Sep 7, 2018Managed Approach, Part 2
Last week, we offered an introduction on balancing workloads and two common mistakes coaches make. (Read Part 1 of this article here.) Below are two more errors to avoid:
RAPID INCREASE IN WORKLOAD
A fast rise in workload is a major risk factor for injuries. A 2016 study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine demonstrated that the likelihood of injury jumps by up to 50 percent when workload increases by 15 percent or more from week to week. Athletes often experience this shift when returning to sport following an injury or when resuming a full schedule of training after a long period of reduced activity, such as the offseason. (See the chart below for more on the relationship between probability of injury and weekly load changes.)
What to do: Throughout the return-to-play process — either following injury or inactivity — be diligent in monitoring the athlete’s Acute-to-Chronic Workload Ratio (ACWR) for both internal and external load. The ACWR measures the relationship between the current week’s load (acute) and the average load from the last four weeks (chronic). Make sure the ACWR remains in the 0.8 to 1.3 range — this indicates optimum workload. Less than 0.8 means the athlete is at risk for undertraining, while higher than 1.3 suggests the athlete is under a greater load than they are prepared for, putting them at risk for overtraining and injury.
When athletes are coming back from an injury, return-to-sport decisions should be based on the latest sports medicine research and allow for appropriate recovery time. As the athlete resumes training, increase their workload gradually (less than 10 percent per week), using their feedback and perceived wellness scores to guide you.
Through careful planning, strength coaches can also minimize the potential negative effects of return to play after a period of inactivity. One strategy is to make athletes’ loads during the last week of the offseason about 15 to 20 percent lower than the loads that will be used in the first week of the preseason. This will help athletes better adjust to the change in workload.
Additionally, scheduling a fitness test at your first preseason session will show who kept up with their offseason work and can ensure that the planned workload doesn’t exceed the level they are prepared for. From there, keep week-to-week load increases under 10 percent.
FORGETTING NON-SPORT STRESSORS
Each athlete’s optimal load fluctuates on a daily basis and is affected by multiple factors, including external stressors like work, friends, school, finances, and family. When loads are not adjusted every day to account for these elements, substantial differences between planned and actual training effects can occur. This often translates into athletes falling ill before or after a competition, suffering an injury, or not being able to achieve peak performance.
What to do: A simple, reliable, and scientifically validated solution to identify non-sport stressors is to have your athletes complete a short daily wellness questionnaire. To maximize compliance, stick to five or six questions associated with symptoms of overreaching, such as mood changes, poor sleep quality, soreness, and excessive fatigue.
Once the athletes have finished the questionnaire, use their results to adjust daily load accordingly. When poor wellness measures are reported, reduce the planned load by replacing a hard training session with an easy one or simply decreasing the number of reps for a given exercise. If symptoms persist for more than two or three days, decrease the load by 40 to 50 percent for the next seven to 10 days and talk with the athlete about potential lifestyle, training, or environmental stressors that could be hampering their wellness. Excessive fatigue persisting beyond seven to 10 days may require complete rest and medical attention.
However, if an athlete’s questionnaire scores reflect a positive adaptation to workload, increase the next week’s training load by four to five percent. This process can be simplified and accelerated with specialized load management tools or apps.