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Jan 2

Training loads and monitoring

A new year, new goals to be set. It’s so exciting isn’t it? Looking at the calendar, plotting and planing what you might achieve this year. Road trips with friends and family, small goals, large goals, BHAGs (big, hairy audacious goal) – the ones that scare you a little. To reach goals, however, we all know they need to be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time- bound), and for fitness goals, that means you need to smart about your loads.

Recent research has demonstrated a pattern of injury risk increasing when training loads increase dramatically (like with new year resolutions!). And there is a very strong relationship between an ability to complete training sessions throughout a program and reaching your goals, whether they are at a recreational sporting level or elite. In any case, time off training for injury has wider effects – on our mood, ability to sleep, and ability to participate in other activities.

An overuse injury occurs when the load placed upon the athlete is greater than their ability to adapt to that load. Therefore, anytime there is an overuse injury, it is a training error. It may not hurt today, but it will hurt soon. Adequate preparation is the key.

Here is a newer idea to monitor your training load, beyond just recording the km that you run or ride (or swim or row – you get the idea) each week, month and year. This system is great because it allows us to factor in how much effort the session was, and also how hard you found it. If you are not very well, or very tired, or very stressed at work, a session may feel harder, and require much more effort than the same session on another day.

PRE chart copy

For each session, rate your workload, giving it a score out of 10:
A score of 1 is easy peasy, 10 is as hard as you could possibly work.

This is known as the ‘rate of perceived exertion’, or RPE.

Then, multiply that number by the number of minutes you were working like that.

A 30 minute easy run might be 3/10, thus scored at 3×30=90.

A hard 60 minute gym session might be 7/10, thus 7×60=420



If you have a session where you warm up for 20 minutes easy, then did 30 minutes of fartlek work, then cooled down over 15 mins of steady state, you might record that as:
(20x 2) + (30×7) + (15×4) = 310 for the session. We call these ‘arbitrary units’, AU.

A 150 minute long slow run on the weekend might be 150×4 = 600. After a late night, or in your peak training weeks when you are very tired, it might be fairer to record it as 150×7=1050. It’s up to you.

Sample week copy


Do this for every training session through the week, then calculate the total for the week. A spreadsheet is probably the easiest way to keep track of this. When you look at the average of the last 4 weeks of training, you build up the data, and compare that to the plan for the current week, the percentage should be between 80 – 150%. Most weeks in a program would be at around the 120% mark (to build fitness), but there will be individual variation – your own capacity may be less or more than that. But there is a pretty obvious pattern that builds up. If you spend too much time at 150% or you go higher, to perhaps 200%, your risk of sustaining an injury in the 4 weeks after that week are 3-4 times greater.

Graph copy

The blue line here is the Chronic training load – your 4 week rolling average, and is also known as your ‘fitness’. The pink line is your acute training load – your 7 day rolling average. It will also measure your relative fatigue. The yellow line becomes your ‘form’ – how ready to perform well you are, or fitness and freshness together. You can see the benefit of a taper here – training load reduces, fatigue reduces, and you are more ready to perform. But a taper will reduce your fitness if continued for too long. When the yellow line is low, your ability to perform will be impaired (you’re tired), so you can expect your times or feeling of fitness will be lower. Conversely, heavy training periods increase fatigue, and reduce your ability to perform in the moment, but improve your fitness over time. The sweet spot for competition is going to be when your form is higher than your fatigue – it makes sense!

When mapping out your next few months worth of events and training, aim to do 3 weeks at that sweet spot of 120-130%, then one week of active recovery at 80% or so, and cycle through the year that way.  You’ll need more tapering for a peak event, but only a couple of times per year.  If you miss a week or two because you are sick or have a big work deadline, you will need to ease back into your training.  This provides an easy way to judge if you are doing that sensibly or not.

A couple of other things to note – recent research from this same database has now demonstrated that athletes don’t tend to sustain only one injury. Once injured, athletes will experience 2-3 injuries back to back, often related to resuming high training loads too quickly, with not quite enough rehab. 40% of all injuries seen are re-injuries. As we can see, when we log all the training, we need to be able to maintain some loads when injured, or resuming training will quickly put us into a ‘danger zone’ of injury risk with training loads increasing too quickly.

The lag is very important here – the critical thing is that what you are doing is what you have prepared for. If you sign up for a 100km Ultramarathon, but have never run more than 50km in a week, you are putting your body at risk. You need to plan ahead, and incorporate some big weeks in your training program, whilst still including adequate rest periods.

According to Peter Blanch, Physiotherapist at the AIS, Australian Swimming and Cricket Australia, “Load is the cause of and the solution to all of sports problems!”.

There is a newer blog written about this same thing by a UK Running Physio that you might find useful here.


If you need any further advice about your training program, talk to your physio at Vital Core Physiotherapy.