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How much training is too much? How to find the 'sweet spot'.
One of the most common questions we receive at Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy is "how much training/ running can I do before I am going to break/ get injured/ re- injure or fall apart?". Up until the last few years, this has been a tricky question to answer. As more research comes to light on the topic of training loads, we are now able to give patients, and practitioners, better clues about the risk of injury that they undertake when they go out to train or play.
To assist with the understanding of how much is too much, we now have to ability to consider an athlete's Acute Chronic Workload Ratio (ACWR). This ratio gives Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy's practitioners the ability to track an athlete's workload, and give them a percentage or risk they are undertaking as far as injury occurs. It is not a fail-safe way of predicting injury, but its the closest, and most well researched, way of predicting injury that exists, across all physical activity and sports domains.
How does ACWR work?
The ACWR is a ratio. We need two parameters to compare. The first is the acute load. This is the total workload someone has trained for in the last 7 days. You could monitor time spent exercising, minutes trained, metres run, laps swam. Anything that is measurable is usable. Commonly, this is minutes of exercise multiplied by the athlete''s perceived intensity ( rated out of ten using the Modified Borg Scale of perceived Exertion). This is measured as an arbitrary loading unit.
The second parameter is the chronic load, which is calculated the same way as acute load, though we are looking for the rolling average over the last 4 weeks for running/lifting/swimming/training load.
Simply, by dividing the acute load by chronic load (average over last weeks), we can determine the ratio of how much 'training load' we have done this week and work out the acute chronic workload ratio.
The ACWR gives us a number. Looking at the associated graph, you'll see the ratio is plotted against 'likelihood of subsequent injury' as a percentage. This number can tell you whether you're at risk of an injury, and how high this risk is. High training loads aren't the problem. Its how you get there that's the issue. Usually, too much too soon is the problem.
The 'Sweet Spot'
From the graph you can see that an ACWR of 0.8 - 1.3 is the 'sweet spot' for training load being applied to our bodies. This are of lowest risk for an overuse injury. What you should note here is that a ratio below 0.8 has as much risk as a ratio over 1.3, so there is as much risk in undertraining as there is in overtraining once you are making a return to activity. Total rest is rarely recommended and not good for us, unless in exceptional circumstances. High
Take home message.
Gradually increasing, or decreasing, your training program is the best way to reduce the likelihood of injuring yourself when training. There are very well researched ways that you are able to track your training load, and how to cleverly increase your program without increasing your risk of injury. Remember, training hard with high training loads is not the issue. Its how you get there that causes the problems. nto increasing your training load by more than 10% per week is the smart and safe way to return to sport once injured.
For further reading, please see the references below, or come and see the sports physiotherapists at Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy for a bespoke training program and return to sport plan.
• Gabbett TJ (2016), The training-injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder? Br J Sports Med.
• Blanch P, Gabbett TJ (2016) Has the athlete trained enough to return to play safely? The acute:chronic workload ratio permits clinicians to quantify a player's risk of subsequent injury. Br J Sports Med.
• Hulin BT, Gabbett TJ, Lawson DW, Caputi P, Sampson JA (2016) The acute:chronic workload ratio predicts injury: high chronic workload may decrease injury risk in elite rugby league players.
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