S&C

What is Athlete Monitoring & Why is it Important? Part 1: Internal and External Load

RYPT Team

[7-min read]

Athlete monitoring has become an indispensable tool for coaches at all levels of sport as they look to improve their athlete’s performance, achieve a specific training adaptation, and reduce their risk of injury. Studies have shown the links between an athlete’s workload and their risk of injury, Drew and Finch (2016), and performance, Jaspers et al. (2017). Practitioners have developed tools to monitor and manage these workloads to achieve these goals, and ultimately to help the athlete to be successful in their sport.

Athlete monitoring is not just for elite sports, however, and coaches and athletes of all levels can benefit from it. Part 1 of this 2-part blog introduces some of the most common External and Internal Load monitoring techniques in use today to give coaches, regardless of level, an understanding of what they are and how they can utilise them.

Load or workload is an all-encompassing term that includes all stressors that an athlete goes through. This includes not only training and competition-related stressors but also lifestyle stressors experienced by the athlete like studies work, family life, etc. Monitoring Load is a key pillar of athlete monitoring. Load is divided into two sub-categories, External and Internal Load.

External Load is the stimulus applied to or physical work carried by the athlete for example, the number of repetitions, the weight lifted, the distance ran, or the number of sprints. Monitoring external load can provide coaches with important information about the work completed and help them enhance their athletes’ performance capacity.

Internal load is the athlete’s physiological, psychological, and perceptual response to the external load. It is influenced by a host of other factors unique to each individual athlete, such as their fitness level, fatigue, and other lifestyle factors. Monitoring internal load can help coaches manage an athlete’s training and recovery, and it can identify potential drop-offs in performance and heightened risk of injury.

An athlete’s external load is an objective measure of the physical work carried out and can be monitored by simply counting the number of reps and recording the weights lifted in the gym but may require certain specialised equipment like GPS Tracking devices to monitor the external load of on-pitch or competition loads.

Volume Load

Volume Load can be used to measure an athlete’s load from gym-based sessions. An athlete simply records the number of repetitions and the weight they lifted for each exercise and set and from this, their total volume can be calculated.

Free tools like Excel and Sheets can be used to do this, but they are time-consuming to set up and maintain and inconvenient for athletes, impacting compliance. Platforms like RYPT can simplify the design and delivery of training programs, make it easier for athletes to improve compliance, and automate data interpretation so coaches get instant, actionable insights.

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Athlete Monitoring with RYPT / Training Volume Dashboard

GPS Trackers

GPS trackers can be used to capture external load data from on-pitch training and competitions, such as distances, number of sprints, number of accelerations and decelerations and much more. This makes it possible to design sessions to mimic the demands of competition and to assess completed sessions to ensure they achieve the goals of the session.

GPS devices are required to capture the data which can be expensive and therefore not accessible to coaches and athletes of all levels.

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Athlete Monitoring with RYPT / GPS Dashboard

Did the actual training session match what was designed?

External load data is a powerful tool to assess your training session and ensure it achieved its intended goals. This can help you and your coaching team refine the design of your sessions so that they trigger the desired adaptations.

Is the athlete being exposed to loads that mimic the demands of competition?

External load data can be used to ensure that the athletes are being exposed to loads that mimic competition demands in training. This is also extremely useful when an athlete is returning to play post-injury. Protocols can be designed using external load data to ensure the athlete builds up their load gradually and has been exposed to sufficient loads before returning to full training and competition. 

Has the athlete experienced a spike in load?

Gabbett (2016) demonstrated that the risk of injury jumps by up to 50% when load increases by 15% or more from one week to the next.

External load data can also be used to identify any spikes in load experienced by the athlete which can put them at higher risk of injury. This is particularly useful when an athlete is returning from injury or a long period of inactivity in the off-season. Monitoring weekly loads and using Acute:Chronic Ratios can help you identify spikes in external load. 

An athlete’s internal load can be measured through a combination of subjective and objective methods.

sRPE

The sRPE or Session-RPE method is a simple, scientifically validated method developed by Dr. Carl Foster, Foster et al. (1996). It combines both objective and subjective data by asking the athlete to record the duration of their session in minutes and to rate the session difficulty on the 10-point scale pictured below. These numbers are multiplied to calculate the sRPE or Load for that session.

