With the current social distancing and lockdown status amid the Covid-19 pandemic, exercise and fitness is key to maintaining both physical and mental wellbeing. However, with more free time on our hands it’s difficult not to turn to exercise to steer ourselves away from boredom. If you’re used to exercising regularly then this shouldn’t be a shock to the system, but for those who don’t exercise regularly a sudden increase in physical exercise could lead to an injury.
For years, research has been completed for athletes and professional sportspeople into the affect of training loads and the rate of injuries occurring when there is a sudden increase in levels of exercise. Whilst their exercise loads may be higher than your average person, the same principal can be used in our day to day life.
Tim Gabbett is known for his research in this area. His findings show that it is not the amount of exercise that someone completes, but it is the short-term load in comparison to their long-term load or ‘chronic’ load . For example, if you are used to going to the gym for 45 minutes, 5 times a week. You’d have a weekly training load of 235 minutes. If this is maintained over the course of six weeks as shown in graph 1, then your average training load for that period is approximately 235 minutes / week.
Graph 1: Regularly High levels of Exercise – Maintained Chronic Load
However, if you’re only used to going to the gym once a week for 60 minutes, then your chronic exercise load is 60 mins / week. If you suddenly increase this whilst in lockdown by going on a 45-60 minute run 3-4 times a week then this results in a sudden spike in your exercise load (Shown in graph 2). This sudden spike heightens your chances of picking up an injury as your body isn’t used to this amount of strain being placed upon it. This could be a muscle strain, joint discomfort or a ligament sprain. Often people try and carry on the following weeks but at a reduced rate, before then having to eventually stop as demonstrated in graph 2 below.
Graph 2: A Sudden Increase in Acute Load – Increased Risk of Injury.
So in theory if you’ve never exercised before or are usually sporadic with your training, suddenly beginning home workouts or running daily during lockdown increases your exercise load and increases the strain on your body. In turn this significantly increases your risk of injury. To minimise the risk of injury, you’re better to focus on gradually increasing your exercise load over the course of a longer period of time (As shown in graph 3). This will gradually improve your average exercise tolerance as your body adapts appropriately and avoid any sudden peaks.
Graph 3: Gradual Loading – Increasing Chronic Load Over Time
If you’re still a member of a local gym remotely during lockdown then listening to your coach / trainer about pacing is very important. If you’re looking to get into exercise or begin running, then apps such as the Couch-to-5K are great for gradually building up your exercise tolerance whilst reducing the risk of injury. Other ways to help reduce your risk of injury include appropriate warm-ups and cool-downs, as well as including recovery / rest days to your training routine.
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The Excellence team
Murray NB, Gabbett TJ, Townshend AD, et al. Calculating acute:chronic workload ratios using exponentially weighted moving averages provides a more sensitive indicator of injury likelihood than rolling averages. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017;51:749-754. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/51/9/749.short