Spring is in the air, nights are getting lighter and the rain is subsiding just enough to tempt us back outside. What this usually means is that running shoes come back out the cupboard, the bike gets its annual service and pre-season training will be grinding into gear for our Summer sports.

So, it’s about time we did a little piece on ‘load management’ and how it can help you stay injury free this springtime.

What do we mean by ‘load’?

First of all, we need to define the terms here. When we use the term ‘load’ we are referring to the forces that are placed on your body during exercise and activity.

As an example of what we mean by ‘load’ I want you to think of what happens when you are running or walking – every step you take, every time your foot hits the ground a force acts upon your body, you feel this as a ‘shock’ on impact.

This ‘load’ is absorbed by your body’s tissues and more the steps you take the more ‘load’ has to absorbed.

Now, in ‘optimal’ amounts absorbing these forces can stimulate your bones to become denser, your muscles to grow bigger and your ligaments to thicken and strengthen. However, too much load and they can cause bones to fracture, muscles to tear and ligaments to sprain.

So how can understanding ‘load’ help us to stay injury free?

Well, research in recent years has identified clear links between sudden changes in training ‘load’ and injury. And anecdotally many of the referrals we get at this time of year come from people who haven’t been able to cope with their often sudden increase in activity.

Take the results of this study below which showed that the bigger the sudden increase in your overall workload, the higher the risk of injury. This is often because the body has not had sufficient time to adapt, strengthen and become more resilient to the new forces being applied to it.

Acute workload is how much activity you’ve done in the most recent week. Chronic workload is the average of your activity of the last four weeks.

What this means then is that when you’re pulling those running shoes out of the cupboard, and it’s been 5 months since you last had a run outside, it may be wise to start with a distance and a pace that is ‘comfortable’ instead of pushing your body to the limits as though you haven’t spent the last 5 months a little more sedentary than you like.

Managing load to stay injury free

So if you’re one of the 1000s of people that for the first time this year is about to pull the running shoes out the cupboard, or the walking boots, or get the bike out the shed we have some advice for you to help you stay injury free this springtime:

  1. If it’s been a few months since you last did your activity or sport, ease the intensity off 30-40% from where you were a few months ago.
  2. Allow sufficient recovery in between your sessions of exercise / activity. This gives your tissues chance to adapt and strengthen rather than struggle and fail. It may take a little longer to recover from that first session back than it did previously. Give your body chance to adapt and your recovery will speed up over time.
  3. Try and increase your exercise by 5-10% more each week. More than this and there’s a greater risk of injury
  4. If you have a ‘problem area’ pay attention to what that area feels like. That arthritic knee or painful Achilles that’s began to feel a bit stiffer than it was a month ago may just be a warning sign that you need to move things up a tad slower. Give it chance to adapt!

As always, if pain or injury is stopping you from getting back to doing what you love our expert Physiotherapists are on hand to help you out! Book online or call us! We hope you don’t need our help, but if you do we’re here.

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