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Athlete Monitoring with RYPT / sRPE Dashboard

Additional metrics are calculated from sRPE data which give insights into an athlete’s response to the external loads they have been exposed to:

  1. Monotony / A statistical tool proposed by Carl Foster (1998) that evaluates the variability of daily training loads. Click here to learn more about Training Monotony and how you can use it to design better training plans.
  2. Strain / Measures the overall stress the individual was exposed to throughout the training week. Click here to learn more about Training Strain and how you can use it to improve performance.
  3. Acute:Chronic Workload Ratio (ACWR) / Compares an athlete’s short-term (acute) training load and long-term (chronic) training load to provide coaches with a snapshot of an athlete’s training load history. Click here to learn more about ACWR and how you can use it to reduce injury risk.

Free tools like Excel and Sheets can be used to do this, but they are time-consuming to set up and maintain and inconvenient for athletes, impacting compliance. Platforms like RYPT can simplify the scheduling of sessions, make it easier for athletes to improve compliance, and automate data interpretation so coaches get instant, actionable insights.

Heart Rate Monitoring

Heart Rate Monitoring can be used to estimate an athlete’s internal load. This objective measure is scientifically sound but has some limitations in measuring short-duration, high-intensity activities. Heart Rate Monitors are required to capture the data so it’s not accessible to coaches and athletes at all levels.

How is the athlete responding to the training?

Internal training load data will identify how an athlete is responding to the load prescribed and can identify when a particular athlete is finding it more difficult or easy than you intended. If it’s a particular individual that’s an outlier, their load may need to be increased or decreased, or if it’s an entire group of athletes it may indicate that your training plan may not be having the desired outcome and may need to be adjusted.

Is the training varied enough?

When training is too monotonous it can increase the high risk of overtraining, illness, or injury when coupled with a high workload, or it can point to a lack of sufficient intensity when coupled with a low workload. It’s important that training is varied to trigger adaptations and allow sufficient recovery time. Internal load data can give insights into training monotony allowing coaches to adjust workloads as necessary.

Have there been any spikes in load?

Internal load data can also be used to identify any spikes in load experienced by the athlete which can put them at higher risk of injury. This is particularly useful when an athlete is returning from injury or a long period of inactivity in the off-season. Monitoring weekly loads and using ACWR can help you identify spikes in internal load.

There are many methods of External and Internal Load. Even coaches with little to no budget can use some of these methods to get started with athlete monitoring and start producing actionable insights that will serve to help design better sessions to prepare their athletes more effectively for the demands of competition, while also reducing their risk of injury and ensuring they’re in a position to perform at their peak. In Part 2 we’ll be looking at ways to monitor athlete Readiness to train/compete and how you can combine your data to get even more powerful insights.

  • Drew MK , Finch CF . The relationship between training load and injury, illness and soreness: a systematic and literature review. Sports Med 2016;46:861–83.doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0459-8 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  • Jaspers A , Brink MS , Probst SG , et al . Relationships between training load indicators and training outcomes in professional soccer. Sports Med 2017;47:533–44.doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0591-0 Google Scholar
  • Foster C et al.: Athletic performance in relation to training load, Wis Med J., 95(6):370-4, 1996
  • Foster C.: Monitoring training in players with reference to overtraining syndrome, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 1998.
  • Gabbett TJ.: The training—injury prevention paradox: should players be training smarter and harder?,  Br J Sports Med, 50:273–280 2016.

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About RYPT

At RYPT we’re dedicated to making the delivery of individualized fitness programs, and the gathering of performance data frictionless, so that coaches have the insights they need to optimize the performance of each individual. It’s our goal to connect individuals with high-quality coaches and help coaches to optimize performance and the performance of their business.

RYPT provides coaches with a digital channel to connect with their clients and athletes and bespoke tools to build, and deliver individualized training programs and monitor exercise, training load, well-being, and nutrition data. Giving coaches the full picture of their client’s and athlete’s performance, and the insights they need to make data-led decisions to optimize performance, prevent overtraining and injury, and improve results. The RYPT coaching platform is supported by eCommerce functionality with powerful automation to help coaches monetize their expertise by reaching more remote clients.

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