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How to track your training workload - and reduce injuries

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Reduce injuries by tracking your training workload – It is now even easier.

There are many reasons that athletes suffer from injuries. Contact sports involve collisions, power sports involve muscles working at their absolute capacity of speed or strength, and endurance sports have a high likelihood of repetitive strain conditions.

There is one injury risk factor which is gaining more and more attention, and if you are a runner, cyclist or other type of endurance athlete, the software program (or app) that you use to track your training is probably able to help you identify it.

The "Acute: Chronic Workload Ratio" as popularised by Tim Gabbett, compares your weekly training load average for the past 4 weeks to that of the current week. The "load" in question might be distance, time or quantity of training sessions, but for the most accurate prediction of injury risk, a combination of both training VOLUME and INTENSITY metrics are most useful.

Researchers have shown that if the acute/ chronic ratio exceeds 1.5 (ie the amount of training in the current week is more than 150% of the average of the previous 4 weeks), then the risk of injury becomes significant.

Interestingly, the same research also shows that if the acute/ chronic ratio dips below .8 (ie the current week's training load is only 80% of the average of the 4 previous weeks), then this also poses an injury risk. This is particularly relevant for Achilles and Patella tendons, which need a constant mechanical load stimulus to remain healthy.

So how do you calculate your acute: chronic ratio? Technology is here to help!

Earlier in 2018, Strava introduced a very useful new feature called "Relative Effort", which calculates a training (or race) workload combining heart rate data and duration of activity.

This builds on the now superseded "Suffer Score" analytic and shows your current run/ ride effort as a numerical score and provides a short description (eg "Massive Effort").

In addition, on the mobile phone platform, Strava also maps your current week's load against previous weeks. On the individual ride/ run view screen, your acute load for the week can be compared at a glance to your average for the last 3 weeks.

  • Red = Higher than average
  • Purple = Around your 3-week average
  • Lilac = Lower than average
Furthermore, tapping on the 3-bar graph brings up a more detailed scatter plot showing your relative effort score for each of your last 12 weeks, with the same colour coding to indicate the acute / chronic ratio and therefore potential injury risk. If you look closely you will also see a white band in the centre of the graph, which is the "steady progress" zone for safe training.

This is a fantastic feature which helps the average recreational athlete who runs or cycles to maintain a consistent training performance and reduce injury risk. One specific application of this data is in relation to the annual Rapha 500, which is a well-known cycling challenge to ride 500 km between Christmas and New Year, when many cyclists are off work and have more time to ride. While this is a great training goal, many cyclists will well and truly exceed their chronic training load average, and thus put themselves at a substantially higher injury risk. In these situations it pays to build up your training load gradually, and programs like Strava can help you monitor this.  

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Friday, 24 September 2021

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