Have you ever tackled two intense workout days consecutively, only to find yourself sore and regretful? Jumping into high-intensity workouts without adequate breaks or preparation increases injury risk. Enter Tim Gabbett's acute vs. chronic workload theory, a concept crucial for everyone, from weekend warriors to daily joggers. Tim Gabbett has done extensive research on this topic and our team took a weekend course this past weekend to learn more so that we could help our clients with load management. Let's unpack this for the everyday athlete.
What is Load Management?
Load management balances the stress we impose on our bodies through sports, exercise, or daily activities with ample recovery. It’s a preventative measure against overworking ourselves and succumbing to injury.
A lot people hear about load management these days in regards to pro athletes. Most the time they are really just talking about sitting players out. Rest is definitely part of the equation of load management yet there is so much more.
Acute vs. Chronic Workload:
Acute Workload: Think of this as your week's physical activity snapshot. How hard did you push yourself over the past seven days?
Chronic Workload: This gives a broader view, encapsulating your average weekly activity over the past month. It gauges your general fitness level.
For safe activity progression, Gabbett suggests that your acute workload should never be drastically higher than your chronic workload. Maintaining this balance helps avoid overuse injuries.
The Peril of Back-to-Back High Days:
Monday: You engage in a grueling 90-minute high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session.
Tuesday: Ignoring Monday's fatigue, you hit the weights hard for another 90 minutes.
Sounds commendable, right? But according to Gabbett's theory, stacking high days can be risky. Your body requires recovery periods to adapt and strengthen. Without these breaks, the likelihood of injury escalates. But what is considered a high day? Does this mean I can't train every day?
No, just because you shouldn't do 2 high days in a row doesn't mean you shoulder train. It just means that you should plan your days and attack accordingly.
How To Know What is High, Moderate, or Low
In order to figure out if you are doing too much, it is important to have a way to quickly quantify how hard a day is.
What is the RPE Scale?
The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale is a subjective tool that gauges the intensity of a workout based on how hard you feel your body is working. Instead of relying on external indicators like heart rate or distance covered, the RPE scale encourages individuals to listen to their bodies and assess how challenging a particular exercise feels to them.
Typically, the scale ranges from 1-10, where:
Applying RPE to Load Management:
Utilizing the RPE scale can offer deeper insights into acute vs. chronic workload management, ensuring athletes don't overstrain themselves. Here's how it aligns with high and low days:
Low days (RPE 1-3): These are relaxed activities. It could be a gentle walk, light stretching, or easy yoga. It's about keeping your body active without exerting too much pressure. You should feel you're working, but it’s comfortable and sustainable.
Medium days (RPE 4-6): This is a moderate level of activity. It can be a jog or a weightlifting session where you're lifting below your max capacity. You're pushing yourself a bit, but not to your limit.
High days (RPE 7-10): These are intensive activities that challenge your stamina and strength. Think of sprinting, heavy weightlifting, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). By the end, you should feel very tired, requiring adequate recovery afterward.
Why RPE Matters in Load Management:
Imagine doing a workout without understanding how hard it's pushing your body. This is where many unknowingly overextend themselves, leading to fatigue or injury. RPE helps in:
Self-awareness: It prompts you to be in tune with your body, recognizing when to push harder and when to scale back.
Balancing High and Low Days: By being aware of your exertion rate, you can avoid doing two high RPE days consecutively, as advised by Tim Gabbett's research on load management. Remember, stacking high days elevates injury risk.
Customization: Every individual's perception of exertion is unique. What's intense for one person might be moderate for another. The RPE scale honors this individuality, letting each person craft a workout routine that's right for them.
Using RPE in Everyday Workouts:
For the everyday athlete, the RPE scale is a handy tool to gauge daily workouts. Say you have an RPE of 8 during a Monday run. To employ optimal load management, you might want to aim for an RPE of 3 or 4 on Tuesday, ensuring you don't overburden your body.
Below is an example program with minutes and high low days. This would be a good set up for 3 days a week in the gym, 2 days out of the gym, and 2 full days of rest.
Risks of Surpassing the 1.5 Acute to Chronic Workload:
Gabbett’s research illustrates that injury risk surges when the ratio of acute to chronic workload exceeds 1.5. So, if your chronic workload (the four-week average) amounts to 100 units of exercise, an acute workload (a single week) surpassing 150 units places you in the danger zone.
🔹 If over the past month (chronic workload), you've been jogging an average of 60 minutes weekly, this week (acute workload), you shouldn't jump to 90 minutes or more. Doing so spikes your injury risk.
Your body is akin to a bank. Consider sudden intense workouts as large withdrawals. If they exceed your saved balance (chronic workload), you risk going into a deficit (injury). The objective is to save gradually, bolstering your balance (or fitness level) over time.
Track your weekly workouts.
Escalate intensity or duration cautiously.
Always alternate between high-intensity days and low-intensity or rest days.
Consistency remains paramount. Just as our experts at HIDEF Physical Therapy stress tailored care and recovery goal attainment, applying load management principles promises safer, more effective fitness endeavors.
Everyday athletes can greatly benefit from load management. Understanding and implementing these strategies can lead to optimized workouts, faster recovery, and diminished injury risk. Should you experience discomfort or pain, recall that professional guidance, like what’s offered at HIDEF Physical Therapy, can pave the way to an active, uninhibited life.