As personal trainers, we aim to achieve optimal results for our clients in the fastest possible time. In order for this to occur, we need to recognise the importance of not only monitoring, but also varying the training load that we place upon our clients. I often see PTs doing this in the form of educated guesstimates, which are prone to human error, especially when the number of clients we are training is significant. Can you really remember the exact number of sets, reps and the correct load for every exercise with every client?
There are a number of methods and elements to consider when monitoring training load. Monitoring is an important process to engage in, which can help excite and motivate clients, improve performance and reduce the incidence of injuries.
Reasons for monitoring training load are many and varied. It can provide an objective measure for variations in performance, compare the commitment of clients, reduce the incidence of injury and overtraining. It can also increase communication between clients and trainers, and bring a sense of involvement in planning to the client. Typically, reasons for not monitoring training load are a lack of resources and expertise. The success of systems for monitoring training loads depend on their consistency and sensitivity. That is, how reliable and repeatable the measures are, and how small a change they can detect.
A very easy way to determine the overall training load for a session is to use something called TRIMP (TRaining IMPulse). This equation combines volume and intensity as per the equation below:
TRIMP = Total Training Time x Session RPE (Rating Perceived Exertion)
For example, if you went for a 45 minute run at a perceived exertion of 7/10, then your overall TRIMP score is 315.
Monitoring the daily and weekly TRIMP for your clients will help you to better quantify the physiological stress that you are placing them under. It will allow you to manipulate the training load by adjusting the volume and/or intensity on a regular basis, thereby promoting gradual progression and adaptation.
Training load can be simplified into either the external or internal category. External load refers to the volume of training performed, while internal load refers to the physiological or psychological stress placed on a client.
Absolute training load is the total volume of training within a given time. Relative training load is the change in training load when compared to training history.
Objective measures include performance results and physiological markers, while subjective measures are generally based around client perception and wellbeing. A study from Deakin University showed that objective and subjective units of measurement often disagree, possibly because subjective measures pick up on more subtle cues earlier than objective measures do. While it may be a common perception that subjective measures are less accurate, they can in fact be more sensitive and reliable.
Methods for monitoring external load include GPS tracking to measure velocity (time-motion analysis) and tests such as the jump test to measure neuromuscular function. Methods to measure internal load include the aforementioned TRIMP method, heart rate (including recovery and variation), RPE, lactate recovery and sleep monitoring.
Errors in training load can lead to injury. Under-loading can lead to clients not performing enough conditioning to prevent injury. Injury as a result of under-loading can also occur after a planned period of tapering or rest, after which a client resumes a training load higher than than they are capable of.
Overloading can occur when a client with an already high chronic workload builds in further spikes to their training load. It can also occur when a client substantially increases the workload in consecutive weeks, and injury occurs in a four week window after this load is reduced.
Some training load error can be expected when programming to reach peak physical condition and maximum training gains, however, some strategies can be used to minimise training injuries as a result of training load error.
According to the Australian Institute of Sport, there are some key principles to take into consideration when monitoring training load to prevent injury:
While much can be learned from previous studies and historical information, methods of monitoring training loads are continually improving and adapting. They can be personalised to individual clients and coaches, and the results of training load monitoring and planning must continually be adapted to new information and experiences. Training load monitoring is critical in injury prevention and monitoring achievement.
If this fascinates you, find out about fitness courses at the Australian Institute of Fitness.