacity, which can be useful over a longer period of time to see how affective your exercise program has been. It can also be a really helpful way of seeing if you’ve made large jumps in load which may put into context any pains you may have felt after the session, or resultant reduction in performance in the days after the session. In my experience this is a very effective way for helping people own their program, and help them make sensible decisions around adapting their training around any discomforts or increased density of upcoming performances. As I’ve alluded to, a major benefit to monitoring loading in this way can be as a predictor of increased risk of injury or illness. That said, measuring external loading alone would be much less sensitive to this kind of risk assessment than when it is used in conjunction with Internal Loading monitoring. I intend to cover Internal Loading in a later post, so don’t worry too much about it right now.

How can you measure your loading?

The words External Loading or Objective Monitoring sound pretty complex and therefore off-putting, the good news is that this really isn’t the case. You can get a lot out of adding this simple aspect to your training with relatively no time or monetary cost. To start to do this you can simply multiply the weight you lifted by the number of reps you achieved eg 50kg of load, 10 repetitions,50 x 10 = 500kg (how a session might look is found in figure 1). Doing this for each exercise will give you a session total. The session total is the important number to monitor when you are considering future pains and fatigue.

Figure 1 shows a simple sessions external load summary. Load x reps = Total load for the exercise. Add each exercise together = External Load

Measuring isometric load, in something like a plank, can be a little trickier. But this can also be done, the key is to be consistent and apply the same method each time you train as then you have a far more reliable, repeatable and meaningful measurement for comparison. The way I’ve done this for a plank in the past was to divide your body weight by the points of contact on the floor, in this case it was 4 points (2 x feet, 2 x forearm) and multiplied that by the time the hold is held eg 80kg/4 = 20kg x 60sec = 1200 kg. At this point I must say that measuring isometric load in this way is definitely anecdotal, but as I said the intention of consistently measuring in the same way gives you something meaningful to monitor.

Bodyweight exercises that do not involve plyometrics can be more easily monitored by just using your bodyweight multiplied by reps. However cross-referencing bodyweight exercises with plyometric exercises is not particularly reliable as the involvement of plyometrics puts a far greater load on your body when compared to an exercise where your feet remain in contact with the floor throughout the entire exercise. An example would be comparing a vertical jump with a bodyweight squat, although the bodyweight would be the same, the involvement of gravity, and therefore acceleration of your body when impacting the ground after the jump dramatically increases the load involved. Especially when you consider the higher you jump, the greater the load you have to decelerate when you contact the ground.

The concept I’m trying to get across when it comes to comparing plyometric with more static exercises may seem a bit wordy. If that’s the case then perhaps just remembering that jumping related exercises can be measured simply by the number times your feet or hands hit the ground (called contacts), and might make up a separate column in your monitoring.

Firstly, thanks for reading to this point as the concept I’m trying to shine a light on isn’t necessarily sexy, but can be the difference between developing pain and/or pathology and be a vital tool for elongating your performing career.

Thanks again