How to reduce your chances of sports injury after COVID restrictions are lifted

With the opening of gyms and commencement of training for most team based sports almost here, it is becoming more and more important to ensure you start preparing yourself to reduce your chance of injury. Nothing could be more devastating than waiting all this time to get back into the sport you love, only to injure yourself due to poor preparation or going too hard too soon. This is already showing in elite sports where professional German soccer injury rates have almost tripled compared to a normal season!

The aim of this blog will be to give you the information that will help guide you towards an injury free, safe return to your choice of sport.

So what are the things that you have control over that will help you on your road back to performance? Acute to Chronic Workload may be the key. While this may sound complicated – don’t be deterred, this is something anyone can work out and can considerably reduce your risk of injury!

Reducing injury risk – one simple ratio you can use

Acute to Chronic workload ratio is a very important ratio to monitor when getting back into sport and has been shown to directly influence injury risk. This ratio is a comparison of your weekly workload e.g. distance ran, session intensity, weekly weight lifted (there are a lot of things you can monitor) to your chronic workload which is your average workload per week over a period of time (usually 4 weeks).

So an example would be:
I look back on my running history and figure out that week 1 I ran 50km, week 2 55km, week 3 30km, week 4 35km.

So my Chronic Workload per week is 42.5km

Now if I decide to run 70km this week, the ratio will be 70:42.5

This is an Acute Workload increase of 64% – this would be considered a huge increase in Acute Workload and would become a risk factor for injury.

How does this ratio relate to injury risk?

When your acute workload increases by more than 10% compared to your chronic workload, research has shown that there is a significant increase in injury risk and this increases exponentially with larger spikes in load (Gabbett et al., 2017) . As you can see below, there is a sweet spot with training and bigger jumps in load can lead to the danger zone i.e. higher injury risk.

With closures of gyms and suspension of sports seasons, both acute and chronic workloads would have significantly dropped in the majority of people who have not been able to maintain pre restriction training loads. That makes this so important as if your overall physical fitness and training load has remained low and then you return back to training and do significantly more than what you have been doing, some sort of injury will more than likely occur!

How can I monitor my training load to reduce my injury risk?

First of all before you read on – if you need help with setting up a system for how to progress your training load, our physios are here to help. If you are happy to nerd out and figure it out for yourself – read on!

External load monitoring

This refers to monitoring the work that you do during training that results in increases in load such as total distance run, total weight lifted or amount of high intensity sprints. If you have a coach writing out your programming, this will be something that they should be accounting for in each session. If not, you are able to calculate this if you record what you are doing during training like weight lifted during an exercise or distance ran in a session.

Example: Weight Training

Calculating the external load that’s been accrued with weights can be calculated as the total amount of kilograms that have been lifted through each session. This could be completed the following way:

  • –  Squat 100kg for 10 reps = 1000kg
  • –  3 sets of that would = 3000kg
  • –  Complete that for each exercise to calculate the total kg moved in one session.
  • –  At the end of the week, add the total weight of each session to get the value for your weekly workload.

Internal load monitoring

Internal load refers to the physiological load (internal) that is being placed on the athlete whilst dealing with an external load. This can be sometimes easier to monitor, especially if you don’t have access to GPS data or a coach who is monitoring your external loads in your program. The easiest one to monitor would be RPE which is your perception of how hard a session is from 1 (rest) to 10 (maximal effort). RPE can also be used in many different training modalities so you can just have one value to monitor.

Example: RPE

Calculating internal load through RPE is completed by rating the session out of 10 (RPE) and multiplying that by how long the session was, for example:

  • –  Session RPE 5/10
  • –  Session went for 60 minutes
  • –  60 minutes x 5 = 300 arbitrary units so internal load is 300 for that session
  • –  Add all session RPE loads together to get a total weekly workload Keeping Track The most daunting thing about monitoring your training load is keeping track of each session, especially if you are doing a combination of different types of training modalities. Using a training journal is very valuable in this instance as you can accurately record everything completed in training. This way, you will then be able to compare your acute (weekly) and chronic (monthly average) workload to assess if you are spiking training too quickly. If you were to focus on only one thing to track, calculating your acute:chronic RPE workload would be the easiest and will give you a great idea as to whether your training is spiking too much or you’re not training hard enough. Here is a link to a simple google sheets training journal that you can use to track your weekly progress! Considerations with Returning to Training

1. How much training have you been doing compared to how much you will be doing when you return to your normal training schedule?

  •  If you haven’t been doing much, it’s important to start training now to build up your chronic workload.
  • You can work backwards: assess what a full training week would look like and how can you appropriately ramp up your training over 1-2 months to get to that point.

2. How can I increase my chronic workload now so my injury risk is lower for when full training begins?

Start completing the type of training you would be doing when you return but at a reduced load and build up weekly with small increases in intensity.

3. How can I track my acute:chronic workload?

– Choose one you can track consistently, RPE is recommended.

4. What’s the best way to increase my weekly workload

Try to keep weekly increases in training load no more than 10%, especially as your training becomes more intense.

If you are unsure on what you can do to get your training started to build up your workload, our physiotherapists can help with a face-to-face assessment or online telehealth consultation.

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