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Training Load errors explained…with Nick Pereira

You’ve got goals – you want to run your first marathon, 21km or 10km – you’d like to do a 5 day hike in the Drakensberg, you want to ride the Cape Argus Cycle tour next year – play touch-rugby with your friends from work twice a week… we all have these goals or have had them at some point, how do we reach them…without breaking ourselves in the process?

Many injuries that end up in the outpatient orthopedic clinic are at some level related to what we call “Training Load Errors” – essentially the fall out between what your body was capable of doing, and what you put it through. This does NOT mean that there are naturally things you cannot or will never be able to do – the problem is not the activity, the distance, the frequency, the weight or the speed (broadly what we refer to as “Training Loads”) the problem is how quickly and in what state are we arriving to tackle these physical activities?

Do we arrive after a 10 year touch-rugby hiatus to suddenly playing thrice a week for 45 minutes while you try to re-live your school rugby glory days?

Do we jump from running the Parkrun thrice and suddenly shoot for a half marathon at the end of the month?

Do we go from a 50KG one rep max snatch, to doing 50 reps at 45KGS during a WOD?

I believe whatever your goal is… you can achieve it, IF (MASSIVE IF!) you train both hard and SMART and avoid breaking yourself in the process through “Training Load Errors”.

In 2016 I had the privilege of attending global expert on training loads, and performance metrics guru – Dr. Tim Gabbett in Durban. The following analogy was explained by Dr. Gabbett and has always remained my go to for explaining why we break down with training errors…. here goes my own loosely paraphrased version:

“Imagine you’re a social drinker – you have a single glass of wine twice a week, a friends birthday comes around and suddenly your single glass becomes two bottles on a festive night. The next morning you wake up feeling like you’ve been hit by a bus! This is a training load error; your load exceeded what you were capable of. Imagine now that instead of gulping both bottles you only had 3 glasses of wine… you wake up maybe slightly dehydrated but, for the most part you’re feeling pretty normal. Your load only slightly exceeded your capability and you remain feeling good, in fact thanks to adaptation you may be able to up your weekly wine to 3 glasses per week!”

“Imagine now you’re still the social 2 glass/week wine drinker and your best friends wedding rolls around, it’s a festive occasion. You start with your favorite glass of wine (and handle it like a champ), then some whisky happens, then someone buys your table a few rounds of tequila – next thing you know you wake up midday the next day and feel like you belong in intensive care – congratulations, you’ve over-cooked the goose, expertly exceeding your drinking ability and subsequently add no value to your life for the next few days while you recover – also, you commit to ‘never drinking again’… until the next special occasion!”

This analogy generally makes sense to most people – but if we understand it in terms of drinking, why do we put our bodies through this process with exercise? We then have the audacity to blame our shoes for “not being right”, or that our bike setup was out, or that the trail was dry with loose rocks – unfortunately my friend, the problem was you!

The good news is that training load errors are easily fixable (if identified) here’s some practical tips for addressing training loads and managing them appropriately.

1. If this sounds like it’s written just for you, you are currently having medical treatment and this term is the first time you’ve heard of training load errors or overtraining…yet your medical aid savings hurt more than your ITB after a race weekend, you need to find a new medical practitioner (very broad term, so no one feels left out). In this case, someone who will look at your training peaks or strava history before charging you R200 for 4-dimensional k-tape infused with Himalayan salt and snake oil.

2. Have an audacious goal, dream big… but also break down the milestones you’ll need to reach to safely and effectively achieve these goals. Have a plan, follow a training plan, the structure will already place you in a good position to achieve them rather than just playing it off the cuff.

3. If you’re training hard, recover hard! Manage your sleep and nutrition, these are as important as putting in the hours on the bike or in the gym. If the balance isn’t right you’ll have a one way ticket to man-flu town, or your musculoskeletal system will break down in some way.

4. Respect your bodies adaptation process. The “GAINS” don’t arrive straight after you finish your session, they wait to see if you recover well, eat and sleep enough, they judge how hard your last session was and how hard your next will be before making their presence permanent – which is why it’s important to have a plan or training structure and stick to it.

5. If you’re okay with being a social exerciser and are okay with over-doing it from time to time that’s okay too. Just don’t blame your shoes, or bike when you’ve got a chronic exercise hangover!

We’ve simplified a complex process which ideally involves, monitoring, accessory training, a periodized training program, recovery and even periodized nutrition. If you’d like to chat about training loads or how to optimize your training and avoid injuries, feel free to connect with us on our social media platforms @Enhanced_Physio, or email