Setting a floor and ceiling on training load and its role in injury prevention

17 October 2016

Anyone who has been around the endurance sports world for long will understand that overtraining is a fast track to getting sick or injured. It is only logical that when we push our body repeatedly past the point of exhaustion and don’t provide it with adequate recovery then our body is going to break down in a physiologically deliberate act of sabotage to ensure we don’t go any further. The human body is a sophisticated organism that provides us with ample warning in the lead up to these events, however the competitive nature of so many endurance sports enthusiasts can push us beyond the point of no return until our body takes action into its own hands.

What is a lesser known concept is that we can also use our training load as a protective measure against illness and injury in order to maintain long term progress towards our goals. What this means is setting ourselves not only an upper limit, but also a lower limit of training load. When looking at an athletes training and risk of injury, two common risk factors may be present:

The Under-Loaded athlete:

  • When an athlete has not done enough training in order to meet the demands of their next phase of training or competition block. This may be due to a range of factors including holidays, returning from another injury, an end of season break or missed sessions to illness or other life obstacles. This can lead to an acute spike in load and place them at risk of injury.

The Over-Loaded athlete:

  • An athlete with a high volume chronic training load with corresponding negative training stress balance who then has a large acute spike in total training from one week to the next. This may come in the form or an intensive training camp or multi-stage event.

In 2015 the Australian Institute of Sport provided the following recommendations in regards to training load management to provide optimal support in the prevention of injury or illness:

Establish moderate chronic training loads and ensure that these are maintained

It is important, especially when athletes are returning from a period away from training that their load is slowly and progressively returned to appropriate levels.

A smart way to progressively build training load

A smart way to progressively build training load

Be aware of the ‘latent’ period – injuries don’t always occur right away

If you head away for an intensive training camp or take a weeks holiday, recognise that their is a ‘latent’ period where you’re still at a heightened risk or injury. Be aware of your body and place extra focus on your recovery. Depending on the volume (or lack thereof) in that time you may be more prone to injury for up to a month afterwards.

Injuries don't always strike right away

Injuries don’t always strike right away 

Minimise large week-to-week fluctuations and establish a floor and ceiling of safety

This rule applies in both big and small weeks. Your recovery weeks should be a decrease in duration and intensity however don’t take this too far. The same goes for your intensive weeks. If you normally complete 10 hours a week of training, it would be ill-advised to head away for a training camp and complete 20 hours, simply because you have the time.

Setting a floor and ceiling of safety will largely be subjective and everyone will be a little different with how much they can handle. The 10% rule is a good guideline in regards to the largest ‘swing’ of training one should undergo however there is no evidence that either supports or refutes this number. The important thing is to set a rough ceiling and floor of safety that is unique to you and use your future training to adjust these values as necessary.

Avoid large fluctuations in training load by setting a floor and ceiling of safety

Avoid large fluctuations in training load by setting a floor and ceiling of safety

The key take home message in all of this is to develop an awareness of the loads you can tolerate and be careful to manage that load following times aware from training while being very cautious in the implementation of ‘super-weeks’.


Australian Institute of Sport (2015), Can we think about training load differently?