Training load and injury: how to workout safely

The balance between fatigue and fitness 

When you train to improve your athletic performance, you want to deliberately push your body beyond its current comfort zone, because that’s what will lead to changes like greater:

  • Strength

  • Endurance

  • Skills

So, really, you are deliberately fatiguing your muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments, heart and lungs, and even your brain and nervous system. They will adapt and get better at meeting the demands of your training, and whatever competition you are training for. 

Not enough training can reduce your body’s readiness to perform the tasks you’re demanding of it, like the CrossFit Open. Too much and you introduce so much fatigue that your body can’t easily recover from it, and you increase your chances of injury. 

To train effectively you need to manage the demands you place on your body and nervous system. More is not necessarily better!

Types of injury

Non-contact injury

When I’m talking about injury what I really mean is non-contact injury, such as when you pull a hamstring while sprinting, hurt your back while squatting, or your shoulder while snatching or kipping a pull-up. 

It’s an injury that occurs due to an overload of your body in the face of the demands placed on it.

Contact injury

This is different from a contact injury, which is where an external force causes the injury – a concussion caused by a blow to the head, or a torn ligament when an opponent tackles you to the ground in just the wrong way. 

The dangers of over-training

Over-training can have a negative effect on more than your muscles and joints.  You can deplete your nervous system, your immune system, and in extreme cases cause organ shut-down. 

Training is not just about your muscles. Your brain and nervous system work incredibly hard to fire your muscles, co-ordinate your movement and manage your motivation in the face of the stress of the workout. If you work too hard you can fatigue your brain and nervous system and it takes a while to recover. All of this can make you much more likely to get injured, as we discussed when we looked at the effects of training load.

Your body also tends to work within a certain metabolic range, so above a certain level, your body won’t continue to expend more energy, but will instead just shift around its allocation of resources. In other words, train too hard, and the energy that the body needs for keeping your immune system going will instead be used up by your physical activity.

This is also why you can’t exercise your way around a poor diet. More exercise does not necessarily mean burning up more calories!

Over-training takes resources away from things like your immune system. Do it for long enough you’ll get sick. 

Ignore this warning sign and continue to do it for even longer, and eventually you run the risk of various organs and systems starting to shut down. You’ll be welcoming in fatigue, depression, chronic illness and hormonal imbalances, just to name a few. 

Practical tips for planning your training load

If you want to up the intensity of your training, go for it, but be mindful of not pushing yourself too far. Use the ACWR formula to get an idea of how much to push yourself.

Have a good recovery strategy

As always, if you have any questions about training load and injury, get in touch.