What is Training Load? Why Does it Matter?

Raise your hand if the following scenario sounds familiar. You have just signed up for a race. Maybe you signed up because you needed the motivation to be active. Maybe you like the structure of a training plan. Or maybe you run cross country and track and you didn’t so much “sign up” as arrive back at school for the start of indoor season. Now that the race date is on the calendar, it’s time to train, but maybe you haven’t done the greatest job of maintaining a base fitness. (That’s the part where you should raise your hand).

I am not here to pass judgement on taking time off and in fact I enthusiastically support taking time off from hard training to let your body heal. However, it is very important to properly build up from resting to training.

You can think of “training load” as the sum of everything you do to train (running, weight lifting, cycling). Imagine that you are actually loading a cart full of bricks and each day’s training is a brick. But all bricks do not weight the same amount. Not all activities contribute to load in the same way. A hard interval workout, hill workout or long run “weigh” more. This is why training plans will have 1-2 easy days in between the hard workouts and an appropriate training plan should always include days completely off. Sometimes life happens and we need to move runs around on our calendar. This is perfectly fine as long as when we move things around, we maintain that structure of easy days after hard days and we don’t give up our recovery day.

Why does this matter? Because the best way to get injured (i.e. break your cart full of bricks) is to take on too much training load. So what’s a runner to do? I have two suggestions.

  1. Color code your training plan. This can be an easy, visual way to make sure you are getting in enough easy runs to recover from your hard training days. Find 3 crayons, colored pencils, or markers and after a run, color that day red, yellow or green. Red for hard, yellow for medium and green for easy. If you really like coloring, you can add blue for your off days.
  2. If you’d like to get a little more high-tech you can use a spreadsheet to calculate your Acute to Chronic Workload Ratio (ACWR). I will explain ACWR in a separate blog post. As a special treat, I have done the work of creating a spreadsheet that calculates this and I will be including it for all new clients who sign up for a service in January or February.

Happy Running!

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