How to use Training Strain to achieve peak performance and reduce injury risk
Coaches are constantly trying to strike a balance between pushing their clients and athletes to achieve peak performance while avoiding the negative effects of overtraining. If training loads, intensities, and rest periods are not optimal, the intended adaptations won’t be achieved, performance will be impacted, and injury risk will increase. Training strain is one tool that can help coaches achieve this balance.
Training Load monitoring can be used to optimize training loads and avoid these pitfalls with the session rate of perceived exertion (session RPE) method developed by Foster et al. proven to be a simple, reliable, non-invasive and valid method of quantifying training loads1.
In our previous blog, we discussed training monotony and how it can be used to design better programs. In this article, we’re going to discuss another useful training load metric – Training Strain, and how you can use it to prevent overtraining and injury.
What is Training Strain?
Training Strain is calculated by multiplying the total training load for the training week, by the training monotony. It measures the overall stress the individual was exposed to throughout the training week – the accumulation of how hard they worked.
“Applications of the Session Rating of Perceived Exertion System in Professional Rugby Union,” by Dr. Tom Comyns and Dr. Eamonn Flanagan, provides an extensive overview of training load monitoring, training monotony, and training strain.
What are the risks of high Training Strain?
Excessive training strain is a result of high training monotony values which can indicate a high risk of overtraining, illness, or injury2 when combined with high weekly training loads. This type of training has been associated with incidence of illness and poor performance3.
When coupled with low weekly training loads, it can indicate that a program may be ineffective and lacking the stimulus necessary to drive adaptation and improvement in athletes.
Therefore, low to moderate training strain, up to 50% greater than weekly training load, are preferable. This indicates two things. Firstly, that the training loads are varied enough to trigger adaptations. Secondly, that the rest periods are sufficient to promote recovery between sessions.
Foster has recommended that alternating hard and easy training days reduces training monotony and strain and this balanced approach to load management may help reduce incidences of illness and overtraining4.
Low training strain values are usually associated with periodization programming methods that alternate high and low-intensity workouts.
Managing Training Strain to Optimize Performance
Tracking training strain can provide coaches with a visualization of how their clients and athletes are experiencing their training plan. It can be used at all stages of the program to help you refine training loads and schedules in order to optimize performance and reduce the likelihood of injuries.
Planning Phase /
Allowing for sufficient recovery is fundamental during times of intense training and high training loads. Training strain is a useful tool in the planning phase as it can be used with predicted workloads to ensure that you have a sufficient variability of training loads in your microcycles to ensure low training monotony and training strain.
Later in the review phase, these values can be compared to actual values recorded by your clients and athletes to help you refine your predicted workloads and individual session design.
Training Phase /
Tracking and visualizing training strain along with other training load metrics, weekly training load and training monotony, can help coaches identify weeks in which the training loads and recovery periods have been poorly managed. Allowing them to react quickly to plan subsequent weeks in a more optimal manner in order to optimize performance and reduce injury risk.
This is particularly important during competition phases when schedules can change and training needs to be adapted.
On an individual level it can also help identify individuals whose loads may need to be managed slightly differently due to other factors impacting readiness, general fitness level, or return from injury.
Review Phase /
Like training monotony, training strain is a very useful tool during the program review phase. It can be compared to predicted values to identify whether or not the program met the objectives and goals it was designed to. While helping you refine training schedules for optimal performance and reduced injury risk in future.
The purpose of monitoring training load is to increase the level of performance while decreasing injuries. With advances in technology, training load monitoring has become much more practical and accessible to coaches at all levels. One such monitoring tool, sRPE, is simple and effective in giving you the overall picture of your athlete’s training load.
Training monotony and training strain are two useful tools which can give coaches insights that can help them optimize performance at critical times, and also reduce the risk of injury to their clients and athletes. It can be used during the planning, training, and review phase of a program, to ensure that the training schedule has suitable variability of training loads with sufficient rest periods so that peak performance can be achieved without the negative risks of overtraining.
- Foster, C, Hector, LL, Welsh, R, Schrager, M, Green, MA, and Snyder, AC. 350 Effects of specific versus cross-training on running performance. Eur. J. Appl. 351 Physiol. 70(4): 367-372, 1995.
- Clarke, N, Farthing, JP, Norris, SR, Arnold, BE, and Lanovaz, JL. Quantification 329 of training load in Canadian Football: Application of Session-RPE in collision330 based team sports. J. Strength Cond. Res. December 2012.
- Putlur, P., Foster, C., Miskowski, J. A., Kane, M. K., Burton, S. E., Scheett, T. P., et al. (2004). Alteration of immune function in women collegiate soccer players and college students J. Sports Sci. Med. 3, 234–243.
- Foster C.: Monitoring training in players with reference to overtraining syndrome, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 1998.
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