29 Sep What is Internal Load and Load Management?
In the past few years the term “load management” took the sports world by storm. Now, NBA superstars such as Kawhi Leonard or Lebron James miss games during the season as part of the load management program. Load management has trickled down to the collegiate level and even to the recreational fitness athlete but the question remains what is load management? What is internal load? Is it something you should implement into your own training? We will break down exactly what is internal load and how you can add it to your prehab repertoire!
The Hot Topic of Load Management
Although load management has been popularized in modern times it has been around the block for a while now. On “The Last Dance” documentary we see in 1985 when Michael Jordan was returning from a navicular fracture he was only allowed to play 14 minutes per game.
Even further back, in an 1884 article in reference to the case of Lawn Tennis leg, Dr. Hood reported, “the amount of walking should be increased daily, and after the third day the patient should go up and down stairs freely in the usual manner.” Giving us our first example of load management.
Picture of Lawn tennis leg
Although this is a hot term in the NBA it is a concept used in nearly all professional sports. Modern-day load management concepts actually come from Aussie Rules Football, Rugby union, and Cricket. Three sports of which I don’t know if I’ll ever understand the rules!!!
What Exactly Is Load Management?
Our being of a human involves the appreciation of a complex biological system with a lot of mystery! One of these mysteries is attempting to explain why we have various adaptations to the same workout stimulus. Suppose we have two sprinters from the same team that have completed the same amount of workouts, practices, meets, and are fairly equal in size and speed. We could assume they have had similar physiological adaptations but then mid-season one of the sprinters has a hamstring injury. If this happens to be you, check out this video.
Internal Load: Hamstring [P]Rehab
Why would this injury only happen to one and not both athletes?
While we’re at it we should also tackle the question, why does the athlete respond to the same load differently day-to-day? I know I’ve had this experience multiple times! One day at the gym a deadlift can feel great and another day the same weight can feel ridiculously heavy.
In order to decrease mystery, the concept of load management had to evolve. Modern sports science and pioneer Tim Gabbett defined load into two categories; external and internal. Learn how to reach optimal performance in this podcast with Dr. Tim Gabbett.
External load is simply the act of physical work. This comprises variables associated with work such as volume, intensity, density, etc. External loading is a great way to help reduce injuries. See this article to learn how to prevent shoulder injuries or check out the Shoulder [P]Rehab program!
Shoulder [P]Rehab Program
The Shoulder [P]Rehab Program is a physical therapist developed, step-by-step program that teaches you how to optimize your shoulder health. This 4-phase program will expose you to various scapula and shoulder strengthening and stabilization exercises supported by science. This program will bulletproof your shoulders for anything life throws at you! Learn more HERE!
What is Internal Load? How Can We Measure It?
Aside from external load, there are MANY other pieces to the puzzle. These pieces can be described as internal load. Internal load is the physiological, psychological, and perceptual response to the work that’s completed (not so simple). External load is typically measured with the variables listed above along with GPS and inertial sensors. Internal load is measured by the rating of perceived exertion (RPE).
Internal Load: Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
Using the RPE scale takes a bit of practice and should be done 10-30 minutes after the training vs immediately after the training. You can hear more about this method in our progressive overload podcast and article!
The number selected is then multiplied by the session duration to give an arbitrary unit of training load. For example, if you select 5 on the RPE scale and work out for 30 minutes then this would give you an arbitrary unit (AU) of 150.
Want Lower Load But Still Gain Strength? Learn About Blood Flow Restriction Training!
Internal Load: Why Implement This Measure Into Your Training?
Using this method for load management is quick, simple, and involves little to no equipment. Mathematics is one of my weaknesses and if I can calculate my training load, I know you can too! Long term tracking of your training load will help to answer some of the mystery questions from the beginning of the post. You and your performance team (coach, trainer, physical therapist, etc.) can look at your log to see at which training load were you having positive adaptations vs overtraining.
What is Internal Load?
From Tim Gabbett 2015
Furthermore, in the training and/or rehabilitation process it helps guide the programming. For example, if we know for our typical training session the arbitrary unit is 300 (5 RPE x 60-minute session) and currently we can tolerate 90 AU (3 RPEx30 minute session) this load can gradually progress back to 300.
