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Load Management Part 1: What is it?

The concept of load management has been popularized by the NBA and the athletic field as a whole, but what does it truly entail? Should we simply hit our workouts and games less often? Sleep more and recovery better? The concept of load management is not complex, but it does require a little exploration into our overall movement, and our body’s responses to these movements and loads placed upon it.

Load management is the balance between the amount of external load or the quantifiable variables: the sets, reps, # of plates on the barbell, days per week in the gym; and internal load: or the less quantifiable variables: the varying responses to training due to factors such as stress, nutrition, sleep, mental status, beliefs…the list goes on.

Load management can go one of two ways: some people will need an increase in workload to achieve the desired adaptations while others may need a decrease in workload to achieve the desired adaptations. How could this be? To better understand the concept of load management, let’s look at two people with seemingly similar injuries: knee pain from running.

Person 1 has been running for years and recently noticed some pain in the front of the knees. She runs/walks 4 days per week. In this instance, load management may look like adding in a few days of strength training days in the gym.

Person 2 started running when the weather warmed up and has been running 4 days per week on top of the usual HIIT classes 3 days per week. In this instance, load management may look like decreasing the total volume, adding in some targeted strength training, and perhaps substituting a recovery day in place of one of the HIIT classes.

Regardless of the path to get there, the goal with load management is the same: Increasing the capacity of your tissues for the requirements of your sport or activity. Person 1 may have add in some strength training a couple days a week (load management) while person 2 may have to do a couple less days of running per week and more targeted resistance training (also load management) in order to return to running pain-free (adaptation). This is where working 1-on-1 with a PT can hold tremendous value, as your PT can do a full evaluation to get to the root of your injury.

Let’s dive into the different types of load and how we can better manage our overall training (and life) loads.

Internal vs. external load management

  • External load:

  • “External training load represents the work performed by the athlete in a given training session. It can be quantified in several ways, such as the distance covered, amount of high speed running performed, weight lifted, or total training volume” (Morrison et. al 2017). External load can also refer to the overall work throughout week, month, or sports season. It is fairly objective and measurable: external load is the amount of weight you put on the bar, the amount of games you played, the amount of reps you did.

  • Internal load:

  • “The athlete's response to the planned training session is termed internal training load” (Morrison et. al 2017). Two athletes can be exposed to the same stimulus in a training sesion with athlete #1 ending the session feeling A-ok while athlete #2 ends the session more sore or even injured. How is this possible? It is likely due to the latter athlete’s external loads exceeding their internal load/capacity.

When people talk about load management, they’re typically referring to external load, the measurable stuff, without considering individual variances in responses to load. This is understandable, as internal load can be tricky- it’s not super quantifiable, and humans like to quantify things. But internal load is vital to consider: it is how your body responds- mentally, psychologically, physiologically, and perceptually. Internal load is affected by your mental headspace, your blood sugar, your stress levels, sleep, past experiences, and a plethora of other factors.

As stated beautifully by Dr. Allison Grimaldi, “load management is not just doing less physical loading. [It also involves] managing biopyschosocial loads” (Grimaldi 2022). The key is to find a balance between external and internal load. Too much load, on either an internal or external level, and you risk injury or slowing the healing process. Too little load and your body likely won’t adapt, change, or grow.

That’s what we are here for at Made 2 Move: to help you balance your overall loads. Internal load is what we delve into with you at each Made 2 Move session as we inquire about your stress levels, sleep, nutrition, and overall feelings about rehab, injuries, goals, and training. Interested in working with a PT who recognizes the importance of factors outside of just your PT exercises? We’re here for you. Reach out to today to set up an initial evaluation today!

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