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Maximize Performance and Reduce Injury with Running Load Management

by Devin Blessing, DPT, OCS

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Whether you just signed up for your first marathon or you're training for your 7th Boston Marathon, appropriate load management plays a prominent role for all runners. When handled poorly, we can see overuse injuries (think achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, bone stress injuries, etc.), poor performance, burnout from overtraining or even illness.

So what do we mean by “load management?” Training can boil down to this equation popularized by Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg in their book Peak Performance:

Stress + Rest = Growth

No matter what level of runner you are, you need to stress the body just enough to create an adaptation to make progress. If you stress your body too much without giving yourself adequate rest, injuries and burnout occur. If you stress yourself too little, then you don’t make any progress.

How do we figure out the right amount to stress ourselves? That’s where an appropriate training plan or working with a coach or a physical therapist who's familiar with running can be helpful. Being mindful of oneself is also important. You have to factor in your previous running history, your most recent running history and other stresses in your life. Stress is stress. If you're experiencing high levels of stress in your work life, personal life or any number of other stressors, that must be factored into how much training load you can handle.

Another mistake many novice runners make is running too many miles at higher intensities. A general rule you can follow when getting started is running approximately 80% of your weekly miles at an easy or conversational pace. There are times when this ratio must be deviated from, but you won’t go wrong by starting here and learning when to deviate throughout your growth as a runner.

Managing your training load also means avoiding the mistake of increasing mileage too quickly. People will talk about the 10% rule, which means you should only increase your weekly mileage by 10%. This can be a conservative way to add mileage and avoid injury but will take a long time to build up. There is no magic number for increasing your mileage because the appropriate increase is dependent on so many factors, such as training history, recent training history, injury history, nutrition, stress levels and more.

We can also take an active role in our own recovery in order to manage our training load appropriately. Remember that equation “Stress + Rest = Growth?” Think of our active recovery as the “rest” component. Did you fuel and hydrate appropriately before and after your runs? Did you get 7-9 hours of sleep? Are you building in recovery weeks to your training plan? Are you doing things like strength training, foam rolling and mobility work to address problematic areas?

Working with a physical therapist or other rehab specialist who's experienced at helping runners can help you identify the areas to focus on for your active recovery. Reach out to Evolution Physical Therapy for advice on load management for optimal performance and injury prevention!

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