Overload: When Less is More

More than motivation and the weather, there is nothing that poses a greater threat to upsetting our training regime than an injury.

Such injury comes as a result of a tissue’s incapacity to withstand a given mechanical load, and may come suddenly (e.g. acute lower back pain), or over a period of time (e.g. Achilles tendon pain). 

Interestingly, the nature of what causes injury hints at a paradox in relation to training load: too much load, progressed too quickly and the risk of injury increases, yet too little load, too infrequently and we risk losing the resilience that exercise is so important in providing us.

As Goldilocks might say, training load has to be just right. 

Loading vs injury

The relationship between load and injury can be nicely illustrated using the analogy of water being poured into a bucket.

If we take the bucket to represent training capacity or tissue tolerance and the water to represent training load, we can see that too much water (i.e. training load) or too small a bucket (capacity) may lead to water spilling out of the bucket (i.e. pain and injury).

To reduce the likelihood of water spilling over, we can either moderate the amount of water being poured in (i.e. modify training load), or increase the size of the bucket (i.e. build capacity).

How does that apply to rehab?

In the rehabilitation setting, we invariably look to do both. 

Clearly then, by training too much or increasing training volume too quickly, our bodies aren’t able to adapt quickly enough to tolerate the increasing training demands and the risk of injury becomes greater.

The key to increasing the size of the bucket and therefore preventing injury is ensuring appropriate load, progressed at an appropriate rate.

But how do we know what is appropriate?

Here are some tips when it comes to reducing the risk of load-related injury:

  • Start slowly and build gradually – Rome wasn’t built in a day, so space training sessions across the week, settle in for the long haul and the results will follow.
  • Prioritise recovery – the greatest adaptations to training happen between sessions, therefore don’t skimp on sleep and good nutrition, which are equally as important to our health as the training itself. 
  • Utilise technology – wearable fitness trackers are valuable tools that can be used to monitor training load and progress safely. 

In aiming to get the most out of your training, consider the injury risk posed by over-training and remember that more doesn’t necessarily equate to more. 

Written by

Travis Waite

Trav is a Physiotherapist with an Exercise Science background who specialises in shoulder injuries and gym-based rehab. He believes that injury rehab is an opportunity to work on performance and to emerge better than before you were injured.

Travis Waite