The Secret to Preventing Injury

Both overtraining and under training increase injury risk. The body develops resilience through exposure to physically demanding activities that prepare it to handle the demands placed on it. For athletes, proper exposure to the demands of the sport will decrease the risk of being injured during intense training or competition. Even if you’re not a competitive athlete, you still place demands on your body through yard work, house projects, or walking long distances, which your body needs to be prepared to handle. Well-developed physical qualities (strength, endurance, speed) are associated with a reduced risk of injury. In order to develop the physical capacities required to provide a protective effect against injury, proper training must take place.

The ‘sweet spot’ is the amount of training that improves performance and minimizes injury. In sports, it has been shown that higher training volume and intensity improves performance. Having a higher level of fitness also decreases the risk of injury in daily life. However, injuries are also more likely to happen when training loads are the highest. Training load includes many aspects: physical work – distance run, weight lifted, number of jumps; individual characteristics – chronological age, training age (how long you have been training), injury history and physical capacity; and well-being – stress level, energy, mood, sleep, and diet. Spikes are rapid changes (increased or decreased) in training load.

Leg Lift

So how do we find the sweet spot? The sweet spot is achieved by minimizing spikes in training by keeping load fairly constant, ranging from 5% less to 10% more than the previous week. This exposure to appropriate loads enhances fitness to improve performance and protect against injury. The steady increase (10% more) in load is necessary to provide a stimulus to improve physical qualities (strength, endurance, speed) to enhance performance and protect against injury, but that slight decrease (5% less) AKA “de-load” is also necessary every couple weeks to allow the body to repair and rebuild. Take note that a 5% decrease is far from “taking a week off,” because that will create a downward ‘spike’ in training. A 5% decrease might look like shorter distance runs or less weight lifted at the gym, but remaining active. If you do have to take an extended period of time off due to vacation, a big project at work, illness, etc., you have to start back at a much lower training load than you left off, so you follow the 10% increase per week rule. If you are coming back from an injury, you need to increase your training load at an even slower pace, 3-5% per week. Plan on taking the same amount of time you took off from training to build back up. For example, if you were on vacation for 1 week and didn’t train at all, take 1 week to build back up to pre-vacation training loads.

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A fine balance exists between training, detraining, and overtraining.  Remember that training load isn’t just the physical work being done, it includes individual characteristics and well-being. Think of your training load as a bank account. You have so much money in your account, and money is withdrawn for training stress, work stress, lack of sleep, poor diet, etc. If you withdraw more money than you have in your account, the risk of injury goes up. So, if you aren’t sleeping well, are really stressed about work, and training hard, you might be overdrawing. If you are sleeping and eating well, managing stress, taking time for self-care, and training hard, you will still have some money left in the bank. All types of stress have to be considered when measuring training load.

In conclusion, evidence suggests that too much and too little training increases the risk of injury. High training loads can lead to improved levels of fitness which in turn offers a protective effect against injury, leading to improved performance and resilience. Ultimately, building your long-term training loads without rapid spikes in the process is considered current best practice. Your local Physical Therapist can help you find the balance between injury prevention and high performance.