After recording our daily training load our weekly and monthly load can then be calculated by adding together the daily arbitrary units. Long term recording of load helps to further improve our decision-making process in regards to training. For example, in professional rugby union players, Cross et al demonstrated higher 1-week (>1245 arbitrary units) and 4-week cumulative loads (>8651 arbitrary units) were associated with a higher risk of injury. The goal of training is to reduce injury, therefore it would be wise for these players to not exceed too far past 1,245 AU in a week.
|Training day||Monday||Tuesday||Wednesday||Thursday||Friday||Weekly Load|
|Session type||strength||Recovery (walking)||strength||Power||rest|
|Arbitrary unit (AU)||250||80||240||270||0||840 AU|
Why Focus on Internal Load?
The tricky part is our subjective perception of the work completed is very dependent on numerous factors such as sleep, fatigue, nutrition, previous experiences, mindset, environment, distress, or overall well-being. Check out a recent article on the benefits of sleep.
As internal load increases due to the above factors, our performance suffers until we figure out a way to deload or “reset”. Check out these exercises to “de-load” and try them out for 2-3 minute duration, 1x/Day, 2-3x/Week.
De-loading Exercises: hooklying diaphragmatic breathing
- HOW: Start by lying on your back in the hook lying position with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Place one hand over your chest and the other hand over your stomach. Focus on breathing in your lower abdomen area. Take slow and controlled breaths through your diaphragm. Your hand on your stomach should rise feeling your lower rib cage expanding as well.
- FEEL: You should feel your core muscles working.
- COMPENSATION: Don’t breathe in and out with your chest. You should not feel the hand over your chest moving much.
De-loading Exercises: child’s pose
Begin on your hands and knees. Push back into a child’s pose, round your back within your tolerance. Focus on bringing your butt as far as possible, ideally, your butt will touch your heels while dropping your chest towards the floor. Keep your hands overhead for the entirety of this stretch.
De-Loading Exercises: Cat Cow
This exercise will help with learning back and pelvic body awareness as well as it promotes global mobility of these regions. This exercise also provides the opportunity for your back to get comfortable with moving in and out of your spinal flexion and extension range of motion.
Internal load can help explain at least part of why Dennis Rodman took a midseason vacation to Vegas in the Bulls 98 championship run, Michael Jordan’s trip to Atlantic City during the 93 Eastern Conference finals, or why in our own training the same external load feels vastly different week to week. Measuring and managing internal load may be the key to reaching states of optimal performance!
In a recent viewpoint from a former Norwegian national handball player, Gro Hammerseng-Edin states, “To promote a culture shift in professional sports, athletes should think of recovery, sleep, nutrition, and injury prevention training as equally important as technical or physical training.” I believe this statement is true for all of us! The word health derives from an Old English root that means to make whole. In upcoming posts, we will focus on factors that affect internal load along with strategies to overcome these obstacles to improve your daily performance and give you the feeling of wholeness. Why? Because you deserve to reach new levels of performance!
- Powell R.W. Lawn tennis leg. Lancet. 1883;122(3123):44
- Gabbett TJThe training—injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder?British Journal of Sports Medicine 2016;50:273-280.
- La scala teixeira CV, Evangelista AL, Pereira PEA, Da silva-grigoletto ME, Bocalini DS, Behm DG. Complexity: A Novel Load Progression Strategy in Strength Training. Front Physiol. 2019;10:839.
- Uchida MC, Teixeira LF, Godoi VJ, et al. Does the Timing of Measurement Alter Session-RPE in Boxers?. J Sports Sci Med. 2014;13(1):59-65.
- Cross MJ, Williams S,Trewartha G, et al. The influence of in-season training loads on injury risk in professional rugby union. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2015 (in press).
- Hammerseng-edin G. The Alarm Bells Are Ringing: A Call to Action From a Newly Retired Professional Athlete. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2020;50(4):170-172.
- Tibana RA, De sousa NMF, Cunha GV, et al. Validity of Session Rating Perceived Exertion Method for Quantifying Internal Training Load during High-Intensity Functional Training. Sports (Basel). 2018;6(3)