Load and Capacity in sports and life

This was going to be a post specifically about runners, but to be honest it is very much about the majority of people that I see as a physio- it just happens to be a lot more obvious in the runners.

Most people understand that their body has a finite capacity. It has an ability (to a point) to absorb force and carry on with life with barely any alteration to their daily goings- on. This capacity is different for every single person and is quite often thought about in a physical context.

As an example:
I, for one, will be quite happy heading off and doing a 5k run. This *Load* is well within my *Capacity*. All things considered, I probably won’t have any issues whatsoever.
Someone else I know, who is pretty sedentary, who spends their time either at work or in front of a TV will have a very different outcome. That 5k might cause all kinds of issues, from tendinitis to muscle soreness to, (in extremis) a cardiovascular outcome (heartattack). The 5k *Load* is WAY outside of their *Capacity* at this time.

Too much load. Not enough Capacity.

The nice thing here is that Capacity is hugely changeable and trainable. The person who cannot run a 5k now can quite happily get onto a programme such as the couch to 5k- and get to the point where that 5k is within their Capacity. The body has responded to the Load placed upon it through training, it has adapted, and Increased Capacity is the result.

All good so far… most people get this kind of thing.

However, Load is not just physical.
In life we also have psychological/ mental load. There is the worry about life, work, mortgages, politics etc. There is stress from a hundred different places, all of which adds up. These things build up and have an effect on your physicality. Yes, physical stress manifests itself physically, but so does mental stress, and that appears to go quite unappreciated.

In a running context – you may have a training plan that maps out your distances and loads for the next 10 weeks to race day/ competition day or whatever. It is planned out meticulously with ever increasing loads which are designed to maximise your ever increasing capacity. It never goes higher than 10% of the previous week, and yet, by week 7, you’re struggling with a niggle, that becomes an injury that eventually takes you out of contention for whatever event you were doing.
What happened? You followed the plan to the letter. The physicality of the whole thing was perfect- why was there an issue?

Think back… ok, so everything was fine physically, but how about work stress? Life stress? Arguments with family? Spouses? An issue with a parking ticket? Anything really that puts stuff on your mind. It might only be a little thing, but something may well have changed and sparked a spiral.

I’m not saying that an argument CAUSED the issue, I’m suggesting that it might have been a contributing factor. If you’re thinking about it a lot, it may well be interfering with your sleeping patterns and you aren’t recovering as well as you could be. Your food intake might be struggling- you drink more alcohol than you should for some reason or another, you eat something that doesn’t agree with you and are a bit iffy for a couple of days… however, that training plan is still going on in the background. You are trying to up your capacity but eventually the Load as a whole- physical and psychological might get too much for your Capacity as a whole, and the thing that ends up suffering is your physical wellbeing.

So what am I trying to say?

Load vs capacity for recovery

Yes, training plans are all well and good, and with the best will in the world, yes, you’ll get better. However, you’ve got to be prepared to sit down and listen to what your body is saying. If you’re having a tough week mentally, it might be a good idea to go easy on a workout. It might be that the Load of life is higher than it was last week, and your Capacity might be suffering. What would normally be an easy workout is harder than it should be- you’re feeling like you’re getting a cold- all kinds of physical manifestations of a tired head and body.

Yes, you can try and power through it all, but it might be an idea to think about how much Load you’re putting yourself through, and whether you are exceeding the capacity of your body to cope with it. Be honest with yourself. Or, at the very least- be honest with your physio!

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