Looking to improve a personal best in powerlifting? Want to build more muscle mass? Need to lose weight to attain that ideal physique? No matter what your fitness goal is, there is one thing that they all have in common: tapping into the correct acute variables and training loads.
Think about it: If your goal is to build as much muscle as possible for a bodybuilding competition, you won’t be using the same workout and diet program as when you are trying to improve your WOD times in CrossFit. No workout program will ever be the same for two different people. This is because we all respond differently to training loads, which is why it’s so important to be able to accurately read your body’s response to training so you can tweak your workouts to improve results.
What’s more, understanding your body’s ability and threshold is ideal for sports injury prevention if you lift for too long or you lift more weight than you can handle. Let’s take a look at what training loads are, the best ways to read them, and how you can change them to continue to progress and prevent injury.
WHAT IS A TRAINING LOAD?
A training load is something that you do that puts enough stress on the body to trigger a specific series of physiological responses. In other words, a training load is what you do when you exercise.
The most basic of example would be picking up a dumbbell and performing arm curls. The dumbbell is the stressor, and over time when you use the correct training load, you can develop more lean muscle mass, strength, and muscle endurance in your arms.
More examples of a training load include using the barbell and weight plates during a squat, the internal tension from a bodyweight plank, and fighting against the descending barbell in a negative bench press.
To continue with these examples, let’s dive more into the two types of training loads: external and internal.
EXTERNAL VS. INTERNAL TRAINING LOAD
The external training load is the stressor that is being placed upon your body. Popular examples within the world of athletics include the following:
- Basketball: Plyometric drills, agility drills, ball-handling drills
- Bodybuilding: Barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, weight plates, bodyweight exercises
- CrossFit: Kettlebells, battle ropes, TRX bands, bodyweight exercises, Olympic-style lifting exercises
- Running: Weather and outside environment, hills, physical act of running
- Soccer: Speed drills, agility drills, resistance band exercises
- Swimming: Performing swimming drills in the pool
All of these external stressors are a form of resistance that is being placed against the body in order to trigger a physiological response. The response that is taking place within the body is known as the internal load. The best example of this is when you are performing an activity and your heart rate begins to increase or when your breathing becomes labored.
BEST WAYS TO MEASURE TRAINING LOADS
Unlike external training loads, internal training loads can be a bit more difficult to track. Why?
External training loads can be measured by observable progress. Using more weight than a previous weightlifting session, improving your sprint time, or weighing in at a lower weight are all observable examples of measuring external training loads. When you do more exercise or use more weight, you see that, and you can write it down to track your progress.
For internal training loads, there are several popular ways to measure feedback.
Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
- This is how difficult you feel that the task you are performing is. Another way to put it is how intense you believe the exercise or training to be. Most athletes associate how they perceive their exertion with their heart rate. One popular way to track RPE is whether or not you can hold a conversation. The most intense training loads will make it impossible to chat with someone.
Heart Rate (HR)
- One of the most common methods of measuring internal training loads, heart rate has a linear relationship with the rate at which your body consumes oxygen, making it an ideal measurement for sports-related tasks. In other words, the more oxygen your body is using, the higher your heart rate, and the higher the intensity of the training load. Heart rate measurements are commonly measured against RPE.
Heart Rate Recovery (HRR)
- The measurement of how quickly your heart rate recovers after stopping the assigned performance task. You can track this with a fitness watch or simply by placing two fingers against your neck or wrist. The faster your heart rate recovers after an intense training load, the better your endurance and cardiovascular health.
- This is when lactic acid begins to build up in the blood as a response to insufficient oxygen delivery. Again, blood lactate levels are often compared with the rating of perceived exertion and heart rate data.
HOW TO PROGRESS TRAINING LOADS
If you want to improve your external training loads, it’s imperative that you write down your exercises, weight used, sets and repetitions performed, and the overall intensity. From week to week, you can reference these past workouts, and decide on one or two acute variables that you can increase to make the workout slightly more difficult. You don’t want to overdo it as you could hurt yourself. Instead, always strive to push yourself just outside of your comfort zone.
With internal training loads, if you’re measuring one or several of the factors listed above, this will give you a clue as to where you can push yourself. For example, if you are able to hold a conversation with someone while running, you’ll know that your body has adjusted to that current level of stress. You’ll want to increase the difficultly by running faster or alternating with sprints.
In general, you will want to look at your overall performance with both the external and internal stressors to determine what needs to be increased. There are two key points to remember: Never let yourself stay at one training load for too long, and never try to go above and beyond to the point where you risk injury.
Speaking of injury, make sure that you aren’t putting yourself at risk for the top 10 most common CrossFit injuries.
IS IT NECESSARY TO MEASURE TRAINING LOADS?
Without a doubt, as plenty of studies have shown that monitoring your training loads and adjusting them accordingly can improve your performance and results while reducing the risk for injury.
A study published in Sports Medicine confirmed the benefits of monitoring training loads, citing the information to be valuable for coaches and athletes alike. With these measurement systems in place to monitor the internal training loads, which are the sites of where adaptations and performance changes take place, one can alter the external training load based on the biofeedback.
In other words, the information that coaches and athletes receive will allow them to alter and improve the athletic program to ensure continued results and progress in the respective athletic field.
HOW DO YOU MEASURE TRAINING LOADS?
Are you a CrossFitter that tracks his or her WOD times? Are you a powerlifter that constantly strives for a new personal best every week? What is the best way to measure a training load for you? Let us know on our Facebook!
- Halson SL. Monitoring Training Load to Understand Fatigue in Athletes. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.z). 2014;44(Suppl 2):139-147. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0253-z. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4213373/
- Scanlan AT, Wen N, Tucker PS, Dalbo VJ. The relationships between internal and external training load models during basketball training. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Sep;28(9):2397-405. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000458. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24